The end of two blogs… indefinitely.

I have been thinking about how to approach this post for the last week and a half. In truth, the indefinite stop to my two literary/film blogs seems inevitable. And unfortunately, I’ve decided not to finish off the “52 weeks of Films” blog-roll I’d started last year on Creepy Six Tales. Getting further and further behind, these posts are now weeks behind as time continues to get away from me these days. This blog-roll should have been wrapped by next month, instead I still have 10 films in the queue and three 300-word posts written – but not posted.

Between Creepy Six Tales, The Jess Franco Blogspot, the Creepy Six Films official site (and its blog), the new Brivido Giallo site, and the Shivers Film Society blog, there is just not enough time to keep up with the ever-changing content as well as the continuous need for new content on both of the aforementioned literary blogs (Creepy Six Tales and The Jess Franco Blogspot, to be clear). Nevermind the fact that I now have a Tumblr account that quite literally has digital tumbleweeds lazily rolling through it as it sits abandoned somewhere in cyberspace, and a Twitter account that is run by a wonderfully automated online system called Twitterfeed. Facebook? I don’t even have the interest to go down that side-street of a time vacuum. The decision to stop blogging (indefinitely) is not a light one by any means, the Jess Franco Blogspot in particular has been very good to me. But those posts too have been growing farther apart, and let’s be honest here, the idea for the 52 Weeks of Films I’ve Never Seen was really just a one-year filler for me while I thought of something really good to write – like the 52-part Tales of The Plumber I’d managed to do in 2011. Okay, maybe that wasn’t great literature, either, but damn, I had a blast doing that one, and really took to the challenge of writing a connective series of short stories (or chapters) every week for one year. I’d love to have the time to do something else like that in the future. The 52 Weeks of Films… suffered due to a lack of real inspiration, and the fact that I’ve now (finally) realized that writing and blogging are two vastly different art forms that require quite different variants of, shall we put it, a talent for concentration. I no longer have the luxury of a full-time job where I can steel an hour of The Company’s Time to duck out at a computer console rapping away at a new and insightful post every month, let alone once a week. When I do set aside my ever-increasingly precious time for writing, my mind automatically triggers the need to channel that inspiration into the work I’m truly excited about, which is, at the time of this writing, working on the next two screenplays for Creepy Six Films and the new Brivido Giallo production companies.

Running three independent films companies is a daunting enough task, in this day and age I find that I need to do that with a full-time gig on top of it, and at the same time I’m becoming more and more interested in quality time with my friends, family, the new Jess Franco blu-rays that have been sitting in my closet, unopened, for the last two months, and even the odd Stephen King book. While I don’t have a mass following on Creepy Six Tales or The Jess Franco Blogspot, and while I doubt one more internet film blogger will really be missed (indefinitely), I hope that this re-focusing of my concentration and efforts will reflect positively for Creepy Six Films, Brivido Giallo, and the Shivers Films Society, which I do intend to keep running – indefinitely – and with the great gusts of enthusiasm as I’ve always had for those companies that are really close to my heart and mind. So goodbye, blogs, (for now), and I thank all of the readers and supporters that have been with me so far – I’ll see you cinephiles and wonderful supporters of indie films at the cinema! The few that are left, anyway. But that’s a whole other blog waiting to happen…

Very truly,

Vince.

Week 39 (of 52 movies I’ve never seen)…

Yes, there was indeed a brief hiatus (or, cinematico interruptus), and likely three weeks have gone by between postings, but I assure you the distraction was most definitely cinema-related as we were busy programming repertory screenings in Vancouver.  At any rate, I was still able to find a few gems over the last couple of weeks and now I’ll be playing catch-up with this blog. So here goes…

Week 39_dodeskadenDodes’Ka-Den” (1970)

Written by Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni and Shinobu Hashimoto & Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Source: Rental DVD (Criterion).

