THE EXECUTIONER, PART II
Color, 1984, 86m.
Directed by James Bryan
Starring Chris Mitchum, Aldo Ray, Antoine John Mottet, Renee Harmon
Color, 1980, 78m.
Directed by Frank Roach
Starring Renee Harmon, Lynne Kocol, Wolf Muser, Thomas McGowan, Wayne Liebman, Lee James
Vinegar Syndrome (DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
This truly crazed double feature from Vinegar Syndrome serves as a sort of unofficial double feature tribute to Renee Harmon, a thickly-accented Germany aspiring actress who decided to get together her fellow Army wives to put on theatrical and cinematic productions, sometimes by cobbling their funds together. She first turned up in drive-in oddities like Al Adamson's Cinderella 2000 and Van Nuys Blvd., but her crackpot career really took off when she joined forces with James Bryan, the director behind the immortal Don't Go in the Woods and a host of bizarre soft and hardcore adult and drive-in films. Complete with flaming red hair, prominent cleavage, and a cheerfully thick German accent, Harmon became an unforgettable force in the 1980s for those lucky enough to stumble on her films, which usually happened by accident to hapless VHS consumers.
The first film on this disc was actually made second: The Executioner, Part II, an urban vigilante film shamelessly patterned after Death Wish and especially The Exterminator (which it boldly trumpeted in its publicity materials). Technically it isn't a sequel to anything, but the title came from the Italian backers who wanted to pass it off as a successor to the fairly obscure 1970 George Peppard spy film, The Executioner, which was fairly popular in Italy. Bryan took on the job under rushed, financially impoverished conditions and turned out an action film like no other, seemingly assembled in the editing room by a complete madman; in typical Bryan fashion, it was also shot without sound and looped in later (sometimes with the original actors), resulting in a surreal experience that never quite feels like it's happening on Planet Earth.
The actual plot is your usual '80s action fare as Hollywood is being terrorized by street gangs with colorful fashion sense. Enter the Executioner, a masked avenger in fatigues who dispatches criminals with handy grenades after beating them senseless. Investigating the case is LAPD cop Roger O'Malley (a very tired-looking Mitchum, son of Robert), a Vietnam vet who's still close buddies with the man who saved his life in combat, mechanic Mike (Mottet) -- who of course is also the Executioner. When he isn't busy locking horns with his commissioner (a sweaty-looking Aldo Ray, of course), O'Malley is dealing with a plucky German reporter (Harmon) and an escalating chain of violence involving drugs, prostitution, and lots and lots of fights that will put him face to face with his prey.
Barely released in theaters by 21st Century Film Corporation around the same time they handled Don't Open Till Christmas and Scalps, this one must have thrown audiences expecting a typical action film for a major loop. Scenes begin and end arbitrarily and often cut away to some random bit of business in the background (most hilariously an enthusiastic bar dancer in one standout scene), and the clunky dubbing just adds to the surrealism of the whole enterprise with Mottet in particular scowling and punching his way through his role with a heavy level of enthusiasm. The film was first issued on VHS from Continental (paired up with its co-feature here) edited down to 78 minutes to fit on a single VHS tape, but the Vinegar Syndrome release is the full version looking far better than we'd have any right to expect. In addition to the theatrical trailer (which is just as amazing as you'd expect), there's a useful 15-minute video interview with Bryan who explains that this was shot on 35mm short ends to save costs, which means they had to plan out the timing of shooting each close up vs master shot for the whole film. He also chats about his working relationship with Harmon (who also worked with him on Lady Street Fighter and the indescribable Run Coyote Run), the less than ideal circumstances of getting hired to direct, and the choreography of the admittedly very violent and sometimes convincing fight scenes.
That brings us to something even wilder, the second film on the disc: Frozen Scream. Shot in 16mm for peanuts, this one's production date is a bit fuzzier with everything from 1975 (its IMDb listing) to 1980 (the DVD packaging) popping up. The 1980 one seems more plausible given Harmon's similar appearance, and she's really something to behold here as Lil Stanhope, a syringe-happy doctor who's been entrusted with treating Ann Girard (Kocol), a woman traumatized by the abduction of her husband by some robe-wearing assailants also attacking and knifing other people in the neighborhood. As it turns out, the good doctor is in cahoots with scientist Sven Johnsson (James) to discover the secret to immortality by freezing people's life functions down to a crawl, implanting them with what looks like a metal button behind their ear, and turning them into zombies. Their guinea pigs are mainly college students at the local university where they can set up plenty of lab equipment under everyone's noses, but Ann's insistent meddling threatens to throw a monkey wrench into their plans. As if Stanhope's impenetrable accent and cleavage flashing weren't enough, a narrator occasionally barges over the conversations (which continue on screen anyway) to relay lots of information that doesn't prove to be helpful in any way. Meanwhile those creepy cult guys are still running around slicing people up, which is all tied to the experiments in finding immortality through love chants and deep freezers.
Anyone who suffered through the Continental tape or the scarce, full frame Laser Paradise DVD from Germany (paired up with Vengeance of the Zombies, oddly enough) should have a better time with this new transfer from the 16mm negative. It still looks like a cheap, very grainy film, but at least you can tell what's going on and the colors are pretty impressive throughout. The movie itself is off-the-charts looney, so you might as well see it in the best condition possible. The mono audio is very scratchy and rough for the most part (as it always has), which may be attributable to the less than optimal shooting and printing conditions of the feature itself. A truly astonishing, sanity-endangering double bill unlike any other.