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Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Remember back in the days when you were a wee child and your parents would take you to see any kiddie matinee that you begged them to, and there was that one film that dropped straight from the asshole of the Dark Lord of Bad Movies himself that your folks just will never, ever let you forget that you dragged them to see? I'm talking about a movie that the mere mention of which casts a pall of anger and resentment over your folks' faces? For me, such is the case with SUPERARGO AND THE FACELESS GIANTS.

The awful poster has more excitement and entertainment than anything found within the film itself, and the guy playing the hero isn't even billed.

Seriously, to this very day the memory of that flick causes my mother's face to assume a damaged, faraway look that fairly shrieks, "You can't tell me I don't know what Viet Nam was like!!!"

During my youth, kiddie matinees and double features were a fairly common occurance where parents could drop off the brats for two movies and let the theater staff worry about them for a few hours while mom and dad hit the local bar to get their drink on, or indulge in a visit to a no-tell motel for the kind of sleazy, greazy, and noisy fuck that was no longer an option in a house with offspring running about the place. Most frequently, such double features were a showcase for animated anti-spectacles such as PINOCCHIO IN OUTER SPACE (I swear to God!!!) and WILLY McBEAN AND HIS MAGIC MACHINE, south-of-the-border atrocities like SANTA CLAUS (the Mexican one where St. Nick takes on an ineffectual agent of Satan) or WRESTLING WOMEN VERSUS THE AZTEC MUMMY, but every now and then a kid would luck into a winner of a show, such as the time I was lucky enough to see both THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD and THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS on the big screen at the age of nine. I've even heard of kids who were fortunate enough to witness the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, which their parents dropped them off at thinking it was just another nondescript monster movie, only to pick up their little ones and discover them traumatized by a terrifying, ghastly vision of the end of the world, punctuated by then-outrageously-graphic images of zombies devoruing the flesh of their victims.

In the case of my own story, my little imagination was fired by colorful TV adverts for the pairing of SUPERARGO AND THE FACELESS GIANTS and WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS, two cheapjack Italian productions that looked fun and action-packed on the small screen; thus was I unwittingly introduced to the fact that the purpose of commercials and movie trailers for outright floaters was to make them look awesome, and therefore separate know-nothing kids and their parents from their money. I pleaded with my folks to take me to the double-feature, and away we went.

WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS, a turgid sci-fi offering about some spacemen fighting a runaway, living planet, was very dull, but at least it was pretty to look at (in a low-budget way), and when it ended, my parents and I figured SUPERARGO AND THE FACELESS GIANTS had to be better by default.

We were dead wrong.

The movie was actually a sequel to SUPERARGO VERSUS DIABOLIKUS (1967) — which I saw many, many years later, and is virtually impossible to find nowadays — and how that flagrant monument to boredom warranted a sequel, I will never know. Obviously inspired by the Adam West BATMAN TV series and the 007 boom, the producers sought to achieve the best of both worlds by creating a combination superhero/secret agent (and, on top of that, a professional wrestler) in hopes of a boxoffice windfall. The complete and total non-existence of a third Superargo "adventure" clues you in on how well that worked.

And just who the fuck is this Superargo guy, anyway?

He's a professional wrestler whose real name is Superargo, who gave up that calling when he accidentally killed an opponent in the wring — like you didn't know wrasslin' was for real! — and instead became a superhero who apparently never takes off his tights and mask. The guy looks a lot like the Phantom, but unlike "the ghost who walks," Superargo has the unfortunate handicap of not being the least bit interesting, something rather hard to be when you spend all of your time kicking ass.

SUPERARGO AND THE FACELESS GIANTS has to do with the mysterious disappearances of famous athletes, disappearances that coincide with robberies perpetrated by hulking, pasty-faced guys in electric mind-control helmets and outfits reminiscent of Marvel Comics' most sartorially-challenged bad guy, the Melter (see below).

