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] I'd love to check out what you got. And check out my book, Chad in Accounting, over on Amazon.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Battle of the Damned (2013)

This is one I've wanted to do since before I went on my unplanned hiatus, but it was not an easy find on streaming unless I wanted to pay to rent it, which, with all the Dolph I still had to do that I could get as part of my various subscription packages, it was hard to justify a rental. Then I found it on Hoopla and all bets were off. Let's see if it was worth the wait.

Battle of the Damned has Dolph as Max Gatling (very Lance Rockford of him), a mercenary who is hired with his team to go into a zombie zone and rescue the daughter of a major businessman. When Dolph gets there, his crew is killed, so he figures he's gotta get this mission done at the very least so the death of his team isn't in vain. But then when he finds the daughter (Melanie Zanetti), she shows him a group of survivors she lives with, led by a charismatic leader who probably isn't what he seems. When that leader tries to have him killed, Dolph is rescued by the daughter's boyfriend, and together they find a group of killer robots and come back to rescue the survivors. But will Dolph and the robots be enough?

I really enjoyed this one. It's a zombie film that plays it straight, but yet isn't afraid to have fun at the same time; and Dolph seems to be on the same page about that, which makes it all the better. The addition of the robots just adds to the fun factor and makes the whole thing work that much more. On top of that, I think the standard supporting cast in a zombie film with the standard tensions were all a bit above standard, which enhanced the film. This is just a fun Dolph flick.

We are now at 56 movies for Dolph on the site, and while this may not be a top ten or twenty, it's a pretty good one compared to his others. If you look at his IMDb bio, this is one of 5 films he had released in 2013, and it's really the only one I liked, the others being The Package, Legendary, Ambushed, and Blood of Redemption, all of which we've reviewed at some point. The thing is, while 2013 was a spate of movies I didn't care for except for this one, we were still in the glow of Dolph's great Expendables performance, and even though his part was diminished some in part 2, there was a sense that bigger things were coming for Dolph, that he was becoming a bigger force outside of just our DTV circles--the "Dolph-isance" that Mitch from the Video Vacuum talked about was starting. Watching this now in 2020, it's hard to go back and think of what this was back then, and who Dolph was back then, compared to now. I think though, out of all of his 2013 films, this one is the best representation of this modern Dolph that everyone is enjoying.

In 2013 the zombie flick was also a big deal, perhaps even bigger than sharks in terms of where the low-budget and DTV market was planting all of its money, and I remember seeing trailers for this back in 2013 and thinking "looks like Dolph is getting in on the zombie game too." I think it's easy to be cynical about zombie flicks, because often the filmmakers and/or distributors are cynical about their audiences when it comes to making them, especially at that time when they were trying to cash in on the Walking Dead craze. What I liked about this film--and perhaps why Dolph chose to be involved--is that it didn't have any of that cynical side to it. This respected its audience and wanted to deliver a fun time, and as a result it did what it set out to do. This is the 15th zombie film we've done on the site (one of which is another Dolph flick, Dead Trigger, which had Art Camacho as fight choreographer), and there was a point where I was kind of zombied out and left these alone, but if we can find more gems like these, I may come back to them.

The old adage is, never act with kids or animals, because they'll always upstage you. I tend to disagree on the kids part of that, because I'm generally not a fan of kids in adult movies; but I also think I may add a group to that, and that's robots. A great robot is tough to beat--just ask the cast of Lost in Space. These robots that Dolph befriends are another fantastic example. To some extent I cared more about them than some of the human characters in the film. What is it about robots that makes them so lovable? I'd love to see a sequel to this where Dolph and one of the robots opens their own private detective agency. How great would that be? (As an aside, I read on IMDb that director Christopher Hatton may have repurposed robots from a previous film he did, Robotropolis. I haven't seen that one yet, so I don't know if that's the case.)

I want to go back to Dolph for our last paragraph here. We're looking at 56 films for him, and considering I have a bunch in the can from when I did my Dolph list on Letterboxd, it's a matter of when not if we'll hit 60. At last count, I'm seeing 8 more we can review, plus two documentaries he's in that I want to cover here, so it's really a question of whether or not we hit 70 with him. We'll get into this more when he does hit 60, but it can't be understated just how much Dolph has meant to this site over the 1000+ posts we've done. At some point we're going to catch up with his output and we won't have any more of his films to post, and someone else, maybe Gary Daniels--maybe in the far future if we're still doing the DTVC Scott Adkins--will top his record, but even when that happens, and Dolph no longer has the title of most films on the site, his presence and what he's meant to the site will never be diminished.

