The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got. And check out my book, Chad in Accounting, over on Amazon.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

New York Ninja (2021)

I had heard a lot of good things about this, and people were asking me if I'd seen it. I discovered it was on Showtime, which my wife and I subscribed to because we wanted to watch the Bill Cosby documentary, but I'd forgotten to unsubscribe after the free trial was done. Since I was paying for it anyway, why not get my money's worth and make this happen? So here it is, June's indie post. In addition to us, our friends at Bulletproof have covered this as well.

New York Ninja was originally shot in 1984, then was found and finished in 2021. It follows John Liu, a TV sound technician whose wife is murdered when she witnesses a kidnapping. After grieving for a bit, the crime and lawlessness in NYC combined with the lack of justice for his dead wife leads him to take the law into his own hands. As the New York Ninja, his vigilante movement galvanizes the city, and at the same time, he gets closer to solving his wife's murder, and bringing down the kidnapping ring that led to her death. Meanwhile, a serial killer is terrorizing the population. What connection does he have with the kidnappings? And will our New York Ninja be able to take him down?

This was a fun time, and overall I enjoyed it. There were some great shots of New York City in the 80s, that I really loved; and the voice work from names like DTVC Hall of Famers Don "The Dragon Wilson" and Cynthia Rothrock, plus Ginger Lynn Allen, Linnea Quigley, Michael Berryman, Leon Isaac Kennedy, and PM mainstay Vince Murdocco, added a lot to the proceedings. I think my one qualm was the scenes where people were being victimized took too long before our hero jumped in--like we know what's going to happen, how much extra PTSD do the victims need? But that's a minor quibble, as the kid from Trekkies said, compared to an overall great time, and great work from Vinegar Syndrome and director/editor Kurtis Spieler. I don't want to say too much more, because I don't want to give much away, but this was a lot of fun. 

Among the many bright spots, Don "The Dragon" Wilson did a great job with his voice work for the star of the film. After doing Jesse V. Johnson's The Last Sentinel in 2007, he took 5 years off until he did a short in 2012, then had a small part in 2015's Scorpion King 4--which I've seen, but was dumped from Tubi before I could get images, so I'm waiting for it to be available for free again to do that in order to review it. Since then he's been doing a lot of stuff, some of which I've seen, but nothing like this. It's a different kind of challenge, we know he's an elite athlete, and in the 90s was one of the best DTV action leads; but here all that goes out the window and all he has is his voice. I think perhaps because he starred in a film like this, New York Chinatown, he understood this kind of New York-shot Hong Kong production, and knew what it needed to make it feel authentic. This is number 37 for him at the DTVC, meaning the 40 Club isn't far off.

Someone else the 40 Club is even closer for is Cynthia Rothrock, as this is her 39th on the site. Also funny is the fact that she was dubbing someone else's voice, because she had her voice dubbed by Brinke Stevens in the Leo Fong flick 24 Hours to Midnight. Her part isn't as big as Wilson's, but the fact that she could be a part of this, especially with her background in Hong Kong films, was still worth it. Like Wilson, she went on hiatus after making a film in 2007--Lost Bullet, which I still haven't been able to track down--and came back in 2012, and has been putting out stuff ever since. I don't know how much of that stuff we'll do, like Cool Cat or Martial Arts Kid, but I may get to it if that's the difference between her hitting the 50 Club down the road or not. As it is, her becoming just the sixth member of the 40 Club will be a huge deal.

Vinegar Syndrome is known for restoring and releasing on Blu-ray some films that we never would expect to find outside of a cheap VHS rip that may or may not have been uploaded to YouTube, but what they did here with Kurtis Spieler is another level. There's something almost Godfrey Ho-ish about it, like it's in that tradition, only this isn't "we have this film, we should use it to make money," this is more like "we have this movie, the world should see it." And the work involved to bring it to light like this, they essentially wrote a new script and new film score, then had all the voice work dubbed in. Unlike Godfrey Ho who tried to make something new with what he had, here everyone involved was trying to make the best representation as they could to do the people who worked on the film initially proud. It's not just a love of film, it's a love of the fans of this kind of film--us--and a love for the people who work both in front of and behind the camera to produce the films we spend so much time enjoying. This is why Vinegar Syndrome is the best in the business at what they do, but even for them they, and everyone else involved, really outdid themselves here.

Finally, we always talk about New York City being a character itself when a movie is shot there, and this film really captures that, especially the 1980s version. First, we had beautiful shots like the one above, which you don't always see in 80s NYC movies. Beyond the grit and grime and crime and crumbling infrastructure, it was still one of the greatest cities in the world, and this movie leaned into that part, while still giving us all the bad parts. There's danger everywhere, yet at the same time, millions of people worked and lived in the city at that time. The way the movie co-opts one of the city's most iconic symbols, the "I ♥ NY" logo, and turns it into "I ♥ NY Ninja" it accentuates that NYC dichotomy in the 80s, how the greatest city could seem so great and so not great at the same time. I went into this looking for a fun ninja romp, and wasn't expecting the level of nuance with which they handled the issues NYC was facing at that time, but it was a welcome surprise and something I appreciated.

