Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Punisher (1989)

To say that comic book movies were in a rut in the 80's is to make a grand understatement.  With the exception of the first two Superman movies (yeah, the first one was in 1978 but work with me here) and Tim Burton's take on Batman, the slate was anemic at best and downright awful at worst.  It really says something when the best of the batch between 1982 and 1988 was Superman III.  The worst, naturally is Superman IV but we don't need to get into that now.

Falling somewhere in the middle is 1989's The Punisher.  Loosely based on the Marvel Comics anti-hero, it stars Dolph Lundgren as Frank Castle, a burnt out shell of man whose life was destroyed by the death of his family.  He now lives as a remorseless vigilante, killing bad guys by the truckload as often as he can.

The thin plot revolves around a mob war between the Mafia (mainly Franco played by Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbe) and the Yakuza (headed by Lady Tanaka, played by Kim Miyori) that takes a dark turn as Tanaka kidnaps the children of the Mafia heads.

Louis Gossett Jr. is also on hand as Frank's old friend, a cop who was his partner and now is hunting him down.  I'd say that Gossett blew his Oscar win for An Officer and a Gentleman...and I'd be right.  Still, he's good enough here, though the dialogue is rather beneath him.

The film really belongs to Lundgren, however.  While he lacks the comic version's iconic skull t-shirt, he pretty much embodies the character fairly well.  Frank Castle is supposed to be closed off emotionally  so having him played by one of the least expressive (I still love the guy though) action stars of the decade works fine.

The action is pretty damn good with some nice shootouts and some decent moments of gore sprinkled throughout.  Director Mark Goldblatt does an adeq2uate job of staging it all and while it's not a good movie, it's certainly not the fault of the action.

The problems with the movie really stem from the low budget and poor screenplay.  The film has a rather cheap feel to it which is not a surprise given that it's a New World release.  This isn't generally a huge problem but when you try to make Australia look like New York, it's generally a good idea to try as little harder than the film does.

The script is also poorly done.  The villains are cardboard cutouts with little in the way of personality, Frank Castle is a shockingly dull vigilante (even in the comics he at least had a personality which Dolph can pull off when needed) and the subplot with gossett goes nowhere.

The Punisher is an acceptable time waster if you enjoy crappy action movies from the 80's.  It's not the worst thing you;'ll ever see but it does vanish from the old memory bank pretty quickly.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Warriors of the Wasteland (1982)

Like Battletruck which I reviewed here earlier, Warriors of the Wasteland is a post-apocalyptic tale that is heavily influenced by The Road Warrior.  And like Alien Contamination (also reviewed here), it's from our good buddies in Italy.  It relates the struggle of Scorpion (Timothy Brent/Giancarlo Prete) against the evil Templars, led by man-mountain George Eastman (real name: Luigi Montefiori).  The Templars are a deranged band of lunatics who deal that it is man's destiny to die, a destiny they fulfill with a gruesome and brutal attack in the opening minutes of the movie.

That's basically the plot in itself and to be honest, you really don't need much more than that for this movie.  Scorpion has a cool tricked out car (as does everyone in this sort of movie) and since this is a Road Warrior knockoff, there's a kid (played by  Giovanni Frezza who is much better here than he was in House by the Cemetary) and a woman played by the lovely Anna Kanakis.  Fred Williamson is also on hand to do what he always does:  Look cool, act cool and kill lots of things real good.  I dig Fred in this, he has a lot more to do here than he did in Warrior of the Lost World.

The majority of the film is taken up by long action sequences, to the point where you realize that roughly 3/4 if the 86 minute running time is devoted to mindless gory violence.  If that doesn't justify the 8/10 I give it I don't know what does!  The best thing is that it never gets boring because the director, Enzo Castellari, knows how to stage an action scene and keep it interesting.  It also helps that the stuntmen in Italy at the time the film was made were so frigging insane you just have to stand up and cheer.  Say what you will about the film's screenplay but what it lacks in plot and characterization (with one notable exception which I'll get to). it more than  makes up for in pace.m  This sucker moves like a bullet.

Performances are good enough across the board but I really want to shine a spotlight on George Eastman here because his character of One really has to be seen to be believed.  For those of you who have never seen the man, allow me to give a brief profile of his character.  Imagine a gigantic 6'9 man with a full beard, evil grin and a streak of gray in his hair who loves to kill and destroy and asserts his dominance over Scorpio (a former Templar) at one point by making him his bitch.

Yes, this may be the only Road Warrior knockoff and maybe the only exploitation film I'm aware of where it's the male lead who gets raped.  You don't really see anything but damn!

