Tuesday, October 9, 2012

31 Nights of Terror '12 #6 - Island Claws

 The cover of my VHS copy of Island Claws

Island Claws (1980)
Director: Hernan Cardenas
Starring: Robert Lansing, Steve Hanks,
Format: VHS (Empire Video)


Plot: A biological experiment in Florida goes awry. The result: 8-foot long land crabs which roar loudly and kill everything in sight.

See that plot synopsis above? Short isn't it? But that's about all there is to Island Claws. Sure, there's a sub-plot about a young would-be couple from two feuding families, and another about Haitian boatpeople who are smuggled onto land near the village, but all you really need to know is that crabs run amok.

According to IMDB, Island Claws is the only credit for Hernan Cardenas, who wrote, directed and produced this movie. Not sure why that is - Island Claws isn't the worst monster flick I've ever seen. But it's also nothing special.

Pete Adams (Steve Hanks, who the same year starred alongside a young Michelle Pfeiffer in the TV show BAD CATS) and Jan Raines (Jo McDonnell, Marilyn Munster in the 1981 TV movie THE MUNSTERS' REVENGE) are the aforementioned young couple. We get to know them and several other characters in a small Florida fishing village.

A few familiar old faces appear in the supporting cast. Barry Nelson (manager of the Outlook Hotel in Kubrick's THE SHINING) is a marine biologist; Robert Lansing (who made something of a living from "giant nature runs amok" flicks in the late 70s and early 80s, also starring in EMPIRE OF THE ANTS and the giant roaches flick THE NEST) is a bar owner and father figure to Pete.

I'm not going to lie. The first two-thirds of this movie are boring. They're full of mundane village life, sprinkled with a couple of crab attacks. Not giant crabs though, regular sized ones. These attacks consist of someone screaming intercut with stock footage of crabs scuttling about. Hardly terrifying stuff.

The giant crab shows up for the closing act and brings good cheesy action fun, but by then it's too little too late. I understand not wanting to show the creature in its entirety for most of the movie, but what we're left with is 75 minutes of boring set up for 15 minutes of giant crustacean shenanigans.

31 Nights of Terror '12 #5 - Nightwing

The cover of my VHS copy of Nightwing


Nightwing (1979)
Director: Arthur Hiller
Starring: Nick Mancuso, David Warner, Kathryn Harrold
Format: VHS (RCA Columbia)


Plot: Cattle turn up dead from mysterious bites on an Indian reservation in New Mexico. Native deputy Duran (Italian-American Mancuso) investigates while a rival chief negotiates for a sacred valley to be drilled for oil. A bat expert (Warner, TRON) is sure vampire bats have migrated north from Mexico, and when people start getting killed it looks like he's right. He, along with Duran and his girlfriend (Harrold) set off to find the bats and put an end to their terror.

Up until seeing this movie, I had never enjoyed a killer bat horror movie. Sadly, after seeing this movie, I still haven't.

There's just something about bat attacks that make them more comedic than terror-inducing. Give me killer piranhas, birds, even insects, and I can buy it, but bats just don't do it for me. I'm sure being attacked by a swarm of bats would suck in real life, but on screen it's yawn-inducing.

Even putting that personal bias aside, director Arthur Hiller (who made his name directing TV episodes in the 50s and 60s) has put together a film that offers nothing new. There's nothing special about the way it's shot, its plot (about the only interesting plot point is when Duran eats a hallucenogenic plant and uses Indian "visions" to help find and beat the bats), or for that matter the acting.

There's barely even anything cheesy to make things fun. The bat effects are hilariously bad (a mix of back-projection and fluffy toys), but everything else is rather boring and the ending ("I'm going to close the circle Abner") is predictable and corny.

31 Nights of Terror '12 #4 - Witchboard



Witchboard (1986)
Director: Kevin Tenney
Starring: Todd Allen, Tawny Kitaen, Stephen Nicholls
Format: VHS (Continental Video)


Plot: At a party, a guest brings out a Ouija board, and they attempt to contact a spirit he knows. The spirit does appear, but it becomes apparent to the one who brought the Ouija board that this is an evil spirit that is impersonating his spirit, and despite warnings not to use the board alone, a woman uses it alone, and becomes harassed by the evil spirit, his goal to possess her so he can walk the earth again.

A year before she became forever embedded in the fantasies of males the world over (including yours truly at age 13) by rolling about on the hood of a couple of Jaguars in a Whitesnake video, 80s hottie Tawny Kitaen starred in this pretty good paranormal horror flick.

Kitaen and her mountain of teased hair are in good form as Linda, the hot babe who falls victim to a vengeful spirit. Todd Allen (who has a roll in the upcoming DJANGO UNCHAINED) is her sceptical boyfriend and Stephen Nicholls (a veteran of several US soaps with Ken-doll looks) is the Ouija board owner and rival for Linda's affections.

Director Kevin Tenney (NIGHT OF THE DEMONS) does a nice job building up suspense and shows some Raimi-esque touches with POV spirit shots. The music makes this feel like a Poltergeist sequel at times, although things never get as batshit-crazy as in those films.

The acting's good across the board, except for Kathleen Wilhoite, whose Cali-speak spiritual medium character is the epitome of grating. You'll cheer as she bites the dust, trust me. Except for a terrible green-screen shot during the climax, the effects are minimal but effective (mostly objects moving by themselves).

The storyline does a good job of building up the characters and their back stories. It might be a bit slow at the start for some, but I found the plot to be engaging enough. Overall this was an enjoyable watch and there's even the pre-requisite Tawny Kitaen shower scene (with full frontal nudity) - my 13-year-old self would have been ecstatic.

31 Nights of Terror '12 #3 - Schizo

 The cover of my VHS copy of Schizo


Schizo (1976)
Director: Peter Walker
Starring: Lynne Frederick, John Leyton, Stephanie Beacham
Format: VHS (Warner Home Video)


Plot: Samantha (Frederick, VAMPIRE CIRCUS) and Alan (former pop star Leyton) are getting married, but William Haskins isn't pleased. He grabs a train south to London and begins shadowing Samantha as she tries to get on with married life. Haskins' attempts to frighten her drive Samantha to desperation, but she's having trouble convincing anyone that she's being stalked. Even her psychiatrist dismisses her concerns as part of her neurosis. As bodies begin turning up, Samantha's story becomes more believable, and her dark secret from the past begins to reveal itself.

English psychological thriller Schizo could also be considered an early slasher, or a British version of a giallo, albeit with a smaller body count than most. Perhaps the best comparison would be Black Christmas, only in that the killer's identity is known from the start. Or is it? I'm not going to spoil anything, but there's a twist that you'll see coming a mile away.

Director Pete Walker (HOUSE OF WHIPCORD, FRIGHTMARE) puts the kettle on the stove and lets it boil slowly. Frederick does an admirable job as Samantha first comes off looking like an overly-paranoid woman but before long is fighting for her life as those around her start dying. It doesn't hurt that she's extremely cute and spends a lot of screen-time in the buff.

The kills offer some good gore (the best being the knitting needle through the back of the head and out the eye) and the acting's pretty good across the board. Jack Watson is suitably creepy as stalker William Haskins.

If you're in the mood for a slow-boiling British psycho slasher, Schizo is worth a watch.

31 Nights of Terror '12 #2 - Blood Beach


Blood Beach (1980)
Director: Jeffrey Bloom
Starring: David Huffman, Marianna Hill, Burt Young
Format: DVD-R

Plot: Something or someone is attacking people one by one on the beach. Some of them are mutilated, but most of them are sucked into the sand, disappearing without a trace. What is the creature responsible? Where does it live, and where did it come from? And is there any chance of it reproducing? Meanwhile, David Huffman and Mariana Hill are once-almost-married old friends, reunited over the death of her mother on the beach, and searching for clues in the abandoned buildings where they used to play when they were young.

When a movie from 1980 fails to get a Region 1 or 4 DVD release, it usually means it's craptacular and only of interest to lovers of bad cinema. That's what I was expecting from Blood Beach (which has only been released on German DVD). Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a damn good low-budget horror flick!

The basic plot isn't exactly genius. One line of Jaws-inspired dialogue from the film sums it up - "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, you can't get to it". But around that writer-director Jeffrey Bloom (who also helmed the anthology flick NIGHTMARES) weaves a nice little story about a Harbour Patrol cop (Huffman) and the woman he let get away (Hill). There's a few clunkers (like how Huffman's developing love triangle quickly resolves itself thanks to the creature), but they're the exception rather than the rule.

The kill scenes (victim sucked down into the sand by their feet, rinse, repeat) sound corny but they're actually effective. The concept was used 20 years later in Tremors, albeit in more of an action b-movie way than here. Bloom builds up suspense nicely, so the repetitive kills don't get boring. And the main thing he does right is keeping the monster off-screen until the finale. By then it doesn't matter that the creature effect is pretty bad.

But what really ties Blood Beach together is the acting. The two leads are great and have good chemistry. It's a shame that Huffman (WOLF LAKE) was lost to acting at the age of 39 (he was murdered just five years after this movie), because he's a likeable leading man. Hill's career was waning after earlier starring alongside Eastwood in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER and playing Fredo Corleone's trashy wife in GODFATHER PART II, but she's also cute and likeable.

The supporting cast is also good. Genre veteran John Saxon is in usual form as a perpetually-grumpy police captain, while Burt Young (ROCKY) offers comedic relief as a loud-mouthed, un-PC detective who's always eating.