And with that, let's wrap this up. Right now this is available to stream on Showtime if you're subscribed to that. Also, after July 1st I think you can buy this on Blu-ray from the Vinegar Syndrome site. This is both fun 80s ninja movie, and love letter to low-budget 80s genre films from the modern crew involved in getting this version to us. On that score, this is worth our support, and hopefully with that support if Vinegar Syndrome has more of these we'll get more releases.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt15358226

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

 

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Legacy of Lies (2020)

This one has been in the can for a long time, so I decided to finally make it happen. Of course I realized I've just put out an Adkins podcast, so it's like an Adkins-palooza here at the DTVC this week. In addition to us, our friends at Bulletproof, and Mitch at the Video Vacuum have covered this as well. 

Legacy of Lies isn't a scandalous biopic about a celebrity chef--think "Lagasse of Lies" for that--but instead has Adkins in a common story construct for him: former special forces guy, raising a child on his own, when said child is kidnapped and he's forced to come out of retirement. The details here involve a daughter, the Russians, a Ukrainian journalist, and a MacGuffin of sorts. Will Adkins put the pieces together in time to save his daughter and take the baddies down?

That might be the shortest synopsis I've ever written, but how many times have we seen this construct with him? In addition to this, I have Abduction, Seized, and Eliminators. It feels like we're talking Seagal "former CIA agent comes out retirement" territory, but at least Adkins doesn't mail in the action in this, which helps. On the other hand, the 101-minute runtime doesn't do it any favors, as we're working on a well-worn plot device, and it would help to move it along since we pretty much know where we're headed. I think if you're behind on your Adkins--which is easy to do with how many he has come out at a time--leave this one until you've done some others first.

This is now 21 Adkins films on the site, but the first since November, so like Dolph there's been a bit of a break since we've covered one of his. I have 6 or 7 watched as well, so we could get him close to the 30 Club pretty soon. This was one of five films he had come out on 2020, and now we've reviewed four of them. (The fifth, Dead Reckoning, I haven't seen yet, but haven't heard great things either so I may leave it for a bit.) Out of the four I've done, I don't even know how I'd rank them. Seized uses the same plot construct as this, replacing the daughter for a son, and the Russians with Mexican cartels; Max Cloud was unique, but didn't execute the video game thing as well as I'd have liked; and then Debt Collectors was a fun Jesse V. Johnson sequel, but may have been better as a 43-minute episode of a Debt Collectors syndicated TV show. Where does that leave us with him, as he's probably the most exciting, dynamic DTV action star in the business right now? We can't expect everything to be Avengement, but I do think there may also be a law of diminishing returns with him too. He was forced to slow down due to Covid, so he only had two films come out in 2021, and I liked both more than anything he had come out in 2020. Maybe less is more in this case.

Speaking of "legacy," as Adkins starts to get more and more films under his belt, he'll start to pass some of the bigger DTV names in terms of all-time status. My top five is Dolph, Williamson, Rothrock and Wilson (tied for third), and Daniels. He's got some work to do to crack that group, but after that I have Seagal, Lamas, Dudikoff,Van Damme, and Dacascos, with Michael Jai White at 11th. This is where Adkins is starting to move, and while 2020 was more quantity over quality, it looks like 2021 is the reverse, and I think the two together a DTV action star makes. There has to be the quantity to make your way into the 30, then 40 and 50 Clubs; but also the quality all-time bangers that we can point to to show you're one of the greats. The other issue he runs into is, a lot of these other names above him aren't done yet, despite being in some cases 15-20 years older than him. It'd be like Barry Bonds moving up the home run list, only to have Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron come back and hit more. After a couple solid ones in 2021 though, I'm excited to see what Adkins has next.

There seems to be two ways to get the former special forces guy out of retirement: kidnap his child, or find him in some seedy, out of the way bar, and convince him without coercion. We can see why Seagal always opts for the latter: he never wants to be seen in light where he's not in control; but why Adkins is always doing the former is more puzzling. Doesn't he look at a script and say "I've done this before, in fact I did this already this year!" Adkins definitely brings a lot more action than Seagal, he's not mailing these in and looking for a paycheck; but by the same token, I think it would be more fun to see him in the Seagal scenario. Adkins as "Jonathan Cold," former MI6, called back into action while holed up in some dive in rural Thailand to stop any one of Vinnie Jones, Florin Piersic, or Ving Rhames, teaming up with Byron Mann and one or two women in black leather, but no Cajun accent and no mailing in the action. Just give me 10 of those and pump them directly into my veins--okay, maybe five, and just air them for me to watch on Tubi.

