APES ON FILM: Life IS Like a Box of Chocolates in Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s THE DEAD MOTHER

Posted on: Jan 26th, 2024 By:

Lucas Hardwick
Contributing Writer


Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.



4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Karra Elejalde, Ana Álvarez, Lio, Silvia Marsó
Director: Juanma Bajo Ulloa
Rated: Not rated
Studio: Radiance Films
Region: Region A
BRD Release Date: October 10, 2023
Audio Formats: Spanish LPCM 2.0
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Run Time: 111 minutes


The old saying “like taking candy from a baby” implies the ease of stealing something from someone particularly helpless or uninformed, but anyone with children knows this idiom is a bit misguided. When a child wants something badly enough, removal of said something is the equivalent to defusing an H-bomb with a sledgehammer.

The first instance of this phrase appears in the short story “Experiences of a Verdant Bookmaker” from the collection Taking Chances (1900) by Clarence Louis Cullen. In the story, a grocer who’s given up on his humble profession becomes a bookie and tries playing on an unfair advantage at the racetrack. The phrase originates: “Now, this looked like a pretty good thing to the groceryman. It looked like taking candy from a child.” So, no children were harmed or even involved in the saying’s origins, but over the years it’s become a cliché prevalent in everything from Bugs Bunny cartoons to a literal on screen translation in Spanish filmmaker Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s 1993 film THE DEAD MOTHER (LA MADRE MUERTA).

Ulloa’s film begins with a burglar, Ismael (Karra Elejalde), searching for the home of an art restorer in the middle of the night. The requisite black sock hat and flashlight lets us know he’s up to no good. We don’t know what Ismael is looking for, just that he’s not finding it. What we do know is there’s a child in the house, and the mother, startled by Ismael’s knocking around, appears and informs him there’s no money, and finds herself on the business end of a shotgun. As Ismael makes his escape, he takes a chocolate bar from the child’s highchair, but before he can slip out the kitchen window, young Leire (Raquel Santamaría) stands combative, wielding a large stick poised to avenge her mother, and ostensibly defend the chocolate bar Ismael has helped himself to.

Fast forward several years later, we see that Ismael is still up to his crooked ways (not unlike author Cullen’s grocery store bookie), working as a bartender under an alias. Leire (Ava Álvarez) is now in her teens and is living out her days as a mute, afflicted with the arrested mind of a child in an institution for the mentally impaired. Leire’s caretaker Blanca (Silvia Marsó), takes the girl out on daily walks, and on one particular outing Leire and Ismael cross paths, both recognizing each other. This time Ismael and his girlfriend Maite (Lio) skip the candy and go for taking the baby instead, kidnapping Leire and holding her for ransom. “Like taking a patient from an institution.” Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it?

Aside from Blanca’s attempt to rescue Leire, the film is a character study of the strange dynamic amongst Ismael, Leire, and Maite. Jealousy abounds when Maite realizes that Ismael’s internal conflict won’t permit him to murder Leire. A rift forms between the couple as Ismael negotiates a spectrum of emotions regarding Leire; processing everything from guilt to paternal role play to outright lover becomes a crucible for Ismael.

Chocolate remains the connective tissue that binds the strange relationship between Ismael and Leire. At one point, as Ismael is about to force Leire in front of an oncoming train, she drops a candy bar into a puddle and attempts to eat it. Ismael pulls her from the railroad tracks just as the train passes and explains to the girl that she shouldn’t eat the candy because it’s dirty. In this case the mutual regard for chocolate and a strange parental instinct intervenes and saves Leire. The scene is also particularly odd given that while Ismael is contemplating a horrible manslaughter style death for Leire, he becomes more concerned with the poor hygienic choice to eat muddy chocolate.

Chocolate takes on a visually symbolic role permeating the film’s surroundings. Wall paneling and doors often mimic the delectable treat making it emblematic of protection, or imprisonment—your mileage may vary. If nothing else it is the one thing that remains to remind Leire of her dead mother and serves as a trigger for Ismael in the same regard.

As for dead mothers, there’s little mention of the one from the beginning of this film as the story progresses. Seconds before Ismael kills Leire’s mother, he spots a damaged painting of a mother and child; a diagonal slash through the canvas separates the two at the mother’s head. Imagery of that same slash appears throughout the film reminding us of the tragic separation between Leire and her mother. The image becomes representative of the loss Leire is unable to express because of her now impaired condition, the cause of which is eventually revealed, disclosing the catalyst for Ismael’s strange turmoil and affection for the girl.

Ismael’s peculiar obsession with odors and his attempts to earn a smile from Leire are other quirks reflecting the man’s internal unrest and response to personal change through his present experience. In a moment near the end of the film, Ismael, injured by a gunshot, is seated on a train next to a woman with a crying baby in a dirty diaper. Given Ismael’s well-established abhorrence for foul odors, we know he is aware of the soiled baby, but his metamorphosis through his fondness for Leire, along with his humbled and impaired condition, finds him silent and compassionate for the mother and child.

Radiance Films presents THE DEAD MOTHER in high definition on Blu-ray disc with a host of special features including a documentary on the making of the film; Ulloa’s short film “Victor’s Kingdom”; an audio commentary from the director; and, an image gallery. The limited edition features a booklet with writing on the film by Xavier Aldana Reyes and a newly translated archival essay by director Ulloa and co-writer Eduardo Bajo Ulloa. The crown jewel of this release, however, is the inclusion of a bonus CD of the film’s mysterious score by composer Bingen Mendizábal.

