Director(s): Steve Carver/Cesar Gallardo/Richard T. Heffron/Howard Avedis
Shout! Factory

Shout! Factory brings us another disparate quadruple bill of action films from the MGM vaults in ACTION-PACKED MOVIE MARATHON VOLUME TWO.

BULLETPROOF is the nickname of police detective Frank McBain (Gary Busey, SILVER BULLET) who has been shot at least thirty-nine times during his top secret service in the military and on the streets as a cop. Having walked away from the service after the death of his partner, McBain is soon pressed into service again to retrieve the high-tech, bulletproof tank Thunderblast from Mexico where it has been grabbed by a gang of Mexican/Arab/Nicaraguan "communistas" – the People's Liberation Army – lead by former Green Beret Kartiff (Henry Silva, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) in cahoots with Mexican general Brogado (René Enríquez, THE EVIL THAT MEN DO). McBain is ready to refuse the assignment until he learns that his former love Captain Devon Shepard (Darlanne Fluegel, EYES OF LAURA MARS) is among the ambushed unit being held captive in a remote village. Meanwhile, Devon has managed to keep herself and some members of her team – including her sergeant (L.Q. Jones, BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN) – with her knowledge of the Thunderblast's access codes and weaponry; but Kartiff is determined to get her to submit her mind and body to him in order to sell the tank to the Russians.

BULLETPROOF – from Cinetel (976-EVIL, RELENTLESS) – is as by-the-numbers as any Cannon action pic from just a few years before (including the Chuck Norris ones helmed by this film's director Steve Carver). The original story is credited to Fred Olen Ray and T.L. Lankford – whose partnership goes all the way back to SCALPS – and one can't help but think it would have been more entertaining as a lower budget effort (presumably with Sybil Danning in Fluegel's role as well as spots for Ross Hagen and John Philip Law, and presumably Michelle Bauer and Brinke Stevens as the nuns). Everyone's heard of McBain (I couldn't help but think of the action movie character of the films-within-films from THE SIMPSONS by the way his name is said fearfully or reverently by various characters here), and even his police captain (Lincoln Kilpatrick, THE OMEGA MAN) can't help but like his "style" even as he's chewing him out over the mass destruction of the opening action setpiece. No sooner are we amazed that his scaredy cat partner (Thalmus Rasulala, BLACULA) has survived the opening shootout and pyrotechnics than we get a slow-motion flashback to the murder of his previous partner (in a hostage situation that will of course be echoed in the film's finale giving him a choice to handle it differently), as well as flashbacks to the soulful (he plays the sax in his free time) McBain mooning over Devon who came between him and his partner. The villains are a mish-mash of parties unlikely to come together, but they are all suitably vile and the worst ones are spectacularly killed during the climax.

Even if Busey is underwhelming as the cookie-cutter action hero here (it's an R-rated film, but he goes around calling the baddies "butthorn"), the film is at least if not well-cast at least pleasantly-peopled with the likes of Luke Askew (EASY RIDER) as the not-entirely-forthcoming general, R.G. Armstrong (PREDATOR) as one of McBain's former colleagues, SATAN'S PRINCESS herself Lydie Denier as McBain's mostly-nude current girlfriend, Redmond Green (THE DEAD) as the village priest and Lucy Lee Flippin (THE TELEPHONE BOOK) as one of the captive nuns, as well as a pre-cult fame Danny Trejo (FROM DUSK TIL DAWN) and William Smith (GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE) as a slimy Russian general. Fluegel and Silva have more chemistry as enemies than she does with Busey (with whom she would also appear in the direct-to-video thriller BREAKING POINT), but the always welcome Jones makes for stoically brave support to the two leads during the explosive climax which is at least entertaining if thoroughly predictable. Technical credits are slick yet undistinguished from the photography of Francis Grunmann (FIRE AND ICE) to the score of Steve Rucker and Thomas Chase (better known for THE CHIPMUNKS and GUMMI BEARS among several other animated series), although production designer Adrian Gorton (UNFORGIVEN) gives us a nice crumbled Mexican village set to be leveled by the special effects team.