And with that, it's time to wrap this up. As far as I know, Hoopla is the only way to stream this without paying to rent it here in the States. Hoopla is a really great deal, I discovered it when I was looking this film up on Letterboxd actually, and all you need to do is link your account to your local library card, and you can virtually "borrow" titles like these to stream on your devices for three days. I think with that in mind, that you can stream this for free in the States, that makes it a no-brainer.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

An Hour to Kill (2018)

Our friend Joe Williamson gave me another screener for a Mel Novak film, and when I saw the trailer I was excited to check it out. This is the fourth screener we've received from him, and as I say, I always like being able to do these, so I was happy to get another opportunity. On IMDb, this has over 100 critic reviews, which seems crazy for a low-budget enterprise like this, but tells me more people than Joe were out there getting the word and screeners out to other reviewers. Man, I am in a massive ecosystem with this review game!

An Hour to Kill features a hitman (Aaron Guerrero) and his protege (Frankie Pozos), who have some time to kill before a job--the job is their boss, Mel Novak, wants Guerrero to kill Pozos, who has no idea. As they're killing time, Pozos tells stories, which become the horror anthology, starting with "Valkyrie's Bunker," which involves five girls going to get some pot on some farm near an old Nazi bunker; "Assacre," which has a dangerously hot chili pepper and some competitive eaters looking for revenge; and finally "Hog Hunters," which has a group of bowlers looking to have sex with some pigs who get more than they bargained for.

This felt like even more of the fun, 90s, low-budget horror I always loved than Tales of Frankenstein did. This is the kind of thing my buddies and I would have rented and worn out the tape watching and rewinding to rewatch the scenes we got the biggest kick out of. It had a bit of a Troma feel to it as well, and that's a kind of horror I've always enjoyed. The last one, "Hog Hunters," was a bit draggy before it got to the best parts, but I think that may have been due to the fact that footage from the first one, "Valkyrie's Bunker," was lost, so maybe they needed to make Hog Hunters longer to pad out the film. Padding is good when your delivering fragile products, but not when making movies. Regardless, that was a minor issue in an otherwise fun horror romp.

Joe has been doing a great job getting Mel Novak's tag count up. This is now three Novak films he's given us to screen, and when you combine that with two I've done on my own, Samurai Cop 2 and Nemesis 5, that's five Novak films in the year since I've returned from hiatus. That's actually the same number as Gary Daniels, and he's one behind other big names like Seagal, Adkins, and Rothrock, who all have 6--Dolph of course has the most with 9. This was a real fun turn for Novak here as a mob boss, and it seemed like he had fun with it, as small as it was. I'm not sure where we go next with Novak, but perhaps Joe will have another screener, and if so, that will mean another tag.

For me, my favorite story out of all of them was "Assacre"--though the point could be made that I would have preferred "Valkyrie's Bunker" more if all the footage was there, or "Hog Hunters" if it didn't have the padding, which is fair enough. "Assacre" was one of those Tromerific deals that, while I don't want to give away too much, had me both totally grossed out and in stitches. I guess "Hog Hunters" has a similar quality when it finally gets going, and "Assacre" had its slow moments too, but I think it paced out a bit better and had more fun to it overall, which made the payoff that much sweeter. I could see that as one of those classics from high school that my buddies and I would reminisce about today if we got together. Knowing us, we probably would have tried to show it in one of our classes under the pretext of a class project, and then pretended we didn't know how to use the VCR when the teacher was yelling for us to turn it off.

What was interesting about our two hitmen, was you had Guerrero as the guy with his shit together who doesn't want to kill Pozos but knows he has to do his job; while you had Pozos as this real obnoxious pain in the ass who had to play it in such a way that he was endearing enough that we wouldn't want him to get whacked. Like if Pozos plays it too obnoxious, we're looking to the hit as an applause scene; and if Guerrero plays his hitman as too much of a stone-cold killer, it makes no sense that this would be a struggle for him. For parts that were essentially bumpers around the anthology, for them to both play it so well, it enhanced the film in a way that those bumpers seldom do.

Finally, I saw a lot of comparisons to Pulp Fiction because we had two hitmen, which makes sense, but to some extent I think that's like saying any movie with a blindfold is trying for a 9 and 1/2 Weeks thing. The thing is, there were so many movies with hitmen in them that did try to bite on Pulp Fiction in the late 90s/early 2000s that a lot of us DTV fans still have PTSD from the 100-minute dialog fests where hitmen would have ironic conversations about such inane topics as cereal brands after committing a hit. It was insufferable. These characters had none of that, the writers weren't trying to remake their own foot massage or Royale with Cheese conversations; but I think Pulp Fiction was so influential for so many of us--including us who write the reviews--that we don't know how to talk about movies without using it as a pretext. It's a testament to how great that film was.

Since I'm no longer talking about the current film though, it's probably time to wrap this one up. This is a fun horror-comedy anthology that doesn't try to do too much beyond have a good time. It looks like you can find this on, and possibly on too. If you can track it down I say check it out. Thanks again to Joe for another screener. Can't wait to check out the next one from you!