Finally, one thing I appreciated about this film is they didn't make Adkins affect an American accent. Maybe I'm biased as an American, and I don't think Adkins does a bad American accent, but I just prefer him as an Englishman. I've noticed Isaac Florentine seems to be the biggest offender of this, as he's either using an American accent, or a Russian accent in the Boyka films. Fellow Englishman Gary Daniels never does this, he always has his natural accent, and it always works. No matter what, the action is the most important thing, and Adkins always brings that; but the accent matters too. Come on Scott, do it for the children.

And with that, let's wrap this up. While this was on Tubi, it's now on Netflix, but that could change with the way Netflix dumps its movies. If you've seen a lot of the great Adkins films already, this is worth a look, especially if you're already paying for Netflix; if not, I'd get to some of those other ones first.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6834916

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

 

Saturday, June 11, 2022

War Pigs (2015)

This is one that's been in the can for a long time, so long that I had to rewatch it for this review. I think the reason for this is two-fold: the film isn't all that remarkable as far as Dolph's filmography, and it's been available on Tubi seemingly in perpetuity, so there hasn't been a lot of urgency to make it happen. At this point though we don't have a lot of Dolph left before we're delving into things like Fat Slags and Sharnado 5. In addition to us, our friends at Bulletproof Action and Mitch at The Video Vacuum have covered this, so you can see what they thought as well. Now, without any further ado.

War Pigs has Luke Goss as a Captain for the US Army in WWII who has been demoted after a mission goes FUBAR due to bad orders from the top. That's when cowboy colonel Mickey Rourke swoops in with a proposition: work with French Foreign Legion Captain Dolph, and lead a ragtag group of soldiers known as the War Pigs across enemy lines to get intel on a potential super weapon the Nazis are creating. After a lot of training to get them ship-shape, Dolph and Goss take their men on the mission, and things start to turn FUBAR again. Now it's time for Goss's moment of redemption.

After watching this, I thought, there was enough material here for a 43-minute episode of a syndicated TV series--and when I looked at Bulletproof's review, they said something similar. I know that's a common take I give on these films, but this really had that vibe. A good chunk of the film was getting the guys into shape--like I think the mission was only the last 30 minutes. With the film's slim budget, I wonder if that was by necessity as opposed to by design. Either way, we're left with something that isn't quite there. We've seen the Dirty Dozen paradigm before, and while this wasn't quite that, it was in that vein. "Let's whip the guys into shape!" "Look at them struggling up those hills!" "Oh no, the tough one to crack is crackin' foxy again, now it's going to be tougher on everyone!" And on that score, some of the more fun elements we could have had with a period piece were missing. There were no 40s slang terms like "crackin' foxy," these were just 2010s bros dressed in military fatigues that could've been WWII, combined with Dolph as a Legionnaire, Rourke as a cowboy colonel, and Goss looking cool smoking cigarettes. All the same, the end was kind of fun, and on that score I would've loved watching this as part of the War Pigs 90s syndicated TV series at 3am on a Saturday night while I'm eating cold burritos and trying to get the room to stop spinning after a night of drinking. As a 90-minute movie on Tubi, maybe notsomuch.

This is now 62 Dolph movies, extending his record for the most on the site; but this is his first since November, so it's been over seven months. From the time I started the blog 15 years ago, this is the longest non-hiatus break in Dolph posts ever. I don't know how this has happened, except that I had a lot of podcast episodes that I wanted to do accompanying posts for, plus I was trying to get some other names up, and next thing I knew it was 7 months. The other thing is we don't have a lot of Dolph left. We have 4Got10 and Kindergarten Cop 2 from this mid-2010s period; and then recent ones like Castle Falls and Pups Alone; but from there it's Small Apartments, Fat Slags, Seal Team, things like that. Do we even bother with those? And part of me's like do I even bother with this one when I'm just getting it up here to have them all? But then there's the Dolph factor, where every scene with him is better for having him in it. It's the Dolph Effect, the reason why he's the Babe Ruth of DTV films, and in that sense, this is worth it for him. He's going to be 65 in November, so hopefully by then we'll have 65 movies up for him, making him the only actor on the site to have that distinction--the closest is the only other member of the 50 Club, Gary Daniels, who has 54 films and just turned 59.

S

Mickey Rourke is back. This is now his third film on the site. Of all the Hollywood stars who have gone the DTV route, Rourke is the most fascinating for me, because he's almost indicative of how that world changed in the mid-2010s. In 2008, after a career drought, he reemerges and is nominated for an Oscar for The Wrestler, which he was amazing in; and that same year he's great in The Informers; then two years later he's a villain in a Marvel movie, Iron Man 2. The thing is though, the film ecosystem was starting to shrink at the same time, and the DTV stuff was there for him to make a quick buck. Between the three films of his we've reviewed, The Expendables, Skin Traffik, and now this, he's had barely any screentime, but like his friend Eric Roberts, his small scenes enhance the film. It begs the question: is it more worth it to spend the budget on a day of shooting with Mickey Rourke, or spend it on more realistic effects--as this movie used CGIs for the bullets and shots hitting people. I kind of lean more toward the former, I know the bullets and blood are fake either way, but the Rourke is always real.