Here's hoping Blood Beach gets a legit DVD release soon (my DVD-R is a scratchy VHS-rip), because it's a nice piece of early-80s horror/scifi.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

31 Nights of Terror '12 #1: Rawhead Rex

The cover of my VHS copy of Rawhead Rex


Rawhead Rex (1986)
Director: George Pavlou
Starring: David Dukes, Kelly Piper, Niall Toibin
Format: VHS (Applause Home Video)


Plot: In Ireland a farmer knocks over an ancient stone column, releasing a centuries-old demon called Rawhead Rex. An American history buff (Dukes, GODS AND MONSTERS) and his family on holiday are soon fighting for their lives as the monster goes on the rampage. But what connection is there with the local village church, which has a stained-glass window featuring an image of the creature?

I'm sure you've all heard of this movie and know of its connection to the great British horror writer Clive Barker (HELLRAISER etc), and how he disowned this adaption of his story, mainly because he wasn't happy with the monster effects.

It's pretty easy to see why Clive was so upset, because this is a good movie except for the monster suit. There's talk of a remake being done (what's new), which for once could be a good thing. Ol' Sexy Rexy'll have you chuckling into your popcorn, which I'm sure wasn't the response director George Pavlou intended. In fact, he reminded me of Bebop from the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, if he'd borrowed Brian Bosworth's classic mullet.



But the monster suit is about the only gripe I have. Well, the name too - my father-in-law's name is Rex and a bald skinny guy in his 60s isn't what I want to associate with a monster flick. Those gripes aside, I enjoyed this movie quite a bit.

I like the fact this movie is authentically Irish (one look at the cast list shows two Nialls, a Ronan, a Cora and a Donal), rather than having somewhere like Vancouver or Toronto standing in for Ireland. The small Irish village setting gives it a nice Lovecraftian/Wicker Man vibe.

Pavlou throws in a few nicely-shot scenes (one where a teen couple run away after finding a dead body uses light and angles effectively), and there's some good gore, mostly courtesy of several beheadings. On the downside there's minimal T&A, just one topless shot when a girl is attacked by Rexy.

While the monster brings plenty of unintentional laughs, there is some intentional humour, most of it very British/Irish in flavour. One exchange of funny dialogue between our main character and a policeman: "In the meantime can I get you a cup of tea?" "Why don't you go fuck yourself?" "I'll pass that suggestion along".

The best thing about Rawhead Rex is it's never too predictable. There are some real WTF moments (like when the monster relieves himself on a priest) and I was shocked when a young boy was killed by Rex (I'm used to the movie convention where kids are never seriously hurt or killed).

It's just a shame about that monster suit.

Announcing... 31 Nights of Terror 2012

It's October, which means it's time for the third annual 31 Nights of Terror movie marathon!

Just like last year, I'll be watching a total of 31 horror movies during the 31 days of October. They will for the most part be movies I haven't seen before. They will be on VHS and DVD and cover all sorts of sub-genres. The only link will be that they're all horror.

 In fact, I started on October 1 and am already averaging one movie a day - I just haven't had time to upload the reviews of those movies.

So, expect a flurry of reviews to be posted in the next 24 hours, and then hopefully I can get up the reviews as I watch the movies for the rest of the month.

Here's to October, my favourite month of the year!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Budget 5-pack #1: Sci-fi

Here in New Zealand (and Australia) a company called Flashback Entertainment has started releasing a series of 5-movie budget sets, sometimes on 5 discs, sometimes on 2. They're across various genres and cost $10 each. I've been picking up a few of them and decided I would sit down and watch one of these sets to see how good or bad they are, and give my thoughts in one review...





30,000 Leagues Under the Sea (2007)
Director: Gabriel Bologna
Starring: Lorenzo Lamas, Sean Lawlor, Natalie Stone


Plot: A nuclear submarine is attacked by a giant squid and sinks to the ocean floor. A team of specialist retrieval experts (led by Lamas) is sent in to recover it, but discovers an undersea city controlled by the evil Captain Nemo (Lawlor), who's out to destroy the land-based world.

Comments: You've heard of Jules Verne's classic novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, right? Well this is *30,000* Leagues Under the Sea - that's 10,000 Leagues more awesomer!
Actually, no. This straight-to-DVD low budget film is from Asylum, kings of the cheap ripoff flicks. And boy is it bad. Not even ol' Renegade himself can save this steaming pile of crap. Lawlor's mildly entertaining, but the rest of the cast seem to be suffering from CGI-induced decompression sickness.
Surprisingly, the CGI's not that bad. It's just a shame the plot is so boring and predictable (full of standard fare like the male and female leads butting heads due to a rocky past relationship).
If the other four movies in this 5-pack are this bad, I don't know if I'm going to be able to make it through them all. Jules Verne must be turning in his watery grave!

Army of the Dead (2008)
Director: Joseph Conti
Starring: Ross Kelly, Stefani Marchesi, Miguel Martinez


Plot: College professor John Barnes (Kelly), his wife (Marchesi) and a group of friends go into the deserts of Mexico for a spot of off-road racing. But one of their group (Martinez) has another motive - to search for the fabled city of El Dorado and its mountains of gold. He finds it, but in doing so unleashes an army of skeleton warriors on the group.

Comments: Well, at least this one isn't a bastardisation of classic literature, or a straight ripoff of a blockbuster movie. So it has that going for it. But otherwise Army of Dead is a very-forgettable straight-to-DVD offering.
The storyline's passable, the desert racing set up allows for some fun action shots, and who doesn't like seeing an army of undead conquistador skeletons wreaking havoc? But on the downside the acting's excrutiating at times and the dialogue's terrible. What could have saved this movie is a high sleaze factor, but there's no T&A and the only gore is CGI-created.
Which brings me to my biggest gripe about Army of Dead. I'm not a fan of CGI, and so much of this movie's effects are generated on a computer. I can forgive CGI when it's necessary (like the giant squid in the previous movie or the skeleton warriors here), but CGI explosions? CGI blood? No thanks - I'll take a good practical effect any day of the week.

Transmorphers (2007)
Director: Leigh Scott
Starring: Matthew Wolf, Amy Weber, Shaley Scott


Plot: In the future, a race of alien robots have conquered the Earth, forcing mankind underground. After 400 years, a small group of humans develop a plan to defeat the mechanical invaders in the ultimate battle between man and machine.

Comments: At first glance (seeing the title without watching the movie) it's natural to assume this is a straight ripoff of Michael Bay's big budget Transformers movies. But after watching it I can tell the only thing it's got in common with Bay's trilogy is it has big robots. Some of them transform, kind of. Apparently this was originally going to be called Robot Wars, but the name was changed to cash in on Bay's blockbuster.
That's not to say that Transmorphers isn't completely derivative, because it is. Terminator 2, Cherry 2000, Screamers, any number of bad 90s sci movies - it rips them all off.
Transmorphers lives up to everything you'd expect from an Asylum movie - the acting is atrocious, the special effects look like they were created on an Nintendo 64 and the dialogue is grade school production bad.
I'll say this though - it's better than the first two movies I reviewed in this set. It starts off boring, but once the plot leaves the underground city and the fighting against the robots starts, there's enough to keep things interesting.
The dialogue will make you groan, the CGI/green screen effects will make you laugh... but hey, it's still better than the abortion that was Revenge of the Fallen (I didn't mind the first Transformers movie too much and haven't seen the third one).

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks (2006)
Director: John Carl Buechler
Starring: Jeff Fahey, Dee Wallace, Tony Todd


Plot: Dr Harrison Parker (Jeff Fahey, LAWNMOWER MAN) has invented some kind of revolutionary DNA formula. He's at work late one night with a colleague (horror genre veteran Dee Wallace) when a group of corporate saboteurs (led by Candyman himself, Tony Todd) take over the building. In the process they unleash a living dinosaur on the city. As the dino goes a-chomping, the bad guys keep searching for the formula, which Dr Parker has hidden. A showdown looms between the good doctor and the leader of the baddies, who just happen to be old army buddies.

Comments: It was only when I sat down to watch this movie that I noticed the director's name. John Carl Buechler! A special effects guy who worked on a lot of horror movies in the 80s, before going on to direct a series of cheesy-bad flicks (Troll, Friday the 13th Part VII, Ghoulies III). Add to that a cast of washed-up genre veterans and it's fair to say my expectations were high!
And I'm happy to report this movie lived up to my expectations. But let me quantify that by adding that having to sit through the first three movies in this DVD set probably increased my enjoyment of Tyrannosaurus Wrecks (which is also known as The Eden Formula, a much lamer name).
What elevates this movie above the likes of 30,000 Leagues, Army of the Dead and Transmorphers is the acting (especially Todd, who hams it up), the comedy (which is actually, you know, funny!) and above all else its cheesyness. Tyrannosaurus Wrecks is at its best when the killer dino is on screen, a mix of stop animation and puppetry that's so unconvincing it'll have you laughing your ass off.
And unlike its aforementioned bretheren, this movie actually has gore! Sure, it's not the most convincing gore ever, but after sitting through three movies where the only blood was CGI-generated, I'll take multiple decapitations and body chomping any day of the week.
Tyrannosaurus Wrecks is a cheesy, fun, low-budget B-movie that definitely fits into the so-bad-it's-good category.

I Am Omega (2007)
Director: Griff Furst
Starring: Mark Dacascos, Geoff Meed, Jennifer Lee Wiggins

Plot: After a virus kills everyone on earth and turns the undead into zombies, Renchard (Dacascos) lives a lonely existence, roaming LA and killing zombies. But it turns out he isn't the last man on earth, and soon he's fighting against redneck militants (including Meed) as well as zombies, while trying to save the lovely Brianna (Wiggins).