I have not seen a lot of Kurosawa’s films, and of those from his extensive career that I have, none of them have been the types of films he’s widely known for – his Samurai films. Roshomon notwithstanding (I don’t really consider this one a true Samurai genre film), it’s taken me some time to get engaged in the whole Japanese Samurai film as a whole, as I’d mentioned in an earlier short essay on the movie Three Outlaw Samurai. Rather, (Roshomon notwithstanding once again), my exposure to Kurosawa was his crime films, Stray Dog, and one of my all-time favourite films, High and Low. I’ve long considered High and Low to be one of the best stories I’ve ever seen filmed. It’s not the crime aspect of the story (the kidnapping of a young boy, held for ransom – in fact, based on an Ed McBain novel titled A King’s Ransom), but rather the purely human, and dare I say, optimistically humanistic reactions to the crime, a crime which turns out to be a wicked folly. Add to this the sudden introduction, about halfway through the movie, of shall we say a cinematic essay on the division of class in Japan in the 1960’s. Now take those two interesting components, the components you might even say that Kurosawa as a storyteller was most interested in exploring, and place those ideas now in a lush, colourful world of society misfits (the poor) living in the dilapidated outskirts of Tokyo. Here you have the wonderful Dodes’Ka-Den, a story of pure humanity told through many different characters as they go through their lives like dogs chasing their tales. A crippled businessman who seems to be liked by everyone in the makeshift community, a lone hermit, whose past is filled with angst and sorrow, bickering housewives and their drunk husbands, a zen master, a sick father of a sick child who, rather than trying to physically care for his son, tries to get his son to escape with him into an imaginary world that he uses to block out his own reality; and a young, slightly mentally challenged boy, who thinks of himself as a streetcar conductor and spends his days running, on foot, from one end of the compound to the other, making his imaginary streetcar runs over an eight-hour shift to the sounds of dodes’ka-den, dodes’ka-den, dodesa’ka-den, symbolically and nonsensically verbalizing the day-to-day repetitiveness that is what the entire micro-community is trying to escape from. As these characters come to learn and realize life lessons we experience their anger, frustration, sorrow, irony, love, and even many moments of comic levity. This isn’t just a movie about human beings, it’s a beautiful movie about human beings.

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Week 38 of 52 movies I’ve never seen

Haywire” (2011)

Week_38_haywireBy Steven Soderbergh

Source: Digital file

Okay, yes, anyone who’s been keeping up with this blogroll knows that I swore off Steven Soderbergh films for the rest of my life following the abysmal banality of the semi-insane Schizopolis and the thoroughly unsuccessful neo-realism take on the apocalyptic virus sub-genre Contagion. My wife tried to watch Magic Mike last week and turned it off halfway through. Neither of us were keen on jumping into Haywire, that’s for sure, but we were unable to get a copy of The Artist to watch and after the horrendously underthought and single-minded DeNiro/Sigourney Weaver flick Red Lights, which we also aborted halfway through, we were out of new flicks to watch. Or rather, new-ish. So I started Haywire while my wife sat back and played “Tapped Out” for an hour and a half on her new phone. As I told her, “Well, one of these Soderbergh flicks must be good, right? It’s just the odds”. And thankfully, even though I’d been joking, I was right. (breathing sigh of relief here). Like very other genre or sub-genre that Soderbergh tackles (the Oceans Eleven series not withstanding here) is played to the tune of neo-realism. We’ve seen him do it with the genre pics Contagion, The Limey, and Solaris, the last two of those being pretty successful, artistically speaking, and here we have him taking on the super-spy martial arts action-thriller genre. With neo-realism. Uh, yeah… but it works. The plot structure reminded me a little of The Usual Suspects wherein we have three stories going on simultaneously through inter-cutting as our heroin Mallory, a super-secret and super-deadly spy working for a private firm hired by the American government has to go on the run when she’s set up to take the fall for a highly convoluted double-cross. One of these three stories goes deeper than the rest, and soon the plots all catch up with Mallory as she’s speeding away in a car, telling her story to a civilian who happened to get involved at a roadside diner incident involving guns, coffee and martial arts. The action is shot minimalistically and at some points it’s even raw, some of the shots go on for minutes at a time – and this is what really makes the movie stand out. Even though we’re dealing with a super-deadly female James Bond globe-trotting from one set-up to the next, the way it’s all filmed makes us feel like it’s real, like this is what governments do on a daily basis and the the heads of assassination corporations are really just human beings whose feelings can get hurt just like the rest of us. I have to say that Gina Carano, a professional athlete, is absolutely captivating in her first lead role here, and Haywire is overflowing with movie star cameos, but this works out, too, without being distracting. In fact, in a weird way, it gives the film a little more verisimilitude. I was happy to finally experience a satisfying Soderbergh romp after such a long series of misfires, but I have to say, I wasn’t all that surprised when the end credits rolled and I saw that Haywire had been written by Lem Dobbs – the same writer who scripted the only other Soderbergh film I really liked, The Limey.