Somehow Luke Goss hadn't had a tag until now. I'm not sure why I was avoiding that for so long, but with this post we're fixing that. This is now 10 movies on the site, which is a pretty prodigious number, so he should've been tagged before this. He plays an American again, and like most of the film's anachronisms, he's the most modern American bro-y, yet at the same time he does a great job smoking cigarettes and looking cool. Like other Brits, like Scott Adkins and Bruce Payne, he's much better with his natural accent, but also because he's affecting an American accent, he affects a modern one in this. I wish he had watched some 40s movies and tried to do that American accent instead. A good Bogey would've been perfect. Anyway, I don't know what it is about Goss more than someone like Adkins that makes his American accent turn him into a total American bro guy, but maybe it has to do with the fact that his brother Matt has a residency in Las Vegas. Maybe he's only studied American males there in that environment, so all he knows are the dudes who swoop in for a weekend, dump a bunch on bottle service, destroy a hotel suite, maybe get lucky with a lady, then drive back to LA and their fiancées and pretend none of it happened despite the fact the pictures are all over Instagram. He's reflecting our worse back at us.

Finally, when the War Pigs have finished their training and are ready to go on their mission, they're given new patches. This might have been the most authentic WWII moment of the film for me. I remember my grandfather, who passed away last November just shy of his 97th birthday, never really talked about his time in WWII, but one day I was visiting him in Florida, and we were watching a History Channel show about when Mt. Vesuvius erupted during the war, and he was like "I was there for that." He told me about how he'd injured his eye--an injury that made him blind in that eye--and was recovering at a military hospital in that area, and then had to go help evacuate residents. He then took me into his room, where he pulled out a container that had all of the stuff he still had from the war, and among that he showed me his patches. They looked very similar to that one in the way they were constructed, especially one he got for all the patrols he'd been on. Before he passed, he moved back up to New England, and I'm not sure what happened to that container, but either way it was a cool moment with him.

And with that, let's wrap this up. This is currently on Tubi, and my hunch is it will always be on Tubi. If you've seen a lot of other Dolph and are closing in on the end of the road like I am, give this one a watch. It's not his worst, and it's not his best, it just is.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3779300

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, June 4, 2022

The Kill Reflex aka Soda Cracker (1989)

This is one that was on Tubi, and in the interests getting more Williamson on the site, I needed to make it happen. Also, I was a guest on the Comeuppance podcast where we went over our top 5 Williamson flicks, and I figured I should watch this on the off-chance it makes my list. In addition to us and Comeuppance, there are only two other critic reviews on IMDb: action mainstays Bulletproof Action, and Down Among the "Z" movies with Steve Q.  

The Kill Reflex is a film based off a novel called Soda Cracker, where Williamson plays the eponymous hero--Soda Cracker, not The Kill Reflex--though a copy of this says "Fred Williamson is the Kill Reflex." Anyway, Williamson's partner is killed, and he wants revenge. He and new partner Maud Adams have to deal with pressure from the top, which makes them think something fishy is afoot, especially after he sets his sights on local drug kingpin Bo Svenson, whose recent release from prison seems to coincide too well with Fred's partner's untimely death. But as they dig deeper, will they like what they find? Could Fred's partner have been dirty? At least he's taking his partner's son to the shooting range.

This isn't the best Fred, but it's the kind of Fred that's good because it's Fred, if that makes sense. The movie starts with him waking up his partner and partner's wife by playing loud music and making them breakfast. The story isn't giving us much beyond that, but I can see why Fred would've wanted to adapt it into a film. He loves the Chicago hard-boiled detective type, and this is definitely that. From an action standpoint though, this is more drama, and I think Fred excels more when his movie has less story and more action. The other thing this one lacks is names. We have him, Maud Adams, Bo Svenson, and then small parts from Frank Pesce and Phyllis Hyman. I think this could've used any of a Gary Busey, John Saxon, David Carradine, Jim Brown, or Robert Forster to enhance the proceedings. Still, as a Fred fan, this is a fun enough watch.

