Back when we were kids, there was nothing better than going to the cinema to catch stuff like Superman 2. It was great. We loved it. But unbeknownst to us, there was a whole other world out there. A world where film crews with significantly smaller budgets roamed free, armed with a camera, some lights, crap costumes and a script which inevitably included the line, "He's fallen right into my trap!"
It is quite possible that Zombie Club has never been host to such a pairing as Puma Man and Supersonic Man. Both feature an iconic has-been (Donald Pleasence and Cameron Mitchell respectively) as megalomaniac villains who may as well be hamming it up in a multi-million dollar franchise picture. Also, both films feature superheroes who are, well, a bit shit. But just how bad are these celluloid atrocities in tight pants? Do they ever wear tight pants? Am I wearing tight pants? You bet.
This evening's Zombie Club was brought to you by Zomblee in association with all the crap super heroes who fall into the bad guys' traps. While wearing some horrible brown slacks.
The Puma Man (1980)
Plot Prof. Tony Farms is... Poo-ma Man.
Zomblee Puma Man. Where do I start? I guess we should start with the main star of the pic, i.e. not Walter George Alton (who plays Puma Man) but the one, the only Donald Pleasence, who plays 'Kobras', a babbling, scheming megalomaniac hell bent on ruling planet Earth with the help of an ancient Aztec mask. The main problem there of course, is that according to legend, whoever desecrates the mask for their own gain will be killed by the living Puma Man ("I like the way he says, 'Poo-ma Man'" - Rawshark).
All Pleasence has to do in order to gain mind control over people is to look at them from behind the mask ("It's so great when DP hides behind the mask!" - Jim), and thereafter he seems to possess a perfect head cast of the said person, which has all sorts of wires sticking out of it, and once this bizarre routine has taken place he can make them do whatever he wants. Hell, he can even make the Poo-ma Man try to commit suicide if he so desires. In keeping with superhero traditions, Pleasence's domination plan falls flat on its arse and everyone lives happily ever after.
It's kind of a shame that Pleasence appeared in movies like this just for the pay cheque - i've always preferred the idea that he wanted to act in rubbish movies because he loved them. At one point tonight, Jim was wondering if he had ever seen DP act really well in a proper movie. We know he has, but we're getting very accustomed to seeing him in efforts like this, dressing up in a daft, neck-to-toe black PVC 'baddie' outfit, trying to brainwash loads of influential people in a meeting so he can dominate the planet ("Heads of State of the entire world? That's one important meeting!" - Rawshark). It's all riotously silly fun, and if the baddies look daft then so too does our 'hero'. Not only is he complete and utterly pathetic in capabilities, but his costume includes a rather ill-fitting pair of brown slacks which do nothing to bolster a super-heroic image of any kind.
As with many not-so-great movies in which the late, great DP featured, he's the main reason I could watch this one again. In the great sea of flawed movies, he maintains flawlessness (if you overlook his costume), and to quote Jim, plays a baddie spectacularly well "without ever breaking sweat."
"He's fallen into my trap!"
Rawshark Ah, good old Poo-ma Man – here to save the world in his red cape and his rubbish trousers (”they’re awful brown slacks for a superhero” - Zomblee). Given the powers of ”being able to somehow sense danger”, the ability to fall out of a third floor window without hurting himself too much as well as being able to make ”weird sci-fi sound effects when he jumps” (Jim), Poo-ma Man is called into action when naughty Donald Pleasence, wearing ”Tesco’s baddie clothing range” (Zomblee), starts using an ancient Aztec mask to try and take over the world. Donald, don’t you ever learn that these kind of plans never turn out well. Especially not when good ol’ Poo-ma Man is around.
Puma Man is a blatant cheapo Italian Superman rip-off - it even lifts whole scenes, such as the scene when a flying Poo-ma Man leaves a henchman dangling from building scaffolding. Our hero, the yellow tracksuit wearing Tony, is unaware of his heritage at first so it takes an Indian High Priest, Vandinho, to track him down to London, throw him out of a third floor window (just to check he’s got the right man of course), before giving him a power belt that instantly gives Tony the afore-mentioned bad costume and the gift of flying very badly.