Comments: The third Asylum feature in this set is definitely the best of them, but then that's faint praise isn't it? Taking into account its dirt-low budget, I Am Omega is actually a mildly-entertaining viewing experience.
This latest take on Richard Matheson's I Am Legend story unashamedly melts together that title (also used for the Will Smith version a few years back) and Omega Man, the 70s version with Charlton Heston. And let's not forget the best version of them all, Vincent Price's Last Man on Earth.
Taking a break from throwing out corny lines on Iron Chef America, Mark Dacascos (who I will always think of as the guy who replaced Brandon Lee as Eric Draven, taking up the mantle of The Crow for a late-90s TV series) is pretty good as the slightly-insane survivor. My only complaint is that apart from a short training scene and a tease involving nunchucks, Dacascos doesn't get to break out the martial arts. If director Furst had decided to go full hog and make this a cheesy guy-uses-karate-to-beat-zombies flick, it could have been legendary!
Instead we get a lot of boring set up in the first 45 minutes, before the action kicks in. But after that there's a good amount of bloody zombie-splattering and just barely enough plot to keep things interesting.
I know criticising technical aspects of a low-budget mockbuster doesn't make sense, but the editing (choppy in places and with long black screen transitions in others) here is annoying and distracting.
But I do love a good post-apocalyptic flick, and while I Am Omega rates well below the best of the genre (The Road Warrior, Escape from New York, Dawn of the Dead, The Road, Monsters, Zombieland, the list goes on and on), it's worth a watch if you've got nothing better to do.



Overall thoughts:
Best movie in this set: Tyrannosaurus Wrecks
Worst movie in this set: 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Is this set worth buying?: Well, it cost me $10. That's $2 a movie. How can you regret that? The only truly unwatchable movie is 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The other four range from barely watchable (Army of the Dead) to okay (Transmorphers, I Am Omega) to cheesy good fun (Tyrannosaurus Wrecks). I doubt I'll be watching any of these movies again, but for $10 you can't go wrong.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Drive-in Double Feature #1: May 1959

This is the first entry in a new semi-regular series here at Barbaric Bs of Schlocky Creek - the Drive-in Double Feature. The inspiration came from perusing some of the awesome retro double-bill newspaper adverts at one of my favourite blogs, Scenes from the Morgue (http://scenesfromthemorgue.wordpress.com/). I got to thinking how cool it would have been to see some of those double features back in the day at the drive in, and being the film nerd I am, my next thought was 'hey, I could do that now', minus the drive in of course.

So my wife and I sat down to watch two 1950s drive in movies (which played together in May 1959) back-to-back, and I even played some drive in "snack time" commercials in between. As I said, I'm a film nerd through and through.





Image courtesy of Scenes from the Morgue


Night of the Blood Beast (1958)
Director: Bernard L Kowalski
Starring: John Baer, Angela Greene, Ed Nelson, Georgianna Carter
 Format: Youtube

Plot: An astronaut returns from space dead. The base that recovered him is then cut off from the outside world by an alien. The revival of the dead astronaut, the death of a scientist, and the discovery of alien embryos inside the resurrected astronaut's body bodes ill for the survival of those trapped at the base and the rest of humanity.

Overall thoughts: You've heard of comfort food, right? Well, creaky old school B movies are the movie equivalent for me. Even if the movie itself isn't very good, watching black and white scifi/horror/whatever from the 30s, 40s and 50s usually puts a smile on my face. Night of the Blood Beast definitely falls into that category, and you'll probably need to share my perverse love of these schlockers to enjoy it. Like a lot of 50s scifi B movies, it's full of wonky science and ridiculous made-up techospeak dialogue. Director Kowalski (ATTACK OF THE GIANT LEECHES, KRAKATOA) doesn't have much of a script to work with (written by Roger Corman's brother Gene) and can't cover up the almost non-existent budget. He does manage to keep things interesting during the build-up to the arrival of the alien monster, which is when things turn to unintentional hilarity. It's not quite as bad as some other aliens (Robot Monster, It Conquered the World etc) from the time, but still laughable in a parrot-crossed-with-a-giant-slug kind of way. And naturally there's a morality message at the end, playing on audiences' fear of what space travel might eventually mean for mankind.



She Gods of Shark Reef (1958)
Director: Roger Corman
Starring: Bill Cord, Don Durant, Lisa Montell
Format: AVI

Plot: Two men escaping the police by ship are blown off course by a typhoon and shipwrecked on an uncharted island populated by women who make a living diving for pearls. What the men don't know is that the women are also part of a shark cult that sacrifices young virgins to the sharks in the surrounding ocean in order to appease the shark gods.

Overall thoughts: How's that for a great title? It's a pity the movie can't live up to it. She Gods of Shark Reef was filmed in 1956 by King of the B-Movies Roger Corman while he was in Hawaii filming Naked Paradise. It was put on the shelf for a year and a half, before being released as the secondary film of this double feature with Night of the Blood Beast. The truth is it's just not very good. Sure, the locale makes for some nice scenery, and there are plenty of nubile island girls dancing their way around, but all of that wears thin after a while when there's no real action to break it up (besides the opening scene, which is quite good). The sharks are small and not scary at all, the "human sacrifice" is ho-hum, and the acting is (apart from Don Durant) uninspiring. There's also bad logic galore (why can they swim to and from the "shark reef" whenever they want without being attacked by the sharks?) and a script that doesn't deliver on some interesting plot points (the shady Island Company remains off-screen, which is a shame).  Not one of Roger Corman's best, and that's saying something.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Blastfighter (1984)

 The cover of my VHS copy of Blastfighter


Blastfighter (1984)
Director: Lamberto Bava
Starring: Michael Sopkiw, Valentina Forte, George Eastman
Format: VHS (Medusa)

Italian director Lamberto Bava is best known to most of us as the son of the great Mario Bava and for his gory horror movies Demons and Demons 2. But he dabbled in other genres as well. In 1984 he helmed two action movies, the much-maligned Devil Fish (victim of a MST3K lampooning) and the lesser-known Blastfighter.

Jake "Tiger" Sharp (Sopkiw, 2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK) is an ex-cop just released from jail for the murder of the man who killed his wife. He heads to his old hometown in the mountains of Georgia, where he is soon butting heads with the redneck locals, led by former rival Tom (George Eastman, 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS). Tom, his brother Wally (Stefano Mingardo, ATLANTIS INTERCEPTORS) and their hillbilly buddies are torturing wildlife for a Hong Kong businessman, who uses the animals to make aphrodisiacs for the Asian market.

Tiger's daughter Connie (Valentina Forte) shows up unexpectedly and after the war escalates father and daughter are soon fleeing the killer hillbillies through the mountain forest. With his back against the wall, Tiger retrieves a special gun given to him by a cop buddy and goes on the rampage, killing the rednecks off until he faces a final showdown with Tom.

Plot-wise, Blastfighter is a fairly predictable revenge-in-the-woods flick with elements of Deliverance, Walking Tall and First Blood. If it were an American production it would definitely be worth watching, but the Italian influence makes it even more fun. It's got the overdubbed voices we all love from Italian cinema (including some hiliarious redneck accents), a synth-heavy Euro soundtrack by Guido & Maurizio De Angelis (who did a bunch of Bud Spencer/Terrence Hill comedies), and even a cameo by another Italian director, Michele Soavi (CEMETERY MAN), who was assistant director for this film.

Most of the fun comes from the Italian take on American hillbillies, which is pretty campy, and there's more unintentional humour in famiiliar places (like vehicles exploding in huge fireballs from just a small crash into a ditch). There's also a really cool action set piece towards the end, with lots of explosions, smoke and spotlights, and the final shot (playing off an earlier scene of a truck full of animal carcasses) is well done.

Blastfighter is an excellent revenge flick and well worth hunting down, if you'll excuse the pun.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

SUMMER OF 87: Finished

It's just after 10pm on Saturday night and the SUMMER OF 87 VHSATHON has come to a close, 36 hours after it started.

In those 36 hours I've watched 12 movies, all of them released in the year 1987 and all on VHS. It's been fun. I got to see my first Andy Sidaris movie and I loved it. The good movies (Hard Ticket to Hawaii, American Ninja 2, The Stepfather, I Was a Teenage Vampire, Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission, Creepshow 2, Death Wish 4, Three for the Road) vastly outweighed the bad ones (Hello Mary Lou, Teen Wolf Too, Munchies) 8 to 3, which is an equation I'll take any day. There weren't as many action flicks as I would have liked, but I was restricted to what I had on hand on VHS. And the main thing is I made myself watch 11 movies for the first time, many of which I've repeatedly passed over on my shelves.

So, all in all SUMMER OF 87 was another fun edition of what has now become an annual movie marathon at Queen's Birthday Weekend. Who knows what next year will bring?

SUMMER OF 87 #12 - Three for the Road


The cover of my VHS copy of Three for the Road
 
8.15pm, Day 2:
Three for the Road
Director: Bill L Norton
Starring: Charlie Sheen, Kerri Green, Alan Ruck, Blair Tefkin
Format: VHS (Roadshow)

Plot: A crafty political aide (Sheen) and his soft-spoken pal (Ruck) are assigned the job of delivering a senator's out-of-control teenage daughter (Green) to an institution.

