The films of Robert Clouse are becoming a regular fixture here at eatmybrains.com. The director for hire who was lucky enough to land the job of making Enter the Dragon would return to the Western-made chop-socky scene in later years, claiming responsibility for the travesty that is Game of Death, as well as bringing us China O'Brien. In case the latter's title isn't quite ridiculous enough, he also helmed one Gymkata, starring short-arsed, Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas. An experiment in combining kung fu with, predictably enough, the tight legging world of gymnastics, Gymkata is about a 'Game' in which men are hunted down by a bearded twat and his wannabe ninjas.
We go way back, Gymkata, and me - way back into the 1980's when it was released onto our video shop shelves. Kung fu. Ninjas. A gymnast who's great at bashing people. Princes Rubali. Crazy people with 2 faces. Pigs. I loved this movie when I was a teenager. But now we're grown up, apparently. Time for reassessment is nigh, and what better place to deconstruct the Gymkata myth than at Zombie Club?
Gymkata may have never made it to a Zombie Club if it weren't for my stumbling across a curiosity known as Turkey Shoot AKA Blood Camp Thatcher . This low-budget, violent and downright silly Australian offering from 1982 is about a vicious manhunt set on the parameters of a futuristic prison camp, starring a youthful Steve Railsback.
This evening's selection was brought to you by Zomblee and sponsored by The Parmistan Dental Association.
Plot American Government send kung fu fighting gymnast to Parmistan in order to secure a satellite tracking system in their country. First he must play the local game.
Zomblee Mulleted gymnast Jonathan Cabbot is sent on a mission to Han's Island, no - make that the country of 'Parmistan', to partake in a tournament of martial arts, no - make that 'The Game' so that the US Government can set up a satellite tracking system in their tiny, backward country. This 'Game' is basically a violent rethinking of The Krypton Factor in which competitors race against each other through rough terrain and a 'Village of the Damned' (where the country's criminally insane live) whilst being stalked by the ruthless Zamir - yet another contender for Jim's imminent "Poor man's Chuck Norris" Top Ten list.
"It's a montage!" shouts an excited Jim as we see our vertically challenged hero train his little heart out with game 'experts' and instructors before being despatched to a country where having a nice set of teeth clearly isn't something at the top of the agenda. Once there he partakes in the obligatory pre-Game banquet before being set against other competitors, some of whom are wearing what appears to be some sort of precursor to the shell suit. Cabbot has timed his visit well - Zamir, head goon, has plans of overthrowing the Khan and changing the rules of this particular Game to make it impossible for anyone to win.
Cabbot treks his way to the final challenge of the Village of the Damned (nothing to do with creepy alien kids from 1960), a foggy settlement populated by masses of toothless insane folk with a penchant for pitchfork-assisted taunting and squawking. Coming across as more of a kung fu horror sequence with its surreal imagery, I actually retain a soft spot for it with all its slow-mo excessiveness and surprising conclusion. Best bit of the film? Definitely. Heck, there's even a scene in there where the loonies walk on pigs! "I've never seen a man walk on pigs before!" Neither have I, Rawshark, neither have I. Well, not since I last watched Gymkata anyway.
Gymkata is great fun. A guilty pleasure if ever there was one. I think Jim really approved of this one, even though it's a "shameless" rehash of Enter the Dragon, complete with the same set of characters. But Jim can tell you more about that as I seem to be banging on a bit now.
"Bullshit, Mr. Han-Man!"
Jim Yeah, that’ll teach me. When that slab of meat with a big moustache and muscles to match turned up halfway through I pointed out that he must be the O’Hara in this movie. Zomblee was having none of it. “No way man, he’s the Bolo, that’s the O’Hara!” he argued, pointing at Zamir (who incidentally did have poor man’s Chuck Norris written all over him). We then proceeded to hunt for as many Enter the Dragon parallels as possible, although this movie certainly has no Jim Kellys in it. Or John Saxons. Or tournaments of martial arts for that matter, although ‘the game’ does come close.
Still, it does have that little guy who’s a dab hand at gymnastics. He springs, vaults, hand-stands and parallel bars his way through the whole film, making use of all the conveniently placed pipes, poles and benches to great effect throughout. It’s just a shame about his taste in jumpers; they’re some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Mild-mannered Rawshark was offended too “…it’s the jumpers!”, although he had a radical change of heart when John came out wearing one of those blue army surplus jobs with leather shoulder patches. “I used to have a jumper like that!” I think we all did, mate.
