Thursday, July 26, 2012

Nighthawks (1981)

One year before he had the double knockout of First Blood and Rocky III, Sylvester Stallone starred in this gritty action thriller about international terrorism.  Nighthawks stars Sly as NYPD plainclothes undercover detective Deke DaSilva who we first meet posing as a woman (in full drag no less) in order to bust a purse snatcher.  He is recruited, along with his partner Matthew Fox and some other cops to help track down international terrorist Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer) and his accomplice Shakka (Persis Khambatta.

Tension flares up between Deke and the British agent in charge of the operation (Nigel Davenport) as Deke doesn't feel comfortable being told to "shoot to kill" when he finds Wulfgar.  A cat and mouse game between cop and terrorist ensues and it all ends with a nicely bloody ambush by Deke which ends the movie with a bang.

I really, like this one as it shows a slightly different side of Stallone's standard hard-ass character than we usually get.  Instead of a muscle-bound superhero, we get a reasonably down to earth man who has doubts about his job as well as his ability to carry it out.  This leads to a little bad blood between him and Williams but that isn't really focused on too much.

Overall, the film is about ratcheting up the suspense, which it does very well with a great hostage situation on a cable car and a nice foot pursuit.  Performances are quite good with Stallone and Hauer coming out the best.  Stallone is shockingly good in his role and Hauer, as usual, brings a sense of cool menace to his part.

The other actors are fine as well though Persis Khambatta, while very beautiful was never the best actress.  I also enjoy the look of the movie as you can tell they shot on location in New York.  In the early 80's, the place was a bit of a hellhole and it is shown pretty nicely here.

Action is pretty good, though to be frank the film seems a bit rushed in parts, especially towards the end.  The running time clocks in at a lean 99 minutes but I think it could have done with another five or six and not been the worse for it.  The ending is also rather awkward as Hauer is shot multiple times in a very bloody death scene, though in the cut I have Deke only fires twice which makes it look like Deke's gun has magic bullets.  I think there was some cutting in post which makes for a rather odd end to an underrated movie that is, for the most part quite good.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Gymkata (1985)

And here we are with the greatest movie Cannon Films never made.  Yes, incredibly enough, this gigantic slice of cheese was not made by the B movie juggernaut but rather by Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse.

The rather ridiculous plot revolves around world class gymnast Johnathan Cabot (played woodenly by world class gymnast Kurt Thomas) who is recruited to take part in "The Game", a deadly challenge in the fictional country of Parmistan that has strategic value to the U.S.

The game itself is essentially an obstacle course only with b-movie staple Richard Norton in pursuit on horseback with an army of ninjas.  And yes, it is just as awesome as it sounds.  Cabot goes through a rather amusing training sequence before traveling to Parmistan, finding time to fall in love with the daughter of the country's ruler.  there are some twists and turns along the way but eventually, the duo makes it to Parmistan.

From there, it's non-stop cheesy action as Cabot repeatedly finds ways to beat the crap out of assorted bad guys by using his gymnastics training.  The highlight comes at the end as he is trapped in a town full of all the crazy people exiled from the main city where he just happens to find a pommel horse from which he can kick ass with more comfort and style.

This is one of the great "so bad it's great" movies of the 80's.  Kurt Thomas isn't much of an actor but he's decent enough in the fight scenes and Richard Norton is always fun to watch.  The fight scenes are pretty damn good with some hilariously loud sound effects that just enhance the movie even more.

With all of the exposition in the first five minutes, the film is basically all action and no B.S., clocking in at just under 90 minutes.  It's truly something you have to see for yourself as mere words cannot do it justice.  There's so much more bizarre strangeness: Parmistan itself with it's bizarre customs and blend of different cultures could fill up at least six or seven pages, truly one of the oddest settings for a movie I have ever seen.

Just trust me, it's easy to find and cheap.  You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

VHS Memories XXXII: More 50 Movie Pack Madness!

To continue from the previous edition of VHS Memories, let's get back to the world of crappy public domain movies!

Jesse "The Body/Mind" Ventura stars as a futuristic cop who is after his former partner, played by perennial Arnold Schwarzenegger punching bag Sven Ole-Thorsen. Things are complicated as big Sven ends up getting an Earth woman pregnant, possibly dooming the galaxy with the ensuing alien/human hybrid.  It's nowhere near as exciting as it sounds as the pacing is terrible (no 86 minute long movie should as dull and boring as this is) and the music also doesn't help matters.  The final fight with Ventura and Thorsen is done in slow motion with some really bad easy listening music playing.  Yes, it's cool jazz over not only the finale but all the action scenes.  Just terrible.

Even Ventura can't save this as he's just shockingly dull.  Just a horrible, boring movie.

