Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Batman Movie Batdown Week ∅ - Batman B-Movies

Yeah, there are still more Batman movies!  It never ends, does it?  You thought we would be quite nicely finished with just the Batman film serials, didn't you?  You thought that was the bottom layer of the weirdness?  You thought wrong!  There is no end to Batman weirdness.  Considering that Batman is one of the most popular fictional characters of the 20th century, there is no way that Batman's film career would simply end thanks to copyright and intellectual property laws.  Just because DC Comics owns the rights, that doesn't mean they can stop random film companies from creating their own artistic visions of the Caped Crusader.  Oh no.  Before I even think of hitting "The Dark Knight" tomorrow, we need to go over the strange, embarrassing, and sometimes downright terrifying history of B-Movie Batman.

Unfortunately, these being B-movies, they're very rare.  At least one has been outright lost to history entirely, and the others are very difficult to find.  Because of this fact, sadly, "The Wild World of Batwoman" is the only unauthorized Batman movie you can legally own today - and there's a whole long story behind that.  This also means, tragically, that "The Wild World of Batwoman" and "Alyas Batman en Robin " are the only unauthorized Batman movie I've ever seen.  And this is not from lack of trying, I desperately researched through the night, had a very unsuccessful battle with a torrent download, and eventually had to give up.  There were some very sketchy download sites that I'm sure would have given me many very entertaining viruses, but not one Batman film.  So for now, I'm running off what little I could learn from various Wikipedia pages, Youtube vids, and other lazy levels of research.

Just so that you know that I'm not terribly lazy, the big problem here is that five out of the seven Batman films are made in the Philippines and in Tagalog.  These movies are so obscure that I don't think they've ever been translated into English, let alone released in any form anywhere in the English-speaking world.  "The Wild World of Batwoman" is an American film, and was featured on an episode of "Mystery Science Theater 3000", so finding it takes thirty seconds.  I think less people than the average readership of this blog have heard of "Batman Fights Dracula", and its made even more impossible to find because it shares nearly the same name as "The Batman" movie, "Batman vs. Dracula".  So for now, this is an admission of defeat.  Maybe one day I'll be able to enjoy every one of these films.  Maybe one day.  Anyway, B-Movie Batman:

Batman Dracula (1964)

The 60s were a really weird time for America, and Andy Warhol was right in the center of that weirdness.  He's one of the most popular artists of the 20th century, and being right on the vanguard of postmodern art in a time period when most art aficionados in America were stoned out of their balls, his work is pretty bizarre.  On the one hand, he painted Marilyn Monroe and tomato soup cans*, but less known about Andy Warhol is his utterly insane film career.  A great deal of his filmmaking was ultra-experimental stuff, most of which are entirely unwatchable.  His films include several self-admitted anti-films, such as "Sleep" which is just five hours of a guy sleeping, "Blow Job" which is thirty-five minutes of a guy getting blown in a slow-motion, and "Taylor Mead's Ass", which is exactly what you think it is.  Later on Andy Warhol would start making films with plots, and later produce some wonderfully weird B-movies like "Flesh for Frankenstein" and "Blood for Dracula".

One of Andy Warhol's films was the 1964 experimental film, "Batman Dracula", which has never been released in any form anywhere, and was only shown a few times at Warhol's art exhibits.  All that exists of the movie are incredibly bizarre short clips of... something.  Its actually really disturbing stuff,  in the way that you're fairly certain that what you're seeing is actually a found footage film that was made inside Satan's asshole.  Its like watching a Coffin Joe movie**.  I'm not sure if this is a Batman movie per se, but it definitely has Batman's name in it.  I guess Dracula is there, someplace.  Its hard to be sure of anything, really.  On a more positive note:  there's a rather rocking Batman theme from Velvet Underground.  There appears to be no plot, no dialog, and well, I have no idea what this is supposed to be.  And honestly, I'm glad this movie doesn't exist, because I might have actually forced myself to watch it for the blog.  GOD NO!  I could only imagine what kind of long-term damage watching this movie with LSD would do to me.

So um... that's a thing.

The Wild World of Batwoman (1966)

So here's our main attraction, "The Wild World of Batwoman", one of the worst movies ever made.  Directed by Jerry Warren, it remains one of the few movies to actually cause the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" boys physical pain (along with "The Invasion of the Neptune Men" and "Hobgoblins"), to the point that Tom Servo is begging to be killed halfway through the movie.  Then it gets even worse.  Technically its not really a Batman films, but Batwoman has the Batman logo on her cleavage, the entire production is an obvious rip-off, and well, how could I ignore a movie this fantastically terrible?  Plus, its easily one of the top ten funniest MST3K episodes, so I had to point it out.  How did this movie even manage to get past copyright law?  Well, Jerry Warren, had to fight the case in court, managed to keep the rights to the movie, but only if he changed the name.  So he had to rerelease it under the even worse title of "She Was a Teenage Vampire".

