Thursday, March 28, 2013

Esoterica III: The Search for Stuff

More random stuff.

 We begin with the book that brought Captain Kirk back from the dead after his less than glorious end in the seventh Star Trek film.  It's actually a pretty damn good read as Shatner is a talented writer who certainly has a good feel for Kirk, as well he should.

 Ah, one of my favorite games for the Super Nintendo and probably the best movie based video game of all time.  It pretty much just sticks to the events in the movie but the gameplay is solid, the graphics are excellent and the challenge is acceptably high.  In other words, not so high you risk losing a television to the fury of your temper and the game controller.

 One of the better Star Trek: TNG novels, this takes the crew of Enterprise D into the mirror universe.  It's a fun, darkly amusing romp.

 This is a decent enough 1981 slasher from Wes Craven that concerns a series of murders in a community of folks so conservative they make the Amish look liberal.  There are some okay murders, Sharon Stone is hot in an early role, we get the always fun Michael Berryman in a small role and there is an oddly out of place ending that was clearly tacked on at the end by producers.  Still, it's worth checking out the edition Shout Factory recently released.

 Another good SNES game, probably the best wrestling game they ever put out.

 It cracks me up that they used to be able to put ads for guns in magazines.  And not just in Guns and Ammo either.  I think this is from the Sears catalog.

 I think I rented this at least five times when I was in high school.  You know, for Michelle Pfeiffer's topless-Uh, mean the story!  Yeah, the story.  Actually, it's not that bad a movie.  John Landis directs and it's rather typical of his output.  A great cast, over the top presentation and rather anemic script (something about the Jeff Goldblum character getting roped into intrigue concerning theft and the Middle East).  Still, it's cheesy 80's fun, if you;re into it.

 Another fun 80's flick, this is sort of a precursor to From Dusk Till Dawn as it concerns a bunch of college kids who go in search of a stripper for a party only to run afoul of a bunch of vampire strippers led by Grace Jones.  It's much better than it sounds.  In fact, it's a rather clever horror comedy that;s well worth a look.

 Amazingly enough, Death Wish 3 scored a video game adaptation.  Apparently, it was pretty gory for its time and you could even off civilians...Which makes me wonder if the guys behind the Grand Theft Auto series ever saw this.

And now, let's end things with some gratuitous T&A.

First off, Kathy Ireland on the 25th Anniversary Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue...

And Scream Queen Linnea Quigley holding a chainsaw.

Well, I did say it was gratuitous!  Until next time...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My Favorite Era: Commando (1985)

In 1985, while riding high on the success of The Terminator, action star Arnold Schwarzenegger gifted us the comic book action classic Commando.  The stirring story of a father trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter, it's one of the most gloriously over the top action films of the 80's.

I did a longer piece on this film for The Agony Booth a few years ago so consider this a Cliff Notes version of that article.
  • Gotta love the opening credits sequence which follows two brutal murders and an explosion.  Does it get any more surreal than Arnold Schwarzenegger feeding a deer with Alyssa Milano?  The kick ass score by James Horner only adds to the humor of the sequence.  If nothing else, it beats the hell out of the drawn out crap Chuck Norris films usually make us sit through.
  • I like how the movie wastes no time at all in getting the plot in gear.  Within the first thirteen minutes or so, Alyssa Milano has been kidnapped and Arnold has already killed at least three guys.  Say what you will about Joel Silver but his movies from this era don't waste time!
  • The rogues gallery of villains on display here is simply spectacular, a who's who of Joel Silver/80's regulars.  Vernon (The Road Warrior) Wells is great as Bennett, the Freddie Mercury-lookalike with a chain mail vest who harbors a personal grudge against Arnie.  You never buy him for a moment as a legit threat but he;s so hilarious it just doesn't matter.
  • Lending good support are Silver regulars Bill Duke and David Patrick Kelly as a huge Green Beret and weaselly sleazeball respectively and Dan Hedaya is fun as a Central American dictator who has orchestrated the kidnapping in order to get our hulking hero to perform an assassination.
  • I also like Rae Dawn Chong as the plucky comic relief who tags along.  She's actually funny, cute and quite likable.
  • Speaking of funny, pretty much every line of dialogue Arnold has here is just that.  I think this might have the most one-liners of any of his films.  Actually, just about every move he makes is sort of funny: ripping a phone booth out of the ground, effortlessly sneaking up on bad guys, this movie is frigging awesome.
  • The action is pretty standard to be honest but what it lacks in ingenuity, it more than  makes up for in carnage.  The body count here is simply staggering!  Making it even more impressive is that most of it happens in the last twenty minutes when Arnold storms the mansion his daughter is being held in.
  • There are just to many classic moments to list them all, though Arnold killing David Patrick Kelly by dropping him off a cliff is great, as is his showdown with Bennett at the end.  Not often you see a guy impaled with a gigantic piece of pipe.
  • The power ballad playing at the end is just cheesily awesome.
Commando may not be Arnold Schwarzenegger's best movie.  The first two Terminator films have some weighty sci-fi issues to consider, Total Recall is better written and Predator has a great villain but this one is just plain fun. It's brisk, funny and violent and still holds up today.

Monday, March 25, 2013

My Favorite Era: The Beyond (1981)

Apologies for the lack of posts but I've been moving, hopefully this won't happen again.

I've spoken about Lucio Fulci's great trilogy of zombie movies (Zombie, City of the Living Dead and The Beyond) but I feel the third one, The Beyond, truly deserves a more in-depth examination.  Released in 1981 in Italy and 1983 stateside, it is a hallucinatory nightmare as only the Italians can do with spooky images, a very liberal sense of plot dynamics and tons of gore.