Week 37 of 52 movies I’ve never seen

Three Outlaw Samurai” (1964)

936full-three-outlaw-samurai-artworkA Film By Hideo Gosha

Source: Blu-ray (Criterion Collection)

According to Criterion, Hideo Gosha is one of the most celebrated Japanese filmmakers – honestly, I had no idea, but Three Outlaw Samurai is undoubtedly the work of a cinematically visionary filmmaker. The story can be summed up quickly, as a wandering Ronin comes across three peasants holed up in a decapitated farmhouse,m holding the daughter of the magistrate hostage in order to negotiate lower taxes, taxes that had been designed to keep the peasants underfoot. Through circumstance, the Ronin (protecting the peasants from the magistrate’s samurai) befriends two other mercenary samurai, and the three of them together face the double-crossing magistrate and his soldiers. I’ve never been a fan of sword-and-sandal epics, and to me, Samurai films were simply a Japanese version of these low-budget oversees popcorn films, but as I further explore the genre, I’m slowing gaining more of an appreciation for the deceptively simple plots of the classic Samurai films of Japan that unravel in a series of unearthed sub-plots, incidents, criss-crossing characters, the stabs at (or within) human darkness, and at times even political conspiracy. In this light, I’m beginning to see the Samurai film as akin to both the Spaghetti Western and the story style of American Films Noirs. And because of this,I’m now pretty keen on doing some further exploring within this genre. Luckily for me, a blind purchase (due to a cheap price and my usual affinity for the films in the Criterion Collection), I would up with Hideo Gosha’s first film as the door-opener into this celebrated Japanese genre. The black & white cinematography is astounding and reminded me of the stark black-and-white gangster films Underworld Beauty and Branded to Kill. Three Outlaw Samurai is a short film but there is plenty to contemplate here. I know I might be in the minority of film fanatics, discovering the Samurai genre so late, but if you happen to be in the same boat, I can’t recommend Three Outlaw Samurai enough. Track it down!

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Week 36 of 52 movies I’ve never seen

Well, things got a little behind the last couple of weeks, what with the holiday film watching and all, the Christmas cinema marathon consisting of the usual yuletide rituals such as Gremlins, Trading Places, Die Hard, Elf, Scrooged, Lethal Weapon, Deep Rising (okay, there’s no way around the fact that that one’s no Christmas movie – but damn, it’s fun), The Long Kiss Goodnight, Elf (again), A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, The Conversation, Tales from the Crypt, and likely a few more I can’t recall. Strangely, Black Christmas was absent this year. Anyway, enough about all the movies I have seen already, and onto something I hadn’t seen yet… A little indie-horror opus that leaked out onto the scene earlier this year, a little something called…

Excision” (2011/12)

Week 36_excision_2012_pauline_2-300x268Written & Directed by Richard Bates, Jr.

Source: Digital download.