Of course, I didn't watch the original version of this movie.  I love you guys, but I don't love you that much.  This movie is barely watchable even with Mike, Tom, and Crooooooooooow! riffing it, let alone in its full B-movie horror.

Jerry Warren had impeccable timing, releasing his B-movie in exactly the same year as the Adam West "Batman" TV show.  Unfortunately, while the Adam West TV show does not translate well for modern audiences who are used to a darker Batman, Jerry Warren's "Batwoman" is a whole lot worse.  "Batman" took its inspiration from the old serials and the cheesiness of the Silver Age of Comic Books.  Jerry Warren gathered up a group of unemployed strippers - whose strip club had just been raided by the cops - and cast them as his Bat Girls.  Since the movie had no budget, Katherine Victor had to build her own Batwoman suit, and well... yeah.  Did you think Halle Berry's Catwoman costume was bad?  You were right!  But this is significantly worse.  The Batwoman and her Bat Girls patrol town and fight the evil luchador, Rat Fink, who wants to steal an automatic ear plug which would let him listen to any conversation.  Rat Fink's minions include several shrubby-looking criminal types, a mad scientist, and his pet mentally-challenged comic relief character, Heathcliff.  And for some reason they have an entire army of mole people that they never get around to using.

As for Batwoman's powers... well, she doesn't have any.  She has an intercom in her wrist, and later summons the dead to try to lead her to Rat Fink's HQ.  This leads to brilliantly racist scene where Batwoman accidentally summons a Chinese spirit, who can speak in nothing but "CHING CHONG CHONG CHING" and other assorted tragically insensitive terms.  This is supposed to be funny, I think, its hard to tell.  I don't know what is about really old Batman movies and insulting East Asians, but it seems to be a recurring theme lately.  The Bat Girls dance around like they're in a terrible 60s beach movie, which is exactly what this movie becomes.  If you're looking for a movie with lots of White people dancing very badly, "The Wild World of Batwoman" will scratch that itch.

Then somehow, things get even more stupid.

The continuity is all over the place.  For some reason this movie opens with a man getting mugged and murdered, which Batwoman does jack to look into.  Rat Fink kidnaps a Bat Girl, then just lets her go.  About half this movie is stolen stock footage, especially from 1951's "The Mole People"***, which is where all the shots of Rat Fink's mole people army come from.  He never actually uses those monsters, because Jerry Warren unfortunately couldn't steal any stock footage that involved a mole person fighting Batwoman, and obviously didn't have any budget at all.  The final fight scene involves Rat Fink chases Batwoman and other characters around in endless circles.  Then a nuclear bomb goes off, and somehow nobody is injured.  Then the movie trickles on for another ten minutes, just in case a sliver of dignity was somehow left.


Is "Batman & Robin" the worst Batman movie?  No.  "The Wild World of Batwoman" is.  Still, its not entirely unwatchable.  Well, technically it is completely unwatchable, but the MST3K episode is hilarious.  So watch that.

Filipino Batman (1991)

The final stop on our tour of Batman's most forgotten film adventures are the five Filipino Batman movies, made between 1965 and 1991.  Yeah, that's your big trivia of the day, there are five Filipino Batman movies.  But before you start laughing that the Philippines has a better track record with Batman than Warner Bros, none of these movies seem to be related in any way, they all feature different casts, and were made by different companies.  The first was the low-budget "Alyas Batman at Robin", made in 1965.  Second was 1966's "James Batman", which appears to be a weird comedy that fused the Batman and James Bond stories together.  In 1967 there was "Batman Fights Dracula", whose plot is well-explained by its title.  In 1973, they made yet another Batman film, "Fight Batman Fight!", which from the poster seems to involve Batman and Robin fighting a cheesy B-movie robot.  Unfortunately for those four movies, I couldn't find any of them online in any form.  That's not the case for the last one.

