Thursday, October 23, 2014

Blasts From the Past: Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987)


We're going deep into the exploitation jungle today to look at one of the crappiest action movies you can find.  The kind of movie destined to appear at two in the morning on Cinemax or, if you were a teen in the early 90's, on Up all Night on the USA Network.  Why mince words any further?  It's time to look at one of the films of Andy Sidaris.

The late Andy Sidaris was a one-man exploitation factory.  Along with his wife Arlene, he put out twelve amazingly bad films from 1985 to 1998, previously he had made a few films in the 70's and had a pretty damn good career in the field of sports broadcasting.  As a film director, he specialized in horrifically cheesy action movies with laughable production values, impenetrable plots, tons of boobs and things blowing up with soap opera actors (though he occasionally got the odd B-lister like Erik Estrada or Sybil Danning.  One film even has Pat "Mr. Miyagi" Morita in it) and Playboy Playmates populating his casts, as well as a few more familiar faces from time to time.

He also tended to let his films run way long, which is weird to say about a bunch of films that average about 96 minutes but really, none of these films needed to be more than 80.  Roger Corman knew how to do this stuff right.  Our feature today is about 95 and brother, there are times you feel every second of it!

I originally planned to cover all twelve but truthfully, these films are pretty damn awful and sitting through one of them is a chore, let alone twelve.  Add to that the mind numbing repetitiveness of the films and I think I can justify settling for one.  With that in mind, let the pain begin!

By the way, in researching, I found that all of his films had limited theatrical runs... Very limited would be my guess.  Day, day and a half tops.  Maybe two if it was a slow week.

The best of the series (and it's not really possible for me to use that term in a looser fashion), Hard Ticket to Hawaii sports the best title (as bad as it is, I do genuinely love that title, it just screams cheesy action movie), the most enjoyably ludicrous plot and some of the best unintentional laughs. 

The plot, such as it is, involves two buxom federal agents... Well, one agent and a federal witness who has been teamed with the agent (the agent is played by Playboy Playmate Dona Speir who would do six more films for Sidaris) teaming up with two male agents (one of whom is the cousin of the hero of the first film and is a lousy shot without a rocket launcher which he is able to simply hold like a regular pistol... almost like it's a cheap prop or something) who come off as the happiest gay couple you could ever hope to see at times even though both are straight, to take down a diamond smuggling operation.  Oh, and there's also an escaped giant snake roaming around... so there's also that.

If nothing else, the film moves fast for a Sidaris movie.    We got a decent amount of action, a decent amount of nudity and an island full of stupidity.  Tons of cheesy goodness too with extraneous jacuzzi time for the ladies; one of the most blatantly fake looking rubber snakes I've ever seen, an odd bit of self-referential humor as it turns out the first film in the series, Malibu Express, exists in the world of this film, a razor-bladed Frisbee and best of all, a hilarious sequence where our heroes are attacked by an assassin on a skateboard, inexplicably carrying a blow-up sex doll.  Both are blasted to smithereens with a rocket launcher.

That alone is worth seeing as long as you're going to be sitting through the damn thing (or you could be smart and just look up the clip online).  Just have beer and pizza handy.  Or better yet, use the times where dick all is happening to make your own damn pizza and, if you have the tools, brew your own beer.  There's enough of it to allow for that kind of in-depth activity.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Blasts From the Past: Stephen King's Cat's Eye (1985)

I'm a sucker for horror anthologies.  Creepshow is one of my favorite movies, I always loved Tales From the Crypt and as much as I like Stephen King's novels, I find the collections of his short stories to be even better at times.  Probably because I can get through an entire one without having to set aside other plans.

Cat's Eye, while not nearly as awesome as Creepshow, is at the very least, far superior to Creepshow 2.  Based on two stories from King's Night Shift collection as well as an original King story, it follows a stray cat as it races to help a young girl played by Drew Barrymore, in her second King film after Firestarter.  Dino DeLaurentiis also co-produced so right away you know it's right up my alley.  Let's go story by story.

First off, I love how the cat manages to not only outsmart Cujo but also the evil car from Christine in the opening credits.  Not the first time we've seen something like this in a film from Dino.  Same damn thing happened in Orca with the title character curb-stomping (can it still be called that if you have no feet?) a great white shark two years after the release of Jaws.  The transitions from story to story are also pretty cool as well.