Produced and released by Anchor Bay films, it was the blu-ray artwork that originally caught my eye and snagged my intrigue. I kept the title in mind and found the film online when I got home and gave it a try. An ultra-modern American horror film, this one is about a misfit high school girl who seems to have more gumption than confidence but is able to use that talent to get what she wants, despite her acute disinterest in school, and in fact, in education in general. This counterpoints her passion for becoming a medical surgeon, we all know, as the audience, that you sort of need to go to school for that kind of career projection. Our anti-heroine, Pauline (played perfectly by actress AnnaLynne McCord), is growing up with a loving sister who has cystic fibrosis, a forceful (but not entirely intractable, which makes her not completely off-putting) Catholic mother played by Traci Lords, a likeable if mostly perfunctory dad, and a priest who is acting as her therapist at the request of her mother – a priest played by John Waters. In one of the film’s ultra-modern cinema movements, these cameos and small parts played by ex-exploitation actors are not played for laughs or in-jokes. John Waters and Traci Lords play their parts with verisimilitude and pull them off well. We don’t laugh when we see John Waters as the priest like we did in Blood Feast 2. No, this is the new-new American horror film, the post-French New Wave brand of horror (as in post-Martyrs, post-Inside), that takes the French twist of darkness as hell, placing it all in a gory context within an emotionally decaying lead character. Dark, indeed. But successful? I don’t know. There are some good ideas in this film, but it felt stretched out to me. I was not surprised to find out after-the-fact that this feature film was actually based on the director’s original short film. I’d certainly be interested to see that, I think the problem with non-cinematic horror films in general is that filmmakers are so afraid to make something not feature-length, whether the story warrants it or not. Author Clive Barker said that he feels the most impactful horror happens in the short form, and I tend to agree. If you’re going to make a feature, you’d better make it cinematic. Luckily, Excision boasts some nice cinematography, even if the “normal” scenes were really too light and basic for my personal tastes, there’s no denying that the film is professionally shot. The scenes that are not so normal – the dream/surgery sequences as fantasised by Pauline… well, that’s something, plot-wise, that at least sets this movie slightly apart from the many other American horror films that get released every year. It does have some other things going for it, yet is it worth a watch? For sure. You could spend a worse 81 minutes. But as time goes on I doubt this story would stick around in your mind for very long. At the end of the day, and as much as the filmmakers obviously tried, Excision is just not cinematic enough for its own ambitions.

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That’s right, I’d never seen it before… Week 35 of 52 movies I’ve never seen

Last Tango in Paris” (1972/73)

Week 35_maria-schneider-last-tango-in-parisWritten by Bernardo Bertolucci Franco Arcalli Agnès Varda; Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci

Source: Blu-ray. (Amount of time in personal collection before watching: 8 months).

Like Ken Russell’s Tommy, Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris is one of those films nobody ever told me about. No one suggested I watch it, likely my friends and film freaks had all assumed I had seen it. Strange, I’d been to the cinema to see Bertolucci’s The Dreamers and I consider Besieged to be one of the most – no, scratch that – the most beautiful love story put to film. But that’s just me. Some people think Sleepless in Seattle is the most beautiful love story ever filmed. And hey, that’s okay. But other than those two films I actually haven’t seen any others from Bertolucci’s filmography. But I have to admit, I’m glad it took me so long to get around to Last Tango. I think if I’d seen it earlier in my life, a lot of the film would have been lost on me – this was one of those rare instances where I felt like I saw the film at the right time in my life. The story, for the other two of you who might not have seen this film, concerns a middle-aged widower (Brando) who starts a passionate love affair with a young Perisian (Maria Schneider) who is full of young, misdirected energy. The Affair with Brando puts her into strange positions, both physically and emotionally, as she’s engaged to a young filmmaker in Paris. Her fiancé seems more concerned with documenting their love for his camera and film crew, which bores her, and she finds herself repeatedly going back to Brando, despite the obvious self-destructiveness of the affair, which begins to focus Maria’s dangerous energy as much as it’s splitting her emotions. In one of the most brilliantly subtle scenes in any film, Brando and Schneider discover a small keepsake hole in the floor of the semi-squalid flat he’d been renting in Paris. Brando wants to look inside, he thinks there might be treasure in there. Schneider is afraid to look, because she’s afraid of what might be lurking in the darkness. And this exactly sums up the entire theme of the film, as we watch it all unfold between these two leading characters, whom we may or may not like because both of them are a little bit like us, in many ways. Last Tango is also one of the most gorgeously shot films I’ve ever watched, with a perfect mix of the cinematic and the avant-garde within one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, perfectly framed by Vitorrio Storaro at 1.85:1 – an aspect ratio that I’m sorrily beginning to miss as modern films are almost exclusively going to the trendy 2.35:1 wider-screen, whether the story warrants it or not. Last Tango in Paris might have caused quite a bit of controversy when released in 1972, seeing it now is amazing, it’s become one of my favourite films of all time.