"Alyas Batman en Robin" is the most well-known of the Filipino Batman films (which is not saying anything), made in 1991, and the entire film can be found online in terrible bootleg quality if you're willing to spend a day searching frantically for your blog.  Here's a link that works for now, I don't know how long it will be up though.  Luckily for me, despite being made mostly in Tagalog, "Alyas Batman en Robin" also has 10% of its dialog in English for no apparent reason.  That 10%, mixed with the Spanish loan-words in the Tagalog language meant that I could almost understand what the Hell was going on... almost.  The movie stars two goofball Filipino comedians who decide one day that they're going to become the Joker and the Penguin and rob banks.  You see, this movie doesn't actually take place in the Batman universe, it takes place in the "real" (or as realistic as a bizarre Filipino B-movie could ever hope to be) world.  The Batman comics are really popular in this movie, so everybody eventually just decides that they need to be Batman characters.  Batman and Robin are equally silly people, who decide to suit up using a big musical number, and then are immediately accepted by the Philippines as the heroes.

Despite this, the movie can never decide if this is happening in Gotham City or Manila.  A news report tells me that the Joker and the Penguin robbed the Gotham Bank, but the newspaper is the Manila Times!  WHAT?  When?

By the way, this is an homage to the old Adam West Batman more than anything else, so its incredibly silly.  For example, there are musical numbers.  The Penguin and the Joker have a full Tagalog-English Broadway adventure while robbing a bank.  Later on, when Batman and Robin for the first time, and have a proper 80s training montage, I realized this movie is actually amazingly awesome.  Because they play a version of "Surfing Safari" with Batman lyrics.  I've copied some down for your reading pleasure:

"Holy smoke, Batman and Robin.  
Oh my God, Batman and Robin.
Praise the Lord, Batman and Robin.
Shoot the Shoot(?), Batman and Robin.
Let's do Bruce Wayne now, 
and Dick Grayson now.  
They are a part of meeee!"   

Come on, try to tell me that doesn't rock.  Filipino Batman has way better music than "Turkish Star Wars"... which was just the Indiana Jones theme on an endless loop.  The movie concludes on a glorious Batmanized version of "Let's Go to the Hop", complete with Wonder Woman, Superman, and a dwarf Spider-Man.  MIDGET SPIDER-MAN!  Tell me this movie isn't awesome.

Unfortunately, the largest section of "Alyas Batman en Robin" are either high school hyjinks (which are incomprehensible due to the lack of subtitles) and some really dull romance scenes.  Joker and the Penguin are the best, as usual, because the Joker is always having a grand old time being evil.  Filipino Joker has a really high-pitched laugh, which can get grating, but he's still by far my favorite character.  Batman and Robin mostly focus on girls, break the Fourth Wall a few times, and then have some terrible fight scenes.  The production values are pretty low, but who can be sure when its a decades-old Filipino movie?  Honesty, I've seen a lot of movies, but this is my first Filipino film.

So if you're in the mood for something really weird, "Filipino Batman" is actually a rather decent ride.  I think I really found something freakishly special here.  This movie has been hiding in secret, waiting for the Internet to discover its glory, somebody needs to tell the world.  The word must be told!  As a member of the bizarre foriegn bootleg adaptation of American pop culture genre, this is almost as much fun as "Turkish Star Wars" or "Turkish Captain America".  At the very least, between this and "The Wild World of Batwoman", I'll take "Filipino Batman" every time.

To conclude:  What do the B-movie Batman films teach us about Batman?  Actually, very little, if anything.  I don't think Tim Burton or Master Christopher Nolan ever actually bothered to see any of these movies.  What impact did they have on the evolution of the Dark Knight?  None.  None whatsoever.  The only thing I learned is that Batman films need more music numbers and little people in superhero costumes.

Tomorrow... Batman Movie Batdown... Concludes.

Update:  Further research has brought it to my attention that the Filipino "Batman Fights Dracula" has actually be lost forever to history as well.  No wonder why I couldn't find it.

* Devil's Advocate:  If Pop Art is to be believed, and the Campbell's tomato soup can really is artistically interesting, why should Andy Warhol take the credit?  Wouldn't the real artist be the advertising guy who designed the soup can?  Or is the entire point of Pop Art the irony that something so commercial and clearly non-fine art is being presented on a fine art canvas?  Once again I have to turn to Calvin to describe the universe for me...  Then again, like most things in the world of cutting edge philosophy and artistic expression, I honestly cease to understand what the heck anybody is talking about around the 1920s.  (I know, I'm a fascist idiot, sorry.)

** Most obscure reference ever!

*** Still a shitty movie, but a million times better than this.  "The Wild World of Batwoman" is a good rival for "Manos: The Hands of Fate".  Its not even "Plan 9 From Outer Space"-quality.

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