- NOTE: I was originally going to end this marathon with NEAR DARK, easily my favourite vampire movie of all time. But I watch that one a lot, and my wife decided to join me for this finale, so I picked something we could enjoy together. So comedy it is.
- This movie is like a convergence of two of my favourite 80s movies, bringing together Charlie Sheen and Alan Ruck (both in FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF) and Kerri Green (who was in THE GOONIES). Sheen and Ruck also acted together on the TV series Spin City and Sheen and Green starred together in 1986's LUCAS (with Corey Haim).
- I've never seen this movie. In fact, before I found it on VHS I had never heard of it. I don't think it's ever been released on DVD.
- Hey, it's Uncle Phil (James Avery from Fresh Prince of Bel Air) as a Jesus-freak truck driver.
- Nice undies Charlie.
- Blair Tefkin. I remember her from the original scifi series V, a role she got when Dominique Dunne was murdered (look it up if you're unfamiliar with the case). Here Blair is definitely switching things up from her square girl role in V, as she plays a fast-talking southern party girl.

Overall thoughts: This seems to be a forgotten 80s comedy - you just don't hear anything about it. I'm not sure why that is, because it's actually pretty good. The closest comparison I can think of is another 80s roadtrip comedy, The Sure Thing, except here the girl's the loose cannon and the guy the square. At this point in his career Charlie Sheen was a likeable lead man, Alan Ruck puts in another solid performance as a neurotic sidekick, and I was happy to get to see Kerri Green on screen again, because she never made another mainstream movie after this. If you're a fan of these types of movies it's worth tracking down Three For The Road.

SUMMER OF 87 #11 - Death Wish 4

 The cover of my VHS copy of Death Wish 4

6pm, Day 2:
Death Wish 4: The Crackdown
Director: J Lee Thompson
Starring: Charles Bronson, Kay Lenz, John P Ryan
Format: VHS (Kerridge Odeon Amalgamated)

Plot: Architect/vigilante Paul Kersey (Bronson) takes on the members of a vicious Los Angeles drug cartel to stop the flow of drugs after his girlfriend's (Lenz) daughter dies from an overdose.

- Unfortunately this marathon hasn't had as much action as I would have liked. Let's change that with some mindless revenge!
- I've seen the original Death Wish but none of the sequels.
- J Lee Thompson (GUNS OF NAVARONE, the original CAPE FEAR) is a top director. I somewhat liked what he did with another Bronson vehicle, WHITE BUFFALO, and he also helmed the underrated slasher HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME.
- I've always had a bit of a thing for Kay Lenz (WHITE LINE FEVER, HOUSE).
- Wow, Dana Barron, who plays the daughter of Kersey's girlfriend, sure did grow up between 1983 (when she played Clark Griswald's annoying daughter Audrey in NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION) and 1987.
- And there's Mark Pellegrino (Satan on SUPERNATURAL, Paul Bennett on DEXTER) in an early bit role as a punk rocker!
- Dig the Wine Salesman bit. Kaboom!
- Pellegrino's not the only Supernatural alumni in this movie. Mitch Pileggi has a bit role as well.
- Bronson + uzi + factory full of bad guys = a good ol' time. Well, not for the bad guys.
- A sure sign you're watching a movie made no later than the 1980s: it contains at least one scene set in a Roller Rink.
- Well, that was certainly an impressive exit for the main bad guy.

Overall thoughts: I haven't seen any of the other Death Wish sequels, so I can't tell you how well this one stacks up against them. But as a standalone it's fairly good. Not as jam-packed full of action as I was hoping, but it has enough explosions, gunfights etc to keep things entertaining. Bronson is as brooding as ever, albeit getting old by this stage and pushing the bounds of credibility as an action star. But he blows away people with a big gun, and that's about all you want from a Death Wish movie, right?

SUMMER OF 87 #10 - Munchies

 The cover of my VHS copy of Munchies

3.40pm, Day 2:
Munchies
Director: Bettina Hirsch
Starring: Harvey Korman, Charlie Stratton, Nadine Van der Velde
Format: VHS (CEL)

Plot: Simon Watterman (Korman), a space archaeologist, discovers the "Munchies" in a cave in Peru. Cecil Watterman (Korman again), Simon's evil twin brother and snack food entrepreneur, kidnaps the creature. What Cecil does not know is that the creature, when chopped up, regenerates into many new creatures -- and are they mean!

- Disclosure: No, I haven't seen this one.
- From the long line of Gremlins rip-offs (Critters, Ghoulies, Hobgoblins, Beasties, Spookies etc) comes this Roger Corman-produced effort, directed by Bettina Hirsch, who worked as an editor on Gremlins. This was her only directing gig, which doesn't bode well.
- From the look of the cover I'm expecting a second-rate Gremlins knockoff with an emphasis on sex and toilet humour. Although the PG rating tells me any sex will probably be more implied than shown. Boo-urns!
- They're not even trying to disguise how much of a ripoff this is. Arnold sounds just like Gizmo.
- I wonder how much they spent on creature design for this movie? My guess is $20 tops.
- Alright I get it now. They're proudly flaunting the fact this is a Gremlins ripoff (look for all the in-jokes - Gizmo in a newspaper ad, licence plate that says OHGIZMO etc).
- Veteran comedian Korman sure is hamming it up as Cecil Watterman, and Alix Elias, who plays Cecil's wife, is just plain annoying.
- I bet Robert Picado (STAR TREK VOYAGER) looks back on this movie as a career highlight. Or not.
- As I suspected, the only T&A is pretty tame (panty flashes). And no gore to speak of. Those two things would probably save this movie. Okay, they wouldn't save it, but maybe make it more bearable.

Overall thoughts: Dumb. So very dumb. Take Gremlins, remove Joe Dante's stylish directing, replace the monsters with cheap, annoying knockoffs, switch the talented cast for nobodies and hammy cartoonish acting... well, you get the picture. The best thing is if you haven't seen Munchies, you don't need to. I've seen it and I can safely tell you to avoid it.

SUMMER OF 87 #9: Creepshow 2

 The cover of my VHS copy of Creepshow 2

2pm, Day 2:
Creepshow 2
Director: Michael Gornick
Starring: George Kennedy, Lois Chiles, Dorothy Lamour
Format: VHS (Cinema Club)

Plot: Three more bone-chilling tales that include a vengeful wooden Native American, a monstrous blob in a lake, and a hitchhiker who wants revenge and will not die.

- I know a lot of people like the first Creepshow movie better than this one, which gets some bad reviews, but I've always loved this movie. It might be because it was one of the first horror movies I ever saw (soon after it came out on VHS here in NZ), so it's got nostalgic value. I should also add that I'm a Stephen King geek - I have every book he's ever written and a few rare pieces of memorabilia. Heck, I even visited his house in Bangor Maine back in 2000.
- So yes, I've seen this movie before, several times in fact. It's one of only two "cheats" I'm allowing myself during this marathon.
- This anthology (like the first Creepshow movie) is Stephen King and George Romero's homage to the EC comics of his youth (Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror etc). King wrote the stories and Romero adapted them for the screen.
- Director Gornick was cinematographer on the first Creepshow movie.
- The first tale, Old Chief Wood'nhead, is a simple story of revenge that is pretty schmaltzy, but good performances by veterans George Kennedy (THE DIRTY DOZEN) and Dorothy Lamour (who starred with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in a string of their Road To movies in the 30s) have the viewer rooting for the bad guys to get what's coming to them.
- I dig that Cisco Kid is playing on the TV in the houses of each of the bad guys. I love that TV series.
- Old Chief Wood'nhead's makeup is great. Creepy too.
- The second tale, The Raft, is the one that really stuck with me after I first watched it all those years ago. It creeped the hell out of me, pun intended.
- Nice segue I never noticed before: The two guys in The Raft refer to themselves by the nicknames Cisco and Pancho.
- I remember thinking a lot about how I would try to survive the "killer" in The Raft. Like I obsessed with thinking up survival scenarios after watching The Swarm on TV as a kid.
- Even when his life's in danger, a teenage boy's gotta get laid. Especially if his name is Randy.
- I still love that ending. Awesome.
- The final tale, The Hitchhiker, is my least favourite of the three, but did provide me and my friends with a line we would use all the time: "Thaks for the ride lady!"
- Cameo by Stephen King as a truck driver. He had more of a starring role in the first Creepshow, as unfortunate bumpkin Jordy Verrill.
- The third tale is definitely the bloodiest of the three. Some nice gore right at the end.
- The wraparound animation is good fun, as it should be on an anthology like this.

Overall thoughts: As I said at the start of this review, I enjoy this movie for nostalgic reasons, so I can't review it objectively. But if you're a fan of EC Comics-style horror anthology like Tales from the Crypt, Tales from the Darkside and Monsters, you should enjoy this movie. And because it's a movie, it has T&A and gore that you won't find on those TV series.


SUMMER OF 87 #8: Dirty Dozen The Deadly Mission

The cover of my VHS copy of Dirty Dozen: Deadly Mission
 
11.30am, Day 2:
Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission
Director: Lee H Katzin
Starring: Telly Savalas, Ernest Borgnine, Vince Edwards, Bo Svenson, Vincent Van Patten
Format: VHS (CEL)

Plot: Learning of a Nazi plot to attack Washington DC with a deadly nerve gas, Major Wright (Telly Savalas) leads twelve convicts on a suicide mission deep into occupied France to destroy the secret factory where the poison is made.

