Saturday, August 5, 2017

Site Update

Been a while since I've posted and to be honest, I think its time for another sabbatical from the blog;. This is not the end but the writer's block has just been hitting me hard as of late. Not sure how long it will last but as a certain cyborg from the future is fond of noting, "I'll be back."

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Coffy (1973)

I sort of want to cover some slightly different ground so starting with this post, you will be seeing more grindhouse/exploitation films reviewed on the site.

To kick things off, let's go with a double barreled blast of Pam Grier. After doing a series of Women in Prison flicks for Roger Corman (we'll delve into that pool later on), Pam teamed with Jack Hill for two of the leanest, meanest action movies you are likely to find, the first of which we will cover today and the second at a later date. Both films we will be looking at are B-grade action at its best with Pam coming off as a more talented and certainly more attractive Steven Seagal (I'll explain this down below). We got quite a fun (sort of) road to go down so let's kick things off with a cup of Coffy.

Right from the start we're in 70's action movie heaven as our heroine is introduced to us as she sends a few bad guys to hell. Nothing says "I am a total bad ass out for revenge" quite like having Coffy introduced as she confronts a drug dealer who put her sister in a coma and his flunky by posing as a desperate junkie, bloodily ventilating the dealer's skull with a shotgun and making the flunky take a fatal overdose. Right off the bat, we get the point that you should never make a Pam Grier action hero angry. You wouldn't like her when she's angry.
The thing that really makes Pam stand out as an action hero is just how frankly emotional she is willing to get. Generally, you get a cool exterior, maybe some seething rage and a few smart ass quips but here you get an angry, nearly unhinged (she practically has a mental breakdown while killing the flunky) woman out for blood and it's riveting. She even works this into her physicality as we get fight scenes that are not smoothly choreographed like a dance but rather sloppy, undisciplined brawling. Sort of like a real fight, funnily enough.

This extends to the action stuff as while someone like Stallone or Eastwood will be happy with beating you up and/or shooting you, Pam will go out of her way to make sure you go out in a really, really horrible manner in as much pain as she can make you feel. It really says something that the guy who gets his head blown open at close range can be said to be "let off easy".

After a little bit of character building where we meet Coffy's former lover who is also a cop and her current beau who is a politician, said cop is crippled and if you thought our hero was pissed off before, now, as a certain Marvel superhero would say, "It's clobberin' time!"

 From there, she goes after a drug dealing pimp and his mob partner, played by Robert DoQui and Allan Arbus respectively. Both are appropriately nasty pieces of work (in other words, both are sadistic and violent and Arbus is a racist, sexist, perverted scumbag) after getting info from a former patient of hers (by way of intimidating the living hell out of her naturally which is easy when you're already a little unhinged to begin with), she goes after the two baddies posing as a Jamaican prostitute.

What can I say? It's a 70's action movie.

She manages to overcome the usual obstacles (though Pam can't quite nail the accent but really that sort of adds to the film's charm) including a wild cat fight between her and every hooker in the room at a party(this lands the film most of its nudity quotient); a menacing henchman played by genre vet Sid Haig and even the heartbreak of her boyfriend turning out to be in with the mob and betraying her. Needless to say, this proves to be a poor life decision on his part. Really poor. Hell may have no fury like woman scorned but it is doubly so when she's packing a loaded shotgun and is already more than a little pissed off to begin with.

Coffy is a gritty, nasty little hunk of action chock full of every politically incorrect 70's movie trope you can think of. There is sleaze, sadism, violence, nudity, you name it and this film gives it to you courtesy of some solid direction from Jack Hill. Hill made a bunch of B-movies and this is probably his best work. Pam Grier holds the thing together with a solid lead performance, giving us a heroine we can get behind. You really want her to obliterate every bad guy she comes across. Coffy is probably the quintessential 70's exploitation flick.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The New Line Files: The Island of Orphaned Sequels

While most franchises tend to stay with one company, every now and then they move around. This happened with the Friday the 13th series (though we'll discuss that in a different post) and New Line picked up some other abandoned franchises as well.

