Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Stuff (1985)

The Stuff, like most of Larry Cohen's movies is an oddball, unconventional picture that mixes humor with horror.  Michael Moriarty (a Larry Cohen regular) plays Mo Rutherford, a former FBI agent working as an industrial spy.  His job is to discovers the mysterious secret behind a new food fad called merely "The Stuff", a creamy substance that tastes great and is healthy...At least until the consumer gets addicted to it and turns into a zombie.

Mo teams up with the woman behind the marketing campaign and a kid whose family is taken over by it and they try to discover what's behind the new taste sensation and stop it.

The premise is sound and could make for a decent movie if not for the unfortunately low budget and pacing issues.  Cohen usually is able to make the best of a meager budget (Q is a prime example of this) but the movie never really takes off.  We see a pretty good example of what the stuff can do as it takes over a family but there isn't a payoff to it.  In fact, the stuff itself comes across as almost a secondary villain to the company behind it oddly enough, even though we see it at work for pretty much the entire run of the movie.  I'm fine with putting a human face on the monster but the movie also needs to properly build up the monster as well.  The editing is also choppy in parts, giving the movie a strange, unfinished feel.  Cohen cut some stuff out of the movie for pacing reasons, he might have wanted to double check things a little more,

There are some good things about the movie, Moriarty is solid as usual in an amusing deadpan performance (How is it that headcases like him and Sean Penn always end up delivering the goods?) and Garrett Morris has some fun moments (far too few though) as the former owner of a cookie company the guys behind The Stuff have muscled out of business.  Paul Sorvino is also on hand as a right wing militant who ends up helping our heroes save the day.  He's fine but the character seems like he came out of a different movie.

This film was released by New World Pictures, fine purveyor of cheesy 80's horror/comedies and the occasional good picture. I've always enjoyed their releases (Anchor Bay has put out most of their stuff on DVD) and while the films are usually fairly crappy they're still entertaining.

Cohen is a good director and has several entertaining movies to his credit.  This is probably somewhere in the middle.  It's worth seeing once and the DVD has a good commentary from the director but overall, it's something of a disappointment.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Strange Behavior (1981) and Dead & Buried (1981)

I love finding hidden gems from the 80's.   One of my more recent discoveries is Strange Behavior, the 1981 horror/sci-fi/comedy/semi-musical from director Michael Laughlin and written by Bill (Gods and Monsters) Condon.  Dan Shor plays a young teenager living in a small town who takes part in a sinister mind control experiment carried out by the local university headed up by creepy doc Fiona Lewis.

The film has a wonderfully creepy atmosphere with its small town setting and pulpy fifties plot line. Director Laughlin and writer Condon brought a similarly effective vibe to 1983's Strange Invaders.  The story itself is a rather unfocused yet endlessly amusing tale of mind control, killer college students, a decades old incident concerning the university and the sheriff and oddly enough a fully choreographed musical number set to a sixties pop song.

Michael Murphy does good as the town sheriff and Fiona Lewis is her usual cool self but Louise Fletcher is somewhat wasted in a nothing role as his love interest.  This is one of the few movies that can take having a rather muddled narrative and come out just fine.  It's sort of cheesy and not always convincing but it's so darned good natured about itself that it's all but impossible to be mad at it.

When most folks think of zombie films, they generally think of George Romero's oddly sympathetic ghouls or Lucio Fulci's gore encrusted gut munchers.  One of my favorite zombie flicks is this little oddity written by Alien scribe, the late Dan O'Bannon.  James Farentino plays Dan Gillis, the sheriff of a small town on the coast of New England called Potter's Bluff.  As we see in the gripping opening, there is something very odd going on as a series of gruesome murders have been occurring.

The mystery revolves around the murders and the bizarre reappearances of the victims in the town as part of the general populace.  Dan, as tends to be the case with this sort of movie, gets a nasty shock at the end as it turns out that not only is the town mortician Dobbs (Jack Albertson) involved, but everyone in the town including his wife is a part of what's going on.

Ordinarily I'd spoil things a bit more but this movie should really be seen fresh.  The entire movie has this great spooky ambiance that covers the movie like a gloomy, overpowering blanket.  Performances are pretty good with Farentino and Albertson standing out (Robert Englund is entertaining in his bit role as well) and the f/x by Stan Winston are, for the most part very good.

