Thursday, October 8, 2020

Minikillers (1969)

I wrote the below a little over ten years ago for, but couldnt post all of it because of their word count limits. Blogger has saddled users with a complicated new interface Im trying to figure out, so I decided to resurrect this old writeup for todays post until I can figure out what the hell Im doing on this stupid new Blogger interface, which seems to have been designed by Millennials who do everything on their phones. 

German producers H.G. Lückel and D. Nettemann had an entrepreneurial idea: to provide entertainment for people getting their cars refilled at gas stations in Germany. The idea was to place TV sets by the pumps, so customers could watch a short film while their car was filled (this was before the days of self-service.)  They envisioned an espionage thriller to capitalize on the James Bond/Eurospy genre. Casting about for a famous lead, they eventually settled on Diana Rigg -- fresh from her biggest role in the Bond film On Her Majestys Secret Service. After negotiating, Rigg agreed to appear in these films. 

Minikillers is a series of four short films, tied together into a coherent storyline: the idea was that customers would keep coming back to that particular gas station to see the conclusion. The series was shot on 8 millimeter and without dialog; sound effects and music were added later. In a way the project comes off like a silent film; all is relayed via movement, gestures, and facial expressions. 

Rigg apparently did not realize the uber-low budget of these films until the camera(s) started to roll. However true to her contract she shot each of them...and never mentioned them again. The entrepreneurial project, by the way, failed completely: the deal fell through and the movies were never shown at any gas stations. Hence Minikillers achieved a mysterious status; copies circulate on the bootleg market. It appears also that each film was released on 8mm reels for a short while in Germany; most bootleg DVDs are no doubt sourced from these. 

Minikillers is comprised of 4 minifilms, each about 7 minutes long, totaling a 28-minute movie which is as good as any other Eurospy flick you could name. Rigg apparently plays Emma Peel here; at any rate, she’s a fun-lovin’, judo-choppin, swingin’ chick who smirks at danger. The film also retains the surreal charm of The Avengers; Rigg never fires a pistol, defends herself with the crudest of martial arts moves, and never once appears to be in any real trouble. 

Filmed in Spain, the movie takes advantage of the scenic locales of Costa Brava – however most of the scenery is lost in the washed-out and blurry 8mm film print. Long story short: Minikillers looks like garbage. My DVDR is taken from the original 8mm film and looks rough; colors are muddy, faces are blurred. But Diana Rigg still glows. 

Part 1: Operation Costa Brava – At seaside resort, lounging by the pool in a red bikini, Rigg sits reading a paperback. She notices a toy doll which walks up; somewhere distant a bald assassin who looks like Telly Savalas sets a sort of time-bomb activation clock. The doll stops in front of some guy, who picks it up; the doll squirts poison through its eyes and the guy dies. In the melee of panic Rigg takes the doll, investigating; the bald henchman sees this and sends a stooge after her. A quick judo fight outside Rigg’s house; she tosses this guy and as he slouches off she spots a clock which has fallen from his pocket – it’s the same kind as the clock used to activate the doll. Rigg goes back into her swank room to inspect the doll. Unseen by her another doll another comes in, controlled by the Savalas lookalike; Rigg leaves her place just as the poison sprays from doll #2’s eyes – Rigg never even sees that it’s there. 

 Part 2: Heroin – Rigg sits along the beach in a wrap, mini-camera in hand. She spots some scuba guys who get into a yacht; Rigg snaps photos of them with her minicamera, the guys on the boat looking back at her. The main boss is here – a mustache-sporting type who controls the Telly Savalas lookalike and who is apparently behind the minikillers. He gives the order and the men on his yacht hoist a lever, activating a trap. A strange scene where Rigg realizes she is surrounded by mannequins on the beach – as if she didn’t notice? Yacht guys pull lever; a net comes up from the sand and ensnares the mannequins and Rigg and drags them into the water. Guntoting stooges in the yacht wait as the net’s dragged from water – but it’s empty! Meanwhile Rigg comes out of the ocean unseen by them – wearing only white panties and a bra, her wrap lost in the tumult – and gets into a dingy. She pulls herself into the yacht. Hides from men and goes into bottom deck, investigating – minikiller dolls everywhere. Ever curious Rigg looks into one, finds a bag of heroin tucked inside it – the dolls transport drugs as well. Cute bit where she waves a “naughty naughty” finger in the doll’s face. Next she finds a photo of two men, with “Interpol” written above them, and X marks over each face; one of the faces is the man killed in part 1. Rigg puts on a raincoat and avoids the armed thugs. Eventually the yacht gets back to the dock; while sneaking off Rigg sees the Telly Savalas looking thug, and he sees her. A few judo chops and she beats away her attackers; escapes into the main villain’s car, races off. Ends with Rigg depositing the stolen car on the street and hopping into her own race car, jetting off; a cop puts a ticket on main villain’s car for being illegally parked. 