Our first story is a darkly funny bit called Quitters. Inc. starring James Woods as a man who really wants to quit smoking.  He goes to the company in the title and meets with Mr. Donatti (Alan King) who is rather... Oh, let's say militant about kicking the habit.  Put it this way, within two minutes of their meeting, he has a near psychotic fit.  King and Woods are terrific here with Woods turning in a funny, droll performance and King channeling... Well to be honest, I'd rather not know what the hell his technique was for playing this role.  I'd like to sleep again.  It's good though, very good.
The clinic is equally militant, acting like a cross between the CIA and the Mafia with a little good old fashioned bat shit crazy thrown in for spice and the whole story is a rather psychotically enjoyable bit of dark comedy.  Sadly, the following segments can't match the first.

The second, The Ledge, is a suspenseful, yet somewhat predictable yarn starring Robert Hays as a tennis pro who has been sleeping with the wife of crime boss Kenneth McMillan who will bet on anything.  In this case, he bets Hays can't walk across the ledge of his penthouse apartment.  The stuff with Hays on the ledge is actually pretty great but the payoff is easy to guess.

Last up is The General, a rather silly, yet modestly entertaining story that sees the cat finally finding Drew who is danger of having her breath stolen by an evil little troll that lives behind the walls in her home.  Drew is pretty good here but Candy Clark as her her mother is truly the only annoying aspect of the film.

I'd like to think that if my mom was as thoroughly unlikable as the one here, I'd have the fortitude to forget her birthday every year as well as Mother's Day.  That she usually looks like she's about ten seconds away from smacking her kid across the house any second doesn't help matters either.  Her dad is slightly better, but David Naughton just doesn't quite make the guy into someone I'd pull out of the path of an oncoming bus.

Sorry, but if you are an adult in 1985 and you're still citing the old wives tale about cats stealing the breath of children when they sleep, you're probably either severely retarded to the point where a helper has to be with you at all times so you don't hurt yourself or the parents in this segment.   Not often you see such poorly written characters from good old Stevie.  Well, King was in the middle of his addictions at this point so I guess I can give him a pass.

It's honestly not that big a thing but characters that annoying happen to be one of my pet peeves.  That being said, it's amazingly satisfying at the end when Drew essentially blackmails her mom into lettering her keep the cat.

The troll itself is a neat bit of f/x work from Carlo Rambaldi and the climax is nicely gross as the cat dispatches the little beast by getting it on a record player, turning said player on and launching the troll into a rotating fan.

Cat's Eye is a solid enough horror film with a fantastic first segment, a good second and a problematic third.  It's worth seeing.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Blasts From the Past: Desperado (1995)

Desperado is a genuinely entertaining, though not entirely perfect reworking of/sequel to the Robert Rodriguez low budget action blast El Mariachi.  Antonio Banderas plays the lead role this time out and he's given an epic build-up by Steve Buscemi in an eight and half minute prologue that turns the mariachi into a mythic, Clint Eastwood sort of guy along the lines of the Sergio Leone films from the 60's.  Granted with a guitar case full of guns it's an easier road to get him to that level but still.

Banderas is on the hunt, looking for a man called Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida in a solid villainous turn) who is the last of the drug dealers he has to kill before achieving his full revenge from the previous film.

Banderas teams with a sexy bookstore owner played by Salma Hayek and the ensuing blast of action is just awesome.  The performances are pretty solid with Banderas making for a fine action hero; Salma Hayek doesn't have much to do really but she's just sexy as hell and the cast is littered with fun supporting turns from Buscemi. Danny Trejo as an assassin, Cheech Marin as a bartender and Quentin Tarantino in a fun cameo.

Rodriguez directs and edits with his usual energetic flair, giving the action beats (of which there are a ton) a nice kinetic energy that really makes the film flow smoothly.  The best action scene sees Banderas leveling a bar in a massive gunfight.  The film has an overall smoother feel to it than the original which does detract a little.  Part of the first movie's charm was the rather rough, gritty feel it had and the sleeker feel of the sequel doesn't work quite as well.  Still, it's a damn fine action movie.  Perfect for a lazy afternoon.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Blasts From the Past: Alien: Resurrection (1997)

The fourth entry in the Alien franchise is both interesting and quite disappointing.  Directed by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, it has a decent enough script by Joss Whedon (though not great, mind you), fantastic production design and a nice batch of character actors who manage a few nice moments here and there when they're not being ripped apart by horrible monsters.