As tended to be the case during middle stages of the home video boom, lots of sequels to popular movies ended up being produced strictly for the home viewer. One such case is this misbegotten sequel to the solid creature feature Alligator from 1980. Whereas the original had a good cast of reliable character actors (Robert Forster is fun in the lead and Henry Silva is reliably solid as a gator hunter called in to help), this has a cast of reliable character actors who are given nothing much of note to do. Joseph Bologna and Dee Wallace have been in better films and even Richard Lynch sporting a weak Cajun accent isn't enough to salvage the rather dull, repetitive proceedings. It is essentially the same damn film as the original only with less clever wit (John Sayles wrote the script for the original and by 1991 had a good directing career going) and less gore. Not really worth the time and effort.

Whether you want to call it Ator 2; The Blade Master or even Cave Dwellers, this is one of the more enjoyable Italian sword and sorcery flicks to come in the wake of Conan the Barbarian (Nrew Line picked up quite a few flicks like this in their early 80's period). Endlessly silly (the barbarian hero fights invisible bad guys and makes a hang glider), this provided the meat for my favorite Joel Hodgson era episode of MST3K.

The first two entries in the House franchise are among my favorite flicks from the latter days of New World Pictures (though given how bad many of their films were that's not saying a lot). Quirky and weird, they have an offbeat charm to them and show how to do a horror comedy right. The third (sort of) entry was the rather terrible slasher The Horror Show (even the presence of Lance Henriksen and Brion James aren't enough for me here) and in 1992, New Line got in league with producer Sean Cunningham for this fourth and, to date, final entry in the series.

William Katt returns in his role from the original but that's really the only connection to the rest of the series one can find. Katt dies in a car wreck and his widow has to solve his murder (his brother-in-law set it up to buy the titular house for a dwarf mobster) as supernatural goings on are... Well, going on. It's sort of okay in an in one ear, out the other way. The talking pizza gag is decent.

In 1992, some bright spark got the idea to take Die Hard and The Terminator and violently hulk-smash them into one movie. The end result was a nutty little flick called Project: Shadowchaser that starred Martin Kove in the Bruce Willis role only this time he's been cryogenically frozen, Meg Foster in the Linda Hamilton role and Frank Zagarino as the killer android who also is the leader of a team of terrorists who take over a hospital that is located in an office high rise.

Yeah.

Two years later, the android was back, this time threatening to nuke the world. I'd love to see it but not for the amount I'd have to pay, same goes for the third film which puts the franchise into space, because that always works out well.* Honestly, they're pretty much your average DTV action films from the mid 90's. More than like the trailers before the actual film on the video tape were more of a draw. At least the box look cool.

*Actually, I rather like Leprechaun 4 and Jason X as guilty pleasures but still!

This was one of the first films I covered on the blog and honestly, there isn't a whole lot more I can say about it. The unrated version is the one to see if you must watch it. Outside of that... really not much. I sort of dig the New Line releases that came on on RCA/Columbia Home Video though, before they got their own label.

Though the New Line Home Video release has its charm as well.

New Line had initially purchased the rights to the Texas Chainsaw franchise in order to make more of them along the lines of their Nightmare on Elm Street success but alas, all that ended up happening was the really terrible fourth entry that is one of the more bizarrely bad movies I've encountered. Honestly if it wasn't for the early appearances of Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey, this film would have been forgotten quite rapidly. Columbia handled the film for the most part (I think New Line was just involved in the initial screenings) but New Line would end up back at it seven years later (oh we'll get to that, believe me)

Finally, we hit rock bottom for the Howling series with this seventh... You know what? I'm not even sure this qualifies as a genuine movie! I covered this abomination along with two other Howling sequels a few years back so to summarize: It's just plain terrible. A dull, utterly pointless vanity project for the director/star/bunch of other things Clive Turner who manages to do what not even the second film could do, kill the franchise stone dead.

I think that's enough for now. Stay tuned for more (hopefully better movies) at a later date.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The New Line Files: Midnight Madness

As noted in the intro, New Line began its life as your average, everyday independent film distributor with re-releases of dubbed foreign films but it really found success in midnight screenings of cult movies.

