American producers have been putting their own spin on Hong Kong action cinema for decades, re-cutting and dubbing cheaply-purchased films to better suit an English speaking audience. Few though can be more bizarre than the curio we discovered in crate 7, Deadly Fist of the Hedgehog.

It was perhaps not surprising to see the name of enterprising smut producer Roy Avenue (b. Stanley David Hergesheimer) in the credits. Avenue was particularly adept at combining existing footage with newly shot sex scenes, most infamously when he used two episodes of the popular British sitcom That’s Your Funeral! as the basis for his 1975 hardcore farce Cuties in Coffins. By the time the series’ producers ITV got wind of Avenue’s actions the film had already vanished from Times Square’s porno theaters, but not before Avenue had banked a tidy sum.

What we found in crate 7 was evidence that Avenue either purchased the rights to or simply stole the footage of an unfinished movie from Taiwanese independent filmmaker Lee Tso-nam (Mission: Kiss and Kill, The Invincible Kung Fu Legs). Some time around 1978 – the exact date is sadly as lost as the original film – Tso-nam invested much of his own money into a pet project provisionally titled Scorpion Kick vs. Sea Urchin Kung Fu. Starring Cliff Lok (Kung Fu Genius) and legendary superkicker Hwang Jang Lee, the film was never completed, perhaps because co-star and action director Wilson Tong’s (Snake Deadly Act) fanciful sea urchin combat style was bizarre even for a 1970s kung fu film.

At first it seems that Deadly Fist of the Hedgehog is simply going to be a vaguely chopsockey-themed porn movie, as a young man named Chew (Tom Byron, b. Thomas Bryan Taliaferro) seeks out Master Hedgehog (Ron Jeremy, b. Ronald Jeremy Hyatt) and asks to learn kung fu. Master Hedgehog’s unique training regime involves nothing more than having sex with a variety of women, which somehow (the film is not specific) confers great fighting skills on the male participant. Hedgehog demonstrates with his wife (Kay Parker, b. Kay Rebecca Taylor), before breaking an obviously polystyrene ‘brick’ with his erection.

Hedgehog magnanimously allows Chew to ‘practice’ on his daughter (Kristara Barrington, notably the only Asian in the American half of the production), before the film cuts to a fight scene from the Lee Tso-nam footage. Here we begin to appreciate Avenue’s thought process: Cliff Lok is dressed in a spiny costume to represent his sea urchin style, and wears a face mask (Tso-nam’s original script apparently had the Sea Urchin as a mysterious Robin Hood-style vigilante). With Byron’s voice dubbed over the footage, Avenue clearly hoped the audience would believe this was Chew in disguise. And of course I hardly need mention that hedgehogs are spiny, like sea urchins.

As to the fight itself (featuring choreographer Wilson Tong as the antagonist), it’s a well-done affair. For kung fu fans this will be the main area of interest in Deadly Fist of the Hedgehog, particularly as all footage from this production was thought to be lost. Indeed, the only way we were able to identify this footage at all was thanks to the rare still photographs of the urchin costume from David Bordwell’s excellent book, Taiwanese National Identity and Shaolin Invincible Sticks: The Films of Lee Tso-nam.

The film then proceeds in this fashion, fight scenes alternating with sex scenes featuring a couple of familiar faces from the early-80s adult scene, Dorothy LeMay and Crystal Dawn. The final confrontation between Cliff Lok and the main villain, played by Legendary Superkicker Hwang Jang Lee, is intercut with another sex scene so the smut fans don’t get too restless. This final encounter is between Parker and Barrington, who seem unconcerned that they are playing mother and daughter. One may infer that this is a reference to Parker’s ongoing role in the popular incest-themed Taboo series of films.

Avenue’s attempt to cash in on both the kung fu craze and Ron Jeremy’s ‘hedgehog’ persona seems to have made little impact on either smut or chopsockey fans. Perhaps the cuts between the cheap indoor porn footage and the more professional, sweeping outdoor kung fu scenes is simply too jarring. Perhaps it’s because the hastily-applied ‘occidental’ makeup worn by Jeremy and Byron keeps falling off during the sex scenes (the female performers aren’t so adorned). Deadly Fist of the Hedgehog is far from a classic, but as a testament to the ingenuity of Roy Avenue, it has little equal.

NB. despite the title, the film does not contain any scenes of fisting.

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As with many of the films in crate two, the credits for Red Banner Solar Fleet are untranslated, the title and year coming from an enclosure in the first reel’s container. Mercifully the film itself is excellently subtitled, and the print is remarkably clear and crisp, even for a Crate 2 film.

