BEAKS: THE MOVIE
Color, 1987, 100 mins. 13 secs.
Directed by René Cardona Jr.
Starring Michelle Johnson, Christopher Atkins, Sofia Infante, Gabriele Tinti, Aldo Sambrell, Cintia Lodetti
Color, 1980, 94 mins. 11 secs.
Directed by René Cardona Jr.
Starring Stuart Whitman, Francisco Rabal, Hugo Stiglitz, Antonella Interlinghi, Marisa Mel
S.O.S. CONSPIRACIÓN BIKINI
Color, 1967, 89 mins. 28 secs.
Directed by René Cardona Jr.
Starring Julio Alemán, Sofia Infante, Sonia Furió, Noé Muayama
LA CASA QUE ARDE DE NOCHE
Color, 1986, 102 mins. 39 secs.
Directed by René Cardona Jr.
Starring Sofia Intante, Salvador Pineda, Carmen Montejo
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
After pulverizing viewers with the insane triple feature of The Cardona Collection: Volume 1 in 2021 spotlighting the work of Mexican genre film dynasty member René Cardona Jr., Vinegar Syndrome delivers a belated but very welcome follow-up collection - this time with four films! - in The Cardona Collection: Volume 2. Once again you get a baffling international cast dropped into everything from animal attack fun to explosive action, all filtered through Cardona's singular sensibility and flinging a few surprises in your direction along the way.
The big draw here is easily the one with the biggest international release, 1987's Beaks: The Movie, basically the lunatic, gory link between Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and the Birdemic trilogy. Initially released on U.S. VHS in a drastically reedited version running a sparse 87 minutes, this Mexican-Italian-Spanish-Peruvian-Puerto Rican production is presented here on Blu-ray in its full-length form with the entire prologue and splashy gore scenes deprived from American viewers. The fun starts when a hang-gliding couple is attacked in midair by birds of prey, leaving one of them mutilated and the other angrily beating one of the attackers to death on the beach. Cut to reporter Vanessa (Blame It on Rio's Johnson), who's working with her cameraman boyfriend, Peter (Atkins), and she's none too pleased when she gets assigned to a farmer attacked by his chickens. (Confusingly, the action keeps hopping back and forth between Spain, South America, and Italy so much you'll be completely lost where everything is happening by the 30-minute mark.) Vanessa's story leads to the horrifying story of a small town decimated by birds thirty years ago, which might be linked to a Peruvian animal spirit or something. While stock music from Stelvio Cipriani's Tentacles (and some of his other films) gurgles on the soundtrack, we follow Vanessa and Peter on their investigation including an interview session in Rome with Black Emanuelle mascot Gabriele Tinti and Contraband's Cinza Lodetti (credited here as "Carol Connery"). Of course, it's just a matter of time before birds are amassing around the globe and staging a massive attack that will leave our journalistic heroes fighting for their lives against rampaging pigeons.
Extremely entertaining (at least in its complete form) with lots of goofy dialogue that will have you reaching for the rewind button, Beaks is pure '80s Mexican-Euro horror nonsense with a bizarre, protracted train finale complete with explosions and carriages full of doves. Of course there's an eco-friendly message worked in here that would make it a good double feature with Wild Beasts, and it's a weirdly endearing time capsule of the twilight of an era when films like this could still get significant exposure all over the world. The Blu-ray is cited being restored in 4K from 35mm original elements (like the rest of the films in the set), and the source here is scratchy in spots (especially the stock footage at the beginning) but still way better than anything we've had before. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track sounds fine for what it is, reflecting the language in which it was mostly shown and featuring the main actors' original vocal performances. (The film itself bears a Dolby Stereo logo, but the home video versions around all appear to be mono.) That disc also includes the video extras for the set, but we'll get to that in a moment.
Disc two is entirely devoted to two Cardona Jr. films from different periods of his career, starting with 1980's Under Siege (Traficantes de pánico), a.k.a. Hostages, presented here in its Spanish-language version with English subtitles. Released on U.S. VHS by Paragon back in the '80s, this heist / home invasion film capped off the busiest flurry of international output for the filmmaker coming on the heels of Guyana: Cult of the Damned, Cyclone, The Bermuda Triangle, and Tintorera. You know you're in good hands when the main titles unfold at a hoppin' Puerto Rican disco populated by Marisa Mel and Francisco Rabal, who are meeting some friends just back from Paris. Meanwhile cop Hugo Stiglitz is landing a plane(?) carrying a prisoner in an operation overseen by Stuart Whitman, who amusingly is dubbed in either version and mostly keeps his mouth covered when he speaks. (The Spanish version seems to be the optimal one, FYI.) Everyone's paths collide when a casino gets knocked over by some hoodlums (one in hilarious drag), which leads to lots of bullet spraying, chases, and a hostage situation for Mel and company. Cardona and company go all out here with lots of exploding cars, a huge cast of characters, and a funky score by Manuel de Sica that feels very much in the vein of the Italian cop films that were winding down around this time. In fact, Euro-crime addicts in general will be delighted by this one given its dedication to providing as many thrills as possible in just over 90 minutes. The source element here is immaculate and easily outclasses the fuzzy old VHS copies, and the Spanish track sounds fine.
