Archive for the ‘The Ocean’ Category

Raw Force (1982)


On the Norwegian Wikipedia page for the 1982 exploitation epic RAW FORCE — probably the only time I’ll ever start a sentence that way — we are informed that the movie was banned in Norway in 1984. That’s the most attention any kind of majority, political or otherwise, has paid this movie. RAW FORCE is made for almost no one, because it is apparently made for almost everyone. Nearly every convention or trope of genre movies from the first seventy or so years of the existence of film is expended in this one rickety heap of madness.




As I tried to describe on our latest podcast focusing on RAW FORCEdescribing this movie is like fighting a giant squid. Just when you’ve bested one wavy storytelling strand, another one snaps up and grabs you by the throat.


Here’s the trailer, which is maybe the most dishonest trailer I’ve ever seen:



That trailer literally sells a different movie. The clips are the same, but some of the character names and all of their backstories are totally different. The editors somehow cobbled together a cohesive story from several scenes that have no connection. This is the SHOGUN ASSASSIN of movie trailers. RAW FORCE is plenty of kinds of fun, but one adjective that does not apply is “cohesive.” This is the summary I gave on the podcast:




First, a quote from Anton Chekhov:

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

Okay. So early on in RAW FORCE, when a plane lands on a remote island and a character mentions that the waters surrounding the island are infested with vicious piranha, you can bet you will see those fish by the end of the movie. And if that character is a white-suited human trafficker who looks and talks exactly like Adolf Hitler, you may fairly assume he’ll be the one to meet them.




Otherwise, RAW FORCE, also known as KUNG FU CANNIBALS, completely ignores the principle of Chekhov’s gun. This movie operates under its own rules, and also it doesn’t have any rules. If you somehow managed to drink up all the movies and television shows of the 1970s and then you barfed them back up, the mess on the bathroom floor might look like this.




Saloon fights, graveyard fights, bazooka fights, hippies in warpaint, gratuitously naked ladies, karate-chopping hobbit bartenders, giggling monks who dine on human women, ninja zombies, a BOOGIE NIGHTS style group of protagonists calling themselves the Burbank Karate Club, an ornery sea captain, a kung fu chef, an extended riff on ‘Gilligan’s Island’, and the aforementioned worst person in human history: All this and more in RAW FORCE.


This was a fun episode even though I was delirious and feverish and congested and loopy. As always my co-hosts Joe and Freeman were terrific, engaging, and informative. You can subscribe and download the show on iTunes (please comment with feedback!) or you can



Here are our previous episodes, in case you’d like to catch up. We’re recording a new episode this week! Stay tuned.



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Jaws was released on this date in 1975. 37 years ago! 37 years of great-white supremacy. 37 years, and not a single legitimate challenger to the throne. What’s the last watchable great-white-shark movie to be released into theaters and truly strike a chord with movie lovers? There really, really aren’t many to even consider.

Deep Blue Sea? Those are makos, my friend.

Open Water? Promising, but overrated, and too modest either way. (Too much water, not enough shark.)

The Reef? Pretty good, but also modest, and besides, few have seen it.

Shark Night 3D? Still not sure that movie actually happened.

Dark Tide? Be serious now.

Of course I’m discounting ten years of no-budget SyFy movies (I may watch them but I’ll not count them) and, more conspicuously, the three Jaws sequels, but I’m fairly sure that the point is already made:

Not great.

REALLY not great.

Just about as “not great” as it gets.

In addition to being the tremendous and influential box-office success that it was upon release in the summer of 1975, Jaws is an uncontested champion in its genre. In fact, the genre field is as limited as it is because of Jaws. Everybody and their inbred Mormon cousin thinks they can take a crack at a vampire movie or a zombie movie, but few dare to jump in the pool of great-white-shark movies. And the only reason is that almost everyone with half a brain cell knows that their attempt will be unfavorably compared. The original Jaws is just plain that good a movie.

When I listed Jaws as one of the 13 movies every horror fan should see, I brought up the question of whether Jaws really does count as a horror movie. A great white shark is a very unlikely threat, especially as it behaves in this movie, but it obviously isn’t a supernatural one. There are great white sharks out there — though unfortunately, less and less of them every day. There are great white sharks, and in exceedingly rare circumstances, they have been known to bite people. (I recommend this account, concerning the true events that partially inspired Jaws.) But as large as its imagery still looms in the public imagination, Jaws is heavy fiction. You’re in greater danger from your next-door neighbor than you ever are from a great white shark, a fact many horror movies happily exploit. Peter Benchley and Steven Spielberg have both admitted to profoundly ambiguous feelings over Jaws being a smear job against sharks.

