Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sleepaway Camp II-Unhappy Campers (1988)/Sleepaway Camp III-Teenage Wasteland (1989)

Today we'll take a look at two great, cheesy slasher movies from the late 80's.  In 1983, the first Sleepaway Camp was released.  A fairly standard Friday the 13th knockoff for the most part, it gained notoriety for the reveal of the killer who turns out to be Angela, a shy, bullied camper who is actually a boy harboring a wee bit of a psychotic streak.

With that gonzo twist, we come to the shot back to back sequels that focused more on humor than horror.

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)

Pamela Springsteen (Bruce's sister) is Angela, all grown up and now a counselor at Camp Rolling Hills.  She's also still completely insane, taking out in gory fashion any person she feels is not being a "good camper".  That's pretty much the entire plot as Pam drills, burns, cuts and slashes her way through the entire cast of obnoxious rich kids until it's just her and Renee Estevez.  This one is really worth seeing just for the kills and Springsteen's oddly likable performance.  She's by far the most chipper and upbeat mass murderer I have ever seen in a movie.  Granted, it is a little odd to find oneself having to side with the killer since all the victims are unlikable as hell but that's the gamble you take when you watch a slasher movie.

This one is cheesy late 80's fun that goes by pretty quickly.

Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989)

The third film is pretty much more of the same with our chipper chopper now at Camp New Horizons (the same site as the other two camps), impersonating a camper she kills in the beginning of the film.  It's more of a comedy than the previous one with Pam going for camp in her performance, the camp is some sort of community outreach project that is just horrifically treacly and the killings more cheesy than anything else.  Drano posing as cocaine; decapitation, death by firecracker, lawnmower, it's all cheesy and silly with Springsteen and the gore once again being the only reasons to watch.  It's not as much fun as the second movie, a little too much time is spent on the annoying victims before they get offed and for some reason, the film tends to cut away from the gorier bits.  Very odd seeing as the two films were shot back to back, as I mentioned.  A subplot with the policeman father of one of the second film's victims is also shoehorned in but it goes nowhere interesting.  Hell, even Angela seems bored by him as she chooses just to simply shoot the guy rather than anything elaborate.

The second film is worth tracking down for fans of cheesy slasher movies and horror comedies in general.  Pamela Springsteen is quite likable in a twisted way (and strangely sympathetic as well as both films try to make her more of a tragic villain than anything else) and the special effects are good for a low budget movie.  You can skip the third one though, it's just not as much fun.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

More 70's and 80's Esoterica

Some randomness to start the week off.

 This is rather dull political thriller that sees Dolph playing a reporter who gets drawn into the scene of a deadly assassin.  Dolph is over matched in the acting department (I like the guy but he really wasn't ready for serious acting roles at this point), Louis Gossett Jr. is on auto-pilot and there's not nearly enough action to warrant a viewing.

 Yep, most heroes fight crime.  Frank Castle goes the extra mile and flat out destroys it!  I like this cover, it pretty much just tells you exactly what to expect.  Violence.  stark, bloody, over the top violence.

 Ah, the film that ended up being fodder for one of the best MST3K episodes.  Whether you call it by the above title or The Final Sacrifice, it's still one of the most hilariously bad things to ever come out of Canada.  How can you not love an action movie that has the balls to name its hero Zap Rowsdower?

Never thought about Aliens as an advertisement for sneakers but I guess when Michael Jordan is doing spots for the competition...

I get a kick out of old computer ads and this one in particular makes me chuckle.

Because we're starving to death!
I was going to do a bulimia joke there but sometimes good taste has to prevail.

We'll end with one of my favorite compilations of James Bond music.  Most albums just put the title songs on, slap a price tag on it and send it out to collect dust on the shelves.  This one, however, is a collection of instrumental renditions of the theme songs done with cheesy synthesizers.  The James Bond Theme itself is pretty good as are a few others but the Moonraker track nearly burst my eardrums it was so shrill.  I had this on cassette but it still stands as one of the cheesiest things I have ever owned.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

My Favorite Era: The Blues Brothers (1980)

The Blues Brothers is the first true Saturday Night Live movie.  Created by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi for the shoe, they were a pretty damn great blues show band backed by some fantastic musicians and very quickly, they became one of the most popular recurring pieces on SNL.