A frustrated "secret service" enlists the aid of Superargo ("Ken Wood," nee Giovanni Cianfriglia), who has been spending his time learning secret mental and physical techniques from former lama Pao-Ki, and our hero and his mystical buddy rush into the fray. It is eventually revealed that the robbers are the missing athletes, now half-human automatons (the "faceless giants" of the title) under the control of a non-descript mad scientist. His nubile daughter eventually joins the heroes, asses are kicked, the day is saved, and a thankful audience weeps with joy as the words "The End" appear across the screen.

By the time that blessed moment happened, I was dead asleep in the back of the family station wagon, my dad was near comatose from boredom, and my mother finally awoke after drooling all over herself for the previous half hour. For decades afetrward, my mother would constantly bring up SUPERARGO AND THE FACELESS GIANTS as part of the litany of sacrifices made for me while I was under her care, a futile attempt at guilting me into docility, and once I reached adulthood it became one of the many running gags shared between us when not engaging in our oft-mentioned dysfunction.

Then in 1994 I obtained the flick on VHS from the invaluable Something Weird Video, and when I sat throught it again for the first time in over twenty years I was totally unprepared for how incredibly slow-moving and dull it was; I had been a veteran of innumerable wretched movies, but being able to experience SUPERARGO AND THE FACELESS GIANTS from an adult perspective finally made me understand why it had indelibly carved out a place in my mother's arsenal of tortured memories. When I went home for a weekend shortly after snagging the tape, I brought it with me, and when she laid eyes upon it she exclaimed, "Oh, my God! SUPERARGO AND THE FACELESS GIANTS? Where the hell did you find that piece of shit?!!? You didn't spend money on that, did you???"

Suffering through it again was worth it, just to see the look on her face and be able to share a bond only know to those who have survived the trenches of the bad movie battlefield together.

So, what's the film that has such a dubious distinction for you and your family?


John Bligh said...

When I was about 8 yrs old, my grandparents took my sister and I to "The Sentinel" which was about the gateway to Hell and Brooklyn (like there's a difference). There was gore, nudity, sex, violence and, in an early role, a furiously masturbating Beverly DeAngelo (that, alone, was worth the price of admission) in a scene that flew right over my 8yr old head. I thought she was in horrible pain. My Grandparents were horrified, but they didn't take us out. I suspect it was a nice change for them from all the awful kiddie fare they usually took us to (Rumplestiltskin, Pippi, etc..). As soon as we got home, my sister yelled "Mommie, we saw boobies!!!". I still love that flick. And it still holds up. Everyone should check it out...

Phil Brucato said...

Ours remains Krakatoa, East of Java. A volcano movie originally released in Sensurround (or something like it), this film scared the living fuck out of me when my parents took my then-four-year-old self to the theatre for one of my first films. When the volcano blew, Mom says, I screamed, dived under the chairs, and hid my face for most of the remaining film. I also recal a similar reaction when Maleficent showed up in Sleeping Beauty around the same age. Now I'm into Goth girls and fire-spinning. Go figure!

As for bad cinema experiences, Dad and I still groan over the time we saw H.G. Wells' Shape of Things to Come, starring Jack Palance getting a rubber beam bounced off his head. Dad actually paid English film-ticket prices for this turdstool, which we saw when he took me to the UK in 1978 or so. And to think - we could have seen Eraserhead (playing next door) instead...

Robert Pappas said...

Those double feature matinees the parents use to drop us of at during the late early seventies I remember them well. It was during that time too that I was subjected to Superargo and the Faceless Giants (I called it Superago and the Faceless Giants at the time). I remember being entertained by it though. Hey was a kid! I caught it recently online and as an adult can see why your mother is so traumatized by the event.
Remember the movie The Green Slime? My first movie ever at a drive in. I was scared shitless! Again I must remind you I was probably seven at the time. I caught it a few years back on TV and I sat there gape mouthed at how utterly horrible that movie is! The one movie I remember being traumatized by how bad it was is the movie "Song of Norway". I actually asked my mom to let me take my younger brother and sister and a few friends to see it. It was so bad a few of them left in the middle of it which was an unheard occurance for unsophisticated kids of the sixties.
My first masturbation movie was Kentucky Fried Movie btw. Those lovely cans of Uschi in the trailer within the movie; "Catholic Girls in Trouble" gave me fodder for probably a year!
Thanks for stirring up those memories.