We're still on the march to get Fred into the 30 Club. After doing the podcast episode with Ty and Brett, I have a few Fred flicks in the hopper--though I also dug into more of his older Blaxploitation stuff too, which may not fit as much on here, at least not until we cover more of his DTV stuff first. That means we're at 23 for him, and at the rate I'm doing reviews overall, let alone Williamson reviews, we may not get there until next year. Another list he's moving up is the director list, with this being his 9th directed film on the DTVC. That puts him in a tie for seventh with Jim Wynorski and Jesse V. Johnson, but other than Albert Pyun's 42 director credits, no one else has more than 15, so he could move up this list. (Also of note, Dolph is quietly moving up this list too, with 6 director credits so far. We might have to create a 60-10 Club for him!) This film is another one for Fred completists more than anything. I don't know that I can recommend it outside of being a Williamson movie, but often with his movies, he's the biggest factor in it working, so maybe a good Williamson quotient is all you really need.

Maud Adams was in this, a mere six years after she was in Octopussy. Interestingly enough, this is back-to-back reviews with an Octopussy alum, after we did The Return of Swamp Thing with Louis Jourdan last week. You'd think being a "Bond Girl" would get you bigger parts, but it doesn't look like it worked out that way for her, which might have been a commentary on how some of those Roger Moore Bond flicks were received by the industry--even if they're some of my favorites. I think her part here is really any woman from the late 80s--lots of coats with shoulder pads, lighter shades of lipstick, and hair that's teased but not too teased. I just think of how many family Christmas parties I went to around this time where aunts dressed like this. She does great though in this role, her and Williamson have good chemistry, and she works well as a detective. We've seen her one other time on the DTVC, in another film with Williamson, Deadly Intent, and while she didn't do a lot of stuff, she has some more DTV stuff in her filmography, so I imagine we'll see her again.

We also had soul singer Phyllis Hyman in this as Bo Svenson's girl. This was one year after she did School Daze, and looking at her bio on Wikipedia, it seems like her career was still going well enough at this time, so I wonder if she did this part as a favor for Williamson. One of the great female soul singers who happened to be around when there were so many greats that I don't know if she always gets her due, especially when she didn't have as many hits; she also struggled with bipolar disorder, which caused her to turn to drugs and alcohol, and tragically take her own life in 1995. If you watch the Whispers' Unsung episode, they talk about how they were on the bill with her at the Apollo when it was announced that she died, and rather than cancel they decided to go on with show in her honor. Another one of the great soul acts who are overshadowed by the number of great acts from their era.

Finally, because this was based on a novel, I was curious to know if the author, Jaron Summers, had written anything else, or if this novel was still available. It looks like no to both questions. According to IMDb, he was a screenwriter, mostly for TV shows, who hasn't done any work since 2012. A lot of the work he did do was an episode here or there for TV shows like Miami Vice or The Incredible Hulk, so exactly the kind of thing that would've lent itself to a novel that could've been adapted into a film like this one. I wonder where the idea came from though: was he eating a lot of soda crackers, and thought "what if there was a hard-boiled detective who ate so many of these his colleagues called him 'Soda Cracker'?"

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of this writing, you can catch this on Tubi under the name Soda Cracker, but at least once since I've watched it a few months ago Tubi has threatened to take it down, and while it's survived, they could pull it at any time--the dangers of living and dying by streaming services. Also, if you go back into the archives on the Comeuppance Reviews podcast, episode 61, "Best Freds Forever," is the one I was a guest on where we discussed Williamson. It was a great conversation, definitely worth checking out.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097663

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, May 28, 2022

The Return of Swamp Thing (1989)

Back in March I had Mitch from The Video Vacuum on the podcast to talk about directors Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski, and for our Wynorski portion we discussed this film. It was one that I hadn't seen before, which I couldn't believe, especially since I like older comic book movies. In addition to us and The Video Vacuum, among the 100+ critic reviews on IMDb, this has been covered by Fred the Wolf from Full Moon Reviews, and RobotGEEK's cult cinema.

The Return of Swamp Thing takes place after the first one, where Swamp Thing is still doing his swamp thing, and Louis Jordan is back trying to make his own swamp thing like creatures. At the same time, his stepdaughter, played by Heather Locklear, comes to his swamp mansion to try to make amends. Back at her home in LA, she runs a plant shop, and has a thing for plants, so when she gets saved by Swamp Thing after a nightly stroll brings her into the path of some deranged swamp locals, it's love at first sight. Now she and Swamp Thing need to work together to bring her stepfather down, but of course, she can't last long without being a damsel in distress, and next thing you know she's strapped to Louis's machine. Can Swamp Thing save her in time?


 

This is a great time. For me it's up there as one of my favorite comic book movies. Different from the Wes Craven first one, Swamp Thing is more of an action hero here, which works better for me. At the same time, Wynorski turns up the tongue-in-cheek factor, and then brings in influences from old sci-films from the 50s and 60s. One in particular was when we saw all of Jourdan's botched experiments, one of which would have been the frightening reveal in one of those old movies, but he throws out a bunch of them as a form of dark humor. On top of that, Heather Locklear seemed to really get what Wynorski was going for with this, and played her part accordingly, which helped complete the overall vibe. This may not have had a billion-dollar budget with teaser trailers and stingers and whatever other stuff modern blockbusters had, but it was still a lot of fun.