Warriors of the Wasteland is a cheerful, cheesy, violent romp that is well worth seeking out of you like action films.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

Coming off the success of Star Wars, it's rather surprising to me that it took Roger Corman until; 1980 to cash in on its success.  Battle Beyond the Stars is a light, frothy space adventure starring Henry (The Waltons) Thomas as Shad, a young man whose planet is threatened by an immortality-obsessed despot named Sador (John Saxon) who wants to conquer the galaxy.

Shad enlists the help of several mercenaries including George Peppard as a space cowboy (his name and occupation incidentally), a killer played by Robert Vaughn, a warrior woman played by Sybil Danning, a green alien with a grudge against Sador and other assorted characters.

The film is pretty damn good for a low budget effort, mainly due to the excellent production design (James Cameron's first job), a good score from James Horner and some nice acting from Vaughn and Peppard.  Saxon and Thomas are also good in their respective roles and the only loose end I can see is the female lead, a computer whiz played by Darlanne Fluegel.  Her role is somewhat underwritten and in terms of adding to the plot, well, she doesn't really.

Battle Beyond the Stars is a fun ride and even though it could have stood to lose a few minutes here and there (103 minutes for a Corman production is practically unheard of), it's still well worth seeing.  Shout Factory put out a 30th anniversary DVD recently and it's the best way you will ever see it.

Check it out.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fangoria Flashbacks: Issue #16

Fangoria 16 December, 1981:  Ghost of a Chance

Another leapfrog as we move onto #16 featuring a wonderfully icky Dick Smith effect from Ghost Story.  This is a solid issue to end 1981 but as tends to be the case with winter issues of the magazine, it's slightly on auto-pilot.

Notable Notes
  • We begin with the editorial which heralds a few changes to the mag:  bumping up the issue per year count from 6 to 8, a new art director and the appointment of David Everitt as Deputy Editor.
  • Skipping over the letters section, we'll move on to the first big article, an interview with British makeup f/x artist Chris Tucker.  Tucker chats about his work on The Elephant Man and Quest for Fire.  There's also a little info on a future project, KrullKrull is one of the many sci-fi epics to come out on the heels of the Star Wars movies and is actually fairly decent, despite some pacing issues.
  • Batting second is another Rick Baker piece, this time focusing on the young artists working at his studio.  It's a good piece, highlighting some guys who will become quite accomplished in their own right., one of whom is Steve Johnson, a personal favorite of mine.
  • Just an aside, I notice that whenever the horror slate is a little anemic, the issues tend to get really heavy on f/x articles in the early days.  As years go by, this will  change to longer retrospective pieces.
  • Another repeat interview comes up as Dick Smith talks about Ghost StoryGhost Story is an adequate adaptation of the Peter Straub novel and Smith's work is easily the highlight.  Best part is that not only is this a two part interview covering the man's entire career up to that point, I actually have the issue that follows this one so for once we'll have a little continuity in this series!
  • To the article itself, it covers Smith's background with a rather luxurious amount of detail and Smith is a fantastic interview.
  • Up next is Alex Gordon's column, this time he writes about the fantastic Bela Lugosi film White Zombie.  It's probably his best movie and Gordon, as usual, brings a nice personal touch to the proceedings.
  • Part five of the 'horror in comics' series is next and it's a decent piece, as is the conclusion to the Ray Harryhausen interview.
  • Some shorter pieces are up next with an interview with Ghost Story  and Carrie screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen and part 2 of a set visit to Swamp Thing that focuses on an interview with Adrienne Barbeau and a brief chat with supporting actor Nicholas Worth.  Both pieces are efficient and well done but the sheer number of articles in this issue gets to be a bit much.  Sometimes it's possible to have too much going on!
  • More Ghost Story stuff as the author of the novel, Peter Straub, gets a bit of time in the spotlight.  I like it when a new film gets some attention but if you really stop and think about it, we've had three articles on the same movie, a little overkill in my opinion.
  • Moving onto other matters, we get a nice preview of Basket Case, a solid little grindhouse movie from Frank Henenlotter about two brothers, one of whom is relatively normal and the other who...isn't.  It's a good look at the film and Bob Martin does his usual excellent reporting job.
  • To the Monster Invasion section, we get a blurb about Tom Savini suing over an erroneous credit on a film poster, previews of Poltergeist, The Hunger and a little note on Videodrome, from David Cronenberg.  We wrap things up with a few book reviews.
Issue 16 is a solid yet unexceptional edition.  Post-Halloween is generally a dead time for the genre, as can be seen by the multiple Ghost Story  and f/x articles.  It's about as good as can be expected from a December issue.

Coming Soon:  Fangoria 17-Independent Grue!

About Me

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