Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Thunder Run (1986)

Ah, nothing like a good piece of cheese from Cannon Pictures.  Thunder Run is a 1986 action film starring Forrest Tucker in one of his last rolesForrest plays Charlie Morrison, a grizzled Korean War vet who runs a cobalt mine with his grandson (John Shepard of Friday the 13th Part 7) in the desert.  He'd hired by an old friend to transport some plutonium from Nevada to Arizona and from there is turns into sort of a Road Warrior knock-off, minus the futuristic setting as some terrorists led by Alan Rachins of L.A. Law and Dharma and Greg try to get it from him only to be thwarted by his heavily armed high tech truck.

At least that's what the film should be all about but sadly it takes forever to get to that part as we get a ton of life in the small desert town the characters live in: road races, wooing potential investors in the mine, a bar fight, it just gets to the point where you wonder if the second half was written first along with the setup and the rest of the movie was just thrown in randomly.

There's about twenty minutes of filler on the front end of the film but at around the midway point things finally start picking up.  Forrest Tucker makes for a charming action hero and Shepard isn't too bad either.  The fun really starts with an A-Team montage done to some decidedly less than bad ass music as Charlie, his grandson and some of his friends put together the truck.

The action is great cheesy fun with explosions, the truck (called Thunder, naturally) turning out to be more gadget laden than the average car in a Bond film, the bad guys in hilariously tricked out VW Bugs (even with the camo paint job and missile rigs they look silly), the truck jumping a train, it's just a great assortment of stunts on display here which helps the movie greatly.

About the only thing I can gripe about is the villains are rather bland and dull with little to no characterization.   The end twist is also a little predictable but it still pays off well enough.

Overall, Thunder Run is a fun, entertaining little movie that deserves to be remembered.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

VHS Memories XXX: The Horror of Anthony Hickox

30th edition of the series, let's get it on with a tribute to one of my favorite horror directors, Anthony Hickox!  Hickox is an English director who made several decent, fun horror films in the late 80's and early 90's.

 Anthony's debut is this fun, gory monster-fest starring Zach Galligan and Deborah Foreman as a couple of spoiled rich kids who end up tangling with an evil owner of a wax museum played by David Warner.  tons of references to old horror flicks abound with vampires, a werewolf (played in human form by John Rhys Davies), the plant from Little Shop of Horrors (though at first it's a pod from Invasion of the Body Snatchers), not one but two butlers (one really tall guy and a dwarf) and just a bunch more.

Highlights of the movie include the extended werewolf and vampire sequences, a nicely gruesome scene with a mummy and the balls-out finale that sees such sights as the dwarf butler being tossed into the plant, Deborah Foreman (the aforementioned dwarf tosser) turning into a one-woman killing machine, Patrick Macnee getting his head ripped off by the werewolf and David Warner getting dumped into boiling hot wax.  Great stuff.

 Next on tap was this sadly overlooked, pretty neat little vampire flick starring Bruce Campbell as a direct descendant of Dr. Van Helsing and David Carradine as a renamed Dracula.  A sort of hybrid horror western,  it tells the story of a small civil war in an isolated desert town where everyone is a vampire and they've managed to adapt to sunlight with extra strength sun-block amongst other things.  Hickox keeps things moving along nicely (though 104 minutes might be about ten minutes or so more than was really needed) and there's a great role for M. Emmett Walsh as a vampiric gas station attendant with a bit of a temper problem.

Performances are strong across the board with Carradine and of course, Bruce putting in good work.  It's an enjoyable, funny way to kill an afternoon.

 The sequel to Waxwork is a fairly decent, though somewhat lackluster follow-up with Galligan back looking to clear his girlfriend of a murder charge carried out by one of the things that managed to survive the first one (a severed hand).  This is accomplished through a series of time leaps that end up referencing stuff like Alien and a few other genres.  It's good fun but not essential, though Bruce Campbell turns up in a funny cameo.

 The third entry in the Hellraiser series goes off a little from the first two in that it has a slightly larger budget and scope.  Doug Bradley is back as the demonic Pinhead and Terry Farrell is our heroine for the evening, an intrepid reporter who runs afoul of the demon.

On a side note: Why is it always an intrepid reporter in the movies?  Aren't there any reporters in films who are lackadaisical?

Anyway, the film is reasonably well paced and entertaining with a few silly parts that drop it down a few notches in terms of quality from the first two.  Still, it's worth a look.

