Monday, May 2, 2016

The Carolco Files Part I: Intro and First Blood

I wrote about it when I looked at the early evolution of Lionsgate Home Video in 2014 but what I'd like to do here is take an extended look at the output of noted 80's movie factory Carolco Pictures. founded in 1976 as a financing entity, they existed as a studio, headed by producers Andrew Vajna and Mario Kassar from 1982 to 1995 during which they put out a rather eclectic batch of films covering several genres.

They tended to attract some pretty big names such as Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger and even bigger budgets, which eventually led to their downfall. With this series, I'd like to examine most if not all of their movies in some form or another (in other words, don't expect full reviews all the time) and provide a fun, entertaining history of a pretty cool relic of the 80's and 90's. Even better, this story has a happy ending as the company is looking to make a comeback with a remake of the Japanese horror flick Audition. That's a way off though, let's go back in time. Shall we?

In their early days they handled financing of low budget films for smaller companies like American International and Avco/Embassy, mostly ones from Lord Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment, two more companies I may have to look at in the future.

Their first real shot as an independent entity, however, was a pokey little movie starring Sylvester Stallone called First Blood. While they had made a few other co-productions such as Escape to Victory (which starred Sly), this was the first real Carolco production*.

*Actually the film is an Anabasis Production as the original company name was that as is the second one but for all intents and purposes, we're sticking with Carolco from here on in.

First Blood is based on the novel by David Morrell and tells the story of Vietnam vet Rambo who is harassed by the local law in a small Kentucky town. He ends up declaring war on the town and after doing some serious damage, he is killed by his former commanding officer.

 Obviously, quite a bit changed when the time came to make the movie. Rambo was given a first name (John); the location was now the Pacific Northwest and the ending is a bit more upbeat... Sort of.

 The road to getting it made was a long one, going through several studios and at one point Kirk Douglas was supposed to be involved but in the end, it helped Sylvester Stallone really break out (1982 was a real knockout year for him as he has this film and Rocky III come out) as well as Carolco.

As for the film itself? It's probably one of Stallone's best action movies if not the best. The script is solid enough as is the direction from Ted Kotcheff which helps cover some of the flaws in the script. Sly puts in a fantastic physical performance; Richard Crenna and Brian Dennehy provide able support and the 93 minute running time flies by very quickly. Crenna and Dennehy warrant special mention here as while Crenna gets to chew the scenery as Rambo's CO, Dennehy has the tricky task of making a reasonably sympathetic antagonist which he does quite well. At the end of the day, he is just trying to keep his town safe and while he's definitely a jerk, he's a rather human one thanks to the casting.

Action scenes are quite good and the relocation to the forest makes the whole thing wonderfully atmospheric and draws you into the thing quite nicely.

 Great action aside, the best thing about the film is Stallone's performance. Even the rather notorious breakdown scene at the end works because  while you expect Stallone to deliver in the action scenes and fire off the occasional decent line, you just don't expect to see that from the guy. Does he go a bit overboard? Yeah. Does it work? Well, yeah. It does and it actually gives a little more nuance than one would expect from a fairly basic action movie. Said nuance would go by the wayside in the sequels in order to make way for more action and a general "USA! USA!" mentality but still!

The end result is one of the best action films of the decade, there is a very good reason I pout it pretty high on my Best of 1982 list. The second movie may have made Rambo an icon, but First Blood showed us the man inside. Not the most pleasant sight, yes, but that wasn't the intent. Hell, the novel was an even more frank allegory for Vietnam. This is actually fairly subtle!

The success of First Blood paved the way for the company to make more movies which they would do in grand style a few years later. But that is a tale for another day.

Coming Soon: Carolco 1985-1987

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About Me

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