 One of the all time great bad movies, Reefer Madness is a supremely silly propaganda piece from the 30's about pot and its effect on the youth of America. Initially made by a church group, this ended up on the exploitation circuit in the 30's and went unseen until the early 70's when New Line got a hold of it in 1973 and began midnight screenings. It made them a ton of money and is still probably one of the funnier anti-drug films ever made.

Whilst Reefer Madness is fairly easy to enjoy as a comedy, the other three movies I want to cover are more of a gut-punch experience in different ways.

 Nearly 50 years later and George Romero's debut film is still an effective sledgehammer of a horror film. The first "zombie apocalypse" movie, this came out at just the right time during the most turbulent part of the sixties, 1968. Amidst all the chaos and strife of the year (it really says something about how bad that year sucked that most of the positive highlights for that year were found on the big screen). In its own way, the film perfectly encapsulates everything people were pissed off about during that time: race issues, war, probably somewhere a guy watched this and thought to himself "Boy, if only my annoying brother would get eaten by zombies"

Reviewing the movie seems somewhat redundant (I'm certain every movie review site on the net has at least indicated an opinion about this one) so I'll just nod towards every rave review this film has ever gotten and say "Yeah, pretty much."

Though I'll always love Dawn of the Dead more. Just saying. The original is more of a gut punch, however. New Line handled the 1978 re-release, appropriately enough since Dawn came out the same year..

Speaking of gut punch horror experiences, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre! Tobe Hooper really delivered one of the strongest 70's horror films ever with this sparse, minimalist yet really unsettling proto-slasher about some kids who run afoul of a deranged killers in the middle of nowhere. Apart from the first sequel, it really never got better than this for the franchise with its deliberate pacing at the start (Leatherface doesn't show up until about 36 minutes into the 83 minute running time) and intense final third. It still works pretty well today, the lack of really seeing anything gory (plenty of implied stuff though and there is blood here and there throughout) giving it an almost novel feel when set against the stuff released now.

Unless I'm mistaken, New Line handled the re-releases in 1980, 1981 and 1983. They would also have the rights to the franchise starting with the third film and ending a few years ago.

Lastly is Pink Flamingos*, probably the ultimate John Waters bad taste comedy. Waters is one of the more successful independent filmmakers of all time with a string of endearingly disgusting films in the 70's and some lighter fare in the late 80's/early 90's. To describe this movie adequately, I'd have to take my personal standard of keeping things family friendly and flush it down the toilet. Let's just say that it has just about every single politically incorrect, perverse, generally disgusting thing you can imagine with the exception of somebody ordering lettuce on a breakfast sandwich. Pretty sure that'll get you snuffed in Baltimore.

*I wasn't able to actually watch this but I will cover one or two Waters flicks later on in the series.

New Line really made a good start for itself going this route. They would continue to pick and choose their stuff pretty carefully for the most part into the 80's, a practice that would eventually get them a decent degree of success.

Stay tuned for more New Line goodness.

Fangoria Flashbacks: The end? Yeah, pretty much.

Been a while since I last wrote on my favorite horror magazine but given that they're pretty much dead now (the usual suspects: ad revenue issues, a revolving door of editors and staff, the simple fact that print magazines have been slowly dying for years), I thought I'd give one last tribute.

Their last print issue was #344 with the last four issues being released online only I(and even then, sporadically). They had a hell of a run too from their shaky start in 1979 to their meteoric rise in the 80's with a goopy mix of well written, bloody articles on the latest horror films mixed with a genuine affection for the earlier stuff as well. They cruised through the 90's for the most part with more of the solid retrospective articles whilst also keeping up with the mainstream and indie horror scene.

Things began to dip in the 2000's but they hung in there for an impressive amount time, outlasting their sister publication Starlog by nearly ten years and it was only in February of this year that an official announcement was made though they are trying to get the ad revenue to continue. As I said, a hell of a run.

To finish this off, here's a selection of some of my favorite covers from one of the best horror magazines ever published.























1979-2017
Thanks for the ride, guys. It was fantastic.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The New Line Files: Leftovers

Note: The film portions of this series will not necessarily always be full reviews nor will I be covering every film distributed by the studio either theatrically or on their home video label. They will also be grouped by things such as genre, theme, actor, etc. rather than chronological order as the story of the studio doesn't really lend itself to that sort of thing.

