Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Big Zapper (1973) and Zapper's Blade of Vengeance (1974)

"This has to mark a low point for the British film industry; it is cheap, slapdash, sleazy, painfully unfunny but, most unforgivably, totally dull." So says some would-be film critic on Big Zapper's Internet Movie Database page.  Clearly, they haven't seen some of the British movies I have.  They really need to get out more.

"The film features plenty of action, but it's all badly done and the director can't seem to make up his mind whether this is a comedy or a thriller!" adds another amateur critic on the same page.

Like those who seemed incapable of grasping that Lindsay Shonteff's earlier private eye picture Clegg was a parody of the genre, so these supposed cinephiles fail to grasp that his glorious Big Zapper is effectively a live action comic strip.  Shot, like Clegg, on a miniscule budget, Big Zapper is far more indulgent of its director's quirky sense of humour: featuring villains being kicked through walls - leaving a hole in the shape of their bodies - samurai swordsmen and a comedy relief S&M obsessed sidekick, (Rock Hard, played by Richard Monette).  Unlike Clegg, which maintains its blackly humourous tone throughout, Big Zapper 's tone varies wildly, opening with the violent murder of a semi-naked young woman, shortly followed by the killing of her avenging brother and proceeding through sequences parodying of martial arts movies, private eye movies, some borderline soft core pornography and various comic scenes involving the villain and his inept henchmen, who all seem utterly incapable of dealing the heroine.  At worst, this leaves the viewer feeling disconcerted and disorientated, at best, it induces a heady sense of delirium.

Investigating the disappearance of the first victim is Linda Marlowe as Harriet Zapper, .357 Magnum-toting and Mercedes convertible-driving lady private eye, who advertises her services in the local village magazine.  In contrast to the titular hero of Clegg - who spends most of his time getting beaten up or in bed with various women - Zapper spends most of her time actually investigating, follwing up leads.  She's also more likley to be handing out the beatings rather than being on the receiving end.  She's a far cooler customer than Harry Clegg, emerging unreuffled from her violent encounters with various henchmen and an attempted seduction by the villain, (during which she reveals that she has what appears to be a blazing ball of fire in her pants - something which is left unexplained and never referred to again).

The villain himself is an extremely nasty pimp named Kono, who also has a sideline in counterfeiting.  Shonteff regular Gary hope gives a performance and a half as Kono, alternately camp and psychotic, he disconcertingly shifts between comic outbursts at the incompetence of his henchmen to highly disturbing outbursts of extreme violence.  Indeed, it is the inability of these henchmen to neutralise Zapper which drives much of the plot, with Kono being forced to bring in various specialists, including a hitman and a Yukuza samurai swordsman to try and deal with her.  All to no avail as nothing, not helicopters, heavy machine guns and swords prove to be any match for Harriet Zapper's magnums.

Big Zapper is a brisk and bizarre ninety minutes or so of entertainment.  Sure, a lot of the humour seems corny nowadays and often serves to slow down the action, but the surreal and tongue in cheek nature of the film carries it along.  Shonteff's obvious directorial competence ensures that, despite the low budget, the film always looks reasonably slick and professional, with well-staged set pieces and interestingly photographed locations.

Like Clegg, the film did surprisingly well at the box office (particularly in the US), making a sequel inevitable.

Zapper's Blade of Vengeance (aka The Swordsman), clearly has a somewhat bigger budget than its predecessor (it includes location shooting in the South of France), but, to be frank, isn't anywhere near as much fun. Part of the problem lies in the absence of Gary Hope.  This time around the villain is played by Alan Lake, (recently released from a spell in jail following a pub brawl), who, although possessed of a considerable degree of screen presence, simply isn't as flamboyant as Hope in his performance.

Also absent is Rock Hard, replaced by a Chinese Humphrey Bogart wannabe called Hock, Zapper's Mercedes, replaced by a Triumph Stag, one of Zapper's Magnum revolvers (she has to make do with just the one tis time around), and, perhaps most damagingly, Linda Marlowe's first person voice overs, which had helped establish much of the first film's playful tone.  Indeed, Zapper's appearance in this sequel is much delayed, as Lake's villiany is established in the opening sequences.  

The whole thing is also noticably slower paced, lacking the delirious mayhem of the original and with Shonteff's quirky humour somewhat toned down.  Clearly, the additional finance dictated a move toward the mainstream, which ironically weakened the very elements which had made the first film so popular.  That said, it is still entertaining.  Edina Ronay provides a sleek sidekick for Lake and, as before, the action sequences, particularly the sword fights (Alan Lake was, apparently an accomplished fencer in real life), are well staged.   Once again, Shonteff's direction is assured, making excellent use of his locations.

It's worth considering, at this juncture, that I'm basing my judgements on a viewing of what appeared to be the UK release cut of Zapper's Blade of Vengeance.  According to gavcrimson (if you like Lindsay Shonteff films, you'll enjoy his site, go take a look) there is a longer French language version in existence, which includes many scenes cut from the UK version. (Including the sequence in which Lake uses his sword to cut a Zorroesque 'Z' into Ronay's pubic hair).  If I ever saw that version of the film, I might revise my opinions.

So, there you have it: two more slices of Lindsay Shonteff directed British exploitation from the seventies.  As I said in the post about Clegg, I'm not making any claims that Shonteff is some kind of neglected genius, just that he was a much better than average director of low budget entertainment.  The only thing I am claiming is that his reputation is frequently unfairly trashed by the kind of condescending film snobs who post on the Imdb.  Taking into account the severe limitations his budgets must have placed upon him, Shonteff produced some remarkably well made movies.  Most importantly, they are, in the main, still entertaining.  Certainly, he's a far better director than many contemporaries in the low-budget movie arena.  It can surely only be down to the fact that he was far more prolific (not to mention fashionably continental) that Jesus Franco's reputation seems to be greater than Shonteff's.  There's no doubt that Shonteff was a far better director than the zoom obsessed Franco, most of whose movies are anything but entertaining.

Anyway, as with Clegg, these two films are still up on You Tube, (they're presented in a single continuous programme and have what appear to be Russian sub-titles) so you can judge for yourself.  Quick!  Before someone gets them taken down!

(As a footnote, it's worth noting that Linda Marlowe will shortly be joining the cast of Eastenders as Stan Carter's estranged wife.  We can but hope that the Big Zapper brings her Magnums with her to Albert Square).



Blogger InfoSupplied said...

Uncut Version


10:51 am  

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