Drive-In CouchFest: Day Of The Panther (1988)

I almost thought about making this review for Day Of The Panther another entry in the Awesome Aussies list, reviews which have included a documentary about Australian drive-in fair called Not Quite Hollywood, Dead End Drive-In, Mad Max and Road Warrior, but, seeing as how it technically came in the drive-in box set, I’ll stick with what I’ve got. As far as I remember, DOTP wasn’t mentioned in NQH, but it was directed by noted Aussie action director Bryan Trenchard-Smith, who also did Dead End. I will without a doubt say that this movie is in fact awesome and Australian, but I can’t really tell you much about the story because for the life of my I couldn’t follow a damn minute of it. One minute you’re watching a bunch of white people in a very Asian looking dojo being granted something or other, then a woman (I THINK the same woman from the dojo) has a knock down drag out fight with some dudes wearing masks, then you’ve got our hero Jason Blade (sounds like a Mortal Kombat name to me) getting a weird dance in the middle of a work out session, then an old friend of his shows up but they fight, then Jason, the dancer girl and the old guy all go after a guy who looks like he’s set up shop at the next location for Shakespeare in the park. As for why any of this happens or anyone’s mad at each other, I can’t tell you. It doesn’t help that the brown haired, square jawed white guy playing Blade looks just like the brown haired, square jawed heavy who plays the bad guy. Just now reading the two or three sentence rundown of the plot made things make sense, there are drugs and what not involved and Blade’s partner does get murdered (after that lengthy fight through what looked like a set of Cyborg against several guys in masks, this woman gets taken out by some douchbag in a sportcoat with a switchblade!

Anyway, the hows and whys aren’t what make this a rad movie. At 86 minutes you don’t really have time to worry about those damn plot developments as it seems mostly packed with awesome fights which look dangerously real and weird dance numbers by 80s ladies in leotards that would make a superhero from that time period blush. Or more likely cringe. I’ve said it before in regards to Thai and Australian action movies, what makes them so awesome is the fact that it really seems like those people are doing what they’re doing and most likely getting hurt. There’s one scene towards the end where the old guy tosses his former captor over a ledge. It’s shot from the bottom of the hill through barbwire. You see the guy fly out, then hit the rocky hillside, then roll down into the barbwire where someone’s hand shoots out to stop him. That might take some people out the movie, but it keeps me right in there. That dude could have DIED. The screencaps I took all match up to points why I think you should watch the movie. If you’re not convinced, I don’t know what more I can say.

SCORE: Completely awesome and worth watching, while being mostly hard to follow. Makes me want to check out Strike Of The Panther, the sequel which came out THE SAME YEAR!

Awesome Aussies: Mad Max (1979) & Mad Max 2 (1981)

After watching Not Quite Hollywood, I came to the depressing realization that I’ve never actually seen the original Mad Max. Looking to correct that immediately, I added it to the top of my queue and got to watching it last week. Man, this movie is out of control. Tarantino mentioned in NQH that these are the kinds of movies that really suck you in because you know that these are real people doing real stunts. I don’t remember if he was talking about Mad Max specifically, but you really get the sense that everything you’re seeing is really happening because you know at least some of it is really happening. That out of control car crash? Is that one of the ones that almost got someone killed? Did that arm really get run over? Holy shit!!! It’s the same feeling I get when I watch Thai movies like The Protector and Ong-Bak or older Jackie Chan movies (you know, ones where he’s not playing the schtick for the kiddies).

Anyway, the parts where Max isn’t on screen can be a bit dull. The idea behind the movie is that we’re in Australia after some kind of global apocalypse. Max, played of course by Mel Gibson, is a cop who takes out a crazy car bandit who goes by the name of Nightrider. This makes Nightrider’s former gang pretty peeved and they go after Max and his friends. From there you get a lot of car crashes and killings. Unfortunately, Max gets sent over the edge with some pretty terrible stuff happening that kind of informs not only his character in the rest of the series but also his character in the Lethal Weapon series. Anyway, the poster is rad, right? So’s the movie. Give it a watch either for the first time or because it’s been awhile.

Unlike Mad Max, I know I’ve seen Mad Max 2, or as it’s called in the States Road Warrior, once at a Manly Movie Night and maybe one other time, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember more than the very basic premise of Max going after a gang of car marauders, this time even crazier with weirder cars lead by a guy named Humungus sporting a Jason Voorhees hockey mask. There’s more to it, taking into account the fact that Max is actually helping a group of people who are running an oil rig from Humungus and his crew, a little kid with a super-sharp boomerang and one of the best dog actors I’ve ever seen. Seriously, dog’s got skillz.

Anyway, there’s something about Mad Max 2 that takes it away from the original. It’s a lot bigger and weirder with more larger than life villains with cooler cars, but it feels less real thanks to a lot of those. You still get Gibson being cold, hard and generally badass but he spends less time in his pimp ride and more hanging out with a dude who built his own helicopter on a mountain and in a compound.