Also on the same disc is 1967's SOS Conspiracion Bikini (SOS Operation Bikini), a lightweight attempt to cash in on the busy Euro-spy craze going in high gear at the time thanks to James Bond and countless imitators. After a quick primer on spy methods involving typewriter microdots and undercover banana boat fishermen, we get to the main story about a swim-wear fashion house (the bikini operation, natch) run by Cardona regular Infante targeted as the home base for a bunch of villains including evil would-be female models. When a message for help gets sent out via compact mirror, agent Alex Dinamo (Alemán) and Adriana (Furió) try to find a way to infiltrate the bikini-clad hotbed and stop the evil plans brewing within. Mostly this is a glammed-up spy film with lots of swimming pools, '60s fashions, and espionage gimmicks, gambling, and so on, including lots of bikinis (of course) and a little more blood than you might expect. That vibrant primary colors look great here, and while the action scenes are definitely limited by the budget, you get a few car chases and rooftop foot pursuits to keep things moving along. The source for this one is also in great condition with excellent color, and the Spanish DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track is solid. A new audio commentary is provided here by film historian Viviana García-Besné, who knows a huge amount about the production of this film (including its highly unorthodox financing!) and is a particularly big fan of Infante.
Finally on the third disc we get the most stylish and unexpected film of the set, La casa que arde de noche (or The House that Burns at Night), which is probably as close as Cardona got to making a Pedro Almodóvar-style film (with maybe a dash of Fassbinder and Tinto Brass for good measure). Here we get a splashy, glittery power struggle at a border-town brothel where Lalasana (Infante again) is on the run from the law and decides to hide out by cozying up to the aging madam, Celia (El vampiro's Montejo). As it turns out, Lalasana has quite the power-hungry streak and finds a possible partner in manipulation in Eleazar (Pineda), who tries to keep his distance from the working women. Though it seems like a fairy standard melodrama at first, this one gradually ratchets up the intensity until it hits a fever pitch in the last 15 minutes that really has to be seen to be believed. Anyone who doubts Cardona's chops as a director when he sets his mind to it will be silenced by this one, which has a freewheeling creativity beyond the brothel performance sequences (which include some crazed drag numbers to boot). For many this will be the real discovery of the set, and if you only watch one film... well, you'll probably go to Beaks first, but this one definitely shouldn't be overlooked. The transfer here looks beautiful again with some incredibly vivid colors that blaze off the screen, especially during that climax; the DTS-HD MA Spanish 2.0 mono track is also good with optional English subtitles.
As for all the video extras back on disc one, "On The Run" (19m22s) is an interview with filmmaker René Cardona III about Under Siege including a fond reflection of frequent star Stiglitz and lots of stories from the shoot. Speaking of Stiglitz, he turns up next in "We Were Wild' (15m53s), sitting in a movie theater and wearing a safari hat as he covers his tenure with Cardona, his entry into Mexican cinema, and his particular fondness for Under Siege. In "Don’t Shoot" (9m47s), actor Orlando Urdaneta sits poolside and goes through the story of his career that led him to working in Mexico and South America on films like Under Siege. "All in the Family: The Cardona Legacy" (14m40s) features the director's granddaughter, Andrea Cardona, chatting about her family's movie-centric history and its contributions to Mexican cinema starting with Cardona Sr. (who started off as a silent film actor) and providing a great, affectionate snapshot of her ancestors along with explanations of how all those birds got wrangled for Beaks. In "Union City: Behind the Entertainment" (13m36s), production assistant Felipe Marino talks about the history of the movie union outgrowth in Mexico and his own family's role in its genesis, which continued in his work for Cardona and remains a major part of his professional life. Finally in "From P.A. to Producer" (16m48s), Casa actress Mineko Mori chats via videoconferencing from Mexico City about her path to becoming a film distributor and screenwriter after her early days in Japan and working alongside boyfriend (and eventual husband) Stiglitz. Finally you get a 43s promotional image gallery, largely focused on Beaks including lobby cards and posters.
Reviewed on November 4, 2023.