Incredibly Bad Film Show: Manos, Hands of Fate

Dir: Harold P. Warren
Star: Harold P. Warren, Tom Neyman, John Reynolds, Diane Mahree

It’s perhaps surprising, given my fondness for badfilm, that I had never quite got round to watching this, often regarded as the worst movie of all time. At one point, it was thus ranked on the IMDb: though it has now been replaced there (the current incumbent is this year’s Saving Christmas, though I suspect it won’t last, and will eventually return the crown to Birdemic), Manos remains in the bottom dozen. A lot of the responsibility for this has to belong to Mystery Science Theater 3000, who plucked the film from near-total obscurity when they picked it as a target in 1993 – to the shock of the cast, who hadn’t seen it in a quarter of a century. I watched their take on the film the morning after watching the “raw” version, and certainly can’t argue with it being perfect material for their satire. But, on the other hand, nor would I necessarily say I enjoyed it more.

Can I find anything to say about the film, that hasn’t been said a million times before? Well, I’ll try. However, I’ll start by dutifully recounting the plot, such as it is. On the way to their vacation, husband and wife Michael (Warren) and Margaret (Mahree), along with their young daughter and family dog, find themselves lost, and forced to spend the night at a remote residence. The caretaker, Torgo (Reynolds), keeps referring to the “Master” (Neyman), as if he is both dead and alive. Turns out, he’s a bit of both, and is the head of a polygamist occult cult with a fondness for human sacrifice (as well as, it appears, an unlimited expense account at Frederick’s of Hollywood), and has designs on both female guests as wives #7 and #8.

Separated at birth
The lead singer of Laibach vs. The Master

However, to me, it doesn’t deserve to be considered the worst film of all time. Writer-director-producer Warren was a salesman by trade, and made this on a bar bet with Stirling Silliphant, a Hollywood screenwriter best known for In the Heat of the Night. But he seems largely aware of his limitations and doesn’t try to do anything particularly excessive. Compare, say, The Creeping Terror, which is equally as bad in most technical departments. but also mocks up an alien creature using what appears to be cast-off remnants of carpet. Such miserable failure is a worse cinematic crime than not trying at all. [There’s a reason monster movies occupy a special place in the temple of badmovie, something which continues to the present day with Birdemic and, arguably, the more self-aware Sharknado and its ilk]


The other element which saves this is John Reynolds’ fabulous performance as Torgo. I wouldn’t necessarily go as far as to call Reynolds a good actor. I’d need to see him in something else to decide that, and this won’t happen as, sadly, he committed suicide between the end of production and the film’s release. It’s also reported that he was frequently high on set, which would explain a great deal about his portrayal of Torgo, which feels completely disconnected, not just from the other performers, but reality in general. However, it seems not just appropriate, but spot-on for an acolyte in a cult, devoted to the Master with an almost brainwashed mentality. Right from the first time you see him, Torgo exudes a creepy air: eyes half-closed, as if is he is frantically masturbating out of the camera’s view.

The film’s status has also helped to generate its fair share of myths. For instance, some legends say Torgo was supposed to have cloven feet and be some kind of satyr creature. While it is generally agreed he did wear leg braces for the film, I’m not certain what the point is, since when you see his feet in the film, there’s no apparent indication of any hooves. It just makes Torgo look gimpy – and this in turn makes Michael seem a dick, as he barks at a disabled guy to carry his bags about. In some retellings, the lore goes further, saying Reynolds wore the braces backwards, with the discomfort caused leading to him becoming addicted to painkillers and factoring in to his demise. This has been flatly denied by Jackey Neyman, who played the daughter, and has documented the experiences of her and her father, both in making the movie, and since its cult renaissance, courtesy of MST3K.

It seems silly and largely unnecessary to make stuff up, since there are many completely woeful aspects worthy of spotlighting.The script, in particular, is badly underwritten, and even at 68 minutes, there isn’t enough going on to cover that length. It doesn’t so much hit the ground running as crawling, with a length opening sequence of little or no interest, which sets the tone for a lot of what’s to come, and then segues – not for the last time – into a lengthy necking scene featuring a pair of middle-aged “teenagers”, who are then hassled by the local cops. Neither group play any significant part in the main story, with the closest approach being the cops almost investigating at one point. Another bit of film lore says the woman was originally scheduled to play Margaret, but broke her leg; Warren added this sub-plot so she could still be in the film. Given the end result, this kindness seems somewhat of a double-edged sword.


