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MIFF 2014 Review: Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014) — A Schlock-Till-You-Drop Insight Into One of the Great Bad Studios

Electric-Boogaloo,-Cannon-Films

Director Mark Hartley has a terrific track record producing documentaries about sub-genres of cult cinema; his first, Not Quite Hollywood, was a fascinating look at the low-budget Australian New Wave films (“Ozploitation”) of the 70’s and 80’s, and that was followed up by Machete Maidens Unleashed!, a look at exploitation films coming out of the Philippines in the 70’s and 80’s. He makes it a trilogy of cult film documentaries with Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, which focuses on the films produced by Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, together putting together the Cannon Films production company — a production company famous for their cheap, but cult-favourite exploitation films.

A symbol of excellence.

A symbol of excellence.

Cannon was known for churning out low-budget films at a rapid rate, with a distinct company ethos of quantity over quality. Although universally panned by critics, Golan-Globus stayed in business throughout the 80’s through savvy marketing and by taking advantage of the booming home video market. They produced a large number of popular genre films featuring action (Chuck Norris films Invasion USA and Delta Force), science fiction (Lifeforce, Invaders From Mars), and sequels to pre-existing films (Death Wish, Texas Chainsaw Massacre). They also produced many horror, dance (the titular Electric Boogaloo), and adventure movies. If anything was in the popular zeitgeist of the moment, Cannon was sure to take advantage of it, at minimal cost.

To attain legitimacy, Cannon then began to partake in risky bookkeeping; financing films off the profits of the previous release, which was a haphazard process and ultimately led to them biting off more than they could chew. Those larger risks involved enticing Hollywood stars with larger payouts, with the hope of a larger financial reward for the bigger outlay of production costs. This never came to be; failed, expensive productions such as Sylvester Stallone’s arm-wrestling ‘epic’ Over The Top, Masters of the Universe, and Superman IV (allowing Christopher Reeve creative freedom to return to his iconic role was another mistake), led to Cannon straying from their low-budget business model and would be the eventual death of the company.

It appears that Hartley had full archival use of the Cannon library to use in this documentary, and he presents it in chronological order, from the early beginnings with the Golan directed musical flop The Apple, all the way to the Jean-Claude Van Damme almost-Masters of the Universe-sequel Cyborg. He chooses his clips wisely, featuring the best action, stunts, one-liners, boobs, and hilarious low-budget schlock.

Interviewees in the films include directors Tobe Hooper, John G. Avildsen, and Franco Zefferelli; and actors Alex Winter, Robert Forster, Michael Dudikoff, Elliott Gould, Richard Chamberlain, Bo Derek, Franco Nero, Dolph Lundgren, and a host of others. All interviewees featured have first hand experience working with Golan-Globus on various productions and give terrific insights into their often madcap antics, with a variety looking back on their time either in disdain or reverence. Hilarious anecdotes such as Van Damme getting his first role by impressing Golan with a near-miss roundhouse kick are abundant.

The best parts of this film are the archival footage of Menahem Golan in action on set, doing business in his office and doing publicity for his copious films. This is one charismatic, fascinating dude, and the film mostly focuses on him — and rightly so. Yoram Globus, on the other hand, is largely invisible; perhaps trapped under the shadow of his larger-than-life cousin.

One of their biggest action stars was this old fart.

One of their biggest action stars was this old fart.

In what could easily devolve into simply bashing these films for the low-budget schlock they generally were, Hartley treats the topic with reverence and he hits the tone of the documentary just right. The majority of the audience for this film would be fans of this era, and although Hartley doesn’t shy away from the fact that a lot of Cannon films were rubbish, they had an earnest appeal which is why they are so popular to this day. I may be biased as I am one of those crazy people who enjoy a good bad movie (but not the ones that are trying to be purposely bad — looking at you Sharknado), but this was an entertaining film that was just as engrossing as it was hilarious.

The film ends with a disclaimer that despite meeting with director Mark Hartley, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were against appearing in the film. Although in a humorous twist — and something that comes as no surprise after viewing this film — the pair decided to produce their own documentary about Cannon Films (released as The Go-Go Boys) that was churned out quickly and actually beat this film to release by three months. Quite a fitting conclusion, really.

Llama Score: 9This is a great love-letter to a period of time before the Hollywood studio system really took a creative stranglehold over film and small companies had a chance to make it big. Although the budgets were small and the aspirations were large, the doomed Cannon Films produced some of the best worst movies in that time period, and I want to watch them all right now. A terrific and interesting journey into the absurd.

 

Award: Golden LlamaAward: SeagalAward: nailsAward: Ash

Highlights Banner

– This is basically a best-of clip show from the Cannon library. What a time!

Lowlights Banner

– Golan and Globus only feature in archival footage. I wish they were willing to participate in this film.

– Same can be said of the Cannon on-screen heavyweights such as Chuck Norris or Sylvester Stallone.

Further Viewing Banner

– Not Quite Hollywood

– Machete Maidens Unleashed

– The Go-Go Boys

Directed by: Mark Hartley Written by: Mark Hartley Produced by: Brett Ratner, Veronica Fury Starring: Alex Winter, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Forster, Dolph Lundgren, Bo Derek Distributed by: Ratpac Entertainment Run length: 107 minutes Australian Release: World Premiere 2nd August 2014 (Melbourne International Film Festival)
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