 Slightly better is this HBO werewolf action flick starring Mario van Peebles as an LAPD cop named Max Dire who gets drafted into a special ops unit run by Bruce Payne.  The members of the force are all werewolves (sort of, they get a little demonic looking and sprout claws like Wolverine) and Max ends up having to fend them off.  It's a decent enough cable TV movie but it's not one of Hickox's better films.

We end with Hickox's sequel to the first Warlock movie, also starring Julian Sands.  Sands plays a different Warlock here, on the hunt for some sacred Druid stones that will let him destroy the world.  It's a fun, cheesy, totally typical mid-90's horror movie with good work from Sands, an eclectic cast of character actors and some unintentional comedy here and there.  Tons of gore, some cheesy humor, a good/bad time.

Hickox has done a few films since then, most of which were rather forgettable.  Still, his early output is quite entertaining.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Death Machines (1976)

We travel back to the disco era for this weird little number starring low budget martial artist star Ron Marchini.  Ron stars alongside Michael Chong and Joshua Johnson as the Death Machines, brainwashed killers who are utterly ruthless and utterly deadly.  Under orders from dragon lady Madame Lee (Mari Honjo), they take out various mobsters in the unnamed city the work in as well as pretty much everyone else in their path.

Eventually, they piss off the wrong guy and he ends up teaming with an incompetent cop and a rather dull nurse to get revenge.  Well, one could argue he actually just wants to get his ass handed to him which happens regularly and said team-up is more theoretical than anything else but you get the point.

The film starts off in a cheesy, over the top manner with some really overblown ways of taking out just one guy: rocket launcher, smashing a phone booth with a construction vehicle, it's just that kind of movie.  It moves onto a massacre at a karate school where the only survivor (John Lowe) makes it out minus one hand, hell-bent on revenge.

There are a few other plot threads but the real highlight...assuming that word is applicable when talking about this movie, is the trio of Death Machines.  They come off quite well, invulnerable to bullets, implacable.  Ron Marchini gets the closest thing to an actual bit of character as he briefly is on friendly terms with an old couple who run a diner.  This is forgotten rather quickly, sparing us the cliche of the killer turning on his bosses.  I don't generally have an issue with it but the film is way to silly to support such a plot twist.

The twist we do get is mind bogglingly stupid as Lee decides to kill the three killers after Marchini bumps her on the way up a flight of stairs (you have to see it for yourself).  Her shooting at the end is as close to a plot resolution as we get as the film ends on a typically 70's open note.

The acting is really, really awful with Mari Honjo coming off the worst, probably.  She delivers her lines with all the energy of a  tree sloth and to be honest, the huge beehive hairdo she sports throughout is a better actress than she is.

Action is good enough for  a low budget 70's flick but the real thing to watch this film for is the overall cheesiness.  It can be found relatively easily on a few 50 movie packs, just be ready for a really cheesy, hilariously bad movie.  Or, if you;re truly insane you can try to hunt down the VHS from VCI Home Video.  I'd just go for the 50 movie pack, it's cheaper.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Death Warmed Up (1984)


6/10

The international horror scene has always been one of interest to me.  Italy has their surrealistic nightmarish zombies and slashers, Asia has freaky ghost stories, usually with at least one spooky ghost child with long black hair, and New Zealand just loves to take as much gore as they can and cram it into as lean a running time as possible.  Before Peter Jackson delivered Bad Taste, there was Death Warmed Up.

Death Warmed Up tells the tale of a young man out for revenge on the mad scientist who hypnotized him and got him to kill his parents.  Michael Hurst, later the co-star of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, stars as the young man (named Michael Tucker) and at the open of the film we see him witness an argument between his father and Dr. Howell, the mad scientist in question, concerning Howell's brain experiments which Michael has been participating in.  Actually, it's more along the lines of Howell having a psychotic episode but that's neither here nor there since it just leads to the setup of the story.

After the murders, Michael spends seven years in an insane asylum and he heads after Dr. Howell who is now working on a secluded island, as so many mad scientists tend to do.  Michael ends up on the island with some friends and it turns out the experiments have the rather nasty side effect of turning the patients into deranged zombies.

While the film has generated a pretty good rep for itself, mainly due to it being hard to get a hold of, it's really not as awesome as some might think.  The gore is well done and plentiful, director David Blyth gets some interesting camera work out of his DP and the story has a wild sense of energy to it once it gets going but the film has a rather disjointed feel to it, thanks largely to the almost non-existent plot.  I certainly don't expect a low budget splatter film to be as well done as a David Mamet play, I do appreciate it when a little more thought is put into the writing.  Characterization is minimal, Hurst isn't exactly sympathetic in the role and the downer non-ending is a cop-out.