I could go through and pick apart every aspect of the film in a similar fashion, but really, what’s the point, beyond burning through every available thesaurus entry for “bad”. But I feel I should mention some of the particular lowlights, starting with the Master’s amazing robe (right). It’s printed with a pair of giant hands on each side; the problem is, you can only see these when he has his arms stretched out at his sides. So, he does it a lot. An awful lot. You could make a drinking game out of that alone. British readers of a certain age may, like me, be reminded of Kenny Everett’s character, Brother Lee Love, another religious figure with similarly over-sized mitts.

However, perhaps my favorite section of the entire movie is the middle, where the master’s wives get into a six-way catfight and Torgo is “massaged to death” for insubordination and having lustful thoughts about the Master’s harem. That phrase was apparently taken from an El Paso Herald-Post review at the time the movie was released, though it isn’t entirely accurate. The last we see of Torgo, he has had a hand removed and turned into a novelty candle by the Master, then runs off into the desert, waving the burning stump around, apparently to light his path. That’s what passes for closure in this film. But given his previously-demonstrated ability suddenly to come out of nowhere and whack the hero across the back into unconsciousness, you spend the remainder of the running-time wondering if there will be an equally abrupt return.

It’s quite a surreal experience all told, and the ending feels to me like Carnival of Souls, which was released four years previously. Indeed, this is one of those rare movies which might have been improved if Warren had used the cop-out, “…and it was all a dream.” While that would not have helped with the shoddy camerawork, bad dubbing (poor Jackey Neyman supposedly burst into tears at the premiere, on hearing someone else’s voice come out of her mouth) and production values that can only aspire to scraping the bottom of the barrel, it would at least have been in keeping with the overall delirious tone of proceedings. If MST3K are remembered for nothing else, they have to be commended for saving this piece of work from the oblivion it richly deserves.


Incredibly Bad Film Show: Rescue Force

Dir: Charles Nizet
Star: Richard Harrison, Bo Gritz, Peter Gold, Keiri Smith

Sing me no song, read me no rhyme
Don’t waste my time, show me!
Don’t talk of June, don’t talk of fall
Don’t talk at all, show me!


Ah, the wisdom of Alan Jay Lerner, who may well have been talking about this movie, which also tries to follow the philosophy attributed to Goebbels: “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it.” In this case, the latter is exemplified by a hellaciously over-frequent use of captions to try to convince the viewer that Nevada is actually a “PLO Fuel and Ammo Depot near the Syrian border.” Saying it doesn’t make it so, any more than pointing the camera at a desk and captioning it, “CIA office, Beirut.” makes that true – though the automatic weapons hanging on the wall behind the desk there, are a nice touch.

The other defining factor of the badmovie style here is a throwback to the days of a high mistress of the genre, Doris Wishman, who couldn’t afford to shoot sync sound, so had entire conversations showing the backs of people’s heads. The same problem affects things here, but Nizet takes a somewhat different approach, getting his actors to mask their mouths with telephones. A lot. No, really: the first half an hour of the film is a rarely-broken string of phone calls, the chief CIA agent, whom the script never bothers to name, shuffling agents around Europe as if playing a game of Diplomacy on crack. Which is where the “Show me” thing comes in. At one point he tells Lt. Col. Steel (Gritz), “The trade center next to the embassy? Blown up about 30 minutes ago – there are bodies all over the place. Both of our choppers were taken out with bazooka shells not less than 10 minutes ago.” A potentially great set-piece, turned into three sentences of bland monologue.

CIA headquarters in Tel Aviv  gets another needless caption, the wall here having a world map on it, so clearly the nexus of a geopolitical organization. We start on a topless beach in Cannes, where Kiki (Smith) and her breasts are “observing” a terrorist yacht, her boss demanding, “Don’t give me any problems, only questions.” Er.. What? From there is through Paris, Liege, and finally, “Wiskey Pete’s” [sic] resort – actually in Nevada, but still getting a misspelled caption, to convince us of its verisimilitude. Steel calls agent Angel there, ordering her to fly to Paris,  join Candy, go to Brussels. pick up Kiki, then head back to Paris to meet a guy called Striker. What? Checking my notes, Kiki had already been ordered (in yet another phone-call) to London. And wasn’t that to meet Striker? I’m so confused. Why can’t everyone meet in one place? Angel whines there are no cars at the resort, so the only way to the airport is a Flight For Life air ambulance (!). I presume the mention was payback for loaning the production a helicopter elsewhere, and Steel charmingly tells her to get going “before I order you up a hot fudge enema.” But it doesn’t help Candy’s case that, as the ‘copter takes off, one of those non-existent cars is clearly visible in the background.