Out of the great schlock auteurs, Wynorski is one that we haven't covered as much on the site, I think in part because he doesn't have as much action as a lot of the others, and we've tended to lean more toward action over time. That doesn't mean he's any less great, and despite the lack of quantity here, the quality has been big, between now this one, Chopping Mall, and Hard to Die, which led to the formation of the DTVC podcast after I was a guest on Drunk on VHS and we discussed that film. A distinction that he has with another great schlock auteur, Albert Pyun, is that they've both done a comic book movie. With the sheer volume of Wynorski out there, this definitely won't be the last time we see him here, but this film was a reminder of how much more I should be doing his work, because say what you want, his movies are often a lot of fun.


 

As I mentioned above, Heather Locklear was great in this as well. Mitch and I were trying to figure out how she was cast in this, and I think at the time she was known as a Soap actress, even if they were nighttime Soaps, and at that time that was a bigger issue than it was when she was on Melrose Place, when she started getting big budget Hollywood roles. It's amazing to think that that would have been the bigger decider on whether or not she got parts, as opposed to the range and ability to do comedic parts that she showed us here, but that's Hollywood for you. I was thinking this'll probably be the last time we see her on the DTVC, but a quick scan of her IMDb bio turned up Double Tap, a DTV flick from the late 90s that has been covered already by the guys at Comeuppance and Bulletproof Action. Something for us to look forward to.

It's interesting to think this came out the same year as Batman, a movie that changed what we thought comic book movies could be. I remember myself as a ten-year-old going with my friend, expecting the Adam West version of Batman, and being utterly shocked. What we see here in Wynorski's film is more of that comic book feel, I could imagine this being a series of drawn panels I would've been reading at that time, and it's a bit of a shame how post this period we don't have that much anymore. Ang Lee tried for it with his Hulk, but it was too literal and didn't work for me. I like Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies for that vibe, but they don't quite hit that note the way this does for me, as they still leaned more in the Hollywood blockbuster lane. That then begs the question of where this sits on the comic book movie list for me. I think might it crack my top three after Batman '66, The Punisher '89. Other comic book movies among my favorites are Batman Returns, Superman II, Blade II, and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Out of those, I think maybe Batman Returns and Superman II are better than this one, so maybe I just need to see them again in case there's some recency bias. Also of note, The Punisher came out this same year, but didn't get a theatrical release. You have to wonder how that may have influenced the comic book movie world.


 

Finally, in the film's opening credits we see a comic book panel with the Joker and what looks like Scarecrow. Going back to the fact that Batman comes out this same year, I think prior to that DC wasn't as protective over Batman, so the characters were more available for things like this. Only a couple years later in 1991 when I was collecting the DC Cosmic Trading Cards, Batman was conspicuously absent, with even Superman included (boy had the mighty fallen there, with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace hurting that franchise two years before). With the way that Batman has been getting darker and grittier since Burton's film in '89, it would be nice to see if they could swing the pendulum back. I know Affleck's Batman was less that, but could we get a Batman where he's just a comic book hero the way Swamp Thing is here? It doesn't have to be the '66 TV show level, but maybe we don't need 3-hour dark epics, maybe we don't need a Joker who's all deranged and deformed. The reality is though, I think I'm in the minority on this, as most people who like modern comic book movies never liked comics.

And with that, let's wrap this up. Currently this is available on Tubi, which is a great deal. Seeing a schlock auteur like Wynorski tackle a comic book like Swamp Thing is a lot of fun, and well worth checking out. Also check out the podcast I did with Mitch on this, episode 94 in the archives, it was a great conversation.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098193

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, May 14, 2022

The Killing Zone (1991)

Back in February, I had the guys from Comeuppance Reviews on the podcast to discuss our favorite Evan Lurie and Deron McBee, aka Malibu, movies. Out of the three movies I chose for Malibu, this was the only one I hadn't reviewed, so it's time to fix that. In addition to us and Comeuppance, Bulletproof Action and RobotGEEK's Cult Cinema have covered this as well.

The Killing Zone has Malibu as a guy whose uncle is almost killed by a drug lord, and somehow, Malibu ends up in a prison in Arizona doing hard labor. When the drug lord comes back, a cop who used to work with Malibu's uncle decides the only one who can stop him is Malibu, so he pulls some strings and gets him out of prison. At the same time, the drug lord has a beef with Malibu's uncle, so he keeps attacking the bar his uncle owns. While trying to find the drug lord, Malibu mixes in some reps on the incline bench, and rips the collars off his shirts so they fit over his neck and too sweet pecs. Eventually, the baddie kidnaps the uncle and Malibu's love interest, Melissa Moore, leading to a big confrontation out in the desert somewhere. Will Malibu prevail? Will he prevail in time to get his reps in?