Besides, pretty much all you need to know about the history part was covered in the intro. Now then, let the show begin! 

The epic stuff will come later as I realized I have to catch up on about a day's worth of footage. With that in mind, we will begin with a quick rundown of some films I've already covered in full or just several times in the past.

Mainly so I don't have to do it later.

 From the middle of my series on Carolco, we begin with this limp spoof of The Exorcist. Part of a distribution partnership with Carolco and Seven Arts, this takes the talents of Leslie Nielsen, Linda Blair and Ned Beatty and wastes them.

 Just covered this a few weeks ago so let's just say that if you want a fun bad movie... This is one.

 I described my frank dislike for this movie way back in the My Favorite Era series. A terrible biddy cop film with an unlikable lead in Bob Hoskins and a wildly varying tone that never decides whether or not it wants to be a comedy or a drama. Just terrible. There is actually a version of this same story from 1992 made in India that sounds a hell of a lot better. The lead is a banker, not a cop. It's more of a murder mystery than anything else and I'd be willing to bet it's a hell of a lot more energetic.

 Jackie Chan's second US debut (I'll look at his early efforts at stateside success at a later date) which I reviewed in the early days of the blog is a solid middle of the road outing for the man. Tons of great action and stunt work, this was a fantastic introduction to the man for US audiences.

Naturally, this is one I've covered to the point of madness, no pun intended. Oh what the hell, pun totally intended! It's good, and that is all.

Lastly, we have one of my favorite Italian Road Warrior cash-ins that New Line handled the US distribution for. It's got lots of action, some cheesy stuff, Fred Williamson with a bow and arrow and George Eastman as the bad guy. In other words, everything you could want from an Italian action movie. I sort of feel like this one (and to be honest, the other films mentioned above apart from Repossessed and Heart Condition) epitomizes the early days of the studio. Done fast and on the cheap, it is a full throated, unapologetic genre piece.

Stay tuned for more!

Friday, June 16, 2017

The New Line Files: Intro

I've looked at long dead companies like Embassy and Carolco and gone through the life, death and rebirth of Orion but here is a deeper look at a studio that still exists... Sort of. Gonna get the history stuff out of the way in the intro here as we have a long road to go down and I really want to focus on the movies.

Started in 1967 by Robert Shaye, New Line has been a plain and simple distributor; a solid indie company churning out horror flicks and comedies by the truckload, a branch of Ted Turner's media empire, a brief period of being huge thanks to a certain trilogy of fantasy films and finally a division of Warner Brothers.

It's sort of funny to think about, but the truth is that for most of its existence, New Line has been more of a high grade B-movie company with most of their hits being horror films (Freddy Krueger anyone?); comedies (Austin Powers, the House Party and Friday franchises) along with scores of action films both theatrically released and DTV (I'll be covering some of those as well). They also bolstered their film library thanks to partnerships with CineTel Films, Castle Rock Entertainment and others. Their blockbuster period really only goes from 1999 into 2003 and even then we're only talking the last two Austin Powers flicks, the Rush Hour films and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Most of their other hits have been sleepers, which I believe is movie industry shorthand for "Really? That made money? Okay then!"

New Line spent its first ten years of existence in the distribution business. Like many companies at the time, the bulk of their product was English dubs of foreign films but right from the start, New Line took a slightly different approach to things. In addition to those films, they also put out a decent number of films from maverick director John Waters as well as handling re-releases of Reefer Madness, Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

 Their output was sparse in the late 70's and early and it wasn't until the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984 that they actually began to achieve a measure of success. Buoyed by the success of the new franchise, they spent the next few years chugging along nicely with a solid if not spectacular array of genre films mixed in with the occasional drama.

 In 1994 they were bought by Ted Turner who would subsequently pair them with Warner Brothers but kept as a separate company two years later (the Time Warner deal in 1996). The films kept coming with some hitting the mark (1994 was a good year to be Jim Carrey and New Line); some getting some critical acclaim and awards (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) and others not doing much of anything at all (more or less everything else) but the real coup would come in 2001 with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This gave the company a level of success that most companies would kill for but thanks to some shady accounting, said success ended up killing them.