The only caption which might tell you something surprising.

As far as I can work it out, the story is based on an escalating series of incidents between the terrorists and the CIA. After the former get their “Fuel and Ammo depot” blown up – or, at least, there’s a red cast from off-screen implying this – they kidnap a CIA agent and he has to read a statement in the middle of the desert. Bizarrely, he’s given a desk to sit behind, in the middle of nowhere: I was half-expecting, when he’d finished, for the camera to pan across to a tuxedoed John Cleese, behind his desk, who’d say, “…and now for something completely different.” Instead, he’s executed by an equally-unnamed female KGB agent, who appears to be channeling Dyanne Thorne from the Ilsa movies, right down to her problems with pronunciation, e.g. “InfilItrated.” Unaware he’s already dead, the CIA launch a rescue mission, which represents the first big action sequence. However, it fails miserably, mostly because it consists of 10 minutes of the following elements, edited together randomly:

  • Shots of a plane
  • Shots of the desert, probably filmed from the helicopter mentioned earlier.
  • People loading or firing weapons
  • Things exploding
  • Driving. Lots of driving.
And the 1990 Academy Award for "Least Convincing Arab" goes to...

This is so incoherent, it’s unclear who wins, and only on the post-operation call does the audience discover, “we lost four of our main agents in the attack.” I was genuinely surprised by this. Undaunted, the CIA then hits a terrorist boss at his place of meditation, but this only provokes them further. One of the other leaders reveals, “I was keeping this for later but let me tell you, we do have a nuclear weapon in our hands, in the United States.” Ah, I know where this is going. It’ll end up in a race against time to stop Las Vegas from being nuked: it’s in Nevada, so be easy to film, and what better place to represent the decadent West? Er, wrong. This rogue nuke is never mentioned again. Instead, they kidnap the American ambassador to Israel and his daughter – again, despite them being “heavily guarded,” we don’t see their capture, only them being walked up to the cave that’s the “Arab” terrorist lair. I use quotes because, as the image on the left shows, Nizet is apparently happy to stick a tea-towel on anyone’s head, and call them middle Eastern.

We’ll skip over a few scenes, since there’s nothing much of interest, except for the director proving he’s actually shooting in Paris for realz, guyz, by making sure the Eiffel Tower is visible in just about every shot. Everyone eventually convenes in the Middle East, where Steel runs through the plan of attack. If Gritz actually sounds fairly convincing when playing this part of his role as a military adviser – actually, it’s just about his entire role – it’s because he’s a former Lt. Colonel in the US Special Forces. He’s an interesting guy, has twice run for President, was reputedly the model for Hannibal Smith on The A-Team, and was one of the best speakers we saw at Conspiracy Con 2002. Mind you, he does clearly refer to the terrorists at one point as “the LPO”, but maybe he’s just not a fan of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. But just in case you weren’t clear on the plan, it’s gone over, in painstaking detail yet again, once they hit the ground.


To the film’s credit, the climactic attack is slightly better-constructed than its predecessor. It has more or less the same elements, but they are at least assembled into a coherent order, which progresses the story. Admittedly, it takes the snatch squad about five minutes to make their way through the “ten miles” of caves and knock off the single guard (!) watching over the prisoners. Needless to say, despite using the ultimate terrorist weapon, the non-ironic fist-pump (right), the evil villains are vanquished, and American hegemony in the Middle East comes out, triumphant again.

After one final, meaningless caption, for old time’s sake (“Near Cannes France – Kiki and Angel’s favorite restaurant”), the pair head off to Whiskey Pete’s, pausing only to plug its “great food.” The casino is still open, should you care to visit, and has Bonnie and Clyde’s death car on display. Fairing less well is said “favorite restaurant,” Le Logis Sarrazin in Gourdon, which has some staggeringly bad reviews: 32 out of 35 rating it as “terrible,” at time of writing. There, they hot-tub with a random other character, and Nizet throws us a last, desperate attempt to generate tension, with a mysterious figure heading towards their room. I won’t spoil the ending, even though the director does his very best to sabotage it himself, with any tension derailed by the staggeringly poor use of musical cues, which appear to have been edited with a rusty butter-knife. It’s the final ignominy, and a fitting way to end this abominable excuse for a film. You may not like it – no, make that, “will not.” Hell, for large chunks, it’s actually boring as hell. But there are enough moments of mad idiocy here, that you will remember it.