Anyway, despite all the negative riffing and general piss taking going on (“it’s stupid isn’t it, really…” – Rawshark), I have to admit that I really enjoyed Gymkata. Kooky bad guys, springy good guys, extras getting trampled by horses, very entertaining kung-fu (even if it is a bit stupid), ridiculous Parmistan parlour games (“first one to put a net over the other’s head on horseback!” being Rawshark’s favourite) and, of course, Princess Rubali. Ouch. Let’s just say that when Zomblee called out, “Oh man, she’s amazing!” he wasn’t referring to her martial arts skills, rather the fetching skin-tight black catsuit she sports towards the end. Cashback.
“I always said that Special Forces should have handled this case.”
Rawshark I must admit, I’d never heard of this film before, Indeed, when Zomblee inserted the video tape and announced it’s title, I thought we were about to watch a film called ‘Jim Carter.’ Thankfully, this wasn’t a film about the British actor who once played Déjà vu in Top Secret and Jennifer in Eric the Viking, but instead was about Jonathon Cabot (same initials!), an American gymnastics champion who is enlisted as a one-man invasion force into the backwards country of Parmistan.
After some brief training exercises from Princess Rubali and an Asian man who according to Jim looked like a cross between “Bruce Lee and Bruce Campbell”, JC finally manages to walk up a set of stairs on his hands, and is deemed fit enough to travel to the European country to partake in ‘The Game’ – the only way to legally enter Parmistan. ‘The Game’ involves running along a course that includes a 200ft rope climb, a rope bridge, a forest, the Village of the Damned and a final sprint through a 5-mile swamp, all the time being pursued by poor man’s Ninjas (“They should just have one eye-slit in their hoods – not two!” – Zomblee) who are out to kill the participants.
Although fairly fun, Gymkata is only an average movie at best. Sure, there’s lots of gymnastics kung-fu to enjoy and lots of shocking 80s jumpers and colour-coded tracksuits to laugh at, but ultimately Kurt Thomas (who won several gold medals at the Wold Gymnastics Championships) is no Bruce Lee and it’s no surprise to hear he didn’t act again until a brief role in Slam in 2003. Unfortunately the film also echoes the 80s US Foreign Policy of ‘invade country, take over, do what we like,’ which also didn’t sit too well with me. Add to that a dad that doesn’t die, some heavy-breathing dubbing and you’re left with a film that’s not a patch on Clouse’s Enter the Dragon, even though it’s trying desperately hard to be that. Wish there had been a lot more of Princess Rubali (Tetchie Agbayani) in her black catsuit. Mmmmm.
“There a little anti-American sentiment around, but I think.. eurghhh”
Director Robert Clouse
Cast Kurt Thoma
Runtime 90 mins
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Turkey Shoot (aka Blood Camp Thatcher) (1982)
Plot In a futuristic conditioning camp, deviation needs to be purged from the "deviants". Cruel warden 'Thatcher' decides to indulge in a little hunting game with some of the inmates. Bad idea.
Rawshark Also known as Escape 2000 in the US, Blood Camp Thatcher is an Australian movie set in the near future after an unspecified holocaust. Survivors who don’t agree with the current state of revolutionary rule (including Olivia Hussey and Stuntman Steve Railsback) are arrested and taken to a prison camp run by Charles Thatcher, where they are either ‘re-educated’ through violence or forced to take part in the ‘Turkey Shoot’, a game organised by Thatcher for his rich chums who enjoy a spot of human hunting in the outback.
With prison guards who have no balls (literally – it makes them meaner apparently!) and lots of malicious whipping and games where prisoners are set alight, Blood Camp Thatcher is certainly no Butlins holiday camp, so it comes as no surprise when the five selected contenders agree to take part in the manhunt in exchange for freedom. Cue lots of stock jungle noises, people running through the undergrowth and one or two nice and nasty gory deaths.
One of the most bizarre things about this film is the inclusion of The Freak, a ‘man/ werewolf’ on the hunting team who was apparently found in a circus and looks as if he “should have been in Carry On Screaming” (Zomblee). Named Alf, The Freak drives around in a red tractor, tearing off toes and snarling in a not very scary way, before ultimately he gets stabbed in the eye and chopped in half by a JCB digger. He is so out of place in the film, but, as Zomblee said, “This would be a far worse film without the Freak.” You know what, I think he’s right.
Eventually the last two survivors (can you guess which two?) make it to a beach where Steve Railsback cuts off prison guard Ritter’s hands with a machete (“Stumpy!” – Jim), frees the prisoners and blows Thatcher’s head off with a bazooka in one of the finest head explosions ever committed to celluloid. We had to rewind that bit twice! God bless the Australians and their post-apoc films.
“Sir. I am a deviant. The lowest form of life on Earth.”