- Disclosure: I last watched the original Dirty Dozen movie quite a few years ago. I haven't seen any of the TV movie sequels, of which this is the second (following 1985's The Next Mission and before 1988's The Fatal Mission).
- The set up is the same as the first two movies, but with Savalas taking over the Lee Marvin role as the leader assigned to whip 12 condemned prisoners into shape for the big mission. Savalas was one of the original Dirty Dozen but his character was killed off in the first movie, so his Major Wright here is a new character.
- Among the new Dirty Dozen are: Gary Graham (ALIEN NATION TV series) as rebellious Joe Stern; real life brothers Vincent (HELL NIGHT) and James (SAW 4 and 5) Van Patten as the German-looking Webber brothers; Bo Svenson (WALKING TALL) as cunning Fontenac; Randall Cobb (BLIND FURY) as the giant Swede; Thom Mathews (Tommy Jarvis in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 6) as clean cut Kelly; Paul Picerni (1960s TV series THE UNTOUCHABLES) as counterfeiter Ferruci; and Branco Blace as explosives expert Martinez.
- Director Katzin has some 69 credits to his name, all but a few of them in TV series and TV movies, everything from the Mission Impossible series in the 60s to Miami Vice and Walker Texas Ranger. So he knows how to put together action sequences in a TV format. Writer Mark Rodgers had a similarly-long career in TV.
- This movie opened with a good shootout and there was another soon after the Dozen drop into enemy territory, but things slow down in the middle as the soldiers infiltrate the local population and do lots of sneaking around.

Overall thoughts: This Dirty Dozen sequel is at its best when Nazis are being machine-gunned down and things are blowing up. There's plenty of that at the start and the finish, but it gets dragged down by a slow middle portion. Because it's a TV movie, there's no grittiness, but a solid cast and just enough action makes it watchable.

SUMMER OF 87 #7 - I Was A Teenage Vampire

The cover of my VHS copy of I Was a Teenage Vampire
10am, Day 2:
I Was a Teenage Vampire
Director: Jimmy Huston
Starring: Robert Sean Leonard, Evan Mirand, LeeAnne Locken, Cheryl Pollak, Cecilia Peck
Format: VHS (Filmpac)

Plot: In Houston, teenager Jeremy Capello (Leonard) is a normal middle-class boy, who lives with his parents and has Ralph (Mirand) as his best friend. He has a crush on Darla Blake (Pollak), but he is shy and does not date her. He works making deliveries for a supermarket and is seduced by his sexy client Nora (Peck). While getting it on with her, Jeremy is transformed into a vampire. His friend Ralph is mistakenly chased by two weird vampire hunters, Prof Leopold McCarthy and his assistant Grimsdyke, who believe he is a creature of the night. Meanwhile, Jeremy learns how to use his new powers with the help of Modoc, and falls definitively in love for Darla.

- This movie is listed on IMDB as My Best Friend is a Vampire, which I think is the US title. Here in New Zealand, and in Australia, it got retitled as I Was a Teenage Vampire.
- Five seconds in and this is already funnier and more entertaining than Teen Wolf Too.
- Hey, it's a very young Robert Sean Leonard, who plays Dr James Wilson on the TV series House.
- Great soundtrack so far - Blondie and Pat Benatar. Nice!
- All the best 80s teen comedies are about the teen male protagonist wanting to get laid. Isn't that the biggest motivation for any teenaged guy?
- This was director Jimmy Huston's follow up to Final Exam, a derivative-but-interesting slasher I reviewed in June last year.
- Darla (Cheryl Pollak) has that Molly Ringwald "hot but geeky" look.
- A couple of familiar faces in key roles: David Warner (Sark/Master Control in TRON) as vampire hunter McCarthy, and Rene Auburjonois (Clayton Runnymede Endicott III on the TV series BENSON) as vampire Modoc.
- Wow, a young and slim Kathy Bates (MISERY) in a small part. I hardly recognised her.
- And the soundtrack keeps on rocking 80s style with the pre-requisite Oingo Boingo song. According to IMDB they had songs used on 20 movies in the 1980s (the most well known being the Weird Science theme song).
- Most of the vampire gags are pretty standard (no reflection in mirror, aversion to garlic, hunger for meat etc), but as teen rom-coms go this is fairly well written and quite fun.
- "The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades". Another great 80s song. I'm really digging this soundtrack.
- Two funny scenes: Misdirected mind powers in the punk club, and Jeremy's parents mistaking his vampirism for him being gay.

Overall thoughts: I enjoyed I Was A Teenage Vampire. It's a fun little 80s teenage comedy. Sure, it's not going to make it onto anyone's favourite movies list, but for this kind of movie it's entertaining enough. Not out-and-out hilarious, but a movie that'll make you laugh in places and put a smile on your face. It also has a kickass 80s soundtrack. Comparing it to Teen Wolf Too, a movie with similar subject matter that I watched yesterday, this movie is a million times better - the acting, the writing, the cinematography, everything.

SUMMER OF 87: Day two begins

After watching six movies from 1987 on VHS yesterday, I'm now sitting down to watch six more today. Yesterday I saw a fantastic Andy Sidaris boobs-and-guns flick, an awesome ninja movie, a pair of solid psychological thrillers, a completely unnecessary teen comedy sequel and an even more unnecessary horror franchise sequel.

What's in store for today? Well, you'll have to keep reading to find out, but I'm kicking things off with another teen comedy. Hopefully it's better than Teen Wolf Too, although that won't be hard.


Friday, June 1, 2012

SUMMER OF 87 #6: Rampage

 The cover of my VHS copy of Rampage

8.45pm, Day 1:
Rampage
Director: William Friedkin
Starring: Michael Biehn, Alex McArthur, Nicholas Campbell
Format: VHS (Kerridge Odean Amalgamated)

Plot: Liberal district attorney (Biehn) decides to seek the death penalty for a man (McArthur) who slaughtered a family at Christmas time, then drank their blood. He escapes, though, and starts killing again. Based on the true story of Richard Trenton Chase, "The Vampire Killer" who killed six people in the course of four days in January 1978.

- I've always been a fan of Michael Biehn. Everyone knows about his roles in The Terminator and Aliens, but my favourite role of his was in Tombstone. His performance as Johnny Ringo is outstanding.
- Friedkin is of course best known as director of The Exorcist and French Connection. He also helmed the underrated To Live and Die in LA.
- There's Whitby Hertford, a couple of years before he played the creepy kid in Nightmare on Elm Street 5.
- Grace Zabriskie (TWIN PEAKS, GALAXY OF TERROR) in one of her trademark wide-eyed crazy roles.
- Alex McArthur isn't an actor I'm familiar with, but he's very effective in his role as serial killer Charlie Reece. Charismatic in a boy next door kind of way, with an underlying creepiness.
- So apparently this movie wasn't released in the US until 1992, due to its distribution company going under. Mind you, it would have been tough to market anyway - a movie revolving around the trial of a serial killer isn't an easy sell.
- For the most part this is a crime procedural, but there are sporadic scenes of disturbing violence, with lots of bloodshed.
- I've been reading that Friedkin changed the ending when this movie was released theatrically in the US in 1992, but from what I can tell my VHS has the original ending.

Overall thoughts: It's hard to review a movie like Rampage. It's well shot, has a great score by Ennio Morricone, and has good acting performances across the board, particularly from Biehn and McArthur. William Friedkin knows how to build drama and suspense and the violence is brief but brutal. If crime thrillers are your thing, then you're going to enjoy Rampage. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy it to a certain degree, but give me boobs, ninjas and explosions over courtroom drama any day.

SUMMER OF 87 #5: Teen Wolf Too

 The cover of my VHS copy of Teen Wolf Too
 
7pm, Day 1:
Teen Wolf Too
Director: Christopher Leitch
Starring: Jason Bateman, Kim Darby, John Astin
Format: VHS (Filmpac)

Plot: Todd Howard (Bateman), the cousin of Scott Howard (played by Michael J Fox in the first film) has recently been accepted into Hamilton University on a full athletic scholarship on the recommendation of Coach Bobby Finstock (Paul Sand), who was Scott's basketball coach at Beacontown High. Finstock's hope is that Todd has the family genes to become a werewolf and turn Finstock's new struggling boxing team into championship contenders. Todd is horrified by his "family affliction", but eventually gives in to it and finds fame after winning his first boxing fight. With it comes girls, top grades etc, but he starts losing his friends. Can Todd relearn to be humble while also winning the big championship fight coming up?

- After a break for dinner, we're back into it with the third of four "part two" sequels I'll be watching during this marathon. I guess 1987 was a big year for sequels.
- Disclosure: Of course I've seen the original Teen Wolf (1985), which from what I remember was pretty good for an 80s teen comedy. I'm also aware MTV made a Teen Wolf TV series a couple of years ago, which I haven't seen, and because it's MTV I have no desire to see it.
- So apparently Michael J Fox didn't sign on for this sequel partly because he didn't want to go through all the makeup again.
- Bateman and Fox are of course connected by Jason's sister Justine, who played Fox's sister on TV's Family Ties.
- The support cast in this is pretty good and includes two actors whose most famous roles were in the 60s (John Astin, Gomez in the Addams Family, and Kim Darby, who was so brilliant in the original True Grit).
- Tim Kring, who wrote this screenplay, went on to have more success writing about people with hidden powers. He wrote and produced the TV series Heroes.
- So far this movie isn't offering anything very original, but the song and dance number to Do You Love Me was fun.
- You can't get much more 80s-centric than a soundtrack containing songs by both Oingo Boingo and Real Life. "Send Me an Angel" is a weird choice for a "studying hard for exam tomorrow" montage though. Unless it morphs into a "getting it on with the girlfriend" montage. Touche.
- Semi-interesting trivia: Estee Chandler, who plays love interest Nicki, only made one more movie after this, but was visual effects producer on Team America: World Police.
- Well, I saw that "twist" involving Kim Darby's character coming a mile away.