The bizarre, nearly inexplicable dynamic shared between Ismael and Leire is mostly foreign to us, but also anchors the film in curiosity. Its emotional beats are compelling enough to keep viewers involved, but seemingly at a distance. THE DEAD MOTHER is a vicarious experiment exploring specific scenarios of inner upheaval as a consequence of bad deeds by misguided people and the journey of loss through the mind of a child. Taking candy from a baby costs big bucks in emotional currency.



When he’s not working as a Sasquatch stand-in for sleazy European films, Lucas Hardwick spends time writing film essays and reviews for We Belong Dead and Screem magazines. Lucas also enjoys writing horror shorts and has earned Quarterfinalist status in the Killer Shorts and HorrOrigins screenwriting contests. You can find Lucas’ shorts on Coverfly. Look for Lucas on Twitter, Facebook, and Letterboxd, and for all of Lucas’s content, be sure to check out his Linktree.

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APES ON FILM: No One Will Hear You Scream— Radiance Films’ MESSIAH OF EVIL

Posted on: Nov 29th, 2023 By:

Lucas Hardwick
Contributing Writer


Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.



5 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Marianna Hill, Michael Greer, Anitra Ford, Joy Bang, Royal Dano, Elisha Cook Jr.
Director: Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Radiance Films
Region: Region A (B, C untested)
BRD Release Date: October 24, 2023
Audio Formats: English: LPCM 2.0 mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (34.93 Mbps)
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (original aspect ratio: 2.39:1)
Run Time: 90 minutes


Point Dume is one of those spooky small towns where you really want to avoid conversation with any of the locals. Perched up on the Pacific Coast with its beautiful seaside sunset views, a humble grocery store, movie theater, gas station, and art gallery, Point Dume looks like a million other neon stucco towns. Its idyllic qualities are perfect for a cozy Airbnb weekend, but its hollow-eyed, laconic, once tax-paying citizens make Point Dume hardly the place to get away from it all.

Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz’s 1974 feature MESSIAH OF EVIL is the story of Arletty Lang (Marianna Hill) who arrives in creepy Point Dume in search of her estranged father. Arletty quickly gets more than she bargained for from the town’s welcoming committee when she stops at a gas station on the outskirts to find the attendant frantically firing rounds into the night. An albino man with an unpleasant disposition interrupts her transaction, and pretty soon the paranoid station employee is feverishly telling her to scram. The good people of Point Dume only become more troubling as Arletty investigates her father’s whereabouts.

Arletty’s father, Joseph (Royal Dano), is an artist who’s attracted the attention of a trio of Bohemians in search of his work. Thom (Michael Greer), and his “traveling companions” Laura and Toni (Anitra Ford and Joy Bang), are also curious about where to find Joseph and have bumped into their own local weirdo, Charlie (Elisha Cook Jr.), a bum who rattles on about his own birth and some business regarding a red moon dragging people to hell. Just your average street corner wino and his apocalyptic ravings, right?

Arletty and her Bohemian pals lounge around her father’s empty home while pondering the strange temperament of Point Dume’s residents and discuss what could have happened to Mr. Lang. When Thom’s companion Laura allows jealousy to get the best of her, she takes off in the middle of the night and winds up as a late-night snack for a handful of googly-eyed Point Dumers ravaging the meat counter at the local Ralph’s grocery store. Point Dume is even weirder than you thought.

Huyck and Katz’s film boils down to being a slow-burn zombie flick—and like most zombie flicks—with an inexplicable catalyst that’s turning the locals into chalky (but handsome) undead cannibals. The film’s mild epistolary structure reveals that zombification is most likely what happened to Mr. Lang, and in the meantime, serves as an expository WebMD that’s got Arletty worked up into an appropriate level of paranoia and jabbing straight pins into her thighs to see if she too has become afflicted.

The movie showcases three suspenseful key moments that reveal all the weirdness we can stand to know about Point Dume and its denizens of death. First is Arletty’s strange introduction at the service station, the second is Laura’s demise at the checkout counter in Ralph’s, and third is the soul-rattling experience Toni finds herself in at the movie theater. Coated in blood-red enamel, the theater is mostly empty save for a few scattered patrons, one in particular glaring at Toni over the back of his seat. The shot holds on him for a moment before the lights dim signifying Toni’s last chance to beat it before she becomes a featured concession stand item. It’s one of the most unnerving moments in the film.

While Point Dume is mostly devoid of small-town bustle, it’s Arletty’s father’s basement that is strangely the most populated place in the film. Sure, Arletty and her friends are hanging out there eating up all the food in the icebox and making long-distance phone calls, but the gang is joined by the landscapes and people of Mr. Lang’s murals that include Lee Harvey Oswald lookalikes and Supreme Court Justices. Not exactly the friendly faces most of us would select to adorn our ever-sacred wall-space, but still better than the relentless burgeoning hoard that’s festering in Point Dume.

MESSIAH OF EVIL unfolds hypnotically and fosters that good old fashioned “what the fuck did I just watch” vibe that with what little explanation it offers doesn’t make a whole lot of sense—in a good way. It’s a film that reveals itself in moments like a disconnected nightmare that haunts you all night long. However, in spite of its vague narrative, the subtext suggests life amongst art—no matter how dull (i.e., Supreme Court Justices)—versus the zombie-minded vapidness of everyday people engaging in the diabolical act of capitalism. Each instance of undead onslaught or outright weirdness occurs in a place of commerce: the shiny new Mobil station, Ralph’s grocery, and the movie theater. Meanwhile, meaningful moments of revelation occur in the heavily muraled, post-modern realist world of Joe Lang’s basement where the only real live people in this world doing any thinking are artsy non-conformists.