Jim Is this also called Escape 2000? How odd; I’ve also got a copy of the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 version of Bronx Warriors 2, which was also called Escape 2000. Mind you, that was released a year later than Turkey Shoot, and released in the States as Escape from the Bronx, which must be because the title Escape 2000 had already been used by Turkey Shoot there, but as Turkey Shoot was either Blood Camp Thatcher or Turkey Shoot around the rest of the world, I guess having the International title for Bronx Warriors 2 as Escape 2000 is fine. Okay? I’m glad we sorted that out.
So Turkey Shoot; it starts with a stock footage montage of riots (“I love riots!” – Rawshark) before quickly moving to Blood Camp Thatcher, where life is no picnic. Bald guards with huge moustaches shadow box around helpless women while they recite the “I am a deviant” song, prisoners are set alight for trying to escape by hanging under supply trucks, and maniacal castrated guards whip constantly whether they’re in shot or not. (“He’s still whipping in the background look – brilliant!” – Zomblee) Thank God for ‘the game’ then, where old rich guys (one of whom looked like a cross between Michael Winner and Peter Ustinov) get to shoot escaping prisoners for sport.
When the game does finally kick off the movie really picks up, what with head explosions galore in the final few frames, and that decent double dismemberment scene that would make even Count Dooku’s eyes water (there’s an Episode III reference for you). It’s just a shame they take so long about getting round to it, meaning we had a few shouts of “Get on with the game!” by Zomblee and “Yeah, get on with the game!” by Rawshark too, which mirrored my thoughts exactly. When we’re there it was great fun though, particularly that ridiculous freak thing chasing a character called Ginger for ages (“He’s just constantly getting chased by a freak in a tractor!” – Zomblee), Thatcher’s amazing head explosion, and Peter Ustinov getting shot in the nuts with his own poison dart. That made even my eyes water...
“The game is over, shoot to kill!”
Zomblee Yeah, that Thatcher head / full body explosion really is the business. I'd forgotten about that. While its great that films like this exist, lets make something clear: Turkey Shoot really isn't very good. Certain elements however make it essential viewing. For instance, you can see how crap Steve Railsback could be when he was younger ("I have to say I'm not that impressed with Steve Railsback in this film" - Rawshark. "I'm not impressed with Steve Railsback either" - Jim). See? On the whole, it's fair to say that we weren't too impressed with Steve Railsback. For a hero, he's just a bit, well, shit.
"Whippin' boy", as he was monikered by Jim, is another reason for watching this film. In cheap B-movies set in futuristic prison camps, you can get away with having a goon character who cracks his whip incessantly. This guy loves it. So did I. And when he's done whippin' in one scene, he walks away, still crackin' his whip, then we'll see Railsback doing something boring pre-manhunt ("Get on with it!"), then in he'll walk again, crackin' away. Brilliant. Maybe it's something to do with having no balls. "So, they've got no balls? That's the plot?" I wish it were that simple, Jim. Throw in some half arsed scenario about a freak-assisted tractor manhunt with a crap hero and, yeah, that is the plot.
Argentinean beauty Olivia Hussey, whom I've mentioned, is in this one and looking better than ever with those seven years since we saw her in Black Christmas. Jim mistook her for one of the male runners during the manhunt though, "Run like a girl!""It is a girl!" Thanks for clearing that up, Rawshark. I think that was well before any of that bizarre freak action though. I couldn't wait to see how Jim and Rawshark reacted to the Alf, the freak. He really is something else. Even though a great big "WHY?" hangs above every scene he's in, you simply won't give a shit. Just enjoy it.
"Freedom is obedience. Obedience is work. Work is life."
Director Brian Trenchard-Smith
Cast Steve Railsback
Runtime 93 mins
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In a sense, the same big “WHY?” hangs over Turkey Shoot, generally. Its lack of explanation for just about everything is just plain lazy. Even the Italian post apocalyptic movies offer up some kind of reason as to why things have turned out so sour. In the world of Turkey Shoot, it’s just gone sour. The guards have had their balls chopped and are given whips to play with instead. This is a real, err, turkey, but strangely essential at the same time.
One of the things in Turkey Shoot’s favour is the admirable job Hard Gore have done on the DVD - the print quality is superb. While there may be little by way of extras (except for some Hard Gore trailers, featuring what looks like the worst film ever made - Nutbag - don’t ask, never ask), it doesn’t really matter because “it’s a really good transfer”, making this little duffer look better than it has any right to, especially with a price tag of around £3.50 online.
It was a huge surprise to me that Jim hadn’t seen Gymkata before – this is so up his street. It’s got his name written all over it (spelled ‘Gym’ of course). Look - he’s even rated this poor man’s Enter the Dragon higher than Rawshark or myself, see?
While it isn’t big, or clever, Clouse’s arse-kicking, gymno-jumper-fare stands up moderately well, especially if you watch something as dire as Turkey Shoot afterwards.