Sunday, May 5, 2013

Panga (1991)

Written by: Sean Barton
Directed by: Sean Barton
Starring: Christopher Lee, Jenilee Harrison, Henry Cole

When is a slasher movie not a slasher movie? When the slasher is a machete-wielding gill man powered by voodoo. I'm not entirely sure why the producers thought The Curse was deserving of an in-name-only franchise of sequels, but I guess if it worked for Troll, what the hell, right? Tonight's movie was the third in the series, called Blood Sacrifice in some markets. The version Netflix used to carry on their streaming service went by its original title of Panga, however, and so that was the version I saw while rushing through my queue trying to watch as many movies as I could before a large portion of them were deleted last week. Some of the things I watched, I wish I would have ignored in favor of others, but I'm glad I saw this little oddity before it disappeared.

The scene is a sugar cane plantation in Africa, some time in the 1950s. On a trip to the nearby village one day, the sister of Elizabeth, the plantation owner's wife, prevents the sacrifice of a goat by the local shaman. In this part of the country, it is customary to sacrifice a goat when a child dies, with dire consequences involving the evil spirit of an ancient warrior who lives in the sea if the sacrifice is not carried out. As Mletch informs Elizabeth later, this particular shaman has become corrupted by his magic, and the goat was being sacrificed for a child that the shaman had killed himself. When the ritual was botched, it gave him an excuse to summon up the warrior spirit, who because of reasons takes the form of a pretty boss gill man who kills people with a type of machete called a panga, which is also the colloquial name for a South African fish called Pterogymnus laniarius, which makes the gill man thing make a little more sense.

It's odd there aren't a lot more voodoo horror movies. Voodoo can be some pretty terrifying stuff, and in the instances it's handled effectively, in The Serpent and the Rainbow for example, the results can be pretty spectacular. Unfortunately, it's little more than window dressing here. Once the gill man is summoned up, this is a paint-by-numbers slasher flick. We don't even get a good look at the creature until the last five minutes or so. Still, when we finally do see it, it's one of the better gill men to shuffle across the screen. Only the Creature from the Black Lagoon and the Twinkie-loving gill man from Monster Squad are its clear superiors.

And of course we can't forget about Christopher Lee. Even when he's just making some car payments, he brings a respectability and gravitas that elevates the proceedings perhaps a little more than they necessarily deserve. He even brings a spark of believability to the tired old, “is he the bad guy or not?” red herring during the final showdown.

At the end of the day, “Christopher Lee fights a voodoo-powered gill man with a machete” is going to paint a much more interesting picture in your head than you'll actually see in the movie, but it's a fun waste of time and worth a look if you happen to run across it wherever it lands after being jettisoned from Netflix.

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