Here’s the whole film for your viewing pleasure, pending YouTube removing it.


YouTube video

Incredibly Bad Film Show: Witchcraft X, Mistress of the Craft

Dir: Elisar Cabrera
Star: Wendy Cooper, Kerry Knowlton, Stephanie Beaton, Eileen Daly


It’s been a long while since I’ve done one of these – more than 18 months – but when I re-watched this, as part of our exhaustive survey of the entire Witchcraft series, I knew there was no way I could truly do this justice in a couple of hundred words. The other entries in the series are a mix of light occult shenanigans and heavy petting, set in Los Angeles. But for the tenth entry, they shifted things to London, and apparently threw everything you knew out of the window on the flight there. The results are all an Incredibly Bad film should be: it contains laughable concepts, pathetic production values and some performances that would disgrace a school Nativity play. Yet, it’s certainly more memorable and, dammit, I’d say entertaining than any of the nine preceding installments.

The core here is a British government department, Bureau 17, who have been charged with investigating any paranormal shenanigans. Their tiny staff (I blame budget cut-backs: perhaps governmental, more likely by the film’s producers) have captured Hyde (Knowlton), a mass murderer with Satanic tendencies, and are holding them pending the arrival of Detective Lutz (Beaton) from Los Angeles, who’s going to extradite him back to the States. However, the vampire Raven (Daly) and her minions, break Hyde out, because she needs his help to translate a tome that will allow her to summon the demon Morshenka, who will give her unlimited power. It’s up to white Wiccan detective Celeste Sheridan (Cooper), Lutz and the other members of Bureau 19 to stop them.

If that sounds kinda cool to you, it does to me as well, actually, and with a respectable budget and some cast changes, it probably could have been. However, here? Well, I don’t use the words “woefully inadequate” often, but this film will probably provide my entire 2013 quota. It’s apparent almost from the start, where London is reduced to some quickly shot footage from Soho, and stock footage from a packed night-club, before cutting to the sparsely-populated (it’s those cutbacks, I tell you!) location where Raven’s conveniently-bisexual minions chow down on some poor guy. We then move to Bureau 17’s headquarters, which is even more the product of poverty-row film-making, with no effort spared made to make it look like a functioning building, except for lobbing a few unrelated photos on the wall.

That’s where Hyde is being interrogated, and let’s pause to discuss the acting here, because there is truly something for everyone. At the top of the pile is Cooper, who is genuinely good, despite having to handle dialog and her powder-blue PVC costume, which are constantly battling over the title of “Most Ridiculous Thing in This Movie.” I’m calling it a tie. In contrast so sharp you could slice your wrists with it (and will probably want to, at various points) is Knowlton, Apparently a pro-wrestler, I get a more emotive reading from the text-to-speech program on my Kindle; stunningly, his acting is not the least of his contributions to the movie, as we’ll see later.

In contrast, there’s Daly, who appears to have been the recipient of all the emotion which is completely missing from Knowlton’s performance, overacting ferociously for every line, enunciating each Syll-A-Ble like it was a newly discovered Shakespeare soliloquy. Is it appropriate? Hmm. The jury is still out on that. Is it entertaining as hell? F’sure. The best scenes are when she and Knowlton play opposite each other, it’s a contrast in styles of epic proportions:
Raven (chewing scenery like a crack-crazed Tasmanian Devil): “Have you ever heard of a ceremony of… Walpurgis?”
Hyde (reciting share prices): “Walpurgis? The stuff of myths. Walpurgis belongs in a story book about demons. I serve Satan, the only true master.”


The rest of the cast fall somewhere between those extremes. Beaton is solid enough, but doesn’t have enough to do, except wander round with her shirt tied loosely under her voluminous cleavage, as shown on the left. Seems a bit informal for any supposed police detective on an international mission. There’s a bit where she gets scratched by one of the vampires, and initially, it seems this is going to go somewhere. My notes actually say, “somewhere interesting,” but even by this point, about 25 minutes in, I was doubtful that was going to happen. Although it does lead to her sitting in the bath, soaping her breasts with the enthusiasm and care usually found only in a vintage car-club owner, waxing the bodywork of his Jaguar.