Part 3: Macabre – Rigg enjoys a coffee at an outdoor restaurant. The Savalas lookalike and the main boss watch her from afar. They take the minikiller (from part 1) from her car and activate it, then place it back in Rigg’s car. She leaves and they follow in another car, she sees them. She hears a ticking noise and so stops to look at the doll. Realizing it’s been armed, she looks up in her rearview mirror and sees that her tailers have also stopped. She throws the doll at them and it explodes; men scatter. Cool bit where Rigg saucily gets out of her car and challenges the bald henchman. A quick fight scene where she judo-chops him and he plunges off of a hill, out cold. Rigg leaves, and back at her hotel a porter hands her a note. Apparently she’s asked to come to a certain address. That night, Rigg in sexy black minidress arrives at a palatial estate. Men there await with a coffin, one of them the Savalas lookalike. She beats them up and escapes in a horse-drawn carriage. This is the shortest installment, at just 6 minutes. 

Part 4: Flamenco – Rigg sits in a packed nightclub, enjoying a flamenco dancer named Sali. In an upper balcony sit the main villain and his Savalas lookalike henchman. Also, we see that Sali the dancer is one of the two Interpol agents in the X’d out photo from part 2. (Talk about a strange cover assignment!) A waiter comes by with a photo for Rigg, of that same “Interpol” photo. Again a message being sent to her. Flamenco over, Sali takes his bow, goes to his dressing room. In his mirror he sees a minikiller doll advancing on him. Too late, it sprays its poison in his face and he dies. Later Rigg comes down to Sali’s room. Before she can go in she’s gagged and dragged off. She comes to strapped inside of a cliffhanger serial-type device: bound flat while the stone ceiling slowly descends on her while gears revolve; soon she will be crushed to a pulp. The Savalas lookalike watches for a while and then goes back up to the main boss to gloat. Meanwhile Rigg reaches for the gears… Upstairs Savalas realizes something’s amiss. Goes downstairs, sees that the device is not working – plus it’s empty. He leans in to investigate; sees a ring jammed between the gears. Savalas is so caught up that he gets caught in the device by the wrist and can’t move. Rigg pounces off into Sali’s dressing room, sees his corpse, notices that he died pointing into his mirror. She follows the direction of his finger – a hidden room. Finds in there several crates filled with heroin-stuffed minikillers. Rigg takes one of the dolls out of a crate, remembers the clock-activation device she got from the judo-tossed henchman in part 1, which she conveniently has strapped around her neck. Meanwhile upstairs the main villain messes with a minikiller of his own, charging it up with a syringe of poison. Downstairs, Rigg sets up her own minikiller to test it out. She winds the clock and sets it off, but somehow this sets off the minikiller in the main villain’s hands. Poison sprays in his face and he dies. So Rigg has disposed of the main villain completely unawares! The film ends with Rigg enjoying a drink at a bar as cops lead off the bound Savalas lookalike; Rigg winks into the camera, takes another drink, and the credits roll. 

The direction is actually very good considering the rudimentary production. One can only wonder how much better this would look with an actual budget – not to mention dialog. But there are some innovative camera angles and the action scenes are handled with aplomb. Rigg of course carries the film; it’s a shame she didn’t feature in more globe-trotting Eurospy productions. The soundtrack is a swanky treat. Two tracks from Minikillers can be found on the CD Poppshopping Volume 1, released by the German label Crippled Dick; ironically, neither of them are versions actually heard on the soundtrack! The versions released on the Popshopping CD are the same, but are just slower – the main version as heard in the film itself is sped up. But either way the theme gets stuck in your head.


Johny Malone said...

Great review, I finally understood what "minikillers" is.

Dana said...

Thanks for making me aware of these bizarre little films and for your very thorough descriptions.
These are all on YouTube. Search Minikillers.
I’d comment that these were definitely not shot on 8mm film, probably 35mm, perhaps 16mm, but they look a bit too good even for that.
If they’d been shot in 8mm they’d look very contrasty, low rez and mushy. They look just as good as any of The Avengers episodes made in the 60s.
Diana Rigg is gorgeous and riveting on screen in these. Climbing into the row boat in a flesh colored bikini is especially memorable.
Thanks again for the post!

Todd Mason said...