Monday, October 31, 2016

The Evil Clergyman (1987)/(2012)

In 1987, Charles Band planned a three part anthology film called Pulse Pounders. Comprised of two sequels to previous Empire Pictures successes, (Trancers and The Dungeonmaster) and a third H.P. Lovecraft adaptation to go along with Re-Animator and From Beyond, the film was completed but fell victim to Empire's financial woes and eventual collapse.

Years later, a VHS print of the final cut was found and Band utilized his company Full Moon Pictures to partially resurrect the film in 2012, beginning with a restoration of the Lovecraft segment. Barbara Crampton plays a young woman who ventures to an old castle where she and her lover, a priest played by Jeffrey Combs stayed for a period before he hung himself. After a confrontation with the rude landlady, she locks herself in the room and is confronted by not only the ghost of her lover, but also that of a bishop he murdered (David Warner) and a horrific rat creature with a human face, played by David Gale who Combs created and uses as a familiar. There is a nice twist at the end that I will not reveal, it's good though.

The story plays out rather lyrically in a dreamlike fashion (the story itself is expanded slightly from a brief letter Lovecraft wrote to a friend about a dream he had) has the not entirely good effect of making the 28 minute segment feel longer than it really is. Performances are good, though with Crampton doing some nice work and Warner doing what English actors do best in horror films: deliver exposition in a way that sells it regardless of the quality of the writing (though Dennis Paoli's script is good). David Gale is also typically the show stealer (it helps that John Buechler made a wonderfully hideous design for the rat creature) and Jeffrey Combs is his usual quality self, even with the rather odd choice of making him a virtual sex god. Don't get me wrong, it's not like he's Elephant Man ugly, but he's also not exactly Brad Pitt. It's rather funny to me that between Combs and Crampton, it's Combs who gets the topless scene in the film.

That aside, the segment is pretty solid though the pacing is a bit off. I guess that's what happens when Charles Band is directing these guys instead of Stuart Gordon.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Orion Files: 1988

1988 was the last time Orion would be on somewhat decent financial ground. Towards the end of May, Metromedia ended up with 67% of the company, making them majority shareholders. This brought little in the way of success as while the studio had some critically acclaimed films (to be honest, they always had this right up until the bankruptcy) but not much in the way of success. They had a fairly decent slate of films, however so let's get into them.

I'm rather fond of this little loved Dan Aykroyd comedy where he plays a mental patient who escapes and ends up posing as his psychiatrist who is guest hosting a popular radio show hosted by another shrink, played by Charles Grodin. Aykroyd was never at his best when flying solo with a film (his best stuff had him playing off of guys like Bill Murray, John Candy or John Belushi) but this one has a certain manic energy I sort of like. Having Walter Matthau on hand as a crazy, plant loving priest also helps and he gets most of the better laughs in the movie.

This one is a rather obscure but popular in some circles sci-fi flick starring Melanie Griffith as a mercenary helping a sex-bot (in the future, all the guys have robot wives but let's face it, it's just an excuse to boink an android) and her owner brave the usual post-apocalyptic issues in order to get some repairs done when she  breaks down. Shockingly enough, this didn't do well at the box office and in fact, it is the second film from Orion I know of that was postponed with Back to School being the first. Initially, the world was supposed to get this in 1986, then a few dates in 1987 until finally being dumped on VHS in 1988.  This would be a trend that would become more and more prevalent, sadly.

This is a very well reviewed adaptation of a 1984 novel starring Daniel Day Lewis as a surgeon who has love affairs with two women, played by Juliette Binoche and Lena Olin. Haven't seen this... Lewis is probably good, as usual.

The tagline up top sort of lets you know what sort of film this is supposed to be. It also tells you the studio probably wasn't sold on it doing well and frantically trying to associate it with more successful dance films of the decade while they had a chance to make a few bucks.

Kelly McGillis and Jeff Daniels star in this thriller set during the McCarthy hearings era that involves Nazi fugitives and connections to senators. The film got mixed reviews and was not a huge hit.