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Saturday, September 19, 2020

Ultimate Justice (2017)

In looking to get more Mark Dacascos on the site, I saw this one on Tubi, with a nice runtime around 90 minutes and also featuring Matthias Hues. Why wouldn't I review this? Also, I was preparing to have Ty and Brett from Comeuppance on the pod to talk about Mark Dacascos, and figured I'd get as many as I could in before that. In addition to us, Simon at Explosive Action has covered this one, so you can go to his site to see what he thought of it. Now, without any further ado...

Ultimate Justice has Dacascos as the head of a mercenary group who decides he's had enough after one of the team gets killed on a mission. So he sells the company at a big profit and has a big party to celebrate, where his business partner Wolfgang Riehm meets a beautiful woman. 8 years later Dacascos meets Riehm at his beautiful house to have dinner with him and his wife, and after he leaves, later that night, some baddies break in, rape and kill the wife, and beat up Riehm. Now Dacascos has to get the gang back together to exact Ultimate Justice!


For me, I was of split mind on this one. On the one hand, there was some great action, which I enjoyed; on the other the story was really contrived and to some extent not plausible, and I think it hampered things a bit. Yes, I always say good action outdoes bad story, but this one was a bit too convoluted for me. The other problem was the film's revenge construct meant we lost a lot of great characters just as we began to like them. No spoilers, but in some cases these characters were really put through the ringer, only to just be killed off. When you go down the list of rules for action movies, I think killing off characters with impunity is one we don't see often, but it still counts. Action is similar to horror, in that we in the audience won't always go with you if you kill off characters we like, and this movie didn't seem to care--and for me, the film suffered as a result.

We've seen Mark Dacascos as both the lead hero and the lead baddie, and he does both equally well. In this movie his character is more of a jerk than either of those two, and unfortunately that isn't a good look on him. That may come from the old adage that the best baddies in movies are played by people who are really nice in real life, and Dacascos seems like a genuinely nice person in real life. World domination is one thing, but stealing his buddy's woman didn't seem like good fit for him. On the other hand, the action scenes he has in this are fantastic, and that's really what we come for. I think from that respect, this movie really works, and why I think a lot of people weren't bothered enough by the plot and enjoyed this.

When Ty and Brett came on to discuss Dacascos, I think the main theme was that Dacascos is one of the best out there doing this, and while he should have gotten better big screen roles, his career has by no means not been successful. When we see his name on the tin, we know what kind of electric martial arts he's going to bring, and for us fans of the genre, that's all we ask. This film marks his 20th on the site, so he has some time to go before he hits the 30 Club and beyond, but the DTVC Hall of Fame? I think that could be in his future this fall.

Speaking of tags, this is 15 for Matthias Hues, but I believe this is his first as a good guy. I have to say, I often enjoyed rooting for him as a baddie, so it was nice to be able to root for him guilt free in this one. He has a good amount of stuff out there, especially in those late 80s/early 90s Golden Years of DTV, that I haven't touched yet, so we should be seeing him here a lot in the future. When we look back on the 1000+ posts we've done on the site, Hues is one that, while we don't put him up there with a Dacascos, without him, the 80s and 90s for DTV wouldn't be what we know it as. Oh, and look at the screen I took of him. Best scene since Bolo Yeung was working a food truck in Tiger Claws II.

Finally, we're always talking about who could be in the next wave of great action stars, and one to keep an eye on here was Mike Möller. His martial arts prowess was fantastic, and the scenes he was in were the kind of high octane stuff we want out of a movie like this. I looked online, and he has three more movies on Tubi, one in particular that features Hall of Famers Fred Williamson and Lorenzo Lamas. We'll definitely bump that one up in the queue, and I'll tag Möller now with the idea being that we plan to see more of him in the future.

And on a good note like that, let's wrap this one up. This movie clocks in at a good 90 minutes, and has a pretty nice action quotient; but the story is a bit of a drag, and the film tends to kill people off after having us invest a lot in them, which is a bit of a dirty trick that I don't enjoy. The fact that this is on Tubi and Prime is a definite selling point too. 

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Thursday, September 17, 2020

Omega Cop (1990)

A little while back Ty and Brett at Comeuppance asked if I wanted to guest on their pod to discuss Ron Marchini's films. I'd never actually seen one before, so this was a great opportunity to dive into his oeuvre, and with this one also having the great Adam West, why not get after it? In addition to me, they've also reviewed this one, so you can go to their site to see what they thought.

