Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, it’s perhaps one of the most psychotronic superheroes ever committed to celluloid- Supersonic Man. He can lift polystyrene steamrollers with a single hand, leap small model houses with a single bound. He’s ‘almost’ invincible. He has a pimp disco theme tune. He has a blue sequined hat. His alter-ego is far more mysterious than Clark Kent. Kent wears glasses to disguise himself among mere mortals; Supersonic Man wears a seventies pornstache when in civilian mode. Who needs Christopher Reeve’s bumbling rendition of nice guy Kent, when you can have Jean Sorel lookalike Antonio Cantafora as Paul? Come on the dude seriously looks like he belongs in a Euro-crime thriller when he’s playing ‘normal’, that’s a bunch of retro manliness right there. Then in a masterstroke he looks like an entirely different person when he turns into Supersonic Man, no one could detect his secret identity- oh wait, maybe that’s because he is a different person; see my point, only a genius could think of these things.
When Supersonic Man plops down from space to save the earth he is pitted against nemesis Gulik (Cameron Mitchell). A man so sadistic he kidnaps and then tortures his victims by exposing them to long winded philosophical conversations that have no meaning other than to assert his weird-assed views on morality. He then wines and dines them on a table filled with enough fruit to feed the Roman Empire and when all else fails attempts yet more long conversation. Up on the chopping block is a befuddled looking scientist, Professor Gordon (José María Caffarel ) who has been taken to Gulik’s lair so that the heel can extract the Doc’s secrets of how to produce a powerful new fuel- so he in turn can use it to make death rays. The professor won’t give; he cares about the fate of humanity too much, so his daughter Patricia (Diana Polakov) is targeted in an attempt to make him spill the beans. It’s ok though, Supersonic Man is protecting her, disguised as detective ‘Paul’. But Gulik isn’t going to make it easy for him, you see he knows the secret to mankind, the answer to those questions we are all searching for, in his own powerful words…” what drives any man? It’s destiny”, (confused? Don’t worry if you aren’t yet, you soon will be).
Director Juan Piquer Simon, is a name synonymous with turning out films so ridiculously nonsensical he weaves a sort of magic that can only bring joy to those who are willing to open their hearts to the madness in his methods. Along with this the filmmaker introduced us to Slugs (1988), he directed Paul Naschy and Peter Cushing in Mystery on Monster Island (1981), and he was responsible for the best slasher flick ever made- Pieces (1982); the goriest and most insanely comical slasher to come out of the Golden Age. But here Simon doesn’t get to give us blood sprayed chain-sawed in half topless women, or killer slugs (crazy asshole), but he does get to demonstrate the pure Simon gauche in its infant form, sharpening his spears for the genius he was about to demonstrate as he entered the next decade.
Cameron Mitchell as baddie Gulik is hilarious. With his coiffed hair, black leather gloves and oddly manicured eyebrows-that just scream evilness- the actor appears to be having the time of his life. To be fair he probably was, he didn’t have much to do apart from sit down chatting a lot and most likely had a nice holiday on the Med and a pay cheque at the end of it to boot. The former Broadway star, who had appeared in films next to the likes of Doris Day, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando and Spencer Tracy was at the latter end of his career by this point, moving into the realm of low-budget horror- The Toolbox Murders (1978), The Demon (1979)– via roles in some of Mario Bava’s iconic films; most notably Blood and Black Lace (1964). Here he is seen literally not giving a shit and clearly loving every minute.
Meanwhile we have another Bava actor pop up to pit his wits against the degenerate Gulik, Antonio Cantafora. Cantafora who starred in Bava’s Baron Blood (1972) takes on the role of Paul- Supersonic Man’s pedestrian alter-ego. Again the actor clearly isn’t putting his all into the performance, but he does a good enough job with what he has to work with nevertheless. You have to feel a bit sorry for him though, beefcake stand-in José Luis Ayestarán who dons the Supersonic lycra got to have much more fun and smash all the models up. Adding to the clumsiness of the production Ayestarán, an actor who took roles as a low-budget Tarzan in a couple of films and did stunts on Conan the Barbarian (1982), is clearly a head taller than Cantafora shredding the Paul/Supersonic Man continuity to pieces in the process, but just amplifying that magical incompetence factor that makes this film so great in the process.
This Spanish/Italian co-production just encapsulates the raw cheek of the era when it came to riding on the crest of Hollywood themes. Nothing was off limits and they obviously didn’t give two hoots that they were ripping off mega-budget Superman (1978). They just assembled what they could and got on with it. There is something admirable about that attitude that has to be respected at least. This film must have a budget comparable to the catering bill- or less- of the original Superman. This said the lack of funds is lamentable in a special effects laden narrative when you can’t even afford real vehicles for your hero to lift in the air. Never fear though, it all works for the greater good, I promise.
From the rousing disco opener (which appears to be on the English audio version only) you know you are about to step into a world of something wonderful. Something so inept, so cheaply made that it represents a kind of special vintage trash that is difficult to beat in terms of pure comedy value. Something so brazen you have to keep checking, did they really do that? Supersonic Man is to the superhero film what Cozzi’s Starcrash (1978) is to science fiction. Ok, we don’t get to have Caroline Munro running around in a slinky PVC cut away number and thigh length boots, but we have evil incarnate Gulik and his army of shit robot- read singular- that looks like it is fashioned from parts of an old air conditioning system. We have trundling dialogue that doesn’t really get anywhere and a main villain who engages in a lot of mad philosophical conversations- even quoting Shakespeare- in an attempt to steal a confused looking scientist’s secrets. If this wasn’t bizarre enough, why not try the utterly unconvincing ‘special effects’ on for size. No expense was spared in the blowing up of small models in this production. Viewers are left to marvel at scenes like the one in which a group of people watch the air for a descending helicopter to arrive with anticipation, only for the shot to cut away to what looks like a child’s toy helicopter arriving in the scene. You just couldn’t make this shit up if you tried.
Throwing a complete disregard for things like acting, effects, script, dialogue and action out of the window the director goes the whole hog and just churns up the pacing too. Simon has his stamp of trademark lunacy running through the core of Supersonic Man making sure his narrative- like many of his others- is constantly interrupted by weird angles . This is mostly evident in the form of an alcoholic tramp guy who appears a few times, preaching on about the dangers of drinking, only to keep witnessing Supersonic Man either taking off or setting down. These scenes have a tone that is completely out of synch with the rest of the film, making them confusing but even so thoroughly entertaining when they appear. We also have one of the crappiest and oddly played out kidnap/punch-up scenes to behold, the tone completely destroyed by the choice of hillbilly type light-hearted music throughout. It is little moments like this that, when factored into the total sum of all its parts, make Supersonic Man as a whole something of a trash-classic, loveable for all the wrong reasons and unashamedly so.
Although this effort doesn’t hit anywhere near the highs of Simon’s masterpiece, Pieces, it has enough of his weird comedy and eccentric edge to make it wildly entertaining all the same. Worth seeing for the funky disco title track and Supersonic’s jazzy costume alone, seventies superheroes don’t get as pimptastic as this. But if you don’t believe me, just check this out…