Monday, May 16, 2016

The Carolco Files Part II: 1985-1987

1985 saw the beginning of a long, successful relationship between Carolco and Tri-Star Pictures. While the success of First Blood put the company in pretty good shape, the release of the sequel made them even more so. While they only did three movies* between 1982 and 1987, all of them could be considered some of the best put out by them. They also expanded into the home video market, snagging International Video Entertainment and merging it with another company to form Live Home Video.

*I did full reviews for Rambo: First Blood Part II and Extreme Prejudice a while back which can be found here and here. Hence the shorter remarks on them.

One of the iconic films of the 80's, Rambo: First Blood Part II is a boisterously over the top, endlessly silly action movie that takes the fairly down to earth and restrained character from the first film and more or less turn him into Superman so he can re-do the Vietnam War. Terrific when it comes to action, shaky when it comes to just about everything else, this one brought in a ton of cash and even spawned a brief cartoon series.

It was the 80's, Mr. T had a cartoon too. An awesomely insane, gut-bustingly hilarious for all the wrong reasons cartoon.

Equally solid is this underrated character driven action western from Walter Hill. Nick Nolte is fine as the Texas Ranger good guy and Powers Boothe is equally good as his former best friend gone bad the the real fun comes from the B-plot which features a bunch of notable 80's character actors as a special forces team connected with Boothe. It's a fun, bloody, entertaining romp.

And now the main event. While Carolco did action films quite well, as my gushing above probably lets on, they also could deliver a solid horror movie.

Angel Heart is a fantastic noir horror movie about a private detective in 1955 New York named Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) who is hired to find a missing person by Louis Cyphre (Robert DeNiro in a very creepy role). Starting off as a reasonably straightforward yet sort of creepy detective story, the film takes us to New Orleans where it becomes a full throated psychological horror film complete with voodoo imagery, gruesome murders and a few creepy twists thrown in for flavor.

 Based on a novel by William Hjortsberg (he also wrote the screenplay) and directed by Alan Parker, the film unfolds at a leisurely, nicely creepy pace with a fine cast and some deft storytelling that makes repeat viewings quite rewarding. Rourke is at the top of his game as Angel, giving a sardonic, mellow performance that gradually descends into confusion and terror. He also manages the tricky feat of keeping the man sympathetic even after we learn his true nature (he is the repulsively evil man DeNiro is paying him to look for) while also allowing the viewer to feel a natural sense of revulsion towards him.

DeNiro is equally good as the mysterious client, though honestly with a name like that it would be a bigger twist if he turned out not to be Satan. Still, Bobby steals every scene he's in whether its eating an egg in as menacing a manner as possible or simply talking to Rourke. 1987 was a good year for DeNiro and this film is an easy highlight as he seems to having a hell of a good time with the role. Pun intended in the most sincere way possible.

Lisa Bonet is also good in the third central role in the film as a young voodoo priestess Rourke falls for and has the most notorious scene in the film with, an unnerving sex scene that involves blood and chickens. The fact that she was able to get through that scene is more than enough for me to give her all the credit in the world. Rourke too, for that matter. The final twist involving here is one of the more queasy, messed up things I've seen in a film... And I watch a lot of movies, mind you.

The best thing the film has going for it is atmosphere and with the New York and New Orleans settings, it has more than its fair share. The film is beautifully shot with messy New York streets, moody blues clubs and the overall creepiness of the story helps that atmosphere seep into the movie.

Angel Heart is a fascinating, creepy, disturbing horror film that does a good job of getting under the skin of the viewer. Just a damn fine movie.

Carolco had good success with these three films and it would only get better.

Stay tuned...

Friday, May 13, 2016

VHS Memories XXXXI: Happy Friday the 13th!

Given that it's Friday the 13th, I thought I'd delve back into the world of everybody's favorite hockey mask wearing, machete swinging psycho. Specifically, some of the more interesting and amusing VHS covers that have come out over the years. We got ten movies (with the US box art as well, not bothering with Freddy vs. Jason) to look at so buckle up, it's gonna be a fun ride.

For the most part, the covers took the poster art or some element from it and went with it but there were some interesting variations. Most of what you will see is from Australia but there is one coming up that is more or less the extreme variation to end all extreme variations.

Friday the 13th

 I kinda like the overall basic simplicity of this one.

This one uses the UK artwork, I believe.

 For some reason, I really dig old school Warner Brothers sleeves from abroad. May have to do a piece on that sometime.

 This one sort of reminds me of the box art for Sleepaway Camp.

Not exactly a match but the feeling is there.

Friday the 13th Part 2

 The cheesy movie fan in me loves how the ad copy starts with the tagline from Jaws 2. Sort of fits since that film more or less turns a shark into a slasher movie villain. Great choice of images for the back too.

 Not much difference here but I do like the black background.

Friday the 13th Part 3
 Maybe my favorite box art from the series. Great front, great back, just very nicely done.

 But since we're talking variations, this one is my favorite.

 Good lord, now that is the kind of cover that makes you drool as a kid. Or run out of the store screaming, depending on how brave you are. Either way, I'd bet nonessential parts of my anatomy that no kid in their right mind walked up their mom and asked if they could rent  it. That's what older brothers are for.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

 Kind of hard to beat this one as it's pretty damn good. For some reason, the shot of Corey Feldman in his monster mask always creeped me out more than the hockey mask on the front when I was a kid. Not sure why.

 I sort of love how they made a fairly big time release (the damn thing made enough money to justify more sequels) look way cheaper than it actually is.

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning

 Not bad, kind of dull. Dig the red light though, though I am disgustingly lenient when it comes to this film.

 At least they used the original poster art which is a bit more colorful and interesting.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives

 Always liked this one, just the blue and the way the mask is back lit is just cool.

 Pretty nice variation, also better images on the back cover.

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood

 This is probably the best stateside art. The poster was alreadt great and the back image just gives you Jason in action which is all you really need.

 And with the use of the tagline, this one is even better.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
 See comments for Part VII.

 See comments for Part VII. (Ain't I a stinker?)

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

 I had a huge poster of this art on my door when I was in high school. This is when cover art begins to get somewhat generic, sadly. The Australian covers are a bit better, though.

 Miss the masl motif but the back images are better.

 Now this is more like it!

Jason X
 Couldn't find a good image for the US VHS box but the DVD is pretty much an expanded version of it. Not bad, though.

 Australian version is better.

That's all I got. Happy Friday the 13th!

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

About Me

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