Radiance Films presents MESSIAH OF EVIL with the best picture and sound it has ever had in a stunning 4K restoration on high-definition Blu-ray disc. The limited edition release features an audio commentary by film authors Kim Newman and Stephen Thrower; a new 57-minute documentary exploring the themes of the film; a visual essay by film writer Kat Ellinger; and an archival interview with the film’s co-writer and director Willard Huyck. The limited edition also includes an 80-page booklet with essays by Bill Ackerman, Joseph Dwyer, Amanda Reyes, Andy Marshall-Roberts, and Larissa Glasser. Packaged in a rigid box with reversible sleeve art, Radiance’s release is the best home video presentation of MESSIAH OF EVIL available.

MESSIAH OF EVIL is a bleak aberration that examines the end of the world through the contextually relevant eyes of self-aware beatniks. It is a revelation that exists in the construct of the mind adjacent to the spirit of the horror classic THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI and the films of Jean Rollin. But its detached tendencies are what make it compelling and pertinent to a deeper connection to human paranoia, permitting it to function as a signpost to internal terror.





When he’s not working as a Sasquatch stand-in for sleazy European films, Lucas Hardwick spends time writing film essays and reviews for We Belong Dead and Screem magazines. Lucas also enjoys writing horror shorts and has earned Quarterfinalist status in the Killer Shorts and HorrOrigins screenwriting contests. You can find Lucas’ shorts on Coverfly. Look for Lucas on Twitter, Facebook, and Letterboxd, and for all of Lucas’s content, be sure to check out his Linktree.

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APES ON FILM: Not a Drop to Drink—Arrow Video’s WATERWORLD 4K

Posted on: Aug 29th, 2023 By:

Lucas Hardwick
Contributing Writer


Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.



3 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino
Director: Kevin Reynolds
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Arrow Video
Region: 4K UHD Region Free
BRD Release Date: June 27, 2023
Audio Formats: English: Dolby Atmos; English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit); English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 24-bit); English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: HEVC / H.265
Resolution: Native 4K (2160p)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 135 minutes


Children are the future, and what better way to impress upon them the horrors of the depleted ozone layer and melted ice caps in store for them than with a movie made exclusively for nine-year-old boys? Director Kevin Reynolds appeals to the swashbuckling MAD MAX-inspired tyke living inside all of us with his 1995 film WATERWORLD, placing the post-apocalypse on the high seas.

Kevin Costner stars as “the Mariner” in this briny adventure, who after being outed by the nearest junk atoll community as a “Muto” for his “ichthy” qualities, finds himself on the run with a salvage dealer named Helen (Tripplehorn) and the little girl she cares for, Enola (Majorino). The trio is pursued across the flooded globe by a gang known as the Smokers, led by charismatic baddie Deacon (Hopper) who wants Enola for the mysterious tattoo on her back that is rumored to be a map that leads to the only remaining dry land on the planet.

Costner’s Mariner isn’t just a reluctant hero and custodian of the two stowaways needing his gigantic trimaran boat to get around, he’s brooding, and contemplative, and… kind of an asshole. What Mel Gibson did for the post-apocalyptic moody disposition, Costner turns into smug and unlikable. Part of the problem is we’re not sure what he really wants; he’s got gills. He’s got webbed feet. He can get to the earth’s drowned cities and plunder Davy Jones’s locker like any pro fish-man could. Outside of fending off scurvy (and why hasn’t he evolved out of that problem?) Mariner, with his enormous seafaring rig and its 50-caliber machine gun, is pretty well set for whatever the high seas throws at him. The only thing we know he wants is these helpless women off his boat! It’s completely understandable that the film’s hero should have some advantages, but Mariner’s situation leaves him at the top of the food chain. Lack of incentive and Costner’s prickly, heavy-handed reluctance doesn’t do much to get us rooting for him.

Deacon and his gang of ruffians, while wildly more entertaining, also kind of have it made. They have jet skis; they have a cool hideout. They somehow have dry cigarettes and plenty of gasoline. And other than belittling his own people and making a few empty threats, Deacon doesn’t do anything inherently bad. He eventually gets around to kidnapping Enola, but he’s not even a creep about it. Dennis Hopper’s Deacon comes off more like a weird uncle who also just happens to be a high seas buccaneer. That’s not to say he’s not loads of fun to watch; Hopper (as is often the case in this film) delivers mundane lines like, “That’s why I love children: no guile,” with the relatable dryness of a man quietly frustrated after having just been insulted by a Smoker youth. Deacon wants to be the mustache twirling bad guy, but he’s ultimately just ineffective and comes off as downright lovable.

The narrative problems that plague WATERWORLD don’t prevent it from being the fun, daring adventure it wants to be. The overall swaggering tone of the film is often hampered, honestly, by Costner’s lack of any humor whatsoever. The scenes prominently featuring the actor consequently grind to a halt. The rest of the film seems to know exactly what it is, while Costner carries on like he’s paying the film’s $175 million production bill. Infamously known for not using a British accent in he and director Reynolds’ prior adventure film for nine-year-old boys, ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, Costner is a drag in WATERWORLD and proves that he’s best when portraying regular guys and baseball players.