That comes as part of a triple-dose of nudity, which suddenly pops up, as if the makers realized they were falling short of the statutory quota of breasts. So we simultaneously get Raven bonking Hyde (as in their dramatic scenes, she does all the work, while he just lies there), Celeste making love to her boyfriend, and Lutz in the bath. Of course, it was during this Nipplepalooza that our son wandered upstairs, though it’s a tribute to him being so inured to my viewing of crap, he was more concerned as to whether or not I was going to eat that other Hot Pocket. This question answered, I explained that she’s a witch, that one’s a vampire and the lady in the bath is an LA detective, to which he replied “It sounds like the best version of Being Human ever.”

“Best,” is entirely relative, I think we’ll find. Instead, there is so much “wrong” here. Even when Lutz and B17 Agent Dixon (Sean Harry, looking like a concussed Hugh Grant) are driving through London, they are shown in short order going East along Piccadilly, then North towards Piccadilly Circus, West through Trafalgar Square and finally North at the Houses of Parliament.  I speak for everyone familiar with central London when I say: “What?” The audio mix is even more incomprehensible, with dialogue which is often inaudible, and sound effects which should charitably be described as occupying the same postal-code as the actions they accompany. Still, it’s nice to see the disabled getting work, and I trust the deaf guy was appropriately grateful. [Actually, see here for some background on this aspect]

Remember I said above that Knowlton’s performance wasn’t the worst thing about his work on the film? He’s also credited as a “fight director”, alongside Frank Scantori. Scantori enjoys multiple credits on this, as an actor (playing the head of B17), co-producer, first assistant director, casting director and for transportation, so at least has the excuse of spreading himself a bit thin. On the other hand, Knowlton, being a pro-wrestler, would seem well suited to stage fake violence and make it look real, or at least credible. So you’d think, anyway. Counterpoint:

YouTube video

The above is just one of many moments which will have you cackling maniacally. My favourite was probably Raven bringing Hyde back to her lair, where the decor consists of a table-lamp and a badly-hung sheet.  He compliments her on having “exquisite taste,” which would be pure, undiluted sarcasm, except Knowlton does nothing to suggest he can reach such dramatic heights. Other moments include: the vampire minion trying to run away in stilettos, resulting in more of a stagger away; poor editing giving the impression of someone being decapitated with a stake; Hyde wandering round a field for no reason at all; Celeste having the ability to project her image astrally, then later using a pay-phone to call in; and vampires who, for some reason, walk like zombies. Maybe that’s also due to the stilettos.

This is truly a film which keeps on giving: even though there are many aspects that are tedious, there’s easily enough which are amusing, lunatic or simply baffling to keep you watching. Just when my enthusiasm for the series was running low, this completely reinvigorated it, and I’m ready for the final stretch.


Incredibly Bad Film Show: Los Canallas

Dir: Federico Curiel
Star: Mil Mascaras, Regina Torné, Fernando Osés, Claudia Martell
a.k.a. Ángeles Infernales

Mexican wrestling movies are a different breed entirely. Sure, WWE wrestlers make movies, and to a large extent, the characters they play are simply an extension of their in-ring personae. John ‘Hustle, Loyalty, Respect’ Cena? Get him to play an ex-marine in…er, The Marine. Demonic hell-spawn Kane? Psychotic serial killer: See No Evil [though Glenn Jacobs, the man responsible, has a degree in English literature, is a former third-grade teacher, and supports Ron Paul] But the key difference is that none of these movies include any actual professional wrestling.

Contrast the Mexican versions, where Mil Mascaras (or Santo, Blue Demon, etc.) is a crime-fighter – but one whose day-job is as a wrestler, and that comes first. Everyone is comfortably at ease with this, both good and bad. For instance, the villains break their leader out of jail on Friday night because “everyone will be at the match.” And when they do, said leader takes on Mascaras in not one, but two wrestling matches. It’s as if, at the end of The Marine, Robert Patrick challenged Cena to a Falls Count Anywhere bout. The forces of good are just as wrestling obsessed. When they realize one of their number has apparently been kidnapped by the Infernal Angels, they don’t exactly rush to her aid, saying “Let’s wait until the first fall is over.  Mil Mascaras will tell us what to do.” One fall later, he airily tells them, “I’ll be done soon, wait for me in the dressing room.” Like I said: wrestling first; rescuing your friend from torture and being slowly dipped into an acid-bath…later.