 Here's a neat little Italian sci-fi actioner starring Daniel Greene from Falcon Crest and the great John Saxon.  Directed by Sergio Martino, it's about a cyborg sent out by Saxon to kill the one scientist who could save the future world of 1997 which has gone, as tends to be the case in these sorts of films, straight to hell. In this case, pollution has done the job and, in an attempt to keep the status quo, an industrialist hires Greene to off the aforementioned scientist but he finds he can't as his human side kick-starts his conscience.

This is actually a more lucid description than what we get as this is basically your bog standard Italian action film.  On the other hand, the fact that this is exactly what I just described guarantees a fun, violent 90 minutes.  Saxon is fun to watch as usual and the action is plentiful with lots of fights, George Eastman pops up as an unpleasant tough guy (shocking, I know) and there's a decent body count.  You can do a hell of a lot worse than this one.

The first film of low budget auteur Don Dohler, this is your basic alien invasion flick only done on a micro-budget.  Dohler was an ambiti0ous filmmaker who plied his trade mainly in the Baltimore area, churning out a few memorable b-movies that had their own unique charm.  In the case of The Alien Factor, as I said, it's your basic alien invasion flick with a small rural town being menaced by strange creatures but the whole thing has a great, almost retro feel to it as even though it was made in 1978 it has roughly the same content you would find in a movie from 1958.  There's something endearingly charming about a regional production like this, bad acting and slack pacing somehow don't hurt it all that much.

Hell, even the creature designs are, considering the budget, pretty damn good. 

And we finish things off with this horror flick that features David Warbeck trying to track down a scientist who has become a horrible flesh eating monster thinks to a lab accident.  It's your typical gory Italian horror movie from the late 70's/early 80's with bad dubbing, cheesy gore and a plot that is anorexic at best.  It's quite bad, really with a confusing and dull plot (the scientist might be contagious or he might not be), a generous helping of sleaze and gore and a solid bit of acting from Warbeck (even if he is dubbed) as...Captain Kirk.  Yep, he's a cop named Kirk.  I've also seen different release dates for this one, 1976 and 1982 respectively, so I guess the release was put off for a while.

Back with more later.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

VHS Memories XXXI: 50 Movie Pack Frenzy 3

Let's return to the realm of the public domain movie, folks.  Strap in, it's gonna be a stinky ride!

In the 70's, one of the big pop culture trends was cryptozoology and bizarre science in general.  Stuff like the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs and our subject here, Bigfoot.  The film is ostensibly a documentary about the beast but it really seems to be more about professional tracker Ivan Marx telling his life story as well as his general opinions on nature over tons of nature stock footage as well as Marx doing his regular job.  It's not really much of a documentary or a movie in general.  The pace is slack and the Bigfoot footage is so obviously fake it's a wonder anyone might have been fooled.  Not worth the effort.

Now for two films from Giant Spider Invasion director Bill Rebane.  Rebane made a bunch of movies in Wisconsin till around the 80's.  In general, they were bizarre, bad and cheesy.

Demons of Ludlow is a dull little tale of a small town celebrating it's bicentennial when a long-dead warlock returns to take revenge on the citizens. Said warlock was killed by the town's ancestors and his soul has been at rest in a piano...Yeah.   He gets loose and unleashes some low budget demons upon and town and low budget mayhem ensues.  The acting is bad, the f/x and pacing are practically nonexistent and story is limp.  Not one of Rebane's better movies, which is a very bad thing.

 A little better is this bizarre bit of nonsense about three millionaires who recruit random people to play some sort of mind game based on their greatest fears with a prize of one million dollars to the winner.  Characterization is sparse, the story is confusing but the film is just bizarre enough to be watchable.

This is an endearingly cheap, sleazy number with John Carradine as a wealthy man who dies and says that the one member of his detestable family who can spend the week in his creepy mansion will inherit his estate.  This hoary old tale gets a 70's dose of sleaze and cheese as our cast of truly despicable characters bicker, make out and get killed in various horrible ways.  It's not a good movie by any stretch but you can watch it once and not be too upset with yourself.

I think that about does it for now.  Until next time...

Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday the 13th Special

Since it's Friday the 13th, I thought I'd take a brief look at the franchise and throw in a few other things as well.  Not sure it really means anything to actually "review" the films  at this point since A, they're more or less the same damn movie and B: See point A, I hate repeating myself so these will be just general thoughts.

 We begin in 1980 with the first entry in the series, a gritty, gory little flick with some great Tom Savini f/x and a twist ending that is well and truly pulled out of the film's ass.  An iconic slasher movie that sparked controversy.  I love it though, you can't really hate a movie that has Kevin Bacon getting an arrow slowly pushed through his neck.