Interesting drama with Ray Liotta and Tom Hulce as twin brothers (Hulce's character is a bit on the slow side thanks to an abusive father) and the film features some good acting from the leads and supporting cast.

This is a poorly reviewed comedy about a star football player being courted by various colleges.

Dennis Hopper makes a return to the director;s chair with this action/drama about LAPD officers working the gang detail. Sean Penn and Robert Duvall star and the film was controversial at the time.

This is probably my favorite baseball movie of all time. Kevin Costner is funny and charming as an aging catcher called in to help groom Tim Robbins as a wild rookie for the big leagues. Both end up involved with a groupie played by Susan Sarandon (in another fine performance) and the film balances the funny baseball scenes nicely with the more romantic stuff. It's just a damn fine movie.

Monkey Shines is a middle of the road George Romero thriller about a crippled young man and the monkey he has helping him get through life. The monkey is the jealous sort (the injection of human brain cells doesn't help matters much either) and it turns into something of a riff on Fatal Attraction, minus the shower sex of course. This one flopped, though the monkey f/x from Tom Savini are good.

This one is a rather notorious flop and is generally considered when talking about the worst kid's films ever made. A blatant rip-off of E.T., this subs shameless plugs for McDonald's, Coke and Skittles for Reese's Pieces and is generally thought to be one of the more obnoxious films ever made.

Jonathan Demme's relationship with the company continues to flourish with this charming, funny mob comedy starring Michelle Pfeiffer as a mob widow who falls for the FBI agent gunning for the mobster who killed her husband. Pfeiffer is good but the real prize is Dean Stockwell as the mobster. I always liked him on Quantum Leap and here. he's just funny as hell. The film isn't perfect, but it's funny and likable.

John Sayles directs this solid telling of the 1919 Black Sox scandal where several  Chicago White Sox players took bribes to throw the World Series. A strong cast and a good script make this one a decent winner.

Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley are quite fun as Sherlock Holmes and Watson respectively in this funny yet uneven comedy. The premise of the film is solid in that Holmes is actually a washed up actor Watson has hired to play the part while he solves the crimes but the film doesn't quite kick things into the next gear. It's fun though, and as noted, the leads are great.

The obligatory Woody Allen film for this year is another drama, this time about a woman, played by Gena Rowlands, having a mid-life crisis. Not even going to try and pretend this is anywhere near my scope of interest.

Well reviewed drama starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe as FBI agents investigating murder in the deep south in 1964. Based loosely on a true story, this got the expected Oscar nominations but won only one for cinematography.

Orion closed out the year with this hilarious comedy that I reviewed a while back. Put bluntly, Steve Martin and Michael Caine are at their best and this is one of the funniest films of the year.

1988 was the last consistently good year for the company. They would end the decade with financial issues and while there would be a few more bright spots, the road is long and dark from here on. In other words, look for shorter articles with more humor as I'd like this to not end up as dreary as the Carolco series did.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Orion Files: 1987

1987 was another good year for the studio with a solid lineup of fourteen movies. There is some business stuff that can be covered in the next part of this series so let's just get to the good stuff!

First off is Woody Allen's nicely nostalgic Radio Days. Narrated by the director, it tells the story of Joe (played by Seth Green)as he grows up in Queens during the late 30's/early 40's. Allen narrates as an adult Joe and there are numerous plot lines and vignettes in this warmly received slice of life film.

John Malkovich has a dual role in this offbeat comedy, playing both an emotionally repressed scientist and the android he builds for the purpose of deep space exploration. Said android develops emotions and falls for a PR rep played by Ann Magnuson. overall a likable, easygoing comedy.

Burt Reynolds squares off against a racist scumbag played by Cliff Robertson and his gang of fellow racist scumbags in this by numbers action flick. Burt was in his "I give up" phase here and the film didn't do very well.