This is pure Malibu, and in that sense it works. If you ever wondered what a Malibu-led actioner would be, this is it, but it feels like this only works in the early 90s. His hair, outfits, sunglasses, and dangling earring only work in the early 90s. But the fact that we had an early 90s, and Malibu worked in that era, makes us all that much luckier that this movie exists as an artifact recording that moment in time. Beyond that, this isn't the greatest. The action is pretty good, but not great for the time it was made; and the story seems to make no sense. We're given Malibu and his uncle as these two great cops/DEA agents or whatever, yet, they keep going back to the uncle's bar, despite the fact that the baddies know they hang out there and keep attacking them there. Wouldn't that be the first place you'd avoid if you were the heroes? In that sense, this is good strictly for the Malibu factor.

But that factor is a strong enough one. In 90s action, we're used seeing Malibu in supporting roles, where his presence rounds out an overall great experience in classics like Skyscraper and T-Force, and while I think that's ultimately where he's at his best, the fact that he can lead a film like this is great too. The problem unfortunately is he didn't get a lot of great action lead scenes. We see him at the prison work yard in the beginning fighting a fellow inmate and taking him down, and we have a sense that that's what this is going to be every fifteen minutes or so, but we kind of lose that, and the film doesn't know how much to give action parts to Malibu, and how much to give them to the uncle; and then the end confrontation scene with the baddie, Malibu doesn't deliver the final shot, which was also a disappointment. So as much fun as it was to get Malibu in the lead, the film didn't do as much with him as they could have.


 

This was distributed by PM Entertainment, but wasn't produced by the PM team of Pepin and Merhi, and also the Tubi version didn't have the PM logo at the beginning. If you look up PM and sort their movies by release date, this is number 16, so very early in the process for them, and this kind of feels like that, like you can almost see the eventual Skyscraper, Sweeper, Recoil, etc. that they would eventually produce for us. I've talked about this before, but looking at the timeline, as the 80s are ending, the Cannon wave is cresting on the back of some bad investments like Masters of the Universe and Superman IV, but then the PM wave is starting, and while the two companies put out different styles of action movies, for us as fans, it led to this fantastic decade or so run from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, and what's great about a movie like this one, is we're seeing that PM wave building from off in the horizon.

Melissa Moore plays Malibu's love interest in this, and while I think she's known as a scream queen, we've seen her here in a good amount of action films, including one of her more famous turns in Samurai Cop, and as the female lead in Jerry Trimble's One Man Army. She doesn't have a lot of work in this though, she has a love scene with Malibu, hangs out at the uncle's bar with him, and then gets kidnapped. She stopped making movies in the early 2000s, and then came back for Samurai Cop 2--except her IMDb shows some porn movies after that. It looks like there's a Adult Cinema actress who is also named Melissa Moore, and the crowdsourced approach to IMDb titles has caused her and the scream queen Melissa Moore to be conflated on a few pictures. This is why William H. Macy isn't Bill Macy, because he didn't want to be confused with Maude's husband Arthur from Maude--and despite this was still confused for him at the 1997 Academy Awards. 

Finally, in the podcast episode I did with the guys from Comeuppance, we combined Malibu with Evan Lurie, in part because they exuded a great meathead quality in the 90s DTV actioners they were in. For some reason, and I can't tell why, the 90s meathead works much better than the 2010s/2020s meathead. Maybe it's the hair, the voice, the language they use, I don't know. Seeing Malibu here with his mullet, dangling earring, and shirts that he ripped the collars off of so they fit over his massive neck and pecs, it works. The modern version of him would be sleeves of tats, busy Affliction T, probably head with shaved back and sides with a hard part, and refers to attractive women as "smoke shows." The idea of putting Malibu or Lurie in that box makes me shudder. I think it's another reason why those 80s/90s actioners work so much better than their modern counterparts, elements like a Lurie or Malibu enhance the film in a way that makes it more fun, not more of an eye-roller.

And with that, let's wrap this up. Currently you can stream this for free in the States on Tubi, and I think that's the best way to experience this. It's a solid early PM actioner with Malibu, who's usually a supporting cast member, as the lead. And for the podcast episode I did with Comeuppance on Malibu, it's episode 92 in the archives, "Malibu and Evan Lurie." It's a great conversation, and worth checking out if you haven't yet.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102214

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Action U.S.A. (1989)

Back in January we had Jon Cross from The After Movie Diner and Miscellaneous Plumbing Fixtures on the podcast to discuss this gem. It was a great conversation and well worth checking out. I had been meaning to cover this for a long time, so it was good to finally make it happen, and now we're making it happen on the site too. In addition to us, Ty and Brett at Comeuppance, Fred the Wolf at Full Moon Movies, and Chris the Brain at Bulletproof action have covered this.