After the success of Animal House, Belushi's star was on the rise so it only made sense for the characters to take their act to the big screen.  Directed by John Landis, the movie is a huge, sprawling musical comedy that is, as most Landis movies tend to be, loaded with cameos, amazingly excessive and over the top.  It also happens to be a very entertaining comedy, let's take a closer look.
  • First off, Belushi and Aykroyd are pitch perfect in their roles.  Mellow and cool, nothing fazes them (though Belushi is given a few moments to do his over the top shouting routine) and while having two unflappable heroes might hurt a movie in some cases, it works here simply because they're both so damn funny.
  • Landis gives a ton of great musicians small to supporting roles here.  Cab Calloway; James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles have good roles and there are a bunch of others.
  • Other solid cameos/small roles are Carrie Fisher as a mysterious woman who keeps trying to kill the boys; John Candy is funny as a detective after them (they tend to pick up enemies like a dog picks up fleas including every cop in Illinois, a country group and a club owner they piss off and a bunch of neo-Nazis led by Henry Gibson), Frank Oz is funny as a prison guard in the scene and Steven Spielberg appears at the end.
  • The Bluesmobile is another fantastic highlight, an old cop car that ends up doing some very impressive stunts.  In Aykroyd's original script there was a lot of complex exposition about it, it was his first script and he hadn't quite gotten the hang of the format yet.
  • Like most 80's comedies, the plot is rather paper thin (the guys get their band back together in order to raise money to save the orphanage they grew up in) and for the most part it works just fine since the musical numbers are so great.
  • Twenty five minutes in and we get a fantastic car chase that ends up going through a shopping mall.  It's a hell of a showstopper (one of the best car chases of all time, actually) and is one of the reasons the film ended up being one of the most expensive comedies ever made.
  • Carrie Fisher is quite amusing as the mystery woman who turns out to be an old lover of Jake's (Belushi, Aykroyd is Elwood).  She goes after them with rocket launchers, explosives, a flame thrower and a machine gun, it's quite over the top.
  • The "getting the band back together" sequence is an enjoyable one that includes a great soul number from Aretha Franklin (complete with her own backup chorus), an even better sequence with Ray Charles (who apparently can make spontaneous dance sequences in a two block radius occur) and your standard "screwing up a nice restaurant" sequence that no good raunchy 80's comedy should go without.
  • On a side note, the 132 minutes run time (the extended 148 minute version is also available on the same DVD) makes this film great for putting off studying or any other work related activities.  And yes, I did fall in love with this movie all over again in college.
  • The "Rawhide" number is a favorite of mine, from Aykroyd singing to Belushi stoically providing backup and swinging a bullwhip around.  It's pretty damn entertaining.
  • The big concert number is awesome with Cab Calloway doing a great rendition of Minnie the Moocher as everyone the guys have annoyed enters the hotel.
  • I'm not ashamed to admit the bit where the brothers are introed gives me chills every time I watch it.  It's just wonderfully done and I can only imagine how the scene must have played in 1980 when the film was in theaters.
  • I also would like to know how many takes were ruined by the crowd cheering instead of the dead silence they have to start off with.
  • Belushi's ranting explanation to Carrie Fisher to get her to not kill him and Elwood is a classic for the man.  He was always great at overly excited ranting and here he's quite hilarious.  He's really missed.
  • The scene is also the only time we see either Belushi or Aykroyd without the sunglasses.  Hell, Aykroyd keeps his on for the entire time.
  • The last car chase is even better than the mall chase (it's also one of the best car chases of all time) and it continues the tradition of John Landis movies having huge, chaotic finales.  The stuns are fantastic, there a re a few laughs and the overall effect is quite good.
  • Another touch of Landis films I love is his little gag with the closing Universal Studios title card.  "Ask for Babs" is a classic.
 The film is a loud, chaotic, enjoyable ride that is just plain fun.  Definitely worth a look if you haven't seen it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Steel Dawn (1987)

Steel Dawn is a late entry in the post-apocalyptic action film genre starring the late, great Patrick Swayze as Nomad, an appropriately named loner who lives out in the desert and wields a mean sword.  After his mentor is killed by an assassin named Sho (bad movie staple Christopher Neame), he takes off after the killer, finally running across a farming community headed by Brion James (in a rare turn as a good guy) being threatened by warlord Anthony Zerbe.  The usual "stoic hero protects the innocents from evil" story ensues and it all goes about the way one would expect.

Steel Dawn is an okay action film that sort of drags in the first half and never really builds up a good head of steam.  Swayze is fine in his role, he always made for an interesting hero and while he's good, the rest of the cast sort of goes through the motions.