 The follow-up, and in my opinion the best of the series, this is the film that introduces Jason Voorhees into the series.  Some nice f/x and a nasty, gritty atmosphere make this a very entertaining entry in the series.

 Things take a step down in quality (and with this franchise that's saying something) as Jason gets his iconic hockey mask in a deadly dull 3-D cash-in.  Not much positive to mention about this one apart from the amazingly cheesy main theme that tries to revive disco...and fails.  Outside of the fifth film, it's easily the cheesiest and most blatantly 80's entry in the series.

 Jason finally dies for the first time as Tom Savini returns to the series to give us more gore and a knockout-death for Jason.  A very good entry in the series, especially if you enjoy Corey Feldman and seeing Crispin Glover do a dance that is a cross between an epileptic fit and actual dancing before getting a cleaver in the face.

Let's take a little breather and move onto another 80's classic.

 I dearly love this cheesy, surprisingly intelligent gore-fest from Roger Corman.  Galaxy of Terror sports an all-star cast (including a young Robert Englund), top notch gore f/x, an interesting psychological spin on Alien and one of the most notorious scenes in exploitation history as one of the characters is raped to death by a giant space slug.  It's just a hilariously bad/good movie.

And now back to our feature presentation...

 Most people hate this entry as it has some nutty paramedic impersonating Jason but I have a soft spot in my heart for it.  A huge body count, tons of stupidity, this is the most disgustingly 80's of all the films.  There are some hair and clothing choices here that really make one wonder what everyone was thinking in 1985.  It's so, so bad...Yet so, so good.

 A huge step up, this brings Jason back as an unstoppable zombie with more humor, a great Hammer-esque opening and some cool songs from Alice Cooper.  This is a fun, cheesy entry in the series.  I have fond memories seeing this on Saturday afternoons on KCOP in 1993.

 Almost as good (like the previous entry, the f/x were butchered by the MPAA) is the next entry which puits Jason (now played by the great Kane Hodder) against a psychic teen.  Yes, it's Jason vs. Cafrrie with a great showdown between the two and a fantastic design for Jason.

 Sigh...I don't have much to say about this one.  Great trailer, great posters, great idea, horrible execution.  There are some decent kills but the whole affair is just dull.

 Time for another breather as we go from slasher films to this very good US/Canada co-productuion that stands as one of the better horror films of the early 80's.  George C. Scott is a pianist who moves to a large house after his wife and daughter die in an accident.  The house turns out to be haunted and he finds a connection with a politician played by Melvyn Douglas.  The Changeling is an effectively creepy little flick with great atmosphere and some genuinely unsettling moments that is let down only by, surprisingly enough, Scott who just never gives the impression he's truly frightened.  Good performance though, as usual from the man.

An amusing side note, this was put out both by HBO Home Video and Vestron in identical packaging.

 Back to the main event as Paramount steps out of the picture and New Line steps in.  I quite like the ninth entry.  It has some great gore from KNB, an interesting script and a nice, if underused design for Jason.  The Fangoria cover for this is what really got me into horror.

Now what 14 year old in his right mind would not want to grab this?  Might do a future post on this one, actually.

 Equally amusing is the tenth film which sends Jason into space.  It's pretty much everything you've seen in previous entries only every now and then you get stars in the background.

A year later, we got the match-up to end all match-ups in Freddy vs. Jason.  I love the Nightmare on Elm Sreet series and rather than take up more time talking about the series, here is a link to one of my colleagues at The Agony Booth.  Not only has he covered the Elm Street films, he also has some other great videos you should check out.

 To the film, it's a decent enough blend of the two franchises that really picks up steam at the end when the two villains begin to fight.  Until then, it's a bit of a drag with some great flashes of gore here and there.  Worth seeing for the finale, though.

 And I hate to mention it, but since we're covering the entire series, I'll bring up the rather limp remake from 2009.  If it was just a random slasher movie without any of the Friday the 13th branding, it would still be very mediocre because either way, you have a film that has too much story, not enough creative kills and no real sense of enthusiasm to the proceedings.  Just not worth the time and effort.

I don;t want to end things on a down note, so here is one of my favorite 80's comic book ads.

I like to think the makers of the game knew full damn well the jokes that could be made from the title.  The game is pretty decent too, from what I hear.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Black Dog (1998)

Every now and then, when browsing through the DVDs at the local flea market in my area, I'll come across a gem I instantly fall in love with.  It happened with Syngenor (which I reviewed last year) and it also happened with this forgotten 1998 Patrick Swayze action flick.

