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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cult Classics Revisited: THE EXECUTIONER PART II (1984)


THE EXECUTIONER PART II
(US - 1984)

Directed by James Bryan. Written by Renee Harmon. Cast: Chris Mitchum, Aldo Ray, Antoine John Mottet, Renee Harmon, Dan Bradley, Frank Albert, Bianca Phillipi, Frisco Estes, Ricco Mancini, Bruce Barrington. (R, 86 mins)

Not picking up where THE EXECUTIONER left off because there was no EXECUTIONER, THE EXECUTIONER PART II joined the T&A comedy SURF II in the very short-lived fake sequel craze of 1984. Oh, there was a movie called THE EXECUTIONER: a largely forgettable 1970 British spy thriller with George Peppard and Joan Collins. And THE EXECUTIONER was also an alternate title for Duke Mitchell's 1974 gangster opus MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE, and the US title for both the 1978 release of a 1974 Sonny Chiba martial arts movie and the British-made 1975 Dirk Bogarde spy thriller PERMISSION TO KILL. THE EXECUTIONER PART II has nothing to do with any of those films and its intent seems to be fooling less-savvy grindhouse denizens into thinking it's a sequel to 1980's THE EXTERMINATOR, beating the actual EXTERMINATOR 2 into release by three months in the summer of 1984. Directed by James Bryan, who also made the 1981 slasher film DON'T GO IN THE WOODS, THE EXECUTIONER PART II was made for $20,000 and it still looks like none of that money made it to the screen. Exhibiting a level of production values ranking somewhere between an industrial training short and a snuff film, it's only slightly more polished than, say, MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE. To his credit, a realistic Bryan, interviewed on Vinegar Syndrome's new DVD (where it's paired on a drive-in double feature with 1975's FROZEN SCREAM, as both films share producer/co-star Renee Harmon), openly admits it's terrible, and that he did what he could do with $20K and a crew basically consisting of himself (he's also the cinematographer). Shot in the summer of 1983 (JAWS 3-D is visible on a theater marquee) and almost certainly without permits throughout Los Angeles, the film doesn't use live sound and was dubbed in post with all the care and precision of the cheapest GODZILLA movie. The words don't match the lip movements on American (or at least English-speaking) actors speaking English, and a lot of the sound and foley effects are either way out of sync or simply not there (car doors are slammed and shotguns pumped with no accompanying sound). Shots are cut together but often don't match, or Bryan will cut away from a dialogue scene, show something completely unrelated, then cut back to the dialogue scene, apparently still in progress. Then there's the bellowing and profusely-sweating Aldo Ray, who couldn't have been on the set for more than an hour and maybe even left his car running in a fire lane while Bryan got the footage of him that he needed, and is always shot in extreme close-up on his own, sharing the frame with no one and inserted into scenes so awkwardly that it's laughably obvious he's not there with any other actors. This happens a lot in movies due to the availability of people and conflicting shooting schedules, but a good editor makes it smooth and seamless. Rarely has such a reality of the movie business been handled so badly. How badly?  Ray isn't wearing glasses but his over-the-shoulder double is. In short, right on the heels of the stunning NIGHTMARE WEEKEND, Vinegar Syndrome has resurrected an '80s obscurity that deserves to be the next Bad Movie sensation. The classic MST3K line about MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE where "every frame of this movie looks like someone's last known photograph" certainly applies here.




He's your judge, your jury, and
your executioner.  Part II!
Like the "best" of the likes of Jess Franco and Al Adamson, THE EXECUTIONER PART II is so random and disjointed that it often feels like the scraps of several abandoned movies carelessly stitched together: dogged, rumpled cop Lt. Roger O'Malley (Chris Mitchum) is a widower Vietnam vet on the trail of "The Executioner," a hooded vigilante who's taking it upon himself to take out the city's trash, finishing off scumbags by stuffing a grenade down their pants as Bryan always goes full Toonces and cuts to the same stock footage shot of the same generic explosion. The cops can't catch The Executioner but the public, cheered on by thickly German-accented celebrity TV news reporter Celia Amherst (Harmon), loves him. The local Mafiosi, represented by smug monster Casallas (Frisco Estes), aka "The Tattoo Man," even though he only has three small tattoos, wants The Executioner dead because he's disrupting business. O'Malley's teenage daughter Laura (Bianca Phillipi) is a drug addict who turns to hooking for Hawaiian-shirted pimp Pete Vance (Frank Albert) to support her habit. The police commissioner (Ray) is breathing down O'Malley's neck--never in the same shot, mind you--about catching The Executioner. And O'Malley's mechanic best buddy Mike (Antoine John Mottet) is suffering from Nam flashbacks, prompting O'Malley to think the man who saved his life in Vietnam might be The Executioner. SPOILER ALERT: he is.