Filming almost exclusively on water for the entire production is certainly not without intrinsic challenges. The enormous breadth of Mariner’s trimaran dictated the football field-size of the movie’s key atoll set and indebted Universal to pony up and extend Hawaii’s Kona Airport tarmac by a quarter mile to be able to accommodate the 747 tasked with delivering the titanic boat. The movie’s trimaran-sized costs along with tomes of bad and inaccurate press that included tales of people dying on set, ultimately affected the public perception of the film, suggesting that it was a problematic and troubled production. While rife with its share of challenges, troubles didn’t really occur until near the end of shooting when Reynolds dropped out of the picture due to creative differences with Costner, who took over as director and finished the film.

Arrow Video presents WATERWORLD on 4K Ultra High-Definition Blu-ray Disc. The three-disc boxed set is loaded with features that include three cuts of the film: theatrical, TV, and the extended “Ulysses” cut with shots and dialogue originally removed from the theatrical version. The set also includes the feature-length documentary “Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld,”—a terrific look at the making of the film by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures; the archival featurette “Dances With Waves;” and film critic Glenn Kenny’s exploration of the eco-apocalypse subgenre in the feature “Global Warnings.” This massive-sized limited release also includes a two-sided poster, collector postcards, and a 60 page booklet featuring writing on the movie by David J. Moore and Daniel Griffith.

Where MAD MAX was a story of survival in a post-apocalyptic world brought on by oil shortage, the undercurrent of WATERWORLD and its characters’ odyssey for dry land attempts to serve as a warning regarding mankind’s destructive ways, but any sincerity for the film’s greater eco message is drowned out by its adventurous nature and self-awareness. Even the infamous and contextually relevant oil tanker Deacon and company inhabit seems pulled from a Mad magazine parody. Logic problems and Costner’s misguided intensity aside, the juggernaut that is WATERWORLD sets a course directly into our nine-year-old hearts.

Fathoms of fun that’s only inches deep. Recommended.


When he’s not working as a Sasquatch stand-in for sleazy European films, Lucas Hardwick spends time writing film essays and reviews for We Belong Dead and Screem magazines. Lucas also enjoys writing horror shorts and has earned Quarterfinalist status in the Killer Shorts and HorrOrigins screenwriting contests. You can find Lucas’ shorts on Coverfly. Look for Lucas on Twitter, Facebook, and Letterboxd, and for all of his content, be sure to check out his Linktree.

Ape caricature art by Richard Smith.

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APES ON FILM: The Baby Bear of Kung Fu Flicks—WARRIORS TWO

Posted on: Jul 18th, 2023 By:

Lucas Hardwick
Contributing Writer


Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.



4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Sammo Hung, Ka-Yan Leung, Casanova Wong, Hark-On Fung
Director: Sammo Hung
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Arrow Video
Region: A
BRD Release Date: June 6, 2023
Audio Formats: Cantonese: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, Mandarin: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, English: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono, English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Run Time: 95 minutes


When you think of kung fu movies, the first things that come to mind probably aren’t 1) a hand-based martial art invented by a nun or 2) Sammo Hung. Those two slots are likely devoted to the stylings of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. But Sammo Hung’s 1978 film WARRIORS TWO is one of the ass-kickingest kung fu flicks of the genre’s heyday, and it’s the movie that places the director as an equal alongside the legends of martial arts filmmakers.

WARRIORS TWO is the simple story of the usual gang of baddies looking to overthrow the town leaving it up to a few scrappy citizens with hearts of gold to uphold the pillars of justice and exact their brand of brutal diplomacy. In the film, a banker, Cashier Wah (Casanova Wong) overhears that gang boss Mo (Hark-On Fung) is planning to kill the town mayor and take over the village. Wah accidentally reveals to one of Mo’s goons that he knows about the boss’s plans for a coup and the gang murders Wah’s mother. Conveniently, the town doctor Mr. Tsan (Ka-Yan Leung) quietly resides as a master of Wing Chun kung fu. Tsan’s lead student Fat Chun (Sammo Hung) eventually persuades the master to teach the unique martial art stylings to Wah, and Wah and Chun team up to vanquish Mo and his designs of usurpation.

Kung fu films are a lot like Kaiju films—most of us are here for the monsters—and in the case of martial arts, the heightened premise of effervescent action. Thankfully the narrative in WARRIORS TWO is so simple and fundamentally relatable that there’s not much plot to get in the way of the kung fu. This can be a slippery slope leaving the human elements of films that star ass-kicking and giant lizards up to mediocrity (see also, any number of GAMERA films guilty of this crime), but director Hung cajoles meaningful performances from his cast who deliver characters we truly care about. Hung’s Fat Chun is comic relief but never corny or over-the-top, and Casanova Wong as Cashier Wah transforms from a timid banker to an assured Wing Chun expert. Ka-Yan Leung as Mr. Tsan is the perfect foil for his eager students, portraying the legendary master as cranky and reluctant, creating a definitive dynamic amongst the cast that cheers on the task at hand.

The problem with kung fu movies is that the action can often drown out the story, and we, as the demanding audience, like to have our cake and eat it too. Many films are also guilty of the opposite problem of leaning on too much pesky talking and plot mechanics and not enough of the flying fists we demanded in the first place. WARRIORS TWO scratches the action itch with long, thrilling, satisfying kung fu sequences, yet never gives up on its characters or story. In an appropriate Zen way, it strikes quite an enjoyable balance.

Director Hung required his actors to study Wing Chun for two months before even developing the story. Once his cast was ready, Hung and his crew began preparing a script to fit the action. Script in hand, WARRIORS TWO took over a year to make, and has grown to be one of Hung’s unequivocal works.

As Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan filled theaters all over the world and thrilled audiences with their martial arts stylings, Sammo Hung wanted to establish himself with his own unique approach to martial arts cinema. His use of the Wing Chun style stands out as a close-quartered hand-to-hand combat form that predicates itself upon the simple notion of the closest distance between two objects being a straight line. So, while the opponents in the film flail about with the typical kung fu fighting, Hung’s heroes are more precise in the face of their attackers. Frankly, not being a martial arts expert myself, I’m not sure I could tell you the difference, but Hung’s premise and unrelenting action sure makes for solid entertainment.

Arrow Video presents WARRIORS TWO in high-definition on Blu-ray disc, with 2K restorations of both the original Hong Kong and shorter international versions of the film. This release includes commentary on the Hong Kong version by martial arts expert Frank Djeng and actor Bobby Samuels. The international version features commentary by action cinema experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema. The disc also includes the archival documentary “The Way of the Warrior: The Making of Warriors Two” and an interview with actor Ka-Yan “Bryan” Leung who plays Mr. Tsan in the film. Other features in this release include trailers, a poster with art by Joe Kim, reversible sleeve art, and an illustrated collectors booklet with new writing by Jonathan Clements.

In the midst of a fount of recent 60s and 70s Shaw Brothers releases from various home video companies, Arrow Video’s release of Golden Harvest’s and Sammo Hung’s WARRIORS TWO arrives as an efficient action flick with no pressure thrills, that is everything the casual and expert kung fu viewer could ask for. Highly recommended.



When he’s not working as a Sasquatch stand-in for sleazy European films, Lucas Hardwick spends time writing film essays and reviews for We Belong Dead and Screem magazines. Lucas also enjoys writing horror shorts and has earned Quarterfinalist status in the Killer Shorts and HorrOrigins screenwriting contests. You can find Lucas’ shorts on Coverfly. Look for Lucas on Twitter, Facebook, and Letterboxd, and for all of Lucas’s content, be sure to check out his Linktree.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

APES ON FILM: Just Another Day in Kung Fu Paradise

Posted on: Jun 27th, 2023 By:

Lucas Hardwick
Contributing Writer


Welcome to Apes on Film! This column exists to scratch your retro-film-in-high-definition itch. We’ll be reviewing new releases of vintage cinema and television on disc of all genres, finding gems and letting you know the skinny on what to avoid. Here at Apes on Film, our aim is to uncover the best in retro film. As we dig for artifacts, we’ll do our best not to bury our reputation. What will we find out here? Our destiny.


4 out of 5 Bananas
Starring: Willie Chi, Carman Lee, John Ching, Kuei Li, Chun Lam, Kam-Kong Wong, Yamson Domingo
Director: Ringo Lam
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
Region: B
BRD Release Date: May 29, 2023
Audio Formats: Cantonese: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (34.90 Mbps)
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Run Time: 105 minutes



The burning of the Shaolin temple is the best thing to ever happen to Chinese filmmaking. The historic rivalry of the Kung Fu practicing monks against the Qing dynasty is the gift that keeps on giving, blessing the world with a legacy of films loaded with martial arts-packed action. Kung Fu films are a staple of genre cinema, at times of varying degrees of quality, but rarely are they ever not entertaining.

Ringo Lam’s 1994 film BURNING PARADISE is yet another notch in the belt of Kung Fu’s cinematic tradition, once again taking advantage of the fateful clash of cultures within Chinese history.

After Shaolin disciple Fong Sai-yuk (Willie Chi) and his master Chi Nun (Wu Xi-qian) are attacked by a regiment of Qing soldiers, the two men find refuge with the prostitute Dau Dau (Carman Lee). Chi Nun is killed in a second attack by the Qing army, and Fong and Dau Dau are taken as prisoners to the Red Lotus Temple where dozens of Shaolin monks are held captive by the deranged Elder Kung (Kam-Kong Wong), a former Qing general. Kung keeps Dau Dau as one of his concubines while Fong is left for dead in a cavern of corpses. Dau Dau bargains for Fong’s freedom who is soon forced to a duel with one of Kung’s men, a former fellow Shaolin monk. From this point on, escape from the heavily armed and booby-trapped fortress is the name of the game as Kung reveals his depravity every step of the way.

BURNING PARADISE quickly becomes a simple action-packed story of exodus and rescue, and doesn’t do much to deepen the fabled conflict of good versus evil beyond the usual notions of bad guys do bad things, and good guys are left to clean up the mess. The magnificent martial arts duel in the desert that kicks off the film gives an allusion of a sweeping Chinese epic, but the film quickly becomes confined to the claustrophobic environs of the elaborate set-bound caves of the Red Lotus Temple.

Any narrative dynamic of the film arises from the development of the characters who become more interesting in the face of adversity as new allegiances are revealed as the story progresses. But the notion of “good” has a narrative ceiling, and those who align themselves as protagonists get there and stay there. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously, imbuing it’s characters with good-natured but terrible humor loaded with groan-worthy one-liners.

The action, on the other hand, never stops and ranges from sensational swordplay and flying guillotines to deadly paint splatter that hits like shotgun blasts. Plenty of bodily bi-section and decapitation will keep mutant gore-monger audiences thrilled throughout the film. However, the final kills involving the big baddies are a little disappointing, likely because the most exciting attacks are used up in the rest of the movie’s non-stop action.

