Monday, March 11, 2019


(UK/South Africa - 1991)

Directed by Sean Barton. Written by John Hunt and Sean Barton. Cast: Christopher Lee, Jenilee Harrison, Henry Cele, Andre Jacobs, Zoe Randall, Olivia Dyer, Gavin Hood, Jennifer Steyn, Dumi Shongwe. (R, 91 mins)

Based on H.P. Lovecraft's short story "The Colour Out of Space," the 1987 horror film THE CURSE was produced by Italian schlock king Ovidio G. Assonitis, best known as a purveyor of spaghetti knockoffs of THE EXORCIST (1974's BEYOND THE DOOR) and JAWS (1977's TENTACLES) as well as other general insanity along the lines of 1979's THE VISITOR and 1990's SONNY BOY. It was a minor hit in theaters and was popular enough on home video to warrant Assonitis taking another one of his productions, 1989's spectacularly gross THE BITE, and rechristening it CURSE II: THE BITE. Aside from featuring the admittedly unexpected sight of Jamie Farr getting laid in an Italian horror movie, CURSE II: THE BITE is arguably the finest man-turning-into-a-snake saga this side of 1973's SSSSSSS, though it has absolutely nothing to do with THE CURSE other than the involvement of Assonitis and distributor Trans World Entertainment. So began the one of the most dubious of horror franchises in the VHS era, and the chicanery dates back to BEYOND THE DOOR distributor Film Ventures International taking Mario Bava's 1977 swan song SHOCK and retitling it BEYOND THE DOOR II for its 1979 release, largely because both films shared the same creepy little boy (David Colin, Jr). The BEYOND THE DOOR brand was still strong enough with cult horror audiences that the 1989 Assonitis-produced haunted train outing AMOK TRAIN--which didn't involve David Colin, Jr. in any way--was retitled BEYOND THE DOOR III for its straight-to-video 1991 US release.

Assonitis had nothing to do with PANGA, a UK/South African co-production vaguely inspired by Wes Craven's 1988 hit THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW. The film was acquired by Epic Productions, a partnership between Eduard Sarlui and Trans World honcho Moshe Diamant, and, inspired by the video store success of CURSE II: THE BITE and claiming the "CURSE" moniker as their own, they decided to rebrand PANGA as the luridly exploitative CURSE III: BLOOD SACRIFICE when it hit American video stores in May of 1991. A period piece set in 1950 East Africa, CURSE III focuses an all manner of ritual mayhem taking place around a sugar cane plantation where American Elizabeth Armstrong (Jenilee Harrison, best known as the first of two Suzanne Somers replacements during THREE'S COMPANY's run a decade earlier) has moved to be with her wealthy husband Geoff (Andre Jacobs), whose family has owned the plantation for generations. To ease the culture shock and homesickness, pregnant Elizabeth has also brought along her free-spirited younger sister Cindy (Jennifer Steyn), who's quickly taken up with Geoff's friend Robert (Gavin Hood, the future director of TSOTSI, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, ENDER'S GAME, and EYE IN THE SKY). Ignoring the warnings of Geoff's chief foreman Mletch (SHAKA ZULU's Henry Cele), Cindy pisses off a feared area "inyanga" witch doctor (Dumi Shongwe) by intervening in a ceremonial goat sacrifice during which Elizabeth doesn't help matters by going full MAGA white privilege, shouting "America!: and "American!" to the scoffing derision of the inyanga, who directly threatens her unborn baby. Keeping the goat and taking it back to the plantation, Elizabeth almost immediately develops unbearable pain in her stomach, prompting Geoff to summon superstitious village physician Dr. Pearson (Christopher Lee), who remedies her malady but remains curiously distracted and evasive about his method of treatment. Of course, the outraged inyanga has unleashed a supernatural evil in response to the American interlopers, and before long, the body count rises as a good chunk of the cast if offed by a killer using a "panga," a sort-of ceremonial African machete.

Just out on Blu-ray from Scorpion (because physical media is dead), CURSE III: BLOOD SACRIFICE is watchable but ploddingly-paced, indifferently acted by most of the cast, and doesn't really come alive until the appearance of a Chris Walas-designed sea creature in the last ten minutes. Summoned from the depths of the ocean by and acting at the behest of the inyanga, the creature tracks down and panga-hacks those close to Elizabeth one by one, and with its gasping and gurgling, it looks and sounds like a cross between a more chaste Humanoid from the Deep and one of the creatures Walas crafted for the hastily-shot US inserts of Sergio Martino's SCREAMERS. It doesn't get nearly enough screen time, as much of the second half is spent on Harrison (who gets a brief topless shot if any THREE'S COMPANY superfans care) running around for a ludicrous amount of time in a sugar cane field and eventually taking refuge in the home of an elderly British woman (Zoe Randall) and her precocious young granddaughter (Olivia Dyer), who improbably seems to know more about East African mythology than the rest of the adults.

Lee pretty much does a walk-through in a fashion that was often too familiar and customary throughout his storied career: he shows up a few times in the first hour and then has a big scene near the end. His appearances are sporadic but he's in it enough to warrant his top billing even though he probably didn't spend more than three or four days working on this. He's mainly there for name recognition and to function as a suspicious red herring. He's also coughing, wheezing, and clearing his throat throughout, which establishes a potential link between him and the creature. There's a brief mention of his character having asthma, but Lee appears to be legitimately under the weather here, sounding hoarse and quite congested, almost like he arrived on the set in South Africa with a bad cold or some bronchial issues, and it was written into the script at the last minute. He's also visibly perspiring in scenes where the other actors aren't, and it would certainly explain why he looks like he really wanted to call in sick but probably had other commitments immediately following, and just plowed through and got it done. Often streaming and occasionally airing on Comet under its original PANGA title (which is what's on the print used for Scorpion's Blu-ray), CURSE III: BLOOD SACRIFICE was a one-and-done directing effort for veteran editor Sean Barton (EYE OF THE NEEDLE, RETURN OF THE JEDI, JAGGED EDGE), who quickly returned to his day job with Franc Roddam's mountain-climbing saga K2. The CURSE series carried on with another unrelated sequel in 1993's CURSE IV: THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE, which was actually a retitled CATACOMBS, a long-shelved and unbelievably dull 1988 casualty of the bankruptcy of Charles Band's Empire Pictures that's since been released on DVD and Blu-ray by Scream Factory under that original title.

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