But what I’m getting to is a point I made much more concisely in my list of thirteen — that point being, that some fears lock into us on a primal level. There’s not much need for humanity to fear great white sharks, but on a basic, molecular, evolutionary level, both literally and figuratively, we’re all afraid of what we can’t see. We’re all afraid of being eaten. We can feel superior to animals all we want to, but when you come right down to it, in our basest instincts — we’re them. We rarely admit it, but we know it. People are animals, and all animals are food for somebody. Jaws speaks directly to this fear, way more than pretty much any other big-name monster movie. King Kong and Godzilla, The Wolfman and The Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Predator and The Alien and those creepy cave fuckers from The Descent, all of them might have teeth to bare at you, but ain’t none of ’em known to swallow a man whole. That, I argue, is why Jaws still remains at the top of the horror-movie food chain. It’s a 37-year-old movie so as effects and film stocks have changed it can’t help but have lost some of its potency, but it’s the rare 37-year-old movie that retains so much of that original impact.

So yes, Jaws, is a horror movie. Just think of all of its tremendous horror moments — that opening skinny-dipping attack (its exploitation of the vulnerability we feel when nude subtly drawing a line to Psycho); the ominously-dim scene where the two fishermen cheat death (“Take my word for it and don’t look back!“); the daytime death of Alex Kintner and how it corroborates Chief Brody’s every last fear; the William Castle jump-scare that is the discovery of Ben Gardner’s boat; that horrible, almost slow-motion moment in the estuary when we finally get to see those titular jaws, right as they’re closing around a man; the brilliant tonal shift that is Quint’s Indianapolis speech; and so on.

The genius of Jaws, and what director Steven Spielberg and his writers (including Carl Gottlieb, Howard Sackler, and John Milius) and composer (John Williams) and cinematographer (Bill Butler) did with Peter Benchley’s book, was not only that they managed to wring every last horror moment out of the killer-shark scenario, but also the way that they welded it onto the American nautical-adventure tradition that goes all the way back to Melville’s Moby Dick but also includes all of the swashbuckling pirate movies of the 1940s, with the unlikely Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss standing in for Errol Flynn. There are genuinely rousing moments in that final third of Jaws, when Robert Shaw is barking out orders from the bow of the Orca, that feel like the horror is at our backs and we’re chasing the big fish. These moments of the movie make Spielberg’s subsequent Indiana Jones films feel like a natural artistic progression (which they are). It’s the basis of Spielberg’s phenomenal career — that he can juggle genre so effectively even within a single movie. He’s modern cinema’s foremost utility player: He can find the horror moments in an action film, or a sci-fi, or even a historical drama, and he can balance all those with moments of comedy and pathos and big ideas and spectacle, and in the smooth transitions lies the key to why his movies work so well for so many people.

Jaws was a miracle moment for movies, where great writing and filmmaking (and perfect performances from Scheider and Shaw) all collide with a perfect premise, and together manages to brush up against the feel of myth. Even the cynics recognize it as a pivotal film in American culture. It’s a movie so mythic in our collective mindzones that even the behind-the-scenes stories remain endlessly fascinating to a legion of film fanatics — myself obviously included.

Here’s a short piece I once wrote about the real-life inspiration for Robert Shaw’s character Quint, a man named Frank Mundus: [DA-DUM!]

And here’s the super-fun article from Gothamist that reminded me I finally needed to say a few words to mark this occasion: [DA-DUM!]

Fish around for me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

“Oh God, something’s rubbing against my leg!”

P.S. Assuming no one will notice that I posted this article on June 21st, not June 20th. If you read it on June 22nd or anytime after, it won’t matter, right? Reality is malleable. Death is but a door. Time is but a window. You are getting very sleepy…

Shock Waves is a 1977 horror movie about underwater Nazi zombies.  To my knowledge there is as yet no movie about underwater KKK zombies, or underwater Islamic terrorist zombies.  Both of those groups wear little white robes, and the last thing you want is a Jaqueline-Bisset-in-TheDeep situation with those guys.  Nobody wants to see hateful racist zombies in wet T-shirts, not even horror movie fans who crave the most horrific sights.