Director George Miller, who also directed the original and oddly enough Happy Feet and Babe: Pig In The City (weird right?), seemed to pick up on some cool elements from the original without bringing over the actual coolest moments and making this a completely balls to the wall nutzo crazy fest. Instead, we still get our somewhat boring down moments just like in the first one. Don’t be mistaken, there is a truly ass kicking car chase at the end of the movie that makes it worth while and so far, this is the best Mad Max sequel (I HAAAAATE Thunderdome). Heck that movie seemed to take the one cool kid with the boomerang and turn him into an entire clan of weirdo dummy children that I wanted to punch in the face individually but can’t because, you know, it’s a movie. Ah well, it’s still a fun ride (no pun intended) and worth the price of admission (a Netflix rental). I’ve got a super trashy Drive In 50-pack along with a much smaller kung fu DVD pack coming in the mail which will surely be far more disappointing. Especially Black Hooker.

Awesome Aussies: Not Quite Hollywood (2008) & Dead End Drive-In (1986)

I watched a lot of documentaries last week, but my favorite one by far was called Not Quite Hollywood. It documents the history of Australian film, sticking mostly to bawdy comedies, horror movies, skin flicks and other grindhouse fair, aka all kinds of movies that I would dig. The doc did a great job of getting what seemed like all of the big names in the industry into the movie and then a series of other people who brought in all kinds of color from film critics who hated these movies to American stars like Jamie Lee Curtis who appeared in some of the movies and even Quentin Tarantino who is just a really big fan of these movies. If nothing else, Not Quite Hollywood acts as a checklist for movie fans of a lot of flicks you might not have heard of if you’re around my age. The few that I had heard of were, of course, Mad Max, Patrick (which I hadn’t seen, but the ending gets spoiled in the footage shown), The Howling 3 and BMX Bandits (which I have seen). After watching the movie, I checked out the Wiki page for a full list and then checked it against Netlflix. Unfortunately, movies like Stunt Rock, The Man From Hong Kong and Death Cheaters don’t seem to be available. In fact, the majority that I looked up aren’t Mad Max, Dead End Drive-In and a few others are rentable by disc while Patrick is on Instant. So, keep an eye out for reviews of those in the coming days/weeks.

But, aside from being a watchable checklist, NQH also does an awesome job of giving viewers a true sense of the scene. These dudes weren’t really looking to make high art, they wanted to show some boobs, get some blood splatter, crash some cars and kick some ass. The movies were mostly designed to be shown in drive-ins around the world and the people who made them make no pretense about it. Budding filmmakers should take the time to give this a look for some dos and don’ts when it comes to filmmaking as these guys were mostly working on low budgets.

One of my favorite parts of the movie is when everyone’s talking about this movie called Mad Dog Morgan. They brought Dennis Hopper in to star as the titular character and then nearly everyone in the doc goes on about how much of a drunk ass the guy was. Just causing trouble and not worrying about continuity between shots and being generally drunk. Then, Hopper actually pops up and owns up to it! It’s great. I’m also a big fan of seeing Tarantino get really excited and talk about these movies, many of which he not only claims as inspiration but explains what parts of them he used in some of his movies.

Of all the rad movies I saw clips of in NQH, the one that intrigued me the most was Dead End Drive-In and luckily it’s one of the few available for rent. The plot, as it was explained in the documentary was that the government basically took a drive-in and turned it into a concentration camp for bad kids. They’re given food vouchers, live in their cars and have a steady stream of movies playing on the screen. It’s kind of like a much smaller Escape From New York and instead of an ultra bad ass like Snake Plissken, our hero goes by Crabs. See, he and his girlfriend went to the drive-in to watch some flicks. While there, the cops steal his tires and they’re stuck there. The next day Crabs gets the rundown from the drive-in operator who tells him he’s there for a while, whether he likes it or not.

Unlike just about everyone else, though, Crabs doesn’t like it and start planning on how to bust the hell out of what some of us might call a filthy paradise. I’ll be honest, I was working on Toy Fair coverage while the movie was on and, thanks to some of the thicker accents and my split attention, I missed some of the smaller details, but overall the plot is pretty simple and a ton of fun culminating in a giant car chase within the confines of the drive-in. There’s also some cultural commentary in there as some Asians are bussed in to parallel the camps the US set up for Japanese Americas during WWII. The subplot might seem a bit weighty for such a seemingly silly movie, but I liked the attempt and the visceral reaction it got from most of the other internees, though not Scab. It’s what sets him apart from his fellow dirtballs and really does make him the hero of the movie, as if he needed more reason than living so long with such a terrible nick name.

In addition to someday wanting to own/run a bar, I now want to open a really rad drive-in. I don’t really get why they’re not very popular anymore. I’d make it kind of an Alamo Drafthouse (and maybe a roller rink) with a variety of different movies, both new and old and some really good food. Anyone want to invest?