Hardly a scene goes by without some hilarious gaffe or WTF? moment. Every scene with Harmon has to be seen to be believed. A German war bride who married an American soldier and came to the US after WWII, Harmon kept busy by forming a local theater group with some other officers' wives, and eventually found her way into the extreme fringe of the DIY exploitation industry. This is one of three films she made with director Bryan, including the same year's HELL RIDERS, which saw name stars Adam West (BATMAN) and Tina Louise (GILLIGAN'S ISLAND) getting the Aldo Ray treatment by being shot in extreme close-up and never actually interacting with their co-stars. Harmon (1927-2006) may have been a nice lady but she's a horrible actress and an even worse screenwriter. In her late 50s and playing half her age while wearing gaudy dresses and garish makeup and looking and acting nothing like a TV personality, she's also a love interest for O'Malley, but that goes nowhere. Chris Mitchum was Hollywood royalty thanks to his legendary father Robert, but he never came close to having the same success. He had some early co-starring gigs in late-period John Wayne movies like RIO LOBO (1970), CHISUM (1970), and BIG JAKE (1971) before he found steady work in Eurotrash fare like SUMMERTIME KILLER (1972) and RICCO THE MEAN MACHINE (1973). He bounced between the US, Europe, and the Far East, rarely distinguishing himself but occasionally turning up in something like Alejandro Jodorowsky's TUSK (1980) and the Emmy-nominated miniseries A RUMOR OF WAR (1980). But generally, he was confined to things like the Frank Stallone-starring DEATH FEUD (1987), Jess Franco's FACELESS (1988) and some schlocky but stunt-crazed Indonesian martial arts movies like LETHAL HUNTER (1989), where he'd get to display what can best be described as his unique "Lanky White Guy kung-foolery" (© me), which also gets an inevitable showcase in THE EXECUTIONER PART II. In recent years, the 72-year-old Mitchum--who's extremely likable and a great raconteur in interviews but has blamed his lack of Hollywood stardom not on his limited acting abilities but on being a staunch conservative associated with Vietnam War supporter Wayne--has had unsuccessful 2012 and 2014 Congressional bids as the Tea Party-backed House candidate from California's 24th district.


A typical extreme close-up of Aldo Ray 
in THE EXECUTIONER PART II
In his prime, Aldo Ray (1926-1991) was a very popular tough guy in 1950s war movies like BATTLE CRY and MEN IN WAR (it's no coincidence that Brad Pitt's character in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is named "Aldo Raine"), but he also had a gift for comedy, as evidenced in the Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn favorite PAT AND MIKE (1952), and with Humphrey Bogart and Peter Ustinov as a trio of dim-witted Devil's Island escapees in WE'RE NO ANGELS (1955), and as a romantic lead paired with Judy Holliday in THE MARRYING KIND (1952). Ray's stardom waned but he stayed busy in supporting roles in mostly reputable productions and guest spots on TV into the early 1970s, but his career completely derailed by the end of the decade when he was appearing in things like Al Adamson's DEATH DIMENSION (1978) and in a straight role in the 1979 hardcore porno SWEET SAVAGE with Carol Connors. In the 1980s, Ray managed a couple of roles in some major projects: he voiced a character in the animated film THE SECRET OF NIMH (1982) and had a small part in Michael Cimino's bomb THE SICILIAN (1987), but THE EXECUTIONER PART II was typical of the work Ray was getting at this point in his career, along with garbage like Mardi Rustam's EVILS OF THE NIGHT (1985), and Fred Olen Ray joints like BIOHAZARD (1985) and the outer space women-in-prison actioner STAR SLAMMER: THE ESCAPE (1986). He was diagnosed with throat cancer at some point in the 1980s and was so indiscriminate about the jobs he accepted that he would infamously have his SAG membership revoked for working in non-union productions. Ray would eventually succumb to cancer in 1991, his last film appearance coming in the Traci Lords horror movie SHOCK 'EM DEAD that same year. Largely forgotten these days except by hardcore Turner Classic Movies viewers, Ray's crashing and burning from the 1950s A-list to some of the worst of the worst in no-budget 1980s schlock remains one of the saddest downfalls in Hollywood history. Sure, the way he's half-assedly spliced into random scenes in THE EXECUTIONER PART II is funny, but it's incredibly depressing at the same time, considering the guy once very capably held his own with the likes of Tracy, Hepburn, and Bogart.


"OK, if you have to look directly into the camera,
try not to do it more than five or six times in the
ten seconds you're onscreen."
THE EXECUTIONER PART II is mind-bogglingly incompetent on every level. It's filled with clumsy action, terrible dubbing, and the most inept and choppy editing you'll ever see. The opening Vietnam flashback looks like it was filmed in a park. Characters frequent a bar where a woman in tight pants busts spastic, David Brent-like moves. Casallas makes a special trip to Mike's shop, his driver opening the door for him and Casallas getting out of the backseat of the car for the sole purpose of telling Mike he's not paying his $64 bill (he had to be driven all the way there just to say that?). In one scene, Laura is walking with a friend played by an actress who repeatedly looks directly into the camera while carrying schoolbooks and flowers that look like a clump of pulled weeds. When Mike is giving Casallas a beatdown in the climax, the mobster issues the least effective offer-you-can't-refuse ever: "We can make a deal!  I can write you a check!" There's simply too many things hilariously wrong with THE EXECUTIONER PART II to pick up on a single viewing, but one bit of genius could be sufficient evidence to prove the whole thing is an intentional goof: witness the absurd brilliance of Celia stabbing a Casallas goon with a samurai sword (that happens to be chained to wall?) and impaling him on a couch as he then gets up and tries to chase her...with the couch still attached to him. Working micro-budget is one thing, but it hardly explains how nothing seems natural and everything is so stilted and awkward. One can excuse Ray seeming like he's in another movie because he's certainly not in this one, but Mitchum is the only cast member who looks like he's been in front of a camera before, and even he appears completely flummoxed. Whatever conditions he was forced to work under due to time and budget constraints, it a safe bet that "Take two" was decidedly not in James Bryan's vocabulary. In other words, THE EXECUTIONER PART II is a must-see, but if all 86 minutes of it seem too daunting, the folks at Everything is Terrible did a nice job of condensing the highlights.




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