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GROUND ZERO (1973; Video Screams).

Lots of people have a dream of making their own feature film, but San Francisco's KFRC Radio news director Ron Casteel and aspiring moviemaker James T. Flocker actually gave it their best shot with this independent thriller. And damn, is it lousy! Casteel came up with the story concept and, despite never before acting on-camera, tackled the starring role; Flocker took his first stab at directing, a fact which is painfully obvious throughout; and, with a final script by Samuel Newman (THE GIANT CLAW), the end result is crudely acted, confusingly shot and edited, often interminably slow-paced, albeit sprinkled with unintentionally funny, wrongheaded moments... Syndicate "big boy" Giorgio Trioni (Augie Treibach) has a plan to hold the entire city of San Francisco for ransom. First off, sneak into a local atomic energy plant, while the facility's solitary security guard is distracted by Giorgio's hot girlfriend, and steal the makings for an A-bomb that could vaporize four million people. Then threaten to set it off unless the city releases a pair of imprisoned mob bosses. Brilliant, eh? When the Governor requests help from Washington D.C., they send one lousy guy, Gideon Blake (Casteel), an unlikely-looking White House Special Agent who wears white turtlenecks, has a late-'60s Elvis hairdo, and also hobbles about using an ornate cane! Casteel actually acquired his limp years earlier, due to a car crash, and the script scrambles to rationalize its gimpy action hero by saying that he was recently shot in the hip while on-duty. Considering the scope of this danger, there isn't a whole lot of urgency on display, with short-tempered Gideon driving about the area, following clues and killing anyone involved in this plot, as Giorgio puts the finishing touches on his bomb, hidden inside the Golden Gate Bridge... One of the most pathetic leading men of all time, Casteel looks vaguely lost throughout and every single line reading is painfully awkward, plus his character is a humorless boor. Meanwhile, most of the film's supporting cast was locally sourced, with Petaluma real estate broker John Waugh playing the city's DA, local cement contractor Tony Curcio as a hitman, plus topless waitress/dancer Yvonne D'Angiers (who made San Francisco news in the late-1960s due to her arrest for lewd conduct and a sham marriage that nearly got her deported back to Iran -- thus earning her the nickname "The Persian Kitten") appears in a few scenes as a blonde "gangster's doll," but isn't given any dialogue. On the other hand, prominent SF attorney Melvin Belli (who represented D'Angiers in the aforementioned case) won't shut the fuck up, basically playing an even more grating version of himself. Its incongruously-poppy opening tune, "There's a Change a Comin'" is by a long-forgotten Santa Clara rock quartet called The Chosen Few... Is there anything positive to say about this movie? Well, Flocker and Casteel secured one hell of a spectacular location for its climax, with Gideon chasing Trioni atop the Golden Gate's actual South Tower, over 750 feet above the Pacific, accompanied by some truly dizzying camerawork. Plus you've gotta applaud their hilariously ballsy ending. It's also filled with scenic footage of the region, a talent that Flocker honed in later efforts such as the nature documentary SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WEST and the C-level family swill THE LEGEND OF COUGAR CANYON.

© 2018 by Steven Puchalski.