But I’m getting ahead of myself with the plot. Mil Mascaras flies in to land in his little private plane, on his way to take part in a wrestling show that afternoon. However, as he drives off, Cadena (Torné, who 24 years later, would be one of the leads in Like Water For Chocolate!) and her minion lob a smoke-bomb into his convertible. Rather than, oh, pull over, Mil makes an ill-advised attempt to continue driving which ends with him smashing into a wall a cut to the expensive automobile, completely undamaged, parked neatly on top of a pile of rubble beside a wall.

Turns out Mil was responsible for sending her boyfriend Rocco (Osés) to jail, and Cadena is implacably set on both breaking out her boy, and bringing Mascaras down. She has taken over the Infernal Angels, the gang Rocco ran, and she makes various attempts on the wrestling legend, such as trying to unmask him – only to be foiled, because Mascaras appears to have foreseen this eventuality and wears a second mask underneath the first. Brilliant! She has minions armed with a range of interesting devices for administering slow-acting poisons to her enemy, so he will lose or be easier to beat up. The idea of using something lethal instead, never seems to cross her mind.

Despite the drug-induced haze, Mascaras remembers Cadena’s ‘deep, cold voice full of hate,’ and that clues his friends in to the Infernal Angels being involved. Estrella (Martell) knows one of the gang members, and she agrees to go undercover, joining the Angels to find out what Cadena is up to. This involves a strange occult initiation rite (above), which resembles H.G. Lewis’s Egyptian feast, as re-imagined by Paul Verhoeven for Showgirls, albeit without the nudity (this being 1968). Estrella’s pal describes it as “cruel and difficult,” but that description applies mostly to the poor viewer who has to sit through this entirely inappropriate musical number. Mind you, Cadena also shakes her thang in the opening scene, for no apparent reason there either, and one wonders if this was some strange, Bollywood lucha co-production.

Cadena is successful in breaking Rocco and his cell-mate Hook – named because he has a hook in place of one hand – out of prison. She does so by giving them a transistor radio which a) functions as a walkie-talkie and contains something like thermite wire, which she activates remotely in order to burn through the prison bars. Really, this woman’s talents are sadly wasted, she should have been working for Q Branch. Like all good Mexican boys, he heads home to his mother, only to find her rather less than maternal. This might be because she’s just been visited by the police. Or the result of her realizing she’ll have to hand back the money Rocco gave her husband “for safekeeping.” Moral ambivalence at its finest.

I’ve reviewed some other lucha movies before, but this was the first one to reach the deliciously-loopy standards necessary for Incredibly Bad status. Perhaps the finest moment is when Mil has the chance to discover the Angels’ hideout. He declines the offer of help, saying “No, I’ll go alone to avoid suspicion.” This doesn’t work quite as well as hoped, since less than one minute later, minions are reporting to Cadena that Mil Mascaras is outside. There’s a very good reason for this, because the image below shows what his idea of “avoiding suspicion” involves walking up the front-door dressed as shown:

So, in addition to the ever-present mask, that’s a shiny gold shirt, powder blue pants with matching boots and a package which appears to suggest that Mil is very pleased to be fighting crime. It seems there is no word in Mexican for “undercover”. After another failed attempt by Cadena to seduce and poison him (using a ring apparently capable of containing the entire annual output of Hoffman La Roche), Mil escapes, though leaves a messy souvenir behind. If ever I become an evil overlord, I will instruct my underlings to check the contents of oil-barrels before machine-gunning them repeatedly, to ensure they contain my enemy and not one of their colleagues.

After 65 minutes with no mention of this whatsoever, it is revealed that Rocco is actually the Black Hood – another masked wrestler – who was apparently scheduled to fight Mascaras in the next show. Good job he broke out of prison then. Estrella tells Mil this, but rather than going to the police with this information about a notorious fugitive, he decides to play along, on the dubious assertion that “I’ll try to unmask him in the ring so he can be taken away by the authorities in front of an audience.” Yes, never mind the moral responsibility or safety issue – think of the ratings!

The first match ends in a no-contest, Mascaras being taken to the hospital after being snogged by one of Cadena’s minions wearing poisoned lipstick, and a “mask vs. hood” match is declared for the following week – the loser has to reveal his true identity. It’s during this contest that they realize Estrella’s is about to go for a really deep skin cleanse – but, as noted above, that can wait until Mascaras has won his match. Fortunately, there’s discord in the Angels, with Hook making a play for Cadena, and getting into a brawl with Rocco – a fight which, unfortunately, knocks a burning brand against the rope which is keeping Estrella out of the acid.