The film opens with a fairly stirring shot of what is obviously a model of a spacestation against a still backdrop, but the modelwork itself is still impressive, resembling to a great extent the (in)famous Department of Automobile Roads of Georgia building, albeit festooned with antennae. A caption appears in teletype-style cyrillic; presumably, based on the dialogue, it’s letting us know that this is Solar HQ for the Red Banner Solar Fleet sometime in the early 21st century (subsequent dialogue leads me to believe about 2030).

The camera cuts to the inside of the station, which is perhaps unsurprisingly spacious and immaculate. Dr. Mary Jones, an American scientist, is coming aboard to conduct research, her own government not having any facilities adequate to the task. This is incidentally only the first of many subtle or not-so-subtle indications that the USA is now isolated and by far the poorer cousin to the Soviet-aligned nations of the world—later on in the film, we see a British spacecraft called the Harry Politt—but for all that, the movie’s tone is pretty gentle considering it was made during the height of the Cold War. Jones is greeted bySoviet officer Captain Alekseyev, who informs her that she is very fortunate: an extrasolar object has been detected passing by Pluto, and it is emitting radio signals that seem to be of intelligent origin. She will be on hand to witness humanity’s first contact with alien life. If she likes, Alekseyev will get her a spot on the “large solar rocket cruiser” (presumably an awkward translation of Russian term for a guided missile cruiser) Admiral Yumashev when it heads out to meet the object.

Dr. Jones is of course very interested in getting a seat on the Yumashev, but in exchange she insists that she be permitted to take Alekseyev out for dinner (“this is how it is in my country: you can’t do something for someone unless you get something in return”). What is obviously supposed to be a sort of charming interlude follows, as the two eat an ostensibly romantic meal consisting of various Russian dishes (Jones remarks that several of the food items, including, ironically enough, whole-wheat bread, are virtually unobtainable in the USA). Unfortunately both actors are a little wooden (though this may just my inability to grasp the subtleties of tone in the original Russian, vice the subtitled translations), and the scene goes overly long. That, however, is intentional, as Dr. Jones misses her chance to get aboard the Yumashev before she departs. Alekseyev consoles her by offering her a ride on his own ship, the small and fast “guard ship” (destroyer?) Vdumchivyy, which is acting as a sort of chase plane for the Yumashev.

The next scene is kind of a tour de force for the film; all the dialogue is in voiceover as we see the mammoth cruiser (which dwarfs the station) pull away, followed by the much smaller and sleeker destroyer. It’s clear that a lot of work went into the ships, and their hulls are covered with details like radomes, missile pods, thrusters, and (in a wonderful touch) escape pods swung out on davits, all of which we see as the camera loving pans across the ships’ hulls. It never for a moment looks like they aren’t models, but the craftsmanship is so impressive it’s hard to care.

This is a Soviet film, and in case you’d forgotten that, a large part of the voiceover is just Alekseyev talking about the training process for spaceship crews and how the ships operate. Mercifully this exposition is cut short(ish, it still takes a good ten or fifteen minutes) when the extrasolar object heaves into view. Through the miracle of forced perspective, it’s shown to be enormous in comparison to the Yumashev, and the Soviet hails to the object are greeted by a barrage of projectiles shaped like inverted eggs. They leave little spiralling plumes of smoke behind them as they rocket towards the cruiser, but mercifully, no wires are visible.

Back onboard the Vdumchivyy, Jones and Alekseyev watch in horror as the missiles (which a helpful technician informs us are kinetic weapons) punch holes in the Yumashev‘s hull, an effect achieved by a sort of white aerosol spray coming out of the sides of the model as she slowly rolls onto her side. (Exclaims Alekseyev: “She’s venting atmosphere!”)

Too small to stop the enemy on her own, the Vdumchivyy sends off a contact report (“to the Red Banner Solar Fleet”). Alekseyev, however, is a New Soviet Man, and he runs from no-one. (“We can’t stay, it’s too dangerous,” pleads Dr. Jones as she clings to his arm, but Alekseyev has no time for love.) If his tin can can’t outfight the attacker, he’s going to try and out think them. Evading wildly (accomplished by the simple expedient of shaking the camera and having the actors lurch around), he again tries to contact the extrasolar object. This time, the aliens respond.

The costume design for the aliens was actually pretty clever. They appeared to be encased in a sort of large dome-shaped fibreglass spacesuit with curious bulging protrusions and a ring of arms sticking out around the middle. The effect is a little cheesy, but props to the Russians for at least attempting a nonhuman alien. Anyway, the aliens inform the humans (in another almost interminable stretch of expository dialogue) that “billions of your years ago”, one of their freighters crashed into the earth, seeding it with life. Humankind apparently evolved from a sort of domestic pet, and now the aliens have come back to reclaim their property. They’re not really brooking any arguments, either; the Vdumchivyy has to dodge another fusillade of missiles when Alekseyev objects to being considered property-by-descent.

