VIDEO ODDITIES, or VHS: Video House Safari

john cribbs



For those just tuning in: what I'm doing in this series is heading down to the local video store - which for younger readers is an establishment that you can walk or drive to and rent Video Home System cassettes, also known as VHS tapes, and/or dvds from an actual person and take it back home (you gotta bring it back though) for your own entertainment purposes - and finding interesting movies I've never heard of. I'm basing my selection on the outrageous video boxes, the kind that helped us decide whether a movie looked like it was worth our time back in the days before the internet started telling us everything there was to know about every film before they're even released. Then I'm writing about them.

It's not nostalgic - it's just awesome.


"Don't eat all the evidence!"

We all love to get candy at the movies. Goobers, Milk Duds, Raisinets, Whoppers, Lemonheads, SnoCaps, Junior Mints, Jujubes... They cost more than the movie ticket but we don't care: sitting in the theater with our fingers stuck in the thin box of morsels (shhhh don't rattle it too loud this is an important scene!) is an American tradition. People go nuts for M&M's, gooey for Gobstoppers, sticky for Swedish might even say most people like to eat candy at the movies.

Yeah well what if the villain of the movie you ended up seeing just happened to be a cold, remorseless, globe-trotting, ex-Gestapo sociopathic assassin unrepentantly bringing pain and misery to the world with a jerk of the trigger, and enjoying himself while doing it? What if he actually liked killing people? What if something else this killer liked... was candy?

Admit it that blew your mind. I just did a little Michael Haneke on you people: unsuspectingly, you ended up relating to a heartless murderer didn't you? That makes you an accessory nay an accomplice to his heinous crimes. Maybe the two of you can meet up later and share some mud cake with Gummi Worms hidden under the delicious chocolate soil. You'd like that wouldn't you? Then afterwards you and your best buddy can find a nice perch across from the local orphanage and pick off a couple bright-eyed preschoolers with your twin high-powered sniper rifles together huh? You'd like that too, wouldn't you?

You sicken me.

Ok I'll let you all off the hook it's not your fault this killer likes candy. He probably likes all kinds of things any decent citizen would: roller coasters, fantasy football, season three of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." But that stuff's not important to the makers of this Italian/French/West German co-production, an espionage thriller where the only thing we know for sure about this international sharpshooter is hes a man with a sweet tooth. Although he takes such precautions as using ice bullets (you know the kind that melt inside the victim thus rendering them absolutely untraceable?) and loading them with tweezers to be extra sure the authorities don't find any trace of him, he absent-mindedly leaves taffy wrappers all over the crime scene. His candy fixation isn't just an eccentricity, it's a liability. He also pets a pigeon before using the same hand to put the candy in his mouth not very hygienic.

Sneaking to the top steeple of a Roman cathedral cunningly dressed as a priest (the killer likes disguises!), the Pop Rocks-poppin' preacher puts his rifle together and aims at the large crowd emerging from a state building onto a square across the street. The jazzy, bongo-heavy score by a composer named Gianni Marchetti creates a Morricone-ish kind of late-60's tension as we wonder who the target is. The assumption is that this man has been hired to kill the extravagantly-dressed, bejeweled figure in the center of the crowd. The killer munches his fruity treat and fixes his sights he fires. It's not the bright figure who falls; it's a random guy in suit and shades beside him who takes the fatal hit. So the killer knew the robed imposter was a double all along! He was onto their ploy all along and took out the disguised sovereign!

Well no actually he just missed. That's a weird way to establish a badass hitman, having him botch what would appear to be a pretty standard assassination. Was it the candy? Did the combination of corn syrup, glycerin and butter impair his eyesight with the intoxicating effect of its sugary molasses? Usually in this kind of movie the killer is set up as an unstoppable death machine as demonstrated by a successful hit and getaway but here all they want you to know is that this guy has a gun, he's got some candy that may or may not be a impediment to his profession, and he's after the guy in the center of the crowd after all.

As its story revolves around a specialist team put together to stop a hitman from wiping out a foreign bigwig, it appears that the movie must have been part of a wave of trail-of-the-assassin thrillers that followed the success of Fred Zinnemann's Day of the Jackal. This guy's more mysterious than Edward Fox's elusive liquidator he doesn't even have a professional moniker. Since the candy wrappers are his calling card, youd think he'd have some options. The Jawbreaker? Violent Mints? The Everlasting Life Stopper?

Instead of the impeccably-timed bending over of one Charles de Gaulle, the public figure's motions being followed by the would-be killer here are those of King Faoud, foreign potentate of Kafiristan (the same remote part of Afghanistan that Sean Connery and Michael Caine happened upon in The Man Who Would Be King apparently, this guy would be king!) It turns out that in the first scene our sweet-suckin' gunman missed the king and instead plugged one of his bodyguards (I couldn't help thinking "Butterfingers!") The accidentally-killed guard's name is Carter, so even though the killer screwed up that first attempt, we're only three minutes into the movie and this slick motherfucker GOT CARTER. So he's got that going for him. (The king announces that, in honor of his sacrifice, Carter will have a new sports stadium named after him, a pretty good deal. I think martyred bodyguards Fenway and Qualcomm received similar tribute in the past.)

Since the king is expected to grant vital oil concessions to the US, the CIA sends pretty boy operative Mark "Angel Eyes" Stone (Kerwin Matthews) to thwart candy boy's attempts on Faouds life. Stone is a no-nonsense government agent not unlike Brian Bosworth's John Stone from Craig R. Baxley's Stone Cold, so in an early example of the buddy-cop formula the writers of the movie pair him with a horny, unaccountable sidekick: an Italian roustabout named Costa (Venantino Venantini, providing the obligatory foreign comic playing second fiddle to the American actor, sort of like an Italian Rush Hour with the roles reversed.) Stone is perpetually alert and trying to guess the killer's next move while Costa is constantly chasing tail and doing push-ups in his boxer shorts.

Stone's intense surveillance and Costa's uncouth buffoonery make the relationship with their royal charge a little tense, especially since he's an old-fashioned sort of monarch who values formal protocol over his own safety. In a prime example, the king refuses to use the hotel service lift even though Stone thinks the royal elevator is an obvious trap for any potential hitman who puts two and two together and figures out the royal elevator might be the one used by any kings staying at the hotel. Stone's insistence pays off and saves the king's life, resulting in the second failed attempt by our supposedly deadly toffee-tossing sniper who for his part should have paid more attention to his mark than what was happening in the game on TV (the killer likes soccer!*)

* I don't care if he kills me, Im not calling it "football."

(continued on page 2 of "Video Oddities #3: The Killer Likes Candy")

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