Naturally, Mascaras shows up just in time to save her, though I was disappointed no-one falls into the acid, which seems like a breach of B-movie etiquette rule #47: “He who sets the acid-bath, gets the acid-bath.” We’re left with Rocco’s mother bemoaning the fate of her son, and the final lines provide the moral to this masked fable: “Having a child represents a serious responsibility. Those that don’t meet it will suffer the consequences sooner or later.” Have to say, that’s probably not quite the final thought which will stick with me from this one.


Incredibly Bad Film Show: Final Detention

Dir: Pongpinij
Star: Lek Aiyasoon, Yoko Takano, Chalomjit Junkaj, Thunyaluk Worrapimrut

Women in prison films are a cornerstone of trash cinema, but are one whose appeal is difficult to explain. Chris typically sidles her way out of the room when they’re on, looking at me strangely; I think she’s slightly concerned about the sadomasochistic overtones. But, to me, that’s like being concerned about the homosexual overtones of pro wrestling – which is, after all, well-muscled men in skimpy costumes getting all sweaty and grappling each other. Indeed, pro wrestling and WiP films have other aspects in common: both are disparaged critically, packed with larger than life characters, and contain certain standard plot-devices that are almost de riguer for the genre, showing up time after time.

It’s a universal construct too. Not just Hollywood, but anywhere with a low-budget movie industry, the odds are the genre has been mined. Italy? Hong Kong? Japan? Done. The problem comes when censorship or other restrictions limit your ability to deliver on expectations. A decade ago, back when I shared a house with Steve and Abigail, I tried one of their vegan sausages. It wasn’t bad actually – but something less like a real sausage, is hard to imagine. Which brings us to Final Detention, the vegan sausage of women-in-prison films. While not without its entertainment value, something less like a real women-in-prison film than this Thai entry in the genre, is hard to imagine.

It opens with the heroine escaping, for reasons never explained, from two men with guns on a dock. She does so by diving in to the water and clambering onto a nearby boat. Unfortunately, this turns out to be transporting death-row inmates to a remote prison. Its lightly-clad passengers are apparently Al Qaeda terrorists, judging by the fact that they are guarded by an entire posse of men in ski-masks, wielding automatic weapons. Okay, if I was in this film, I’d likely demand anonymity too. Remarkably, the guards are entirely unconcerned by the sudden appearance of an unscheduled, dripping addition to the manifest, and sail on regardless.

On arrival, the women are dumped off-shore, and forced to wade to the beach, which would be a good excuse for their clothes to turn transparent. Not here though. Instead, when they hit the beach, two try to run away, only to find themselves losing a quick game of Minesweeper. Impressively, they appear to evaporate entirely after detonation. Taken to the camp by the traditional queen bitch guard, they pass the equally traditional guard tower – now, this is just a guess, but I’m predicting, here and now, that it will explode by the end of the movie, hurling the guard to the ground. They also pass a row of women tied to crosses (below). “What the hell is this?” asks one inmate – about two seconds after the viewer wonders the same thing. “Hell is what this is,” replies Queen Bitch, which may be the finest moment in the history of translation.

Turns out, this is one of the forms of punishment if you break the rules. The alternative apparently involves being forced to…er, stir the warden’s herbal bath. “You know you are on death row forever?” he says, which would seem to negate the point of death row somewhat. Similarly, Queen Bitch tells the new meat, “We’re here so we can correct your behavior. You’ll all be perfect women.” It’s nice to see Thailand adopt a kinder, gentler approach to capital punishment, aimed at rehabilitating the condemned before presumably killing them. The new inmates are taken to the showers. While a fire-hose is involved, the kinder, gentler guard lets them keep their clothes on.

The prison uniforms are pretty neat: little midriff-baring combos, appropriate for a safari excursion – or death row- causing Top Dog Inmate to drool quietly over the new arrivals. This concerns her current pals, who have their worries dismissed with “You’re too talkative. Keep on massaging.” I swear, I will work this line in to my next corporate meeting somehow. 16 minutes in, we finally learn the names of two characters, both called after desperation late moves from a Words With Friends game. “Am” is a new arrival – I sense this could cause grammatical issues later on – while Wan is an Old Hand in the prison.

Security is kinda lax here. And by “lax”, I mean “entirely on the honour system”. An inmate asks the guard to go to the bathroom, and that’s all she needs to do, in order to sneak out and snog her boyfriend. The guard appears incredibly surprised when she doesn’t come back. Top Dog makes a play for Am, but Wan stops her, causing Top Dog to storm off in a huff. We also learn that those who try to escape are buried in the ground up to their neck, while the new inmates do aerobics and clamber through what appears to be a Women of Ninja Warrior course.