From here on, Poo-ma Man learns a few new powers (”Wow – Psychic Road Trip Montage” - Jim) including being able to suddenly appear in people’s cars, which results in one case of him causing his mate Martin to crash his tiny fire engine (”I hope he eventually makes it up to his fireman mate Martin – that was a bit shit”” – Zomblee). Eventually he enters DP’s quarters, uses his ”Puma Pounce” (Jim) to beat everyone up and save the day.
Yes, it’s pretty rubbish, yes, it’s cheap and exploitative, but there’s a lot of fun to be had here if you’re in the mood for a bad movie with a bunch of like-minded mates. And to think, I haven’t even mentioned DP’s fantastic office with the massive screen projecter, the toy helicopter crash, and the ”mothership ending” (Jim). I was still disappointed he never once turned into a puma though, cos that would have been cool, just like in that old TV series Manimal.
”Teach me some Indian swear words Vandinho, I just used all mine up”.
Jim That cracked me up actually, Rawshark commenting at the end that he thought Puma Man was actually going to turn into a puma. "I was thinking Manimal!" he said, but you'd think after the realisation that Massacre in Dinosaur Valley didn't actually have any dinosaurs in it, he'd have learnt his lesson!
At the beginning though, we were much more optimistic. "So, God came down from Heaven and shagged a Puma?" offered Rawshark over the introduction, while Zomblee had concerns over whose side Vadinho was actually on. "Was it him throwing people out of the window, or Donald Pleasence?" asked Zomblee as Vadinho bundled our hero out of a fourth storey window of the Natural History Museum, after which our hero does, of course, land on his feet, full-on cat-like, prompting Vadinho to spend the next 20 minutes running after him trying to get him to put that belt on. Yes, even in the 70s accessorizing was important.
When he does finally become Puma Man things get even more amusing, and I’m not talking about those slacks ("You're right, those trousers are ridiculous, even for a superhero outfit." - Rawshark). There's naff blue-screen flying, naff punch-ups, a naff jumping power and lots of all round naffness of the silliest kind in general really, but I have to admit the final fight between Puma Man and Donald Pleasance really takes the biscuit, for all the right and some of the wrong reasons.
But at the end of the day we have to be thankful for the onscreen presence of that big man Donald Pleasance. He's the main reason to watch this flick, which only cements his God-like B-movie status (notice how he's been at Zombie Club THREE WEEKS IN A ROW!) I don't think we'll ever tire of this guy which is good because I doubt we'll ever track down all the B-movie twaddle he made in those Autumn years, but Goddamnit we're going to try, especially Zomblee. ("I love it when Donald Pleasance says stuff like 'You must obey me!'" - Zomblee)
"You must obey me!"
Director Alberto De Martino
Cast Walter George Alton
Miguel Ángel Fuentes
Runtime 90 mins
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Supersonic Man (1979)
Plot Superhero Kronos tangles with Cameron Mitchell's megalomaniac.
Jim "This is the second film of the night to open with a spaceship!" said Rawshark excitedly as indeed a large, plastic washing up bottle painted grey style mother ship flies through the cosmos on it's way to Earth. Don't you just love Italian filmmakers? The ship does, of course, house Supersonic Man, who's flying to Earth from his home planet (not Krypton) to save mankind, although not from ourselves this time, rather from that super evil manic being we humble humans know as Cameron Mitchell. Yes, that Cameron Mitchell. Yes, I know, sometimes I feel like a motherless child too.
Anyway, Mitchell's boys raid a nuclear factory of some kind with the help of an 8ft robot with rockets for ears but can't navigate stairs (it's literally lowered off the back of a truck, which is as
heart-warmingly ridiculous as it sounds), they steal a load of radioactive material and it's keeper - Professor Morgan - so when Supersonic Man arrives he makes a bee line for the Prof's daughter so he can use her to help find her father and thus save the world from Cameron Mitchell. Or something.
We cheered when Supersonic Man donned his cape ("I knew the suit was gonna get a cheer!" - Zomblee) even though we weren't in full agreement ("I'm not into the sparkles with the mask though." - Rawshark). We laughed as Supes' saved the Prof's daughter by lifting the JCB ("You can see it's made of wood! - Rawshark), cheered the numerous silly fight scenes, applauded each flying sequence and explosion ("This has got a lot more budget than the last movie." - Zomblee), and laughed at the liberal amount of smoking on show ("Look, you can smoke anywhere you want in this film!" - Rawshark) But apart from that it's all a bit foggy. Oh, except the reoccurring alcoholic theme ("There's a reoccurring theme with this alcoholic here." - Rawshark), but that's about it.