Overall thoughts: That was pretty bad. I mean, there's nothing overly offensive about Teen Wolf Too. It's just unnecessary. If you've seen the first movie, there's absolutely no need for you to see the sequel. All they did was change basketball to boxing and substitute Michael J Fox for the less-charismatic Jason Bateman. The end result is a poor imitation of the original and a movie that I'd recommend bypassing.

SUMMER OF 87 #4: The Stepfather

 The cover of my VHS copy of The Stepfather

4.30pm, Day 1:
The Stepfather
Director: Joseph Ruben
Starring: Terry O'Quinn, Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack
Format: VHS (Virgin)

Plot: A family-values man named Jerry Blake (O'Quinn) marries widows and divorcées with children in search of the perfect family. As soon as his new family members show signs of being human and not robots who will march unquestioningly to his tune, his dreams of domestic bliss begin to crumble, and he kills them. Then he alters his appearance, assumes a new identity, and skips to another town to begin the deadly ritual all over again. He marries Susan Maine (Hack), who sees him as the ideal surrogate father for her teenage daughter Stephanie (Schoelen), and he is soon up to his old tricks when she proves to be too much of a troublesome teen to handle.

NOTE: I was originally going to watch Ghoulies II in this spot, and in fact did watch about 40 minutes of it. But then I realised two things: I'd already seen it, and it was released in 1988, not 1987. The strange thing is my VHS copy says 1987, but every reference online says 1988. It didn't feel right to continue so I stopped Ghoulies II and moved onto the next movie in the marathon. I'll find something else to make up for it at the end of day two, to still hit my target of 12 films.
- I haven't seen this. It's one I've been wanting to watch for years but just have never gotten around to it.
- I know Terry O'Quinn is best known these days from his time on the TV series Lost, but I never watched that show. I know him from TOMBSTONE (one of my favourite movies) and from the TV show MILLENNIUM.
- Shelley Hack is best known for her short stint on Charlie's Angels in 1979.
- Okay, so I didn't write many notes while watching this movie. Mainly because it's not the kind of movie you can make wisecracks about, and also it's the kind of movie you just want to sit back and watch.

Overall thoughts: I know most people have seen this movie and I was late to the party finally getting to see it, so I don't need to say to much about it. It's just a really good psychological thriller, which is carried by a fantastic acting performance by Terry O'Quinn. He's brilliant because he looks so innocuous most of the time, but through subtle movements and looks he begins to show what lies beneath, until finally he goes nuts. If you're into these kinds of slow-burner thrillers and you haven't seen The Stepfather, definitely hunt it out.

SUMMER OF 87 #3: Hard Ticket to Hawaii

The cover of my VHS copy of Hard Ticket to Hawaii
1.50pm, Day 1:
Hard Ticket to Hawaii
Director: Andy Sidaris
Starring: Ron Moss, Dona Speir, Hope Marie Carlton, Harold Diamond, Rodrigo Obregon
Format: VHS (RCA Columbia)

Plot: Two drug enforcement agents are killed on a private Hawaiian island. Donna (Speir) and Taryn (Carlton), two operatives for The Agency, accidentally intercept a delivery of diamonds intended for drug lord Seth Romero (Obregon), who takes exception and tries to get them back. Fellow Agency operatives Rowdy (Moss) and Jade (Diamond) get involved, and a full-scale fight to the finish ensues, complicated here and there by an escaped snake made deadly by toxic waste!

- Disclosure: I haven't seen this movie. In fact, this is my first Andy Sidaris movie. I've heard a lot about his stuff so I'm looking forward to this.
- Bare breasts and gratuitous shotgun violence before the opening credits. We're off to a good start!
- Super cheesy opening credits.
- Very Toto-esque theme song by Gary Stockdale.
- Donna to fellow blonde bimbo Taryn: "Let's unload and hit the jacuzzi, I do my best thinking there". I think that best sums up the vibe of this movie so far.
- "If brains were birdshit, you'd have a clean cage". The awesome dialogue just keeps coming!
- Sledgehammer of plot: Donna and Taryn have a poster of Malibu Express (the previous Sidaris movie) in their apartment. They mention that the star of that movie, Cody Abilene, is a cousin of Rowdy Abilene (Ron Moss' character in this movie). Awkward way to tie the two flicks together.
- The acting is terrible across the board, but Rodrigo Obregon's efforts take the cake. Laughably bad.
- Speaking of laughable, the snake special effects are hilarious. More hilarious than the actual jokes, that's for sure (most are the kind of toilet humour we all told when we were 10 years old).
- Andy Sidaris has a cameo in this as a TV director.
- So apparently (according to IMDB), Sidaris made quite a few sequels to this movie, with Donna and Taryn as recurring characters.
- First moment of sheer awesomeness: Bad guy on a skateboard with a blowup sex doll(!) gets taken out with a bazooka. And then the doll too!
- Man, this plot is all over the place. For no reason there's an interview with football players that pops up mid-movie, and the sub-plot with the mutant snake is so out of place with the rest of the plot.
- Great frisbee kill!
- And nice use of a microlite.
- I never knew bamboo furniture could stop bullets.
- Despite the two leading ladies being quite attractive, IMO the hottest chick in this flick is Cynthia Brimhall, who plays Edy. Apparently Sidaris liked her too, cause he recast her as Edy in five more of his flicks.
- Woohoo, Donna used the four-barrel bazooka off the VHS cover!
- Sweet Jebus that was a crazy ending. Mutant snake, bad guy that won't die, dirtbike, bazooka, spear gun, nunchucks, samurai sword... I love it!

Overall thoughts: I can now say I've seen a movie written and directed by the infamous Andy Sidaris. And I can honestly say I need to see more Sidaris magic!
Hard Ticket to Hawaii has bad acting, lousy dialogue (full of groanworthy jokes like "She's so dumb she went home to study for her pap test"), dumb special effects... but it's so much fun! You'll groan at the bits where you're meant to laugh and laugh at bits that're meant to be cool, but the one thing you'll never be is bored.
The best way I can sum up this movie is like this: It's as if Sidaris came up with the plot for a simple "chicks with guns" movie, where two hot chicks spend half their time naked and the other half battling some bad guys over diamonds. But then he realised that would only come to about an hour's worth of film. He needed other stuff to fill it out. To do that he wrote down a bunch of random words on pieces of paper and put them in a hat and drew a few out. Whatever he drew out he would throw into the movie. And the words he pulled out were: Mutant snake, sex doll, skateboard, bazooka, microlite, dirtbike, speargun, frisbee and American football. And somehow he managed to fit it all in and make a kickass movie in doing it!

SUMMER OF 87 #2: Hello Mary Lou Prom Night II

The cover of my VHS copy of Hello Mary Lou
 
12noon, Day 1:
Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2
Director: Bruce Pittman
Starring: Lisa Schrage, Wendy Lyon, Michael Ironside, Louis Ferrera
Format: VHS (Premiere)

Plot: When Hamilton High's Prom Queen of 1957, Mary Lou Maloney (Schrage) is killed by her jilted boyfriend, she comes back for revenge 30 years later. Bill Nordham (Ironside) is now the principal of Hamilton High and his son (Ferrera) is about to attend the prom with Vicki Carpenter (Lyon). However, Vicki is possessed by Mary Lou Maloney after opening a trunk in the school's basement. Now Bill must face the horror he left behind in 1957.

- Alright, after a bit for lunch it's back into the marathon with some cheesy 80s horror.
- Disclosure: I've seen the original Prom Night, but haven't seen this sequel. I remember very little about the first one except it had Jamie Lee Curtis in it (I think I remember the killer reveal correctly too).
- Alright, it looks from the opening scene that this sequel is going to be part comedy. I wasn't expecting that.
- It also looks like this is from the "sequel in name only" department.
- Michael Ironside as a high school principal. I bet he doesn't take any crap from the kids.
- Holy 80s fashions Batman! So much teased hair, so many giant earrings.
- Characters with the last names Carpenter, Browning, Henenlotter, Waters. Nice way to homage great genre directors.
- Nice tease job on the first kill (well, the first kill after Mary Lou bites it).
- Louis Ferrera has been in a bunch of stuff (DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, SAW IV, STARGATE SGU tv series etc).
- This isn't the worst movie I've ever seen, but it's very derivative of Nightmare on Elm St (slow mos, dream sequences) and Carrie (overbearing religious mother, mousy girl protagonist). Only without any of the suspense of those movies.
- When a movie is this boring I end up scrolling through IMDB.com looking for interesting trivia. Here's a couple of tidbits - Wendy Lyon and Terri Hawkes (who plays queen bitch Kelly) both ended up voicing main characters on a Sailor Moon cartoon series in the mid-90s. And another: Brock Simpson, who plays nerd Josh, was in the original Prom Night, playing a young version of one of the main characters.
- Full frontal female nudity and a (albeit unfulfilled) lesbian shower scene... things just got a little less boring.
- Hey and a cool kill scene, with some actual suspense. Maybe there's hope for this movie yet?
- Yikes. Daddy seemed to be enjoying that kiss with his possessed daughter a little too much.
- Death by neon, how very 80s!
- Cheesy ending, but kind of fun.