BURNING PARADISE is Ringo Lam’s first and only martial arts film. The director was typically known for making more modern crime-based movies and was recommended to direct BURNING PARADISE by the film’s producer, the celebrated martial arts filmmaker Tsui Hark. Actor Willie Chi was primed to be the next Jet Li after taking over Jackie Chan’s role in his next film DRUNKEN MASTER III, and is perfect as the best of good guys in BURNING PARADISE, but only went on to make three more films. The movie, considered a flop upon release, raked in just under two million Hong Kong dollars in 1994. But like many cult films, BURNING PARADISE found its audience through home video.

Eureka Entertainment presents BURNING PARADISE in a beautiful high-definition Blu-ray release, with vibrant colors and excellent sound. The disc contains few, but quality, features, the highlight being a robust commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng. Other features include a short archival interview with producer Tsui Hark and the film’s original theatrical trailer. Eureka’s limited edition offers a booklet written by film critic James Oliver and a lively slipcover with exclusive new art.

The Kung Fu film can hardly be considered dynamic storytelling, but filmmakers continue to get plenty of milage out of the genre. BURNING PARADISE may not offer anything particularly unique beyond pure entertainment but it is a no-pressure flick that’s an absolute joy of rich characters and electrifying action that would be fun transposed onto certain more contemporary western franchises (I’m talking to you, STAR WARS). Highly recommended.



When he’s not working as a Sasquatch stand-in for sleazy European films, Lucas Hardwick spends time writing film essays and reviews for We Belong Dead and Screem magazines. Lucas also enjoys writing horror shorts and has earned Quarterfinalist status in the Killer Shorts and HorrOrigins screenwriting contests. You can find Lucas’ shorts on Coverfly.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Mike Malloy Rewinds Back to the 1980s Home Video Revolution with His Latest Documentary Feature

Posted on: Jul 15th, 2013 By:

Mike Malloy. Photo credit: Andramada Brittian.

Video may have killed the radio star, or so that ’80s song goes, but it launched a lifelong passion for cult action movies in Kool Kat of the Week Mike Malloy. Now he’s paying homage to the format that revolutionized the way people accessed and watched movies from the late 1970s to the 1990s in the documentary series PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND: THE STORY OF THE ’80S HOME VIDEO BOOM, for which he is seeking funding through a Kickstarter campaignThe timing couldn’t be more perfect with VHS tapes, like 33rpm LPs, enjoying a renaissance among collectors, both old and new.

From his slicked-back hair to his Retro bowling shirts, Mike looks like he ought to be playing the stand-up bass in a rockabilly band. Instead he’s devoted himself to “playing” tribute to a side of cinema that often doesn’t get a lot of love from mainstream critics. At age 19, he signed his first book contract to write the first published biography of Spaghetti Western star Lee Van Cleef (for McFarland & Co.) Since then, he went on to write articles for a wide spectrum of national film magazines, served as managing editor of fan favorite Cult Movies Magazine, has spoken about movie topics at universities, ghost-wrote several fim books, and served on the selection committee of the 2006 Atlanta Film Festival.

In the past few years, Mike has moved increasingly both in front of and behind the camera. He has acted in more than 25 features and shorts. He co-produced the Western THE SCARLET WORM (2011) and directed the short, LOOK OUT! IT’S GOING TO BLOW! (2006), which won the award for best comedy short at MicroCineFest in Baltimore. But he’s garnered the most acclaim, both national and international, for EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ’70s, a kickass documentary homage to that B-movie subgenre which he wrote, directed, edited and produced.

ATLRetro caught up with Mike recently to find out more about how home videos fired his fascination with film, his unique vision for PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND, some really cool incentives he’s lined up for his Kickstarter campaign which collectors will love  and what’s up next for Georgia’s Renaissance man of cult action cinema.

Having written Lee Van Cleef‘s first published biography at age 19, you’ve obviously been into rare cult and B movies since an early age. What triggered your passion for the less reputable side of cinema and why does it appeal to you so much?

I’m a rare guy who’s deep into cult and genre cinema without caring much for horror or anything fantastic. For me, it’s all about a desperate Warren Oates shooting it out in Mexico. Or Lee Marvin with a submachine gun. For some reason, I’m just drawn to gritty tough-guy cinema – which is not necessarily the same thing as action cinema.

How did the home video revolution influence you personally? Having been born in 1976, you can’t really remember the pre-video days, I’d guess, but it must have afforded you access to a whole spectrum of these movies which otherwise would have been hard to track down and see.

And I even missed most of the ’80s video boom, because my parents, in 1990, were the last on the block to get a VCR. But in 1994, I made up for lost time. I had a college girlfriend who had an off-campus apartment, and while she was at work,  she didn’t like the idea of me being on campus, potentially fraternizing with other young ladies. So before each shift, she would take me by the local mom-and-pop vid store and rent me 8 hours’ worth of Bronson, Van Cleef, Carradine, etc. That kept me safely in her apartment, and it put me on the cinema path I’m on.

Videophile Magazine; Jim Lowe and Mike Malloy on the set of PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND.

In Atlanta, Videodrome seems to be the last independent rental retailer still in business and it’s even hard to find a Blockbuster left. And of course, they now just stock DVDs. Now you can order up a movie online and watch it instantly. Do you think we’ve lost something by no longer going in to browse, and was there a particular video store that became your home away from home?

One of our interviewees said something interesting: The mom-and-pop video store business model was based on customer DISsatisfaction. That is, you’d go in to rent CITIZEN KANE, it would be checked out, and you’d somehow end up leaving with SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED (1974). Being forced to browse leads to an experimental attitude in movie watching. That’s a good thing.

