Wednesday, October 29, 2014

9 Things I Love About Waxwork

I've reviewed the film on here previously, but Waxwork is one of those movies I just love to talk about.  To recap the plot in short, a bunch of college kids are lured into a wax museum owned by David Warner who wants to destroy the world by bringing eighteen of the most evil beings to life (don't worry, it doesn't make much sense when the characters explain it either).  Much gore and cheesy goodness ensues.

With that in mind, here are nine great things from and about  the film in no particular order.

1. Deborah Foreman

First off is Deborah Foreman who plays Sarah, the female lead.  Foreman is one of those 80's chicks who pop up in a lot of movies from this period and are just fantastic.  She fits right in with Catherine Mary Stewart: pretty, likable and a bit of a badass.  The sort of girl you really want to hang out with.

She does sort of look like The Joker when she smiles though.  But hell, I can work with that!
Her character is also the only one who has a real arc of any sort, though having the virginal cute chick turn out to be sort of kinky isn't exactly what I'd call deep storytelling.  Still, when the finale comes around she kicks ass which we can cover later.

2. Maximum O'Keefe for your money


Yes, just as with the MST3K classic Cave Dwellers, this movie has Miles O'Keefe.  Miles plays Dracula and while he's not a main villain (Kenneth J. Campbell has that honor as the Marquis de Sade) and ends up being killed by a  nameless extra, he does have one of the more memorable set pieces.  Not often you see a fight with vampire brides where they're dispatched by being impaled on champagne bottles.


3. John Rhys Davies for Nair

I'm a sucker for John as well as werewolves so any film where the guy turns into one is fine by me.

 The design of the beast is cool too, taking a cue from The Howling and having it be a frigging huge bipedal wolf.

4. David Warner... Just David Warner

Warner is one of those classic British character actors who is dependably good no matter what the role is.  Here, he's a very entertaining bad guy, delivering deadpan lines without ever really going overboard.  It's a nice bit of acting from the man.

5. Two butlers for the price of... Well, two

This brings us to one of my favorite characters from the film.  For some reason, the bad guy has not one butler but two.  First off is the Lurch-looking dude named Junior.  He's... Well, he's tall.  Sort of dumb, really strong and that's about it.

The real gem, is the other butler, Hans who is... Well, not quite as tall.

Hans is played by 2'9 Hungarian ALF performer Mihaly "Michu" Meszaros.  Michu is quite memorable here, combining a squeaky Bela Lugosi accent with a stern, authoritarian attitude (he pushes Junior around like nobody's business) and while he doesn't get a lot of time on screen, he makes the most of what he does get.  If the film had been made fifteen years earlier, Angelo Rossitto would have probably gotten the role.  And of course, like the former, he gets a really memorable death scene which we get to later.  It's generally the mark of a good character when you wish there was more of him or her in the film, as is the case here.

6. Patrick Macnee: Still Avenging after all these years

Like David Warner, Patrick Macnee is one of those Brits who will make you believe whatever crap hes spouting by sheer force of will.  Good thing too as he gets the bulk of the exposition as to what the hell is going on.  He very rarely misses the mark and here, he's just fine.

7. The VHS you can't resist!


Waxwork has one of those posters that just catches the eye, as does the VHS sleeve.  Michu standing in front of a doorway full of monsters?  Yeah, I can see how this did well on video eventually.


8. Monsters galore and gobs of gore!

The real hook of the film is the sheer number of classic monsters on display.  In addition to the aforementioned werewolf and Dracula sequences, we also get a black and white riff on Night of the Living Dead; a nicely gruesome mummy sequence and a nice variety of ghouls at the end when all hell breaks loose.  The gore is plentiful too, even in the R rated cut.  We get torn up bodies, squashed heads, impalings, you name it.  Good stuff.

9. Deborah Foreman will put a foot up your ass!

While the entire final battle is fun, my favorite aspect of it is how Deborah Foreman's character suddenly turns into a one-woman slaughter machine.   Oh, she's a little hesitant at first but before long, she's kicking ass and quite frankly makes Zach Galligan look like he's slacking off quite badly.  He kicks a little ass but as with Gremlins, his love interest is generally a hell of a lot cooler.  Granted, it might just be that I like Deborah Foreman and Phoebe Cates better.

Come to think of it, that's exactly what it is!

Best of all is what she does with Michu.  Towards the tail end of the fight, she comes across Hans beating the hell out of a hunter, though one would guess the guy's dignity is being hurt more than his face under the circumstances.  Seeing this, and more than slightly miffed, she surprises him and scoops him up by the arms before putting him into the plant seen above which implores "Feed me" before she does the deed.