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Week 34 of 52 movies I’ve never seen

Emmanuelle” (1974)

Week 34_emmanuelle-star-diesWritten by Jean-Louis Richard and Emmanuelle Arsan; Directed by Just Jaeckin

Source: Blu-ray (UK)

Sadly, just as I’m writing this, I only now found out that star Sylvia Kristel died on October 18th this year from cancer, which she’s been fighting for some years now. I hadn’t really mentioned her performance on the initial draft of this capsule review, but she really was a magnetic actress. Emmanuelle is something of an exploitation classic – which could perhaps be an oxymoron in cinematic language – directed by erotic/exploitation auteur Just Jaeckin, who also broght us films like “The Story of O” and “The Perils of Gwendolyn in the Land of Yak-Yak” with a nude Tawny Kitaen (most sought out by the hormone-ravaged around the time of the flashy late-eighties Whitesnake videos). To my nearly utter shock (although I admit I don’t know what I was expecting), Emmanuelle is an extremely well-made, well-written, well-shot (it’s actually very gorgeous) piece of cinematic erotica. The substance is… well, substantial enough – the plot does delve into the characters, their feelings and motivations, their lies and deceits (mostly to themselves), as our leading lady Emmanuelle, played by Sylvia Kristel, begins to break free from her seemingly open husband to explore her own sexuality. The plot follows Emmanuelle in a series of trysts that never seem to be thrown in for need of a specifically timed exploitation sequence. The film has a nice rolling motion to is and everything seems at ease, which makes it a pretty easy film to watch, along with the phenomenal photography and the beautiful set pieces – and actresses. The matters of the characters do not go into so dark a territory as In the Realm of the Scenes, in fact, this is pretty light erotic fare, not comedic, but not broodingly harsh, either, as the aforementioned film. On its release in 1974 it was actually an international hit, grossing high earnings in France and becoming infused in Japanese pop culture (to a degree), but until I’d seen it, I’d thought most of the film’s original popularity was to do with a case of international curiosity. No, in fact, likely the reason Emmanuelle brought softcore exploitation into the realm of the chic in the mid-seventies is because it really is I chic film. And an enjoyably chic film, at that.

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Week 33 of 52 films I’ve never seen

GIALLO”

Written & Directed by Dario Argento (based on an original script by Jim Agnew & Sean Keller)

Source: Digital.

Everybody lied to me… this film wasn’t so bad! Actually, I enjoyed it quite a bit! Okay, it was no classic Argento giallo… hell, it wasn’t even Sleepless (although I did love that one). But Giallo, the film that Argento himself walked away from in the days following the film’s post-production, the film that its star and co-producer Adrien Brody tried to have blocked from its own North American release, the film that left the producers scrambling under debts of thousands of dollars in unpaid dues, royalties, or god-knows-what-else (and who the hell cared?)… well, after all that, it’s honestly pretty damned entertaining. There’s more Argento in this Argento film that there has been in his last three efforts that I can remember, going back to (once again) Sleepless, which was actually his first attempted giallo comeback – after the abysmal and ill-conceived Phantom of the Opera remake. After Phantom, Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome was pretty fantastic, but it lacked the young energetic bravado of Opera or Inferno. It seemed Argento was phasing out the stylish thriller for far more gritty shenanigans – that is, until The Card Player came around, and it seemed clear that Argento was only interested in directing dull, television-style police thrillers. Or so-called “thrillers”. The fantastical style and influence of the gialli was appearing to have been evaporated from Argento’s filmmaking talents. So, what about Giallo, an obvious attempt to return to the roots of these stylish, violent, and sexual horror-thrillers? Well, if you’ll allow me to wrap around – it was no classic Argento, but on the flipside, it was no boring, flat, Card Player police flick, either. This one was… let’s call it enjoyably in-between. The plot is this: a young fashion model (Elsa Pataky) goes missing, and her older sister (Emmanualle Siegner) teams up with a mysterious Italian-American police investigator (Adrien Brody) to track her down. The plot throws us right into the middle of Brody’s investigation (interesting…), he seems to already know who may have abducted the young model – but he hasn’t cracked the case just yet. The violence is meaner here than it has been in the last couple of Argento’s thriller’s, giving this a harder edge, which is really good because along with the surprisingly brilliant art direction and Argento’s instinctive mis-en-scene (something else that had been missing form his films for a good while now), the film desperately needed these high points to balance off the nearly dumbfounding stupidity of the main villain. This villain, in fact, was actually just a bad idea. But the three leads are much too interesting to let this film go to waste, and Argento and the scriptwriters have some very nice ideas with these characters – mean, mysterious, beautiful, heroic, flawed, and ironic. Even if there are a couple of really dumb-ass plot points. But this was a good lesson for me – just because everyone else on the planet thinks a movie is absolutely terrible, it obviously won’t mean that I will. And hell, I might even recommend it. Might.