Generally, announcing that the biggest trilogy since the original Star Wars films ended up not making a profit even though they cleaned up at the box office ten times over is a good way to get your ass sued and your company shut down.

In 2008, New Line was merged into Warner Brothers as a sort of extension. They've had several co-productions and some actually pretty good films since but it just isn't the same. New Line at its best was a sort of down and dirty genre picture studio. Its biggest success led to its ultimate downfall. Probably their best period was from the late 80's to the mid 90's as they had the Nightmare on Elm Street films and some other solid flicks. When I think of the company, I think of a sort of grungy mall theater in the early 90's on a hot summer day. The big leagues were sort of an odd fit for them, really.

At the end of the day, New Line found success by sticking to its strengths (mid-budget genre films supported by more serious fare from time to time) and managing to hang around by making smart business decisions when needed (regardless of how the Time Warner merger ended, it started off just fine). That it's still around after fifty years says something.

Well that's enough history for now, stay tuned for the first part of their cinematic output.

Coming Next: The Lord of the Rings and Other Epics

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Quick site update

Just a quick update: I'm pulling the plug on the long form 1995 piece and will instead take some of the films I had in mind on their own. Not sure if I'm going to go in depth on any more years either, though I do plan on taking a look at some other production companies in the future, New Line will probably be the only huge one however.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Dark Star (1974)

For post number 500, I thought I'd look at the first offering from my favorite director of all time: John Carpenter. Dark Star is the first feature from him and it is an extension of a 68 minute short film he did at USC, working with Dan O'Bannon who also acts in the film as well. Both men contributed other elements as well with O'Bannon co-writing, editing, production design and special effects work. Carpenter also produced, did production design work and as would become tradition, scored the film. It's a solid, funky debut as well with some funny bits such as the captain trying to talk a bomb out of exploding using philosophy and a nicely bizarre feel that works quite nicely. We also get some nice early camera work that would become a hallmark for John Carpenter movies.

The best stuff is the O'Bannon character dealing with a beach ball alien they've taken aboard that would later partly inspire Alien in 1979. There are bits and pieces that mark it as a student film (the philosophical stuff reminds me of film school when I would roll my eyes at this kind of thing though here it's entertaining) and pacing is a little slack considering it runs only 83 minutes but for the most part, this is a solid sci-fi comedy.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

1995 Deep Dive: March and April

The first two months of 1995 yielded a few solid flicks (with one unheralded classic with In the Mouth of Madness) and the following two months would do the same. Sort of.

March

Not a promising start, mind you, but The Mangler might be the most enjoyably bad Stephen King adaptation, right up there with Graveyard Shift. Ted Levine plays a cop investigating a gruesome accident at an industrial laundry service run by Robert Englund. Naturally, given that this is a horror film based on a Stephen King short story, said accident isn't quite that as it turns out the gigantic laundry folding machine (the titular Mangler) is possessed by a demon and Englund evidently has some sort of deal with it. I think.

The Mangler is one of Tobe Hooper's better films, though given his track record that really isn't much of a compliment. The gore is plentiful and Englund is hilariously over the top as the human antagonist but the plot is simply ridiculous with the Englund subplot coming off as just bizarre. With good reason too as this is just filler to pad out the movie which is a common issue one runs into when adapting a short story for the big screen. In spite of the film's badness, it is still quite watchable. The production design is nice and the gore f/x are top notch. The CGI used for the end is dodgy but even that has a certain charm to it. The Mangler is a fine film to watch late at night with a cold beer and leftover pizza.

The first big hit of 1995, Outbreak is a well made, entertaining, but predictable thriller from director Wolfgang Petersen about a viral outbreak that Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo have to try and contain. While the film sort of falls into the standard thriller tropes (military conspiracy, estranged couple working together, races against time), the cast and overall pacing make it a fun ride. The cast is solid as one would expect with names like Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman and Donald Sutherland (though his status as human antagonist can be seen from the other side of the galaxy) on hand. What really helps the film, along is the pacing as Petersen, always a good guy when it comes to thrillers, grabs the audience by the throat from the start and plows them through the narrative fast enough to keep you in suspense but not so much that you stop giving a crap. Granted, the cliches come in fast and hard but the film is just enjoyable enough for one to overlook that.