Anthony Zerbe comes off as fairly generic and dull, Brion James is given little to do outside of looking either stern, kinda dumb or drunk and then getting killed.  Christopher Neame is...Well, at his best he's generally a crummy actor so this may be one of his best roles.  Swayze's wife Lisa Niemi is the female lead who wants to irrigate the area and she's okay, though given that she had been married to the star since the seventies one would hope they would have some chemistry.

Despite the flaws, the movie is worth checking out at least once.  The action is pretty good, the film is beautifully shot (though it is sort of hard to screw up the desert) and the 80's hair throughout is good for a chuckle.  I also get a kick out this one henchman who keeps trying to help Sho out (Sho wants a fair fight so this is more than a little annoying to him) only to be beheaded by Sho during the showdown with Nomad.  Just don't expect anything terribly original and you might enjoy it.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

My Favorite Era: The Road Warrior (1981)

Ah, the days before Mel Gibson was an irredeemable pile of detritus not even worth spitting on.  Hard as it might be to believe, there was actually a time-and man does it feel like an eternity-when the man could not only find steady work but also was fairly well liked.  Born in New York but raised in Australia, he first got noticed in a little B-movie called Mad Max.  A gritty, breathlessly exciting post-apocalyptic thriller, it vaulted Gibson into the limelight both in Australia and stateside.  Naturally, a sequel was required and in this case, it not only surpassed the original but to a small extent, made folks forget the original even existed.

Not only that, it ended up influencing many areas of pop culture such as sci-fi novels; cheap Italian exploitation movies, pro wrestling and probably more than one or two misguided advisers trying to sell a world leader on a plan to prevent what happens in the film from becoming a reality.

The Road Warrior is an action film in the purest sense of the word.  Mel is Max, a former cop whose life was shattered in the first film and now he roams the wastelands where gasoline is more precious than life and it's every man for himself.  You get great car stunts all the way through, very little in the way of dialogue, some iconic villains and just a teensy weensy bit of character development for Max.  Let's take a closer look.
  • Like all the ripoffs that would follow, we begin with a voice over explaining just how the world went to hell.  In this case, it recaps the first movie via an old guy who Max encountered at one point in the story we will see.  Who is this mysterious man?  I'll get to that later.
  • The opening chase scene is a great example of insane stunt driving, as is the rest of the action stuff in the film.
  • I'd also be remiss in not mentioning the great Vernon Wells as Wez.  Decked out in leather ass less chaps and a red Mohawk, he's one of the more...memorable villains in action movie history.  Of course, we'll see Wells later on in this series but we can hold off on that till then.
  • The music box Max finds in the aftermath of the first scene is a nice touch, one of the few moments where he actually smiles a little.  Gibson is quite good in the role, basically playing a standard Western character only in a futuristic setting.
  • Also good is Bruce Spence as the Gyro Captain, another desert loner who just so happens to have a small gyro-copter.  He's quite amusing and happily doesn't turn into the Odious Comic Relief some lesser movies would make him into.
  • Another iconic character is the main baddie, Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) who covets the huge gasoline supply that is the film's Macguffin.  Clad in a few leather straps and a hockey mask, he's certainly memorable to say the least.
  • Given how much of a freaky lunatic Mel has turned out to be, what are the odds he was really eating dog food in that one scene?  I'm thinking yeah.
  • The group of settlers Max ends up helping are an interesting lot though my favorite has to be Feral Kid (Emil Minty).  I don't know why not a single person in the settlement would take a week or so to teach the kid how to speak along with some basic social skills but he's just running around with his razor sharp boomerang, yelling incoherently for the whole damn movie.  He also bonds with Max which would be sweeter if the kid wasn't coming across as a miniature shaven werewolf on crack.
  • Making it even funnier is that the kid turns out to be the narrator so I have to assume after the events of the movie, a few survivors got together and said "Okay, we have to get this kid acting semi-normal just in case we pick up some new friends.  At the very least we should make sure he can actually use coherent sentences."
  • While the action is great throughout, the easy highlight is the huge stunt-laden finale as Max drives a truck with the settlers gasoline through the bad guys.l  Words cannot describe how simply awesome the sequence is, you just have to see it for yourself.
 The Road Warrior was released in Australia in late 1981 and in the U.S. in the summer of 1982.  It still works today as one of the best action films of all time.

About Me

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