BAMBOO GODS AND IRON MEN looks like a Cirio H. Santiago film, and it is (kind of): it's produced by Santiago and directed by the only slightly less prolific Cesar Gallardo (HUSTLER SQUAD), and Vic Diaz even pops up for a minute or two. James Iglehart (who would later star in Santiago's DEATH FORCE) plays boxer Calvin Jackson on honeymoon in China with his bride (Shirley Washington, DETROIT 9000) who purchases a carved wooden Buddha statue of dubious value. Unknown to them, they are being tailed by Ivan, an old associate who was hired by Leo (Ken Metcalfe, FIRECRACKER) to track down a leather pouch buried with a tenth century scientist believed to have discovered a powerful substance that could rule the world. In order to transport the pouch to Leo in Manilla, he stashes it in the Buddha for Leo's men to retrieve later. After he has completed his mission, Leo has Ivan killed by ruthless assassin Ambrose. The efforts of Leo's men to get their hands on the Buddha are quickly frustrated by Charley (Filipino comedian Chiquito) – a mute Chinese man saved from drowning by Calvin who has dogged followed the couple to the Philippines in gratitude – whose martial arts skills have proven more useful than Calvin's boxing at fending off the criminals. Eventually Leo's men are able to get their hands on the Buddha but the pouch is not found. Suspecting that Calvin has stumbled upon the pouch, he sends Ambrose after him with deadly intent.

Just as clumsy as a Santiago film but a bit more entertaining, BAMBOO GODS AND IRON MEN doesn’t quite live up to its epic title; however, it's a nice mix of the usual intrigue, fight scenes, and comic relief (here provided by Chiquito and a bumbling police detective and his assistant). Performances are mostly stilted, but Iglehart and Washington have a naturalistic chemistry (their scenes are shot with live sound and they seem to be adlibbing some of the dialogue, and the audio quality is noticeably rougher than the scenes with dubbed actors). Metcalfe looks more than a bit ridiculous here with his shaved head and shiny purple kimonos, but he's the standard Santiago villain (more so because this was yet another of the Santiago films written by the actor/local casting director for American films shot in the Philippines). The scene introducing Charley almost seems to have been dropped in from another movie entirely as it is very different in tone – and also provides the film's first instance of T&A – and may very well have been from some unfinished film recycled here. The ending – which winds up with everyone in a sort of black face – is simultaneously trite and funny. A time waster for sure, but not a bad way to waste it.

In TRACKDOWN, Montana farm girl Betsy (Karen Lamm, THE UNSEEN) runs away to Hollywood. She catches the eye of a Chicano gang who think they can make some money off of her and press Chucho (a pre-CHiPs Erik Estrada) – who owes them money – to gain her trust (by pretending to come the rescue when they nab her suitcase). Chucho gives Betsy a place to stay and pretends to get her a job only to fall for her. When he refuses to give her up to the gang, he is beaten and she is raped, drugged, and then sold to wealthy Johnny Dee (Vince Cannon, EARTH II) who is in the business of providing girls to high-paying clients. Johnny's gentler assistant/top call girl Barbara (Anne Archer, FATAL ATTRACTION) makes a more persuasive case to Karen for embracing the lifestyle and guides Karen through her first few jobs. Meanwhile, Karen's cowboy brother Jim (James Mitchum, MONSTROID) has blazed into town looking for his kid sister and run into apathetic cops (John Kerry, MEMORIAL VALLEY MASSACRE) and overwhelmed social services personnel who have heard the girl runs away to the city story a thousand times or more. Jim eventually gets some help from shelter operator Lynn (Cathy Lee Crosby, THE DARK) and their inquiries lead them straight to Chucho who is as desperate to find Betsy as he is to get revenge on the gang who sold her; but will they be able to get anything on the untouchable Johnny Dee before Betsy has to take on some of his less stable clients?

Scripted by Paul F. Edwards (V, GUNSMOKE) from a story by TV director Ivan Nagy (PUSHING UP DAISIES) – who would later write and direct a few episodes of CHiPs – and directed by Richard T. Heffron (FUTUREWORLD), TRACKDOWN is sort of a forerunner to Paul Schrader's HARDCORE (1979) without the pornographic film aspect (although that could very well be one of Johnny Dee's side operations). Although there are some chuckles to be had, the film is played relatively straight so the action scenes (from punch-outs with transvestites to gunplay including a spectacular shootout between parties riding atop two elevators) do not overwhelm the more somber aspects of the plot (including the shocking fates of two sympathetic characters). The revenge aspect of the story is refreshingly lacking in self-righteousness (perhaps because Crosby's and Estrada's characters call Mitchum's stubborn machismo into question a number of times after he's almost been killed), and the ending is satisfying for the audience even if it's a hollow victory for the protagonist. Charles Bernstein's (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) score features a moody theme song "In the City" sung by Jerry Whitman (who would later sing Bernstein's jokey end-title song "Too Bad You're Crazy" for APRIL FOOL'S DAY). The cast also features Leslie Simms (BLOOD MANIA, POINT OF TERROR) as a harried social services clerk and Tony Burton (ROCKY) as one of the black transvestites.