This is a terrific little gem of a movie and one of the best 80's horror movies.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Face the Evil (1997)

Slight change of pace as we go from theatrically released movies to a DTV Die Hard knockoff starring Lance Henriksen and Mrs. Gene Simmons herself, Shannon Tweed.  Face the Evil is a sequel to Tweed's earlier movie No Contest which pitted her actress heroine against bad guys Rowdy Roddy Piper and Andrew Dice Clay.

And yes, I do need to see this more than anything.

This time out, movie star Sharon Bell is trapped in an art gallery with her younger sister and the director of her latest project (B-movie mainstay Bruce Payne) when bad guy Eric Dengler (Lance) and his crew break in to steal Nazi nerve gas hidden in some artifacts.

Yep, it's just as dumb as it sounds.  Really, the only reason to see this movie is for Lance Henriksen as everything else is pretty much by the numbers riffing on the Die Hard Formula.  Tweed crawls around in air vents, the bad guy is witty and urbane, hostages are killed and they're all in an enclosed environment.

There are some nice action bits though as Tweed has a pretty decent brawl with the obligatory female terrorist and there is a passable shootout between her and the bad guys with Payne and her sister lending a hand.  Also good are the moments between Payne and Henriksen as both are quite good actors who bring a little more to the table than one generally gets in a low budget movie.

Sadly, that's about all the good stuff I can say about the movie.  The film seems to take its time in getting going which is fine usually but while Die Hard had 132 minutes to work with, this clocks in at just under 90.  This causes some pacing issues in the first half that have the viewer checking their watch every now and then. There is also one plot element that seems out of place given the relatively light tone of the movie.

The sisters are estranged due to father issues (he committed suicide) and in a rather tacky moment towards the end it's revealed he was molesting the Tweed character.  I have no idea why the screenwriter felt this was necessary.  If he was going for character depth, he probably should have remembered that he was writing a movie that would be starring a former Playboy Playmate, not Meryl Streep.

Still, this film is worth seeing at least once because you can never have too many Die Hard riffs in my opinion.  Henriksen and Payne are their usual quality selves while Tweed...Well, nobody is paying to see her act and she's not the greatest fighter.

In the end, this is simply another riff on a great action movie that's watchable but could have used a bit more spark and energy.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Battletruck (1982)

One of the great things to come out of the eighties was the post-apocalyptic action film.  Great flicks such as The Road Warrior and...Well, mainly The Road Warrior delivered outlandish characters and high octane action with just a hint of commentary regarding nuclear war, assuming the filmmakers weren't too busy getting random actresses to doff their tops and reassuring stuntmen that "You can't go too over the top here, trust me!"

Battletruck, also known as Warlords of the 21st Century is a rather pedestrian entry in the genre, though even with that it does have its merits.  Released by Roger Corman's New World Pictures, it tells the story of a loner (80's flavor of the month Michael Beck) ends up having to defend a bunch of peaceful survivors (one of whom is John "Cliff Clavin" Ratzenberger)from the deranged Straker (James Wainwright) and his huge tricked out truck that's the easy highlight of the movie.

That's pretty much as deep as the story gets.  beck rides around on his motorcycle, the bad guy's daughter (Annie McEnroe of Howling II) ends up siding with the good guys and of course there is one survivor who turns on the good guy because...Well, he's just one of those characters who's disagreeable just for the sake of being a jerk.  Every movie needs one.

The action, when it comes it actually pretty good considering the budget director Harley Cokliss no doubt had to contend with and all of it involves the titular truck.  The highlight is probably when Beck jumps his bike and lands right into the roof of the damn thing.  A very impressive stunt no mater what era the film is from!

Unfortunately, the truck is about all the movie has going for it.  It's big, huge and impressive but at the end of the day it's simply a gimmick to keep the audience awake.  It's like those huge clamshell VHS boxes you'd see in the video store with some cool looking implement of destruction on the cover only to find upon watching the actual movie that it payed a rather small part in the movie.  This film doesn't do that quite as blatantly as some others but it does fit into that category.

The film is worth seeing once but be ready to forget most of it within a half hour of watching it.

Battletruck is currently available as part of Shout Factory's Roger Corman's Cult Classics line, packaged with Deathsport, a much worse but also much more entertaining movie.

About Me

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