Patrick Swayze is Jack Crews, a former truck driver who has been on parole, barred from driving a truck and trying to make ends meet for his family.  Desperate to keep their house, he takes on a job delivering a shipment his boss has ordered.  This being an action film, it turns out to be a shipment of illegal merchandise and he must keep clear of the feds as well as Meat Loaf as a Lotto obsessed Jesus freak who wants to hijack the truck.

And yes, the second I saw his character in this film I did fall in love with it.  Bad acting, coupon clipping and all, the very concept of the character is enough to make me laugh my butt off.  How can you not love a movie where the bad guy has a sinister conversation with his boss while clipping coupons?

Swayze is his usual cool self (just think the guy from Road House, only he drives a truck) and Randy Travis has some nice moments as Jack's sidekick.  Outside of that, the acting is what it needs to be with Charles Dutton and Stephen Tobolowsky as the feds looking for Crews.  There's a bit of cheesy back and forth with them but not so much that it overwhelms the proceedings.

On the action front, it's a smorgasbord of incredible truck stunts, all done for real which, given the time period in which the film was made is a small miracle.  We get trucks doing rolls, some nice explosions, stuff gets smashed, everything you could possibly want from an action movie with huge trucks.

Black Dog is a good old fashioned beer-and-pizza movie that sets out to just be a fun way to kill 90 minutes, and it succeeds admirably.  The action is great, the acting is what it needs to be and it's a damn shame it's not better known.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Coliseum/WWF Home Video

As I've said elsewhere on the site, I'm a casual wrestling fan, mainly WWF up to around 1994 or thereabouts.  Many an idle afternoon in my youth was spent watching video tapes from them, here are a few of my favorites.

 We begin here as I believe this is the first wrestling tape I ever rented.  Overall, this is fun edition of Wrestlemania with good matches and a fun main event that sees Hulk Hogan victorious (as usual for this era).

 Can't go wrong with The Hot Rod, Piper really was one of the great wrestling characters.

 Another early viewing of mine, this isn't the best thing the company ever did but it also isn't the worst.  One or two good matches save this from being an absolute bore.

 1992 is maybe my favorite year from the WWF.  Great storylines, great action and some fantastic pay-per-views, such as this excellent edition of their biggest show.  Just an overall fantastic event.

 Of all the compilation tapes they pout together, this is one of my faves.  A nice selection of matches that gives a good idea of how deep the roster was at the time.

 Ah, my favorite event and one of my favorite VHS covers in general.  The event itself isn't the best but it's a fantastic nostalgia trip.

And we end with two of my favorite shows from the era, both with a great selection of matches

And that does it for now, back soon with more.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Gunmen (1993)

Now here's one I discovered just randomly on KTLA one pleasant Saturday afternoon.  Gunmen is a boisterously over the top, entertaining action film that stars Christopher Lambert, Mario van Peebles and Denis Leary.   Lambert is Dani, a none-too-bright con man whose brother is killed by the deliriously over the top O'Malley (Leary) after he steals a ton of drug money from crippled crook Loomis, played by Patrick Stewart.

Dani wants the money as well as revenge and sheer coincidence, a maverick DEA agent played by Mario van Peebles is also out for the same thing.  They end up teaming up...sort of and for the majority of the film they bicker back and forth while shooting a bunch of bad guys and blowing a few things up here and there.

The movie doesn't get much more complex than that and frankly, it doesn't need to.  All the actors do their usual routines: Lambert is the jokey hero, Leary is the sardonic jerk (like most of his early films, he basically just does his stand up routine), van Peebles is tough and Patrick Stewart is just good.  He only has the character's Cockney accent every so often but I think the man has a good enough track record we can forgive him that.  Of those, Leary is easily the best, delivering his usual quality tough guy with a mean sense of humor.  He really does earn the movie an extra point from me.

I also want to single out Brenda Bakke as one of the single greatest (and by that, I mean worst) femme fatales I have ever seen.  As enjoyable as a good femme fatale is, seeing one who isn't quite as good at the job as she should be is even more amusing.  She's essentially Leary's second in command and is pretty much a complete psycho, shooting at the good guys randomly even though Leary needs them alive, stalking around at the end like a Terminator.  Heck, even Leary seems to react to her like she's just a psychotic idiot.   Bakke isn't much of an actress but she's very easy on the eyes and that goes a long way in a movie like this.

The main issue I have with the film is a general lack of originality and suspense.  You can pretty much predict every single story beat right down to the twists.  There is probably more humor than the film really needs and the script by future Mummy/Mummy Returns director Stephen Sommers is fairly lame.  That being said, Gunmen is a fun, agreeably over the top way to kill 90 minutes.  Just don;t go in expecting the next great action movie.

About Me

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