Singer Connie Stevens (TV's HAWAIIAN EYE) ditches the microphone for a gun in SCORCHY as Jackie Parker, a policewoman working deep undercover as a jet-setting "bum" ostensibly running her own one-woman/one-plane charter flight company. For the past two years she has been trying to bust a drug smuggling operation of the Bianco brothers, antique dealers in Rome and Seattle who transport heroin inside "priceless" statues sold to American tourists. The latest is a bronze wolf being shipped to actress Mary Davis (Joyce Jameson, DEATH RACE 2000) under the guard of ruthless courier/hitman Karl Heinrich (William Smith, GRAVE OF THE VAMPIRE). With her chief (Norman Burton, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER) leaning on her to make a break after flitting around the world tracking the Biancos for two years, Jackie gets lucky when Philip Bianco (Cesare Danova, MEAN STREETS) decides to collect on his fifty-thousand dollar loan to Jackie to start up her charter company by having her transport the drugs to their buyer. Shockingly, neither one of them expect to be repeatedly double-crossed by their shady partners.

Directed by Howard Avedis (MORTUARY), SCORCHY may be one of the oddest seventies cop films in its incongruous mix of the campy and the grim. Stevens is an odd choice for a female cop (Stella Stevens, maybe) and her presence – along with Danova and B.J. AND THE BEAR's Greg Evigan (in his introductory role as Bianco's unsuspecting brother-in-law) – and the lack of T&A (especially for an R-rated film from this era) suggests something more lightweight and middle-aged-audience-friendly. On the flipside of that is a wonderfully ruthless performance by Smith – who interrupts the breezy fun of a race car versus sports car chase to not only knock a motorcyclist off his bike but also kick him in the face and then shoot him – and a bloody shootout finale capped by a surprisingly grim freeze-frame final shot. Avedis' wife Marlene Schmidt (1961's Miss Universe) appears as Bianco's wife.

As with their ALL-NIGHT HORROR MARTHON set, Shout! Factory's ACTION-PACKED MOVIE MARATHON VOLUME TWO transfers are a mixed bag. The most recent film BULLETPROOF – previously released on tape and laser by RCA/Columbia and on DVD by Platinum Disc Corp. – is presented in a colorful but flat-looking interlaced anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer with a suitably active Ultra Stereo track (in Dolby Digital 2.0). BAMBOO GODS AND IRON MEN is also presented in an interlaced anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that actually looks better than BULLETPROOF for the most part, although skin tones are a bit reddish (it's more than a notch below Shout's earlier New World/Santiago titles). TRACKDOWN's transfer is an oddity. It is anamorphic and framed at 1.81:1; however, it is windowboxed with thick black mattes on all four sides of the frame, as if the telecine operator windowboxed the opening credits and just left it like that for the entire transfer. Since it's obviously not a new transfer due to the weak colors and grayish blacks, I'm thinking that it was a non-anamorphic letterbox transfer and whoever converted it to 16:9 decided to add side mattes (which are a shade darker than the vertical mattes) to maintain the aspect ratio rather than cropping and resizing the 4:3 image).

SCORCHY is presented here in a fullscreen (open-matte but zoomed in slightly) tape master under the title RACE WITH DEATH. I've been asked by a reader if this version has Stevens' nude scenes but there's only a glimpse of her bare back in the shower so I'm guessing it's a TV edit or at least a toned down version since there are still some bloody bullet hits during the climax. When SCORCHY was released on VHS by Lightning Video (labeled "Home Video Version"), it was one of the American International titles for which Orion had no home video musical rights like THE CONQUEROR WORM, SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, THE CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR, PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, SLAUGHTER’S BIG RIP-OFF, WAR ITALIAN STYLE, WINTERHAWK, CRIME & PASSION, and a few others. The original music track of Igo Kantor – later Film Ventures’ in-house composer/editor/music supervisor – was replaced with a synthesizer score by Kendall Schmidt. MGM seems to have resolved the music rights issues with these titles before making them available. (Eric Cotenas)