VHS tapes can get damaged easily, the picture and sound quality can’t compare to a bluRay (or often even a regular DVD) and they rarely show a movie in widescreen. Why be nostalgic about them, and is it true that the VHS format, like LPs, is having a comeback?

VHS is experiencing a major comeback. There are about 20 little startup companies that have begun releasing movies to VHS again. A certain old horror VHS – of a film called DEMON QUEEN (1986) – sold recently on eBay for $750.00. VHS conventions are springing up all over the country.

I’ve always thought that the format is superior for horror films. If you watch THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) on a soft old VHS poorly transferred from a faded film print, that makes you feel as if you’re watching some underground snuff film obtained from a shady guy in a trench coat. Watch that same movie on a pristine Blu-Ray, and you don’t get that same grimy feeling.

Michael Perkins films a scene at Videodrome, Atlanta's last great independent video store.

There have been other documentaries about home video, such as ADJUST YOUR TRACKING (2013) and REWIND THIS (2013). What will PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND add to the topic that hasn’t been covered already?

PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND will be a three-hour series, spanning six half-hour episodes. Those others just have a feature-length running time. So if mine isn’t the most definitive word on the subject, I’ve really screwed up. I’m sort of glad those docs exist as companion works, because it frees me up to explore some of the weirder corners of the phenomenon I find fascinating. Things like video vending machines and pizza-style home delivery of VHS tapes.

You’ve got a pretty interesting line-up of interviewees, not all of which are big names. Can you tell us about a few of them and how you went about selecting them.

Right, many of these people are very significant without being instantly recognizable. We have Mitch Lowe, the founder of Netflix (and later a CEO of Redbox). We have Jim Olenski, owner of what is considered to be the first-ever video store. We have Seth Willenson, a Vice President at RCA who oversaw their failed video disc format. That’s just several off the top of my head. They all have that level of significance. And we interviewed a bunch of cult filmmakers, because working at the cheap extreme of the video boom was where some of the craziest stories were. Further, we were glad – er, glad/sad – to have been able to document a closing video store in Toronto during its final month.

Gary Abdo and Mike Malloy. Photo credit: Jonathan Hickman.

Moviemakers, and artists of all ilk, have always seemingly been ripped off by others who pocket all the money. What distinguishes the video era in that regard, and are there any lessons filmmakers can apply to the current wild west of digital camerawork and online distribution?

I think the potential for ripping off artists is greater when an industry is in upheaval, when the rules and the financial models are unclear. And you’re right, VOD and streaming have caused the same type of upheaval that the videocassette did in its day. So I love all the anecdotes we captured of swindled ’80s filmmakers fighting back against their underhanded distributors. And I hope today’s filmmakers realize that distributors are now becoming largely unnecessary at all. For instance, I hope Vimeo OnDemand – with its 90-10 split in favor of the filmmaker – is a total game changer.

You obviously went into this project with a lot of background, but did you find out any big surprises or delightful unexpected moments during your interviews/research?

I went into the project feeling proud that I was going to cover not only VHS and Beta, but all the failed video formats – like Cartrivision, Selectavision (CED) and V-Cord II. Turns out, they were just the tip of the iceberg. I now probably have about 15 different also-ran video formats I can touch on.

Left to right: a video vending machine; Mitch Lowe, founder of Netflix.

How different would the world be today if Cartrivision had caught on instead of VHS?

Well, Cartrivision was an early attempt at rights management for movies. The Cartrivision rental tapes couldn’t be rewound at home; that could only be done at Sears, where you rented them. It limited you to one viewing per rental. So it would’ve started the concept of video rentals off on a very different attitude and philosophy. I think part of the reason the ’80s home video phenomenon was such a boom was the freedom associated with it – you could rent a movie of your choosing and watch it at a time of your choosing. You could watch it a number of times before returning. Hell, you could use your rewind button to watch a jugsy shower scene over and over.

Tell us about the Kickstarter campaign. How’s it going and how are you going to use the monies raised to finalize the film?

Since ADJUST YOUR TRACKING and REWIND THIS both successfully kickstarted, I knew this would be an uphill battle. My only chance was to turn what is normally a beg-a-thon into a reward-a-thon. So I created a $75 level for the collectors where they could get so much more than just a copy of the documentary. The very first expense I’ll cover, if I get successfully funded, will be an 8 terabyte hard drive. I really can’t cut another frame until I get it.

PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND tells it like it was: Mike Malloy deals videos out of his van.

You’ve got some mighty cool incentives for donors, including actual vintage VHS cassettes. Tell us a little bit about them.

Not only have many of our filmmaker interviewees donated signed VHS and DVDs of their movies (to say nothing of rare, unused artwork and such), but a lot of these new startup VHS companies have also donated rewards. I’m feeling very supported.

Unlike your Italian-centric EUROCRIME documentary, you’re trying to involve Atlanta as much as possible in PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND, aren’t you?

Local documentarian Michael Perkins (THE BOOKER) is my second-unit director, and Atlanta-based musician/engineer Matthew Miklos is my primary composer. His ’80s synth sound is so authentic. An associate producer (Jonathan Hickman) and at least one interviewee (filmmaker Gary Abdo) are here too. Videodrome has been very cool about letting me shoot re-enactments in the store. I tried to document the closing of another Atlanta institution of the video-rental industry, but it didn’t work out.

Anything else on your plate right now or next as a writer, director, producer or actor?