Still, I love mad scientist films that go nuts like this (excluding the Human Centipede films...Yuck!) so if you're looking for a fun, gory romp that doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense, this is worth checking out.  You can find it on a few 50 Movie Packs.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

VHS Memories XXIX: Vidmark Home Entertainment

Vidmark started in 1984 and has been a very consistent distributor of various horror, sci-fi and action movies.  They still exist to an extent, if you consider having your library bought by Lionsgate and locked in a vault to be existing.  Let's take a look...

What better way to start than this classic Peter Jackson zombie comedy.  Outrageously gory, hilarious, this is one of the few movies I can honestly say makes me feel a bit nauseous every time I watch it.  An absolute classic.

 On the other end of the spectrum is this utterly predictable movie starring Warwick Davis as the title character.  Incredibly, this spawned five sequels and is set to be remade by WWE Films.  Outside of Davis' enthusiastic performance, the only noteworthy thing about the movie is that it provided an early role for Jennifer Aniston.

 Better is the sequel (though that's really not saying a lot) as David turns in another energetic, pun-laden bit of acting that really makes me wish he was cast as Dr. Loveless in that crappy Wild Wild West film from 1999.  Sure it might not have saved the film but at least it would be entertaining as hell!

 Vidmark also put out the first UFC show and continued distributing them up until 2001 when they were absorbed by Lionsgate.
 This is an utterly bizarre, wild movie that combines aliens and Bigfoot.  From what I've read, it's either one of those movies that is just so incredibly bad that it ends up being great, or just a colossal waste of time.

One of the major traits of mid-90's Vidmark was their tendency to glom onto any franchise they could and milk it like the world's largest cow.  They did it with their own Leprechaun franchise and they also brought the Amityville Horror franchise back from the dead for several sequels starting with part 4 and going all the way to part 8.
 Impressive, really.

 Not much more to say.  If you must know the whole damn story, the entire series has been covered by Liz over at And You Call Yourself A Scientist!.

 Also riding the crap wagon was this lousy riff on Child's Play only this time the doll gets a gender change.  All I can say is that the fact that this made the cover of Fangoria really shows how bad a year for horror 1991 was.

 Here's one of their more notorious releases, a nasty slasher from Lucio Fulci that's mainly gore and little else.  I don't even want to think about it any more.

 Here's an interesting find: A 1985 TV movie about a couple of cops (Yaphet Kotto and Alex Rocco) and DA (James Woods) who try to solve the brutal murders of police officers.  Oddly enough, the cover makes it look like a standard cop thriller and somehow, this CBS made-for-TV movie managed to score an R rating.  Pam Grier also has a supporting role.

 This is an interesting case as it was made in 1989 but sadly didn't see release until two years later.  Julian Sands is very good as the title character, an evil warlock awakened and freed after several hundred years of captivity who wants to bring about the end of the world.  It's surprisingly good with good direction from Steve Miner, some nice f/x and a nice second lead role for Richard Grant as the warlock's nemesis who travels through time to kick his ass...which definitely qualifies as a personal vendetta, I think.  It's definitely one to check out.

We end things with this, one of the greatest bad movies I have ever had the pleasure of viewing and owning.  I wrote about it for The Agony Booth a few years ago and I can safely say it is the greatest thing you will ever see.  Michael Biehn stars as a troubled con artist who gets involved with his uncle, played by James Coburn, another con man.  Charlie Sheen pops up briefly but the real highlight is the gonzo, kabuki-esque performance Nicolas Cage gives as one of Coburn's employees.  It really has to be seen to be believed.  Buy this.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Fangoria Flashbacks/VHS Memories XXVIII Special: Scream Greats Vol. 1-Tom Savini (1986)


10/10

 Before we get back into the Fangoria archives (which will happen at some point, I'm just taking a breather), here's a special review.

 A while back, I mentioned in one of my Fangoria posts the short-lived Scream Great video series the magazine put out.  Starting with Tom Savini, the series was intended to be a look at the big names in horror, for some reason this never panned out and the second volume went from being a look at Tobe Hooper to a standard documentary on satanism.

The Savini tape, however, still remains one of the best hidden gems from the 80's.

The tape covers most of his big stuff up to that point with plenty of stuff concerning Day of the Dead, various slasher movies including Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and a few others.  There's also some nice background stuff as well as some footage of him just fooling around.

I'd really love to see this end up on something as an extra at some point.  It's really a fantastic gem of a documentary.

About Me

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