Set 200 years after the third movie, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has been cloned by a bunch of scientists including the always amusing Brad Dourif on a military spaceship commanded by General Perez, played hammily by Dan Hedaya.  A bunch of mercenaries including Winona Ryder and Ron Perlman deliver a shipment to the General who is trying to breed the aliens for research purposes and of course, they get loose and a butt load of people are bloodily killed.

Weaver is good as Ripley, this time she delivers a more colder, alien version of the character.  Fitting, since in the beginning we see the chestburster she was infected with in the third movie removed and it turns out she now has an empathic bond with the beasts as a result as well as enhanced physical abilities...

Yeah.

The rest of the cast is okay, though not as good as one would hope.  Ryder is bland, the revelation that she's an android isn't much of a shock seeing as she's sort of mechanical in her acting anyway.  Ron Perlman is sorely underused and Dan Hedaya turns in a rather dreadful performance, hamming it up in a manner that is almost as repulsive as the sight of him in a tank top.  Seriously, I like the guy as an actor but the amount of body hair he has pretty much proves Darwin's theory of evolution.  He's got a funny death scene though, not too often you see a guy take out part of his brain and look at it after having his head cracked open by an alien.

On the other hand, Brad Dourif is nicely odd as the mad scientist who brought Ripley back.  There is a fun bit where he's trying to train some aliens, which he does and the facial expressions he makes are so bizarre that they end up working in spite of themselves.

Even with the bad acting and somewhat dodgy script, the film manages to entertain on a basic level.  Like the third film, it has a great look and some nice scenes (the underwater sequence is fun and Weaver has a nice scene where she finds the failed clones of her and the alien/human hybrid at the end is an interesting failure) but on a fundamental level, it just doesn't quite cut it.  It's fun, but not really essential.  A fun bad movie if you're in the right frame of mind.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Blasts From the Past: End of Days (1999)

End of Days gets by simply with its premise which is simply Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Satan.  That alone is a hilariously awesome/stupid concept and impressively enough, the film manages to be good... Sort of.

A gleefully over the top mixture of horror, action and end of the millennium paranoia (good lord, that was a fun time), this stars Arnold as a burnt out, suicidal former New York cop named Jericho Cane (snicker) who ends up having to protect a young woman named Christine York (Robin Tunney) from Satan (Gabriel Byrne) who wants to impregnate her and cause the titular end of days.

Everything in this one is overblown to the extreme from the character names (any more on the nose with naming those two leads and the script would be able to smell how silly it is) to the acting (Arnie and Gabriel have a nice ham to ham combat scene about an hour in which I have to say Arnie wins by screaming "You're nothing but a choir boy compared to me!  A choir boy!" at the top of his vocal range) to the rather impressive amount of darkness director and DP Peter Hyams is able to bathe every scene in.  Even the daytime stuff is kind of dark.

 This was Arnold's first film since the wet, smelly fart that was Batman and Robin and to be fair, it a marked improvement over the former.  It's well put together, the action and horror blend together rather nicely and the novelty of seeing the big guy vs. evil incarnate is used to its fullest advantage.  It is also blessed with one of the dumbest scripts I have ever had the pleasure of seeing played out in front of me.

We got a cadre of fanatical Catholic priests sent to kill Christine before Old Scratch can get to her; Rod Steiger as a more helpful member of the diocese who informs our brawny hero that the whole 666 thing is actually 999 by way of an explanation so dumb even the worst math student would question it, Kevin Pollak providing some fairly nice comic relief (doesn't bust out the Christopher Walken impression though, sadly), Arnold trying with every fiber in his being to play an emotionally troubled man grieving for his murdered family (which boils down to not shaving for a few days and drinking more than usual), subsequently being out acted by everyone else including the Stan Winston designed CGI demon that appears at the end and Gabriel Byrne walking off with the whole damn thing in the most casual manner imaginable.

And Robin Tunney?  Well, uh, she's cute.  Really more of a plot device than anything else but still, cute nonetheless.

End of Days is a big, loud, utterly stupid and yet utterly entertaining piece of crap.  It's a true guilty pleasure of the highest order.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Blasts From the Past: Stephen King's Sleepwalkers (1992)

The first original screenplay from Stephen King yields one of the more bizarre, sort of funny films with his name in the credits.  Sleepwalkers concerns two nomadic energy draining vampires named Mary (Alice Krige) and Charles Brady (Brian Krause) who are ostensibly mother and son but their relationship is decidedly... icky.  They look like normal humans for the most part but when they vamp out, they take on a horrific humanoid/feline appearance and can only be killed by the scratch of a real cat.  In other words, they can die from cat scratch fever.

