Today’s feature is undoubtedly one of the worst superhero movies of all time: 1980’s Pumaman.
Pumaman was directed and co-written by Alberto De Martino, who was also behind such low-budget fare as Holocaust 2000, Miami Golem, Dirty Heroes, and Gladiators 7. The other credited writers on the film were Massimo De Rita (Blood in the Streets, Everybody’s Fine) and Luigi Angelo (Black Killer).
The cinematographer for Pumaman was Mario Vulpiani, who primarily worked on Italian movies throughout his career. However, he did wind up shooting Stuart Gordon’s cult classic H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, Castle Freak.
The editor on Pumaman was Vincenzo Tomassi, who frequently worked for Lucio Fulci on films like The Beyond, Zombie, and The New York Ripper. He also cut the infamous film Cannibal Holocaust, as well as the monster movies Killer Crocodile and Killer Crocodile 2.
The music for Pumaman was provided by Renato Serio, who also composed the score for 1982’s Alone in the Dark. The theme song to Pumaman might be the most notorious and memorable aspect of the movie next to the hilarious flying effects, and I wish everyone luck in trying to get the song out of your heads.
The cast of Pumaman included Donald Pleasance (Halloween, The Great Escape, Escape From New York, Warrior of the Lost World, Django 2), Walter George Alton (Heavenly Bodies), and Miguel Angel Fuentes (Fitzcarraldo, Herod’s Law).
The plot of Pumaman centers around a young man who is given an assortment of super-powers by Aztec gods / an amulet / aliens / his genetics, and has to hunt down a sinister madman who is trying to use an enchanted mask for nefarious purposes.
It has been reported that Donald Pleasance regarded Pumaman as the worst movie he ever participated in, though I haven’t been able to dig up a source on that outside of the IMDb trivia section.
Pumaman is primarily known by bad movie fans because it was featured in a 1998 episode of the hit show Mystery Science Theater 3000, which was known for digging b-movies out of obscurity to comedic effect.
The star of the film, Walter George Alton, is apparently now a medical malpractice attorney in New York City, and has left his acting career well behind him, having only featured in a handful of flicks aside from Pumaman.
The reception to Pumaman, particularly following being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, was hugely negative. It currently has a 30% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, along with an impressive 2.1 rating on IMDb, ranking it in the Bottom 100 films on the website (which is how I initially came across it).
The attempted flying effect in this movie is just pathetic, to the point of being absolutely hilarious. It is something that you honestly need to see to believe. There are a number of other thoroughly unimpressive attempts at special effects scattered throughout the movie, including a spaceship that looks either looks like the Monarch’s cocoon from The Venture Bros or a Christmas ornament, depending on who you ask.
The acting is unsurprisingly sub-par throughout Pumaman, but Donald Pleasence does ham up his role quite a bit. There are a number of moments where you can tell that he knows how bad this movie is going to be when all is said and done, but he still puts effort into it regardless. It is also worth mentioning that it has to be difficult to effectively act when you are having to peek out from behind a giant, ridiculous mask prop for nearly the whole movie.
The story to Pumaman makes very little sense. For instance, I’m still not clear on why the main character is a “puma” man, given his powers involve teleportation, flying, and (oddly) faking suicide. Are those typical puma behaviors that I just wasn’t aware of? It is also a bit unclear as to what the origins of his powers are. While it seems that they are granted to him from aliens, it is also mentioned that the powers are somehow hereditary, which doesn’t make much sense to me.
Overall, Pumaman contains a fantastic brew of honest incompetence that generates a genuinely entertaining product. It is absolutely terrible in every technical aspect I can think of, which makes it a bafflingly hilarious experience to watch. It confusedly stumbles its way through the run time, and never fails to be a spectacle of low-budget determination devoid of talent. For fans of bad movies, this is an essential flick to check out, with or without the accompaniment of Mystery Science Theater 3000.