It’s all too much for one, who is taken to the infirmary. Turns out she’s a drug addict who’s going through cold turkey. The treatment for this deserves quoting in full:

“Tie her up in the water and give her some herbs.”
“Isn’t that a bit dangerous, sir?”
“What choice do we have?”

Er, not tying her up in the water and giving her some herbs? Just a suggestion. Top Dog still has her eye on Am, but Wan has her back, and a slap-fight ensues, until Queen Bitch breaks it up, and orders the new inmates to sleep outside for the night. There, they bond over touching stories, such as:

“Is your sister addicted to drugs too?”
“No. She went insane after she got raped.”
“Terrible. Men that rape women should be killed, and rot in hell.”
“I cut their dicks off.”
“Yeah! Great! They deserved it.”

Um, about that “rehabilitation”… We discover the island is run by Commander Chart. He is apparently, “an ex-soldier, a dictator and some say insane.” Any of those would certainly explain his hobby of shooting buried women in the head, accompanied by overwrought, sepia flashbacks to his time in the army. But he has to answer to Madam Pornpimol, even if her oversight consists of a 30-second video phone-call inquiring politely about progress, and telling him, “Keep healing them. Don’t use violence. It may affect my votes.” Politicians, eh? They’re all the same.

Top Dog is unhappy with the food, and asks for more. Impressively, the response is, “You won’t finish it. If you want more, come back for it.” Say what you like about Thai prisons, the all-you-can-eat buffet approach is certainly novel. When she tries to sit next to Am and Wan, another fight occurs, and this one has to be broken up by the Commander and Queen Bitch. He rounds up the troublemakers, takes them outside and yells at them through an entirely unnecessary megaphone – they’re maybe 25 feet away – “If you can’t get along then fight! Fight to the death! Fight until one of you dies!”

So much for “Don’t use violence,” I guess. Admittedly, given the combat skills on display, old age is probably a bigger threat to life and limb for the combatants, even after every other prisoner joins in, apparently realizing this could take a while. For variety, the Commander turns a fire-hose on them, perhaps hoping one will accidentally drown. It doesn’t help, and he has to commute the death-match sentence to “Let them sleep here.”

The inmates hard labour consists largely of prodding rocks unenthusiastically with tools. Madam calls up requesting “well-behaved” inmates for a press conference. This rules out the one who embeds a pick-axe in the back of a guard, triggering an escape attempt. “Hunt them down!” snarls the Commander during his chat with Madam, forgetting that this thing is indeed on, and provides the Worst Explanation Ever of what he meant: “Hunt is just the word we use. It encourages prisoners to work happily. It’s not a real hunt.” Maybe all that’s needed to prevent escapes is to point out to the inmates that this is a remote island? It would certainly save the need to build the elaborate pits and other traps into which the escapees manage to stumble (as shown below, right).

These executions are the final straw for the inmates, who begin to plot a revolt while tied to the crosses: “The only thing here is death – we have to get out.”  The next day, the women wander the island and see one of their co-inmates being held upside down by two guards, while another two beat the soles of her feet. In what may be the understatement of the year, their sole reaction is, “It’s very strange here, isn’t it?” No shit, sister. A slightly-better planned escape is planned, scheduled to coincide with the monthly return of the boat.

The plan appears to be to distract the Commander with a fully-clothed table-dance to Stardust’s Music Sounds Better With You. One wonders whether the band gave permission for this; I’m thinking not.  Somehow, this succeeds, and the others overpower the guards at the arms storehouse so easily, you have to ask why they didn’t try earlier. They blow up the guard-dogs(!), which loses them the element of surprise, and a largely bloodless battle commences. As predicted, the guard towers explode, though in a startling deviation from convention, there is no guard seen falling through the air and out of shot.

The Commander vows to hunt down all the survivors, who easily take the boat, thanks to the ski-mask clad guards falling for the old “underwear-sporting woman running towards you” ploy.  However, the Commander blows it up with a contender for the worst digital explosion ever, though he himself is shot by an inmate, who is then shot too. Basically, just about everyone dies. I trust I haven’t spoiled it for you. But here’s the last ten minutes, in all its unsubbed, insane glory, which will demonstrate its Incredibly Bad credentials, much better than my 1,700 words ever could.


YouTube video