Action U.S.A. follows a woman named Carmen (Barri Murphy) whose boyfriend is killed by some baddies looking for the diamonds he stole. That's when two FBI agents, Osborn and McKinnon (Gregory Scott Cummins and William Hubbard Knight), come to her rescue, as they've been tasked with finding the diamonds too. In response head baddie Cameron Mitchell hires famed assassin Ross Hagen to take the girl out and get the diamonds back. Really, none of this plot matters, it's just about how many awesome stunts we can cram into the film.

And do they ever cram the stunts in. This is 90 minutes of pure late 80s action. It starts with a car chasing a helicopter with a man hanging out of it through the city streets of Waco, TX. That chase takes us through various stunts before the helicopter gets ditched, we resume with two cars, and it ends with the boyfriend and our heroine flying over a school bus, and the guys chasing them flying through a camper. And that's just the beginning! The thing is, this film doesn't need a plot, but the fact that it has one and it makes any sense at all is amazing unto itself. On the podcast, Jon said every five years or so we should just give some stuntfolk a bunch of money and set them down in Texas with some equipment and let them have at it, and after seeing the result in this film, I couldn't agree more. 

One of the funnier aspects of this is how the heroes, especially Gregory Scott Cummins's character, aren't that good at what they do. Usually the hero is an expert, like a weapon who is unleashed on the baddies. Here though, Cummins and Knight are constantly getting beaten up, losing shootouts, losing the baddies. Cummins at one point gets caught by Ross Hagen and his men--which included the great Hoke Howell--and is just beaten up continuously; or there's a scene where the guys go into a good ol' boys bar, and the film makes light of the fact that Knight, being black, isn't exactly welcome there, so he gets tossed through some cedar lattice by the patrons. The thing is though, this isn't played overtly like a Frank Drebin or something, it's more something you start to realize gradually as you're watching the film, which makes it all the better.

The number of great B-movie names in this is fantastic too. Gregory Scott Cummins, who usually is a baddie or heavy, is fun as the hero. He seems to get exactly what the filmmakers are going for with his part, and he delivers. As a MSTie I'm always a fan of seeing Ross Hagen in anything, but here he cuts a particularly interesting figure. When Hoke Howell and his partner pick him up at the airport, he arrives in a personal aircraft that's so small he can literally lift up the back and tow it where he wants to park it. He's also in this ridiculous cowboy get up, which he says he's wearing to blend in with the locals. Then we have William Smith as Cummins and Knight's boss. As Jon said in the pod, if you have a B-movie actor you're a fan of, chances are he's been chewed out by William Smith from behind a desk, and that's exactly the part he's playing here, the admonitions to the guys under him sufficiently gravelly. Finally there's Cameron Mitchell, he who never met a sit-down role he didn't love, here he sits in a hot tub or a couch, mostly complaining to people on the phone. It's all the accoutrements that make an 80s movie great, you just feel like you're where you should be when you're watching it.

Then there's the stunts, which are next level. When we see the guys at a gas station, and there's a big storage tank in the background, we know it's only a matter of time before that goes up, but yet they still manage to do it in a way that isn't perfunctory or pedestrian. The plot is a vehicle to get us from one stunt scene to the next: how can we put the characters in a circumstance that allows us to blow something up, set someone on fire, or throw someone out of a building? This is how action is supposed to be. When we see "action" listed as the genre on the tin, this is what we hope for, and seldom get, at least to this level. That's okay though, they can't all be this awesome, but they could all be closer, right? It feels like the filmmakers had a clock in their head as they wrote the script, "oh, we've had too many consecutive pages of dialog, we need to insert an action sequence here." But even then, a chase scene isn't just a chase scene, it's a pace car running off the road and through a house, which causes the house to explode. Why not, right? Just set up the IV and pump this directly into my veins.


 

Finally, as a certified English as a second language teacher, it's interesting to note that when this came out in the late 80s, we still needed to put periods between the letters in an acronym. Now it's standard to write acronyms without them, but I guess because this film was made when we did, we couldn't go back and Lucas the title to make it fit the modern standard, so we still have the periods. I was trying to think of other standards in English that have changed like that, and one that comes to mind is double-spacing before a new sentence. That one's even more recent, because if you look at my older posts, they all have the double-space after the period, etc. I think I may have held onto that standard longer than it was considered standard, and with my first novel, I had to go back and delete the second space before self-publishing it. It was an arduous process, and now I just single-space all the time.

And with that, let's wrap this up. In the States this is available for free on Tubi. That's a great way to see it, but this is also one of those greats that's worth adding to your collection as well, and Vinegar Syndrome has a great version. This is the 80s action you came for. Also the podcast episode is in the archives, episode 91, so definitely check that out when you get a chance, Jon and I have a great conversation.

For more info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096757

And if you haven't yet, check out my new novel, A Girl and a Gun, at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!