Overall thoughts: I've seen lots of bad reviews of this movie and... well, they're on the mark. There's nothing special or original about Hello Mary Lou (which, as I mentioned, has nothing to do with the original Prom Night). It's like director Bruce Pittman took a bunch of ideas that weren't used in the first two Nightmare on Elm St films and used them without the style or suspense that Wes Craven would have added. Things improve after Vicki gets possessed and the cheese factor ramps up for the climax, but you have to sit through an hour of generic and uninteresting stuff to get there.

SUMMER OF 87 #1: American Ninja 2

 The cover of my VHS copy of American Ninja 2

 
10am, Day 1:
American Ninja 2: The Confrontation
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Larry Poindexter, Gary Conway, Jeff Celentano
Format: VHS (RCA Columbia)

Plot: On a remote Caribbean island, Army Rangers Joe Armstrong (Dudikoff) and Curtis Jackson (James) investigate the disappearance of several marines, which leads him to The Lion (Conway), a super-criminal who has kidnapped a local scientist and mass-produced an army of mutant Ninja warriors.

- Opening disclosure: I haven't seen this movie. I have seen the first American Ninja, but not in about 20 years. I remember enjoying it though.
- A bar brawl and our first shot of ninjas inside the first two minutes. Nice!
- "Move to the City" by Guns n Roses! Great soundtrack so far.
- Apparently this was filmed in South Africa. Interesting that Apartheid-era South Africa would double for a Carribean island.
- WTF? They just had some other guy standing in for Dudikoff in a scene of Armstrong walking out of an office, and they showed his face clearly. The guy doesn't even look anything like Dudikoff! Whoops!
- Classic moment as Joe and Curtis leap off a huge cliff and land in a boat like they had only jumped a few feet.
- One thing you can always count on from an 80s action flick: At least one of the thugs will have a great mullet.
- They've done a pretty good job hiding the fact this was filmed in South Africa... until that barmaid spoke in a heavy Afrikaaners accent.
- The main bad guy, The Lion, is played by Gary Conway, who starred in the late-60s TV series Land of the Giants.
- Great scene with a ninja being dragged behind a truck, then climbing onto it, ending in a nice big explosion.
- An ending with ninja fights _and_ gun fights. Making me double happy!

Overall thoughts: What can I say? American Ninja 2 was the perfect way to get this movie marathon started. It's just a fun ninja flick, with everything a discerning action fan could ask for.
The meat in the sandwich is of course the ninja fights, and there's plenty of them (the bodycount must be over 50, maybe closer to 100), but there's also plenty of humour, a simple-but-entertaining plot involving mad science, a little love interest, lots of interesting minor characters, and towards the end some explosions and gunfights are even thrown into the mix.
About the only thing I would add is that while watching American Ninja 2 I kept wondering if it would have been better with Steve James in the lead role. He's a better fighter and a better actor than Dudikoff. Not saying that Dudikoff is bad - he does a good enough job and has the all-American looks that sell a film like this - but James is the best thing about this movie. But regardless, American Ninja 2 rocks!

Announcing... Summer of '87 VHSathon



SUMMER OF '87 VHSATHON


The first weekend in June in New Zealand is Queen's Birthday Weekend, a three-day weekend when we celebrate the birthday of our monarch. Last year I used this long weekend for Cormania 2011 - a movie marathon in which I watched 11 movies over two days, produced or directed by the King of the Bs, Roger Corman.

It's hard to believe a whole year has passed since Cormania 2011, but Queen's Birthday is here again, and you know what that means... it's movie marathon time!

This year I've got today (Friday) off as well, so I'm going to be holding my movie marathon over Friday and Saturday. I'll be watching 12 movies over the two days and blogging as I watch them. If you've read any of my past marathons you'll know what to expect - bullet-point observations rather than fully-blown reviews.

This year's marathon is called SUMMER OF '87 VHSATHON. All of the movies I'll be watching fit two criteria. They a) were released in 1987, and b) are on VHS. Simple as that. Most of them will also be movies I have never seen before. There are a couple in there I have seen before, but I've still avoided all of the obvious choices from 1987 (Beverly Hills Cop 2, Robocop, Predator, Hellraiser etc).

So stay tuned for updates as the marathon proceeds!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Air Force Two (2006)



Air Force Two (2006)
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Starring: David Keith, Mariel Hemingway, David Milbern, Jill Bennett
Format: DVD (Flashback)

I got this low budget DVD as part of a "5 Disc Action Collection" released by Flashback Entertainment. I popped it into the DVD player in search of something low key to watch on a Sunday night, without knowing anything about it.

The first thing I noticed was the name Brian Trenchard-Smith pop up on screen as director, which got my attention. The ozploitation legend directed some real classics in the 70s and 80s (TURKEY SHOOT, DEAD-END DRIVE IN, FROG DREAMING, BMX BANDITS etc), before getting the "honour" of doing two Leprechaun sequels in the 90s. He's carried on working consistently since then, although the names of some of his more recent movies (Atomic Dog? Pimpin' Pee Wee?) had me curious and a little worried.

The second thing I noticed was that the scenery looked very familiar, and so did a lot of the minor cast members and extras. A quick check of IMDB.com confirmed that this movie (known as IN HER LINE OF FIRE upon release) was shot here in my home nation, New Zealand.

David Keith (AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, FIRESTARTER) is US Vice President Walker, whose plane (the titular Air Force Two) crashlands in the Pacific Ocean. Walker, secret service agent Lynn Delaney (Hemingway, STAR 80) and a reporter (Bennett) wash up on an island inhabited by military rebels, headed by the maniacal Armstrong (Milbern). Capturing the second most powerful man in the western world would be quite a coup for Armstrong and his men, but the VP is an ex-soldier and his secret service gal-pal is quite the Rambo-ette, so it's not going to be easy.

The acting is good across the board, with veterans Keith and Hemingway dependable as ever. Milbern also stands out as the bad guy - his look and acting style kept reminding me of Bruce Willis (not a bad thing). The action is okay, but sadly you wouldn't know this is a Trenchard-Smith movie if you didn't see the credits. Fans of his ozploitation stuff will be disappointed if they're expecting anything like that.

Other reviews of this movie mention a lesbian love subplot between the characters played by Hemingway and Bennett (the latter, according to IMBD is openly lesbian), but there was nothing of that in the cut I watched. I guess that plot point was taken out for some releases? It's a shame, because it might have lifted Air Force Two above the level of run-of-the-mill action flick.

I probably enjoyed Air Force Two a little big more than most non-New Zealanders will. I had fun playing spot-the-Kiwi-actor, and also got a few laughs out of the island terrorists speaking in their native tongue (in reality the actors were just stringing together a bunch of non-sequitor words in our native tongue, Maori). But for the non-NZ viewer this is an adequate if unspectacular time waster. It's worth a watch on a lazy afternoon.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Black Gestapo (1975)

A scan of my VHS copy of Black Gestapo 
 
The Black Gestapo (1975)
Director: Lee Frost
Starring: Rod Perry, Charles Robinson, Phil Hoover
Format: VHS (Prestige Video)

Lee Frost directed everything from 1960s Mondo shockumentaries and softcore roughies to biker flicks and the campy scifi comedy THE THING WITH TWO HEADS. In 1966 he helmed Love Camp 7, which is widely considered a pioneer in the nazi exploitation genre. Nine years later he revisited the nazi theme with a twist, nazi blaxploitation!

At least that's what this movie's title and cover art would have you believe. In truth there's no real nazi content beyond the uniforms worn by The People's Army, a black revolutionary group who dress like a cross between Hitler Youth and the Black Panthers.

And to call it blaxploitation isn't totally accurate either. Sure, the antagonists are African American but The Black Gestapo doesn't really play up black culture in the way true blaxploitation movies do. It's more of a straight up exploitation movie that just happens to have a majority of black characters. And what exploitation there is! Nudity, racism, violence against women, rape, castration... The Black Gestapo doesn't pull any punches.

The plot follows The People's Army as they fight back against a group of white gangsters who're shaking down the black neighbourhood in Watts, Los Angeles. Led by General Ahmed (Rod Perry, THE BLACK GODFATHER, SWAT TV series) and Colonel Kojah (Charles Robinson, best known as Mac in 80s TV show Night Court), the revolutionaries use their training in guerilla tactics to wage a full-out war with the honkey hoods.

Once the white guys are out of the picture, Kojah is quickly corrupted by his new found power. Breaking away from Ahmed, he and his men soon enough take the place of their former white oppressors, shaking down bookies, selling drugs and killing anyone who gets in their way. It's up to the principled Ahmed to try to put a stop to his former righthand man's delusions of grandeur.

Frost regular Phil Hoover (THE THING WITH TWO HEADS) plays bigoted white goon Vito, who gets his comeuppance in a painful way, while Frost himself plays campy toupee-wearing criminal overlord Vincent.

You could say there's a serious message in all of this - that the oppressed can quickly become the oppressors if they give in to the temptations of power. But really, who cares about morales and messages when there's so much sleazy exploitation to enjoy? Especially when it comes wrapped in a parcel of funky 70s music and fashions (I wonder why plaid trousers have ever made a comeback? Or maybe they have and I didn't notice?).

The action is sometimes brutal, sometimes goofy, but always good sleazy fun. The best stuff is during the black-white war at the start and Ahmed's assault on Kojah's compound at the end. The gratuitous shots of naked breasts at regular intervals certainly don't hurt either.