Now, there are a few things about this that make me chuckle, starting with the plant that starts off being an homage to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and ends up being a reference to Little Shop of Horrors.  Also, for some reason Michu squeaks like a plush toy when he turns and sees Foreman and as he is being picked up and fed to the plant.  Not sure if that was his idea or if Anthony Hickox suggested it but regardless, it's a sound acting choice.

Second, and this is the screenwriter in me coming out, but it's actually quite funny just how pissed off Foreman is when she corners the little booger.  Disproportionally so, in fact.  When I first saw this on TV, I wondered if a scene or two had been cut for time or content since in terms of screen time, the two are in the same scene for maybe a few minutes tops and at no point do they even come close to interacting.  It's not like he even trips her up during the battle at one point or anything. She sees him, he squeaks in terror, he becomes plant food.

Honestly, the film sort of can't top that, really.  I do like the little "Well, that's done" thing Foreman does afterwards, though.

And that's it for Waxwork.  Until next time...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Blasts From the Past: Mission: Impossible (1996)

I am an unabashed fan of the Mission: Impossible films.  They’re big, loud, sort of dumb (sometimes even more so) and Tom Cruise basically grins his way through each of them but damn it if I don’t find myself enjoying myself every single time as each outing has given us, more or less a different sort of action film.  Taken from the pretty damn great TV series from the 60’s/70’s, the first film used just the character of Jim Phelps (in much the same way a dog uses a fire hydrant) and introduced us to Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, the elite team leader of a younger group of IMF agents.

The summer of 1996 got started with a bang when Brian DePalma’s opening for the series was released.  More or less in line with how the show went (at least the first half hour), it has Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) gathering a team of younger agents, headed by Hunt to make sure a list of undercover operatives doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.  The mission goes quite badly (as in Hunt is the only one left alive apart from Phelps’ wife Claire, played by Emmanuelle Beart) and Hunt ends up on the run from his own agency when he is suspected of being a mole.

 The film is essentially a big, dumb action film done with a little more style.  Brian DePalma does his usual decent directing job with some virtuoso camera moves (and of course the incessant Hitchcock-lite stuff) and the action scenes have a nice sense of geography and pacing.  The best sequence is one where Hunt, Claire and the two disavowed agents they’ve teamed up with (Luther, played by Ving Rhames and Krieger, played by Jean Reno) break into CIA headquarters to get the real list of operatives in order to smoke out the real villain.

It’s a real white knuckler of a sequence as Hunt is dangled from the ceiling over a room with an insanely complex security system.  The other standout sequence comes at the end with Hunt fighting to stay on top of a high speed train while a helicopter tries to slice him to bits.

The action may be just fine but the issue comes with the plot.  As it turns out, Phelps has been the bad guy all along (with Claire and Krieger working for him), a revelation that pissed off many, including members of the original TV show’s cast.  I agree, there is no reason Voight had to be Phelps.
Hell, you could have just had Cruise playing a younger Phelps and have Voight be his mentor and the film would be the same.  Either way it would be a film with Jon Voight where he dies horribly, which I will always approve of.

In addition, the plot doesn’t really hold up to close scrutiny (what summer blockbuster does though?) and at the end of the day, it’s one of those stories that will make you just plain irritated if you try to think about it too much.

That being said, the film does sport a pretty impressive cast.  Cruise is his usual smirky self, Voight is a slimy asshole (and he’s good in the movie too), Ving Rhames and Jean Reno are solid in their roles and Emmanuelle Beart is... Well, she’s pretty.  Honestly, all she has to do is stand around and be attracted to Tom Cruise.  Not exactly something that requires Meryl Streep.

I also get a kick out of Emilio Estevez in an unbilled cameo as one of Hunt’s team members who gets killed.  If enjoying see one of The Brat Pack get his face impaled is wrong, where the hell is the point in being right?

The first film sort of set the template for the rest of the series: big, loud and dumb with the team aspect downplayed for the most part in favor of Tom Cruise doing his own stunts with that sort of intense look he puts on that makes you wonder if his character is tense or if the actor ate something bad during the lunch break.

It fits in fine with the usual summer action fare; oddly enough the plot is somewhat similar to Eraser which was released a few weeks later, but as a recreation of the show... Not so much.  I still dig it, though.  Hell, any movie where Jon Voight is crushed to death by an exploding helicopter can’t be all bad!

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.

About Me

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