It was first released heavily cut in the U.S. by Thriller Video as Seven Doors of Death but in 1998, Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures helped get an uncut version put together and released in to theaters and on VHS/DVD by the great Anchor Bay Entertainment.  I'll be looking at this version today, since it was the version Fulci intended for audiences to see.  Let's take a closer look.
  • The sepia-toned opening is a nice setup for the plot as a painter named Schweick suspected of being a warlock is ambushed in his Louisiana hotel room in 1927, horribly murdered and walled up in the basement.  It's a nicely gruesome horror sequence that benefits from cinematography (love the lack of color here, it makes things even more horrific) that is typical Fulci at his best.  The back story about the hotel being built on one of the seven doors to hell is also nicely woven in.  Nothing too broad (apart from the hotel being called The Seven Doors), just there so you know it for later.
  • Ah, gotta love the old angry mob cliche, complete with torches.  This one is a little more nasty and sadistic, though.  On a related subject, being whipped with chains, crucified and then doused with bubbling hot quicklime has just shot to the top of my "Ways I'd rather not die" list.
  • Catriona MacColl makes for a likable heroine and David Warbeck is his usual quality self as the doctor hero of the film.  Both actors did a butt load of Italian horror movies and always brought the goods.
  • I also like the ghostly blind girl, though why her guide dog suddenly turns on her is anybody's guess.
  • What I love about this movie is how vague it is.  Not just that, but also how comfortable it is with that fact.  Generally, that would be a maddening thing for a film to do but for some reason it works in Italian horror.  Strange things begin to happen and it's sort of a slow burn for the first hour or so.  For the most part, the film seems like your standard haunted house movie with some gooey dead guys, a ghostly blind woman and doom-laden atmosphere thrown in but that's just to lull you into a false sense of security so when the film reveals the hand it's really playing, your mind is blown...Providing you're digging it.  The film takes its time in the best way possible.
  • And yes, it does strike me as funny that a movie uses gut punch scenes of gore to lull the viewer into a false sense of security.  That's just how Fulci rolls, folks.  In the case of this movie, he uses eye gougings, cheesy fake spiders, and throat rippings to ease the viewer into the hallucinatory nightmare that is the final half hour.
  • The thing about films dealing with hell on earth is that usually, it's stopped just in the nick of time.  Not so here (or in Fulci's other movies) as Warbeck and MacColl have to wade through an army of the undead (that Warbeck keeps shooting them in the chest when he can clearly see headshots do the trick is one of the only gripes I can find with the film) and a creepy basement before the shock ending.
  • The gore sequences are pretty damn good with the exception of the fake spiders (the amount of time the sequence takes only highlights the cheesiness).  I especially like the plumber getting his eye pushed out as well as a nasty acid sequence.  The highlight though is a really nasty head shot that takes out a ghoul.  Bonus points for it being the plumber's young daughter.  Not often you see a kid getting gorily dispatched like that.
  • The film plays with time here as things don't seem to add up (in fact, on a basic level the film makes no sense) but for me that adds to the experience of watching the movie.  As I've said, it's a hallucinatory nightmare that by its very nature defies rational explanation.  Having time cease to have any relevant meaning only intensifies things.
  • The ending is very effective as our heroes manage to elude the zombies but somehow end up in a wasteland, now blind and terrified before fading into thin air.  It's a good shock and a thoroughly appropriate ending.  Somehow it just would feel wrong if all we had seen up till this point was undone.
 I like movies with ambition and The Beyond certainly has that in spades.  It's bold, gory, creepy in some parts and yes, quite silly at times but it is still one of the most effective surrealist horror movies I have ever seen.

Friday, March 8, 2013

My Favorite Era: Rocky III (1982)

1982 was truly the year Sylvester Stallone became a huge star.  While the first Rocky movie in 1976 brought him fame, fortune and recognition, it wasn't until 1982 that he had any measure of true box office success.  That year saw him star not only in First Blood which introduced us to Rambo, but also the third Rocky movie which we will be examining today.

Rocky III finds The Italian Stallion now riding high on the hog as heavyweight boxing champ with a string of wins that culminates in an amazingly fun encounter with pro wrestler Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan).   He also faces a major challenge in the form of undefeated Clubber Lang (Mr. T) who is younger, leaner and a hell of a lot meaner.

While the second film tended to lapse into schmaltz and the fourth is a little silly, this one gets the balance between 80's cheese and the inner essence of Rocky just right.  Stallone is great as always, T is a fantastic villain with some classic lines and Carl Weathers and Burgess Merideth are terrific.  Talia Shire is also solid, though Burt Young is...Well, he's always been one of those actors you either love or hate and for me...I have a low threshold for the guy.

Back to the good stuff though, Stallone pulls off a pretty good triple play here with good acting, a solid script and a nice, lean directing job.  The fight scenes are fantastic, the training montages are terrific and Stallone keeps the film moving, even when things get dramatic.  There are also some prerequisite "bad" Stallone moments as he proves that while he can do serious drama, it's not always a good idea since he has no qualms blubbering and rambling incoherently.  The running on the beach sequence is also quite funny.

Rocky III is the best of the sequels (and to be honest, the series), it has larger than life characters, great acting and a ton of fantastic moments.  You also can't go wrong with the classic Rocky theme song by Bill Conti and Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger".

About Me

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