They arrive in a small town for their latest feeding session and Charles fixates on Tanya (Madchen Amick), a local teenager who also happens to be a virgin, the preferred target of these particular ghouls.

The majority of the film focuses on Brian and Tanya while also delving into the occasional scene of Mary looking worried as an army of cats gathers around her house.  This film may have the most cat related jump scares of any horror film in the last twenty five years.  Mick Garris directs the two younger actors well enough (truth be told, the stuff with them is sort of dull unless it involves any effects work) but Alice Krige walks off with the film, as she usually does in cases like this.  She puts on quite the show in the last act, offing a bunch of cops (one of whom is played by Ron Perlman) by biting fingers, impaling on picket fences and at one point stabbing one through the back with an ear of corn.  Outlandish bits like this are what save the film from being just another dull riff on the vampire movie.  I also like the Stephen King cameo that also features Tobe Hooper and Clive Barker.

Special effects are decent enough with some nice gore, cool cat creatures and some endearingly early 90's morphing effects.  This film came out the year after Terminator 2 and the f/x team was eager to play with their new toys as much as possible.  Really, besides Alice Krige, the gore and f/x are the only reason to really see this.

Sleepwalkers is an endearingly stupid way to spend 89 minutes.  The film benefits from some nice f/x and one or two good performances but in the end, it's a cheesy horror film that has an offbeat sort of vampire and an army of cats in the Van Helsing role.

King's script is cheesy as hell with dumb bits of humor but honestly, even a bad Stephen King film can be worth the effort if you're in the right frame of mind.  What can I say?  I'm sucker for early 90's horror and Stephen King in general.  Plus, it's funny to think that while he was legit coked out of his gourd while making Maximum Overdrive, he was sober by the time he wrote this one.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Blasts From the Past: Hannibal (2001)

Released ten years after the fantastic Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal manages the rather impressive feat of sort of failing to live up to the first film and work as a sequel, but also sort of succeed as a different sort of horror film.

Taking place ten years after the first film, it sees FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) in a lousy position with her job on the line after a botched bust, no respect from her peers (one of whom is Ray Liotta at his slimy best) and in general, one thoroughly screwed individual.  She gets pulled into a scheme by one of Hannibal Lecter's victims, a gruesomely disfigured rich guy named Mason Verger (Gary Oldman in an uncredited performance) who wants revenge on the good doctor and then... Well, things get sort of convoluted.

Honestly, the film is a bit of a bore whenever Anthony Hopkins isn't on screen.  Julianne Moore is a good actress and she's a fine replacement for Jodie Foster but the stuff they have her do and go through could have been done by any actress.  As with the first one, she is constantly second guessed and doubted by her male superiors but unlike the first one film where it was sort of subtle and worked, here it just feels played out and obvious.  The bizarre romantic undertones between her and Lecter from the first film are also revisited here, they work okay but slow down things a little too much for my liking.

Fortunately, large swathes of the movie are given to Anthony Hopkins and his demented character.  While he was creepy as hell as a supporting character in the first film, his lead role here turns the movie at times into an extremely gruesome take on every Vincent Price movie from the early seventies.  Hopkins is good in this more over the top version of Lecter and he has some wonderful exchanges with Italian cop named Pazzi (Lecter is hiding out in Italy, posing as an art expert) played by Giancarlo Giannini who is suspicious of him.  Pazzi is eventually bribed by Verger to arrange for Lecter to be captured and the scene where Hannibal gets his revenge on the cop is a lovely bit of grand guignol as Hopkins channels his inner Vincent Price while killing the man in a nicely disgusting manner.

He tops this later during the finale where he captures the Ray Liotta character after abducting Clarice after saving her life and forcing her to watch as he feeds Liotta bits of his own brain.  It's a hell of a showstopper, honestly one of the grossest things I've ever seen in a movie and makes the more emotional psychological showdown between Lecter and Clarice almost an afterthought.

Overall though, the film has to be considered a failure as a sequel to the original.  It substitutes subtle eerie moments for more over the top theatrics (Hopkins and Oldman chew so much scenery that there is literally nothing left for the other actors to dig into) and in the end it is just as unsatisfying as the book it was based on... Though not as weird.  It's too long, the pacing is off and at the end of the day it's not a great sequel to the original.

It is, however, modestly entertaining if you look at it as the greatest movie Vincent Price never made.  I don't know, maybe I'm just a sucker for Dino DeLaurentiis productions.

About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.