Later this year, I’m acting in HOT LEAD, HARD FURY in Denver and BUBBA THE REDNECK WEREWOLF in Florida. I wish someone would cast me locally so my pay doesn’t keep getting eaten up by travel expenses!

Editor’s Note: All photos are courtesy of Mike Malloy and used with permission.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As Real As It Gets: Cinema and Reality Blur in Mike Malloy’s EUROCRIME!, A Fascinating Look Behind the Scenes of the ’70s Italian Cop/Gangster Movie Genre

Posted on: Mar 26th, 2012 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Writer

A labor of love for Atlanta filmmaker, Mike Malloy, who researched, wrote, directed, produced, edited  and even contributed a small amount of instrumental funk to the score, EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ’70s screens at the Atlanta Film Festival on Friday, March 30 at 7 p.m. at the Landmark Midtown Art CinemaEUROCRIME! is a  feature-length cinema documentary concerning the violent Italian ‘poliziotteschi’ (a literal translation is “policesque”) cinematic movement of the 1970s which, at first glance, seem to be rip-offs of American cop/crime films like DIRTY HARRY or THE GODFATHER, but which really address Italian issues like the Sicilian Mafia and red terrorism.

What sets these movies apart from American cop movies of the era were the rushed methods of production (stars performing their own stunts, stealing shots, no live sound) and the dangerous bleed-over between real-life crime and movie crime. EUROCRIME! is an excellent, exhaustively researched, fascinating chronicle of this action-packed sub-genre of low budget Italian cinema.

ATLRetro scored an exclusive interview with the busy movie maker earlier this week.

ATLRetro:  What inspired you to make EUROCRIME?

Mike Malloy: I got my first book contract – to write a cinema biography [of Spaghetti Western star Lee Van Cleef] – when I was 19, and over the next decade, I was slowly but surely building a career for myself writing for movie magazines [(FLAUNT, FILMFAX, VIDEO WATCHDOG, etc] and for newspapers [AP, Knight-Ridder, SUNDAY PAPER]. Then, one morning in 2007, I woke up and learned that the whole world had apparently decided overnight that film journalism was no longer going to be a paying profession. So I decided to try to parlay my film commentary into cinema documentaries.

The Eurocrime genre was my cinematic fascination at the time, so I made a three-minute demo video, and a colleague got it in front of an acquisitions VP at a major cable broadcaster. They said they’d be interested in buying the broadcast premiere if I could get it made. That allowed me to jump headlong into the project.

Mike Malloy dons a police badge himself in an acting role. Photo courtesy of Mike Malloy.

Looking back, I see what caused me to fall so madly in love with Eurocrime movies. I love cinema that rings true to life. And it may seem strange to say this, considering the Eurocrime genre’s over-the-top violence and action, but these movies are about as real as it gets. And that’s because of the way they were made. Sometimes the organized crime down in Naples got involved in producing these films, so you got a pretty hairy blurring of real-life crime and movie crime. And because the leading men of these films – even big international stars – performed their own dangerous stunts, the action had a certain authenticity to it too.

How long did it take to make EUROCRIME!?

Getting the interest from the broadcaster launched me on a four-year odyssey. I know nothing about raising money, and I was in a bad place to do it anyway, as these movies weren’t experiencing the revival here in Atlanta that they were in places like Los Angeles and Austin. So I just did the doc on my own, basically, with a few small private investments and with some help from some colleagues who also loved these movies. And I ended up starting the project Standard Definition and starting over midway as HD, teaching myself all the necessary editing and VFX software along the way.

Having no real budget meant that most of the things that other pop-culture docs farm out – like stylish, graphics-oriented opening credits sequences – I just had to do myself. In fact, because I realized that many of our filmmaker interviews were shot on the fly and with less-than-ideal circumstances, I wanted to compensate by creating as many graphics, montages and other touches of style as possible.

I started the doc in my living room and finished it in the upstairs of my fiancée’s parents house, as this project even cost me my ability to pay my rent for a while!

How did you obtain all the amazing footage (in addition to all the great interviews)?

These films have gotten some pretty great-looking DVD releases in other parts of the world. So it’s a matter of finding those good-looking releases, than finding cruddy-looking gray-market copies of the same films with English dialogue, then matching up the good-looking print and the English audio. Of course, NTSC (North American) and PAL (European) video run at different speeds, so it takes plenty of trial-and-error adjustments to sync it.

We also were very grateful to receive some 8mm home movie footage from one of our interviewees – John Dulaney. And we got some other cool materials from people like Italian cinema documentarian Federico Caddeo.

Wasn’t Quentin Tarantino supposed to be involved at some point?

We were interested in interviewing him regarding the important part he played in the revival of these movies, setting up Eurocrime screenings at The New Beverly inLos Angeles, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austinand at events like The Venice Film Festival. He said yes a couple times to the project, but we never could make it happen.

What’s next for you?


Where would intrigued viewers of the doc go to find these movies?

Last time I checked, Videodrome on North Avenue had a Eurocrime section. And the longtime Italian DVD company, RaroVideo, just started releasing some of their titles in theU.S.last year -movies like THE ITALIAN CONNECTION and LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN. And for years now, the U.S. DVD label Blue Underground has been championing Eurocrime movies in the U.S., releasing films like STREET LAW and THE BIG RACKET. All these titles from Raro and Blue Underground are available through Netflix, too.

Contributing write Philip Nutman, is a long-time film journalist, author, screenwriter and occasional director. He recently produced the forthcoming, controversial zombie love story, ABED, in Michigan.


Category: Features | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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