Martin Sheen stars in this thriller as a police psychiatrist who moves to New York with his son after the tragic (and sort of goofy, though being that milk is a liquid I suppose it is entirely possible a person could be electrocuted by touching a broken coffee maker while standing barefoot in a puddle of it) death of his wife. He becomes embroiled in a sinister plot revolving around Hispanic black magic and the upper crust of New York. Sheen is fine as usual but the plot is predictable (naturally, every person close to the Sheen character, for the most part, is involved with this plot in some way) and overall, the film is sort of dull. Damn shame as director John Schlesinger had some pretty solid flicks in the 70's like Marathon Man.

This was probably the studio's best film of the year of not for their entire existence. RoboCop is well known enough today that I don't have to get too deep into things so let's just say that it is a sci-fi/action classic that holds up pretty well today with good action, a great villain in Kurtwood Smith and some nicely gross Rob Bottin f/x (the melting man still is one of the most disgusting things I've ever had the pleasure of viewing). An essential film for fans of the genre.

As I wrote in one of my pieces on 1987 in general: Solid thriller with some nice twists that sees Kevin Costner a a Navy sailor investigating the death of a woman he's been sleeping with who is also involved with politician Gene Hackman, the man who killed her.  At the same time, there is also a manhunt going on for a Russian spy that pays off in shocking fashion at the end.  Good cast, some nice tense moments and overall, this one is a real winner.

Can't really think of much else to say about it. It's a good movie.

Mot to be confused with the Jean-Claude van Damme film from a few years later, this is an obscure adventure film about the Children's Crusade starring Eric Stoltz as a young knight. Not given much of a release, this is probably better known for the Jerry Goldsmith score than the actual film, and even then...

Even more obscure is this one which sports a pretty solid cast, and apparently not much else. It's apparently sort of a riff on Heart of Darkness or something.

Brian Dennehy and James Woods star as a cop turned writer (think Joseph Wambaugh) and the hired killer who wants him to write a book about him, respectively. The two actors are the best reason to watch this fun little thriller which sees Woods get Dennehy to more or less take down his former employer, a shady company headed by Paul "Raw Deal" Shenar though the story isn't the best it could be and is quite predictable. Still, it's a fun time waster of a thriller directed with low key style by John Flynn and, as I noted, sporting two good performances from the leads.

Like No Way Out, House of Games made it to my Honorable Mentions section when I covered 1987 in full. As I wrote then: Playwright David Mamet directs his first film here, and the results are quite excellent. House of Games is a twisty little gem of a thriller with excellent acting from Joe Mantegna and Lindsay Crouse as con artist and mark respectively. The film is full of surprises and really, it needs to be seen cold to really appreciate its charms.

Charlie Sheen is the murderous head of a car theft ring with D. B. Sweeney as the cop after him. This got fairly okay notices and really, Sheen could do no wrong at this point.

Danny DeVito directs and co-stars with Billy Crystal in this wickedly funny dark comedy take on the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Strangers on a Train. Crystal plays a frustrated author whose ex-wife has just stolen his work and published it under her name. DeVito is a student in the creative writing class he teaches who is plagued by his harridan of a mother (played brilliantly by the late Anne Ramsey) who gets the idea he and Crystal should kill the other guy's main problem and the comedy rolls on from there. The performances are fun; the script is darkly wonderful and DeVito even adds a little heart to the proceedings. It's not the best thing either man has ever done (Ruthless People and When Harry Met Sally are both better) but it still ends up being an entertaining comedy.

Woody Allen's second film of the year is this dreary sounding drama that takes the Chekov play Uncle Vanya and toys with it a little. It's... It's not for me.

Orion's last film for 1987 is this pickup from Italy. Opera is one of Dario Argento's better later efforts with a decent plot (lunatic obsessed with an opera singer goes on a rampage) and there are some nicely nasty bits here and there. The only real flaw is the oddly huge gap in time leading to the last sequence which hurts the flow a bit.

Orion would have one more decent year in 1988 before getting into an unstoppable free fall. But for now, stay tuned for 1988.

About Me

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