Dr. Jones is by now terrified. She demands to know what Alekseyev is stalling for; it’s clear to her that he’s just delaying the inevitable. By way of reply, a radar operator suddenly announces that the Red Banner Solar Fleet is now in range and closing fast. Alekseyev triumphantly indicates a viewscreen, and we see an actually quite impressive collection of model starships now bearing down on the extrasolar object and blazing away.

It’s pretty clear that the aliens have gotten more than they bargained for here, but as they try and flee, the Vdumchivyy intercepts them and delivers a blistering salvo at point blank range, causing the extrasolar object to turn into a rather anticlimactic series of pyrotechnics.

The aliens defeated, Jones and Alekseyev share a largely passionless embrace, and then Alekseyev invites Jones out for dinner, jokingly adding that “in my country, there’s no obligation attached, so…only if you want to!” Groan. Roll credits.

It seems, from what I’ve been able to ascertain from the documentation in the file cabinet accompanying Crate 2, that the Russians intended this to be their Star Trek series, a science-fiction franchise which could be marketed overseas and which would display the excellence of Soviet cinema. Obviously, things didn’t really work out.

Apparently, the film proved to be immensely expensive, and less of a hit with Russian audiences than anticipated. It didn’t help that American films like Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back were doing big business overseas, and quite frankly, Red Banner Solar Fleet’s effects can in no way compete with theirs. A good way to describe it would be if you had given very talented men a virtually unlimited budget with which to create the most epic 1970s-era Doctor Who special effects extravaganza they could imagine. Additionally, while Star Wars and Star Trek may not always have the most compelling actors, they can usually be relied upon to toss in a few scenery chewers to keep things at least interesting. Red Banner Solar Fleet’s performances are as sterile as the future it’s striving to evoke.

That being said, I’m sorry there were never sequels. I think once the series got on its feet, it could have produced some eminently watchable films. Word has it that the props are still extant, mouldering in a Volgograd warehouse. Maybe someday some Russian auteur will dig them out and fulfill that promise. A boy can dream…

With the rising popularity of Japanese kaiju films among American audiences, it was inevitable that an American studio would throw a lot of money into the ring and make a truly appalling movie that overlooked the joy of watching guys in rubber suits pound on each other in a miniature city. But that would have to wait until Godzilla (1998). Long before that, two high school dropouts in Illinois made Big Monster Ruckus with more gusto than cash and made an enjoyable mess of a movie.

John Henry Fielding was the son of Isaac Fielding, whose Fields of Screens company produced training films for Chicago’s meat packing industry. After interning at his father’s company over summer vacation, John dropped out of school to work full time. He fell in with the firm’s young lighting technician, Paul Whitestone, and they began using the Fields of Screens equipment and film remnants on weekends to make Big Monster Ruckus. According to the testimony in Whitestone v. Fielding, the movie cost about $4,000 to make — the majority of which went to pizza and train sets.

There is no credit listed for the screenwriter (although both men claimed in court to have written the majority of the script), and there is in fact little credit to give. What dialog exists is purely clumsy exposition, most often in the form of narration. In fact the soundscape is barren. Aside from voices, there is only the stock music played through the opening credits. Even when the promised ruckus begins there is no sound whatsoever. That’s not entirely true, I have to confess. There’s also the occasional pop of the degraded soundtrack.

The film is in remarkably good condition. It shows very little wear, which may mean that it was the copy given to Isaac Fielding in return for the use of equipment. Testimony indicated that only three prints of the film were made, and two were periodically taken to amenable drive-ins for screenings. According to Whitestone, one town made it part of a yearly festival and held costumed wrestling contests.

The story is as follows: some scientists are exploring the island of Nipponia (…yeah…) which seems to be the shoreline of Lake Michigan. We’re told that they are there to follow up on “readings”. As they wander around, we are treated to some forced perspective shots of a guy in an ape suit. When the scientists leave, the “ape” stumbles after them. So much for plot. After that, it’s all ruckus as first the ape rampages over model houses for train sets then is joined inexplicably by a man in robes and a fright mask. After some individual tromping on plastic buildings, they start to wrestle. Shots of stomping in trainyards are interspersed with close shots of an extended slappy-fest. Eventually the guy in the robes runs away, and the ape does a victory lap that ends with punting a moving train.

It’s kind of awesome in its childish directness, although the lack of noises makes it feel as though it’s longer than the 56 minute running time.

In case you’re curious, Whitestone lost his suit against Fielding. The judge ruled that as the only agreement about profits was a verbal arrangement that each man had a copy to do with as he pleased there was no basis for assuming that Fielding should split the take from any given showing. I can only assume that this leaves a sequel in serious doubt.