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Week 32: of 52 films I’ve never seen

Nazi Zombie Death Tales” (2012)

(a.k.a. Battlefield Death Tales)

Directed & Written by James Eaves, Pat Higgins, Alan Ronald

Source print: DVD (UK).

Well, we’re back already with this British shoestring genre filmmaking trio’s follow-up to their awesome Bordello Death Tales. Unfortunately, this one is not so awesome. The real shining moment in this new anthology come from James Eaves’ first story, Medal of Horror, which boasts fine editing (once again), a totally unique plot catalyst, some steamy sex, an eye-patch-waring Nazi zombie, a killer kick-ass Nazi-femme fatale, a Nazi polygraph-slash-death robot, and a nicely ironic ending. Much like Stitchgirl’s service in the former Bordello Death Tales, Alan Ronald’s mid-story exercise is a humorous and inventive tribute to Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, this Death Tale taking place outside of Germany and back into jolly ol’ England, but after having to follow Eaves’ rollercoaster tale of action, horror, and exploitation, it’s not quite inventive enough to keep up with the pace. Which actually hurts me to say, because there was an obvious amount of effort poured into both stories. And even worse to say, it all starts going downhill from here… which brings us to the third, written and directed by Pat Higgins, who had the deserved cherry spot of the last story in Bordello – this time around, not so deserved. His Devils of the Blitz segment seemed completely rushed and un-fleshed out (in several respects). With his previous Bordello effort so cleverly written and dripping with talent, this turn of events was most unexpected by me. It’s the only story sans zombie Nazis (though probably not to the fault of Higgins, who likely thought, at the time of writing, he was producing a Battlefield Death Tale) but I highly doubt even if a horde of killer rotting Nazi zombies could’ve breathed any life into this last faltering segment. Too bad, because his lead actress Jess-Luisa Flynn sure seemed game. If anything, Higgins hasn’t forgotten his talent with directing actors. Overall, the entire anthology is a bit of a disappointment following this trio’s first effort. Stick with Bordello.

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Week 31: of 52 films I’ve never seen

Fighting Mad” (1976)

Directed by Jonathan Demme

Source print: DVD… Thanks to the Shout Factory! These guys are awesome.

Back in the seventies there was a short string of low-budget “rural” action flicks that had been surprisingly successful (the likes of Walking Tall and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry), and Roger Corman deduced, in all the glory of his Corman-ness, that these films (and others like them) had three things in common: 1. A Hero with an unlikely sidekick; 2. An unusual vehicle; and 3. The hero would use an unusual weapon. He probably also deduced that Peter Fonda was a close number 4, and hence, he’s in this film too, riding a beaten up motorcycle with his toddler son and a crossbow. The plot constructed around these purposefully implemented hooks was unfortunately not as interesting, but it serves the movie in a basic way – to bring it from one explosively and/or exploitively action-oriented set piece to the next. Fonda plays a farmer who, along with his friend, family and neighborus, are holding out from selling their farming properties to a highly corrupt and somewhat dubious mining development & construction company. Things get duly out of hand in a Walking Tall sort of way, most scenarios culminating in murder, rape, explosions and revenge. Within the violence young director Jonathan Demme is both obviously and consciously inserting interesting camera angles an movements, which do give the picture some style, but it’s clear he hasn’t gotten the grasp of using the camera movements to help tell the cinematic story yet. No matter, really, Fonda is the person holding it all together, because unfortunately, Fighting Mad is not as awesome as the other action-revenge films of its ilk, and not as awesome as other Fonda or Fonda/Corman flicks of that era. But like Fonda’s own guerrilla warfare tactics in Fighting Mad, it’s a valiant effort, and certainly worth a watch for a curio’s sake.

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