I’m being silly, because that’s what I do, but this is actually a sweet little horror flick.  Shot on a micro-micro-budget, Shock Waves is an ingenious attention-getter on the part of director/co-writer Ken Wiederhorn and his crew.  If you’re going to make a movie for almost no money, this is an enviable business model.

The setting, a passenger boat which docks on a tropical island where a mad scientist has been concocting his evil experiments, farming out a breed of goose-stepping zombies who can walk underwater.  Florida was a thrifty stand-in for the tropics.  It’s like Lost meets Dawn Of The Dead!  (Said the obnoxious film executive who lives in my brain.)  There are also people you might even recognize in the movie — Brooke Adams, from Days Of Heaven, plays the ingenue…

Luke Halpin, the kid from Flipper, all grown-up and sort of working on a mullet (“The Floridian”), plays her possible love interest.  John Carradine, the acting legend, John Ford regular, and patriarch of the acting Carradines, plays the crusty old sea captain…

And Peter Cushing, famous to some from his work in the Hammer horror films and famous to everyone else from Star Wars, plays the mad German scientist.

In the DVD package that the incredible DVD/Blu-Ray company Blue Underground put out a while back, Ken Wiederhorn explains how he had Carradine for the first half of the movie (SPOILER ALERT: his character doesn’t make it to the island) and Cushing for the second half — that way, audiences always had a famous face on screen.  This is just one of the many clever and economical filmmaking decisions that the aspiring filmmakers among us can learn from.

Another lesson is that good horror doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective.  Shock Waves is made up of a few very basic elements which are spread over a brief but memorable running time.  In the first moments of the movie, a young woman in a bikini (there’s a decent reason for it) is found in a small boat by fishermen at the beginning of the movie.  In voiceover, she talks about how only now can she remember what happened to her.

The story then begins in earnest, on the boat, where a celestial event re-awakens the zombie scuba-divers of the S.S.  (Good idea for an alternate grindhouse title?)  Between the time that the boat arrives on shore and the inevitable zombie siege of the island transpires, Shock Waves is almost entirely atmosphere.  It turns out that there is a ton you can do to creep an audience out with a pack of six or seven unflinching Aryan uniformed creeps standing around in an incongruously tropical location — particularly with an electronic score as ominous as the one by Richard Einhorn, which will make fans of the scores of John Carpenter and Goblin very happy.

The fun of this movie is in the effect created by the union of the inventive framing, the glacial pacing, the excellent score, and the dead-serious treatment of a truly wackadoo premise.  It’s really creepy and entertaining to put this movie on and zone out.  For me personally, older and less-polished movies like this one are way more effective than newer, more so-called-flawless horror movies.  (This is an opinion you are sure to hear from me again.)  I think the more of a temporal remove, the more ruddiness and dust and rust in the frame, the more legitimate the movie seems to be.  Take a look at the following stills and tell me if you’d rather watch a movie like this one, or a more recent, prettier movie like Scream 4



This is fun stuff, although at this point there’s not much left to say about the movie.  I’m not spoiling much when I say that the bulk of the movie becomes a typical process of attrition.  The zombies wipe out all the breathing people.  Their preferred method of murder is by drowning — these guys grab you and push you underwater, which is an eerie way to go, but maybe not as much the fourth or fifth time.  These aren’t the most innovative of seafaring Nazi zombies, forty years spent marinating in salt water or not.  Ultimately, the last to survive, as we knew from the start, is Brooke Adams’s character, who is marooned on a life boat, found by those fishermen, and taken back to civilization.

As she recuperates in her hospital bed, she writes in her journal, resuming her voiceover.  She narrates how she can only know begin to remember what happened to her.  Then she says it again.  Then again. And again. Then we get a look at what she’s been writing, which is all illegible scribbles, “all work and no play” style, and we realize that she’s been driven entirely insane by her vacation with the undead.  It’s a cool little tag for an underrated and little-known movie.

Even though I’ve just talked about the ending, Shock Waves will still probably surprise you.  Like I said, it’s more about the vibe than the specifics, and if you’re a fan of unusual films, be they horror or otherwise, the vibe is one you can groove to.

Pick up Shock Waves from the Blue Underground website!  (It’s cheap!)

And ‘follow’ me on Twitter!