Fans of low budget exploitation will have a ball watching The Black Gestapo. I mean, how often do you get to see black guys dressed like Nazi soldiers raising their fists while audio of mass "Sieg heil" chants plays? Not often, I can tell you that.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Chain (1996)

A scan of my VHS copy of The Chain
The Chain (1996)
Director: Luca Bercovici
Starring: Gary Busey, Victor Rivers, Jamie Rose, Rez Cortez
Format: VHS (Palace Home Video)

Two prisoners hate each other but must work together when they escape captivity, because they are joined at the wrist by a heavy metal chain. As a plot hook it's been done many times, most famously in Stanley Kramer's 1958 classic The Defiant Ones. In 1996 two movies were released with this premise. Fled, starring Laurence Fishburne and Stephen Baldwin, had a theatrical release and made quite a bit of money. The Chain, on the other hand, was shot in The Philippines on a small budget and probably went straight to video, forever consigned to obscurity.

Frank Morrissey (Busey) is an American cop obsessed with catching international gunrunner Carlos (Rivers, BLOOD IN BLOOD OUT). He travels to South America in pursuit of his taunting nemesis, but both end up being captured by soldiers  and thrown into a jungle prison. When they repeatedly try to kill each other, the two rivals are chained together (hence the name). An attack by rebel forces allows them to escape into the jungle, but the soldiers are hot on their trail and they're still chained together, forcing them to put their hatred aside and work together to survive.

If you're like me, you'll watch anything Gary Busey is in. Whether he's appearing in genuinely good movies (Point Break) or action movie escapism (Under Siege, Eye of the Tiger, Surviving the Game), Busey is always entertaining to watch. Is his unorthodox acting style the result of drug addictions or a head injury he supposedly suffered in 1988? Either way there's only one Gary Busey.

Here he's in good form. Not great, but good. There's also a couple of big battle scenes you'd expect from a Philippines production (it's funny that despite this movie being set in South America, the soldiers and rebels in said battle scenes are quite obviously Asian). On the down side, director Bercovici (who interestingly along with co-writer Jefery Levy shares the original Ghoulies movie in his film credits) is clueless about pacing an action movie and some of his camera work is distracting rather than innovative.

Also of note is a brief scene involving Philippino action flick regular Ken Metcalfe (WARRIORS OF THE APOCALYPSE, THE MUTHERS etc) in his second to last movie.

The Chain is by no means a good movie. It's not the worst thing out there, but I think most action fans will find it boring for the most part. If you want another chance to see the Buse-meister in action during his heyday (before he became a complete caricature of himself) check it out, but otherwise there are much better films worthy of your time. Especially disappointing because of its filming locale.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

VHS collection update - May 18 2012

The first update of my VHS collection in six months shows all the tapes I've picked up over that time. Horror, comedy, TV, and lots and lots of cheesy action flicks!

In two parts...



 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ghettoblaster (1989)

 A scan of my VHS copy of Ghettoblaster
 
Ghettoblaster (1989)
Director: David DeCoteau
Starring: Richard Hatch, Del Zamora, Diane Moser
Format: VHS (Applause Home Video)

Travis (Hatch) is a single dad who returns home to find his old neighbourhood is now a ghetto overrun with gang violence. When Travis' father is killed by The Hammers, a ruthless Latino gang run by Jesus (Zamora), he takes over the family store and tries to resist their standover tactics. But of course that's never going to work, and after more witnessing and becoming victim to more violence he finally takes a stand, becoming a one-man vigilante force.

So it's all pretty predictable, but one nice plot point is that Travis is ex-army, specialising in urban warfare tactics. This allows for some interesting guerilla-style attacks (an exploding ghettoblaster is especially fun) and some lame TV-style antics (dressing up as a clown to infiltrate a drug deal at a park).

The bad guys aren't going to stand for that, so they kidnap Travis' daughter, setting up a final confrontation with The Hammers. Of course there's also a love interest, predictably the sister of one of the gangbangers, Gina (Diane Moser). It's just a shame there's so little chemistry between Hatch and Moser.

Ghettoblaster would be a yawnfest if wasn't just so 80s. The Beat Street-esque rap music, the fashions, the lack of true grittiness... all of it makes Ghettoblaster feel like an extended episode of a Stephen J. Cannell show, but with nudity, swearing and violence thrown into the mix. The violence is for the most part quite tame, but there is a rather nasty drive-by shooting of a young kid in the opening scene.

Richard Hatch isn't overly impressive as an action star, but he's likeable enough. I grew up watching him on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and have always liked him as an actor, so getting to watch him in his own action movie was a treat. The rest of the cast does an adequate enough job.

Ghettoblaster is definitely worth a watch, particularly if you're of my generation and grew up watching Richard Hatch and 70s/80s TV shows.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Seeing Red double feature



Red Dawn (1984)
Director: John Milius
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson
Format: VHS (MGM/UA)

For his follow up to the 1983 Arnie vehicle CONAN THE BARBARIAN, director John Milius transported from mystical Cimmeria to contemporary USA and swapped swords and loin cloths for machine guns and army uniforms. The result was RED DAWN, an excellent "what if" actioner that stars a handful of not-yet-famous young actors.

RED DAWN is one of those movies - like THE OUTSIDERS, RUMBLEFISH and TAPS - where part of the fun is watching these young actors before they were famous. In fact, Patrick Swayze, C Thomas Howell and Darren Dalton (as well as William Smith, but he could hardly be considered a "young talent" at this stage of his career) had all appeared in THE OUTSIDERS the year before RED DAWN.

The opening scene sets up what is to come and is powerful stuff - paratroopers begin falling from the sky onto the football field of a small town US high school. When they start attacking, it's clear that someone is invading America, soon revealed to be Russia and its communist allies Cuba and Nicaragua.

A group of the students (including Sheen, Howell and Dalton), escape with an older brother (Swayze) into the mountains, taking supplies and weapons with them. They are soon joined by two teenaged girls (Thompson and Jennifer Grey). At first they are content to hide out, but when they witness the brutality of the invaders firsthand the teens begin fighting back, adopting their high school mascot and carrying out raids and attacks as the resistance group The Wolverines.

With a plot summary like that, it would be very easy for RED DAWN to get carried away with a "Rah, rah, USA, USA!" mentality, but it manages to restrain that side of things while still portraying the invaders as evil bastards who are keen on lining up townsfolk and murdering them by firing squad. This movie also resists the urge to trivialise war and make it all fun and games - characters die regularly and a downbeat (but necessary) conclusion offers some hope but doesn't fit into the "happy ending" mold.

There's lots of good action - explosions galore, tank battles, rocket launchers etc - but Milius also uses his talented young actors to bring a real heartfelt quality to proceedings. Swayze, Sheen, Howell and Thompson in particular shine. It's also fun to see some fleeting chemistry between Swayze and Jennifer Grey three years before their starring roles in Dirty Dancing.

While the kids take center-stage, the adult supporting cast has plenty of familiar faces - Harry Dean Stanton (ALIEN), William Smith (CONAN THE BARBARIAN), Powers Boothe (TOMBSTONE) and BEN JOHNSON (WILD BUNCH) among them.

I see on IMDB that a remake is planned for release this year, with North Koreans replacing Russians/Cubans as the invaders. While this original is far from perfect - its pacing lags in places - I doubt the remake will be able to top it.


A scan of my VHS copy of Red Scorpion


Red Scorpion (1988)
Director: Joseph Zito
Starring: Dolph Lundgren, M Emmet Walsh, Al White
Format: VHS (CEL/Vestron)

In the 80s Dolph Lundgren cornered the market on playing Russian badasses, despite actually being Swedish. After a non-speaking on-screen debut as a KGB agent in the 1985 Bond flick View to a Kill, Dolph shot to stardom as Rocky Balboa's Soviet nemesis Drago in the same year's Rocky IV (who can forget that training montage - Hearts on Fiiiiiiire!).

In 1987 Dolph top-billed for the first time as He-Man in the live-action MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, but I would argue he wasn't actually the lead actor, as a lot of that film's plot was taken up with the human protagonists (one played by Courteney Cox). It wasn't until the next year that Lundgren got his first chance to really taken center-stage in RED SCORPION.

Dolph is Lieutenant Nikolai Rachenko, a crack Soviet soldier based in Africa. His latest mission is to assassinate a pesky African rebel leader. He gets close to his target but fails to kill him. Then his own superiors want him dead, so Nikolai switches sides and helps the rebels fight back against the Communist oppressors. Along the way he befriends an African bushman who teaches him the ways of his people and dubs him Red Scorpion.

If you're familiar with Dolph Lundgren you'll know what to expect here. Dolph has never been mistaken for a talented actor - he simply had "the look" and while not as good as Van Damme, Seagal or Norris when it came to hand-to-hand combat, could handle himself in a fight. In RED SCORPION he spends most of his time shirtless, showing off his impressive physique. But at the same time Dolph does get the chance to act a bit - the interaction between Nikolai and his bushman mentor (who don't speak the same language) allows him to break his icy demeanor and have some fun for once.

The final showdown brings the action in spades, with enough gunfire, explosions, attack helicopters, rocket launchers etc to keep the discerning fan happy. Director Joseph Zito got his start in slasher films (THE PROWLER, FRIDAY THE 13TH THE FINAL CHAPTER) but prior to RED SCORPION had cut his action teeth with a pair of Chuck Norris vehicles (INVASION USA, MISSING IN ACTION) so knew his way around this kind of material.

The supporting cast reunites BLADE RUNNER alumni M Emmet Walsh and Brion James, but let's face it, this is Dolph's show. While not the best movie he's been in (ROCKY IV, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, THE EXPENDABLES are all better), RED SCORPION is perhaps big Dolph's finest hour as a headline act.