Based on an English comic series, Tank Girl is a quirky, interesting sci-fi action comedy that stars Lori Petty as our hero, Malcolm McDowell as the bad guy and rapper Ice-T as a mutant kangaroo.

Yeah.

The story takes place in a desolate future almost entirely without water. What little there is is controlled by Water and Power, led by McDowell in his usual over the top bad guy role. The film has an energetic, infectiously eclectic style to it, mixing in animated bits here and there along with a pretty nice soundtrack and a funky sense of humor though the effect is somewhat muted due to the predictable path the story takes. Has there ever been a post-apocalyptic action film that makes a point to mention it hasn't rained for a long time that didn't end with it finally raining? That aside, Rachel Talalay does a nice job directing here, she also helmed the sixth Nightmare on Elm Street film.

Petty and McDowell are solid in their roles and Naomi Watts is decent in an early role and while the film runs a little too long, it's still a fun excursion if you want something a little different. Which is sort of a given when you have mutant kangaroos in your movie.

April

As tends to be the case in the world of film, there often are films released in a calendar year with similar themes or stories. Here we have the first of two films dealing with historical Scottish warriors fighting for justice in films that take the usual liberties with the real story one generally should expect. Rob Roy stars Liam Neeson in the title role, a landowner who gets in debt to some English noblemen and after his property is destroyed and his wife raped, goes off looking for vengeance. In other words, it's a Liam Neeson action movie fifteen years before he became known for doing them. Unlike the film we will be covering in the next installment, Rob Roy goes for a more intimate epic feel with more of an emphasis on character than spectacle. Good acting is the main course for this particular cinematic meal and while Neeson is good, as are John Hurt and Jessica Lange as evil nobleman and love interest respectively, the real star turn comes from Tim Roth as a foppish yet utterly deadly swordsman who sets off the feud with Rob Roy. Overall, a perfectly solid epic.

A great turn from Nicolas Cage as the psychotic bad guy is the best (and probably only) reason to watch this thriller from director Barbet Schroeder. David Caruso stars (he quite NYPD Blue for films which wasn't the best life decision ever made) as an ex-con who gets drawn into a sting operation on a deranged criminal after said criminal kills his cousin. Caruso is okay but as noted, the real star of the show is Nicolas Cage as the amusingly named Little Junior Brown. Cage goes for the gusto as usual, giving us a sometimes funny, sometimes frightening but always interesting (if not quite believable) bad guy who handily walks off with the whole damn movie. Samuel L. Jackson is also good as the cop in charge of the case and while the plot is probably a little too complex for its own good, Cage's performance still resonates quite nicely.

While Ice-T was playing a mutant kangaroo in Tank Girl, fellow rapper Ice Cube was co-writing and starring in this amiable comedy about a young man trying to keep his friend from getting beaten up or worse by the neighborhood drug dealer as well as contending with the neighborhood bully. Friday is a basic, low key stoner comedy with some very funny moments (mainly from John Witherspoon as the main character's father) and a nice, laid back energy. Ice Cube is a likable protagonist and Chris Tucker is funny as his friend. "Tiny" Lister is also solid as the bully. It's a good comedy, not much else I can say really.

John Carpenter's second film of 1995 is not as good as his first. His second remake (The Thing is still his best overall flick for me), Village of the Damned, sadly marks the beginning of the downturn for him in my view. While he made less than enthralling films before this (Memoirs of an Invisible Man, this sees him on auto-pilot as he gives us a very nice bit of location shooting (a nicely spooky northern California small town)and some interesting casting (Kirstie Alley as a government type and Christopher Reeve in his last role before his tragic accident) but apart from that he just tells the same story again. Contrast this with The Thing where he chose to adapt the novel rather than simply rehashing the 1951 version. I think he wasn't really into this one and it shows.

March and April continued the trend of solid but not overwhelmingly great movies in 1995. There was some good stuff (Friday, mainly) but there was also a lot of stuff that was just sort of there.

Coming soon: The summer kicks off for 1995!

About Me

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