In fact, the last thing I wrote down was Rawshark's observation that "It's a Mitchell / Pleasance face-off for the best baddie of the evening!" which, as I remember, Cameron Mitchell was winning. That was quite a shock, as well as the realisation that, as far as crap superhero movies go, this one's a wee bit better than Puma Man. Only a wee bit though.
"I told you not to call me before seven!"
Rawshark The flying is much better in this film” said Jim not five minutes into the run time, although how the FX could have been any worse than Puma Man I’ll never know. Supersonic Man does have a bigger budget than the previous film, and has lots more fun in the process with one or two wacky ideas. Not that I’m saying it’s a great film mind, just better, and more fun, than the last.
After the ”great title sequence – just like a Microsoft screensaver” (Jim), Supersonic Man lands on earth and immediately beats up loads of Blake’s 7 goons, as well as a Metal Mickey robot with ”breasts of flame” (Jim). Cameron Mitchell is the baddie this time around, and it’s his plan to kidnap Professor Morgan in a fiendish plot to (yawn) take over the world. Cue lots of low-budget Spanish fight scenes, shark scenes and car chase sequences, including the extremely memorable balsawood bulldozer, as Supersonic Man battles to save the earth in one of the most blatant Superman rip-offs you’ll ever get to see.
The acting is largely like the featured bulldozer (wooden), although Cameron Mitchell obviously relishes a role that allows him ”to blow lots of things up” (Zomblee), but for me at least, the highlight has to be the recurring alcoholic character who keeps popping up throughout the course of the film. Obviously the comic foil for the movie, the film-makers even go all Tom & Jerry on him at one point when the robot shoots him with flame, leaving him with a blackened face and splayed cigar. And wouldn’t you know – isn’t that him again popping up at the end of the film, picking up Supersonic Man’s alien location-finding watch? ”He’s going to get beamed up isn’t he?” observed Zomblee, and that probably would have been the basis of Supersonic Man 2, had this one not be so pretty awful really. Shame.
”You hear that sugar? He’s an ‘Extra-Testicle’”.
Zomblee Yeah, Rawshark was loving the intentional comic relief of the old drunk guy who crops up throughout the adventures of our caped crusader, and you have to admire the way they felt the need to include a clichéd drunk to up the comedy value of this really quite laughable effort. That said, as the boys have already pointed out, this one does have a bigger budget - how else were they able to employ a comedy drunken character who gets beamed up into space at the end? And that big shit robot? Or the balsa wood steam roller?
Supersonic Man isn't Italian. No. It's a Spanish flick brought to us by Juan Piquer Simon, probably best known for the 1982 college chainsaw horror Pieces, and subsequently one we all remember about slugs, imaginatively entitled Slugs. Somewhat of a cult figure, he's got some 15 titles to his name, and if this effort is anything to go by, I can see why some folk get a perverse kick out of tracking down his movies. Here, he was lucky enough to employ the services of ZC legend Cameron Mitchell, who seemed hell bent on giving Donald Pleasence's Kobras a run for his money on the villain stakes ("I think Cameron Mitchell is winning so far." - Jim). I must admit, he seems to be having a great time here, and who can blame him, spouting lines like "My power! My power! My Extreme energy!" with maniacal zeal at every turn. Great stuff.
And what of our titular hero? Well, I'm not sure what we made of him, and tonight's previous movie probably blinkered our critical faculties with regard to what constitutes a good superhero. A good cape is important - that's a given, and lets not forget the all important superhero trousers, and on that level Supersonic sure snatches the hero crown of the evening. One thing really puzzled us though, especially Rawshark: "You can't be a superhero with a moustache!!!"
"He's fallen right into my trap!"
Director Juan Piquer Simon
Cast Antonio Cantafora
José María Caffarel
Runtime 85 mins
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Never before at ZC have we had such a competition of villainy - two heavyweight cult champions, both giving it large degrees of 'badness' in a way only they could. And what a sight it is. Ex-Blofeld Pleasence's apparent lack of effort is almost alarming - to say it comes natural is an understatement, while our old pal from The Toolbox Murders throws in such a crazed, intense performance that at times he almost seems better than Pleasence. No mean feat, and two very good reasons for checking out these movies, even though they're both shit.