Friday, October 2, 2009

Gypsies, Dopes and Fiends

With The Yugoslavian Bombshell
Tania Velia


Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron
Indiana Jones' drunken, psychotic third cousin, twice removed, rules over his Trinidad but not quite Tobago island paradise like Lash LaRue with an anger management problem. Cracking the leather across the backs of his mostly drunken associates, he fancies himself a charismatic totalitarian despot, a friend to the native and the riding crop equally. In reality, he's just the incredibly sweaty drug running/gun smuggling Fiend of Dope Island. When a mail order lounge singer arrives to provide the one bit of spice on this otherwise mushy plantain of a paradise, it's not long before our overheated male is smitten, with a whip. It's up to the lacerated locals and the social outcastaways surrounding him to teach the Sensimilla selling sadist that there's more to life (and love) than a quick flick of the wrist.

Meanwhile, William Stanton experiences what numerous writers to Penthouse Forum have only daydreamed of, untold computer geeks have fan fictioned over, and numerous teenage surfer dudes have prayed for when he ends up shipwrecked on Pagan Island, a tropical paradise filled with topless beauties. With names right out of Disney's Polynesian Village Hotel Conference Center, our hero is at first feared, then befriended, then feared again, then almost sacrificed, then coddled, then feared, then…well that's about it. Oh, and while scuba diving for buried Sea God treasure, he is molested by a giant mollusk, AKA a clam. Seems he's irresistible to all species. Both Fiend of Dope Island and Pagan Island sound like promising exploitation experiences. Fiend portends to offer a salacious look at the life of a dictator-like drug dealer on an exotic island that just screams naked hula dancers. Pagan is every middle-aged World War II vet's nice Hawaiian punch. Combined, it should make for one fantastic fantasy inlet delight. But both movies are King Kamayamaya disappointing.

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Fiend does indeed present the incredibly heinous Charlie Davis, a man whose interpersonal interaction skills can best be described as oriented around the cat o' nine tails and a voluptuous Volga boatwoman in Glory La Verne. But otherwise, the movie is as odiferous as a Durian daiquiri. This is supposed to be a film about the dangerous life of drug running, not the hazards and hardships of private island ownership. All the actors have been directed to deliver their lines in a rapid fire gulp of air, like their about ready to belch up some conch salad. Actor Bruce Bennett is the worst. This ex-Tarzan speaks so fast without moving his lips more than a centimeter in any direction (up, down or sidewise) that his dialogue simply becomes a series of sonic blurts. It sounds like he's been working with David Byrne in the experimental art of lyric writing via phonetics. There are a couple of fun moments, like Glory's mad Bulgarian samba that has Charlie pounding on the conga drum like a spastic Gene Krupa or the climactic shark attack which combines horrible overacting and hyper-kinetic kiddy pool splashing with intercut stock footage from episodes of Flipper. But with only one split second shot of a breast and hardly anything else going for it except Charlie's miscreant mood swings, this Fiend is a flop.

Pagan Island also starts with possibilities. This premise just seems ripe for some ribald revelry. Stud muffin sailor splashes down on a seemingly deserted island, does the Robinson Crusoe "thang" and just when it looks like he'll starve to death, a group of lei wearing topless tomatoes stumble across his path and offer their ample assistance like a Luau La Leche League. But instead of a steamy sex farce or wanton display of ample island flesh, nothing happens. A native girl dances around a tropical gift shop version of Domino's Noid, our poop deck deviant spends countless hours trying to decipher the Ungawa language (and various European accents) the ladies use as secret sensual code, and the audience wonders if the body tape holding those flower necklaces close to the vest will ever come loose. If it weren't for that tacky Trader Vic's corporate logo standing in the middle of the grass hut grotto where these ladies live, there would be very little sculpted figure to look at. True, this is a movie that features women sans Bikini Island tops. But when Wilson, Tom Hanks' volleyball lover in Cast Away, has more sex appeal and emotional range than the naïve natives offered here, it's time to consider this male fantasy flaccid. The underwater treasure cove caper seems pasted in as an afterthought and there is an attack by a burly bunch of backlot stage hands in wool diapers that just hurts in its unintentional hilarity. Perhaps in 1960 this seemed like racy, soon to be banned brazenness. But viewed along other titles in the SWV catalog, Pagan Island is all cutie with very little nudie, as well as very little excitement. Visually, the black and white prints of Fiend and Pagan are near pristine, if overly soft. The monochrome seems geared more toward the gray than ebony. Even the trailers and alternate title sequence for Fiend (under the moniker Whiplash) look brand new. With movies this unfulfilling, Something Weird Video must step in and offers some decidedly different extra content sacrifices to the Gods of personal entertainment in hopes that they will be appeased. And they are, for the most part. First, we learn more than we ever wanted to know about the customs and creepiness of Bali and its clothing optional residents. We then get to see some hula girls and various other examples of tropical tomfoolery. There's even a truncated (read: without explicit sex) bit of pseudo porn that finds a rough trade looking merchant marine bedding the most hideous island girl (make that matron) in the history of backroom smoker cinema. About the only bright spot is the colorful feature starring Lewis Van Dercar. While supposedly an insight into the artistic temperament, it's really a first person narrative about a young woman's decision to totally give in to the world of nekkid artists modeling for elderly beatnik types. Add another great gallery of lost exploitation advertisement and the supplements outshine the rather tame movies offered. But all the pearl polishing in China couldn't remove the humid, overheated ho-humness of these titles. While this DVD package would certainly be the answer to a shipwrecked castaways daily doldrums, most landlubbers will have difficulty finding their South Sea legs.

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