Omega Cop takes place 11 years ago in 1999, after global warming has destroyed the ozone layer to the point that we're hip-deep in the apocalypse. Post-apocalypse, Marchini works for a police force run by West from a bunker--which works well if you want him to have scenes by himself in one location. Anyway, on a mission to stop an unruly bunch who are holding a white slavery auction, all of Marchini's men are killed, leaving him alone with one of the women from the auction. West says they can't come back to the compound, so Marchini collects two more women along the way, and they have a final showdown with the head baddie who ran the auction. If we're only going to have one cop left, it might as well be Marchini.

This movie is a lot of fun. I mean, look at that gang there! After I captured this image, I read Ty and Brett's review, and they had the same one, and I considered getting something different, but it just captures the fun of this movie so well. Marchini is great in the lead, West is great in a role that allows him to stay in one room for all his scenes, and you've got baddies who look like this. What more do you want in a movie? Exactly.

This was the first of seven Marchini movies I watched for their podcast episode, and as we'll see as I eventually review all seven, they're all fun like this. Seven movies in a row without a dud is a feat no one in the DTV world has pulled off before as far as I know, which makes it that much more egregious that it took me over a thousand posts to finally get one of his movies up here. His martial arts are fantastic, and it looks like he produces all of his own movies--other than one AIP flick, he didn't work with any of the big names like Cannon and PM--which on the one hand makes me say "I wish he had done that," but on the other I think "seven good ones in a row, why mess with that." It's going to be a lot of fun as we go through the rest of Marchini's films.

This came out in 1990, which is only 9 years before the period when this takes place, meaning the world went down the toilet quick. It's always fun to see a movie set in the future that's now the past, but man, 1999 over 20 years ago, it's almost the Retro Channel past, that was once the future. I never really understood why things were set so close in the future. If this was 2040 and made in 1990, would it have made any difference? I mean there are parts where he's talking about things he remembered from when the world wasn't like it is now, and he's telling women who are at least in their 20s, which means they would have been at least 10, if not older at that time--if the world went to shit in 1990, if it went later, they would have been older. I just did a paragraph trying to hold the film accountable for it's timeline, when they had guys like the two in the first screen. I'm sorry, I'll move on.

Look at West there, he's slouching. How amazing is that? He can't even be bothered to sit up to do his lines. As I write this, there's another film incarnation of Batman on the horizon, this one starring Twilight's Robert Pattinson. We can add him to Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, and Ben Affleck. And West was the best of all of them for me. As a result, whenever I see him in anything, I love it. Funny, other than when I did the original Batman, I haven't done another West film as far as I know. We'll have to fix that.

Soapbox time. As far as I can tell, this is only available as a used DVD or VHS, or you can stream the Rifftrax version, and that's it. How do Marchini's films not have blu-ray releases? Crazy Six has a blu-ray, and no offense to Albert Pyun, but if Crazy Six has a blu-ray, so should this. We need a company like Arrow to release a box set of all seven Marchini films from the mid-80s to the mid-90s. I mean, Mankillers has a blu-ray, but this doesn't? And if Arrow or MVD wants to make these blu-rays, call me or the guys from Comeuppance, we'd love to record some commentary tracks.

Off the soapbox, and time to wrap this up. This, like most Marchini films, is available on YouTube. Until someone takes the initiative to make the blu-ray box set, that's the best that you can do--actually according to Christopher Cross, the best that you can do is fall in love--but at least the movies are available for everyone to see. And if you haven't been checking out Brett and Ty's Comeuppance Review Podcast, what are you doing? Subscribe and check out the episode I joined them with on Marchini, plus all their other great episodes.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Coven of Evil (2020)

This was a screener submission from writer/directer Matthew J. Lawrence--and for a first time in a long time, the film's distributor actually mailed me a physical DVD screener, along with some other films they had coming out. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the ease, speed, and lower cost of the Vimeo screener with a password, but this was a fond step back in time for me which gave the process an added touch that I enjoyed. Now, without any further ado...

Coven of Evil follows Joe (John Thacker), a budding journalist just out of school, still living with his folks, who writes an article about a strange cult of witches. When the head of the cult (Samantha Moorhouse) confronts him at his home, she invites him to their remote island location to see just how innocuous they really are. As ominous as this invitation sounds, the lure of escaping the more ominous fate of living with his folks any longer causes him to take her up on that offer; but when he finds a beautiful girl (Laura Peterson) possibly being held against her will, will he be able to save her and him?

I saw on IMDb and Letterboxd that reviewers killed this, and I don't know that it deserved that fate, but I believe it ultimately had a fatal flaw. The beginning of the film shows a satanic ritual from the late 18th century, effectively Chekhov's Gunning Lawrence's story. If we see the ritual at the beginning, we know in the present day that that's where we're headed. So with that in mind, the film's 100-minute runtime feels even longer; not to mention, around the hour-twenty mark, there's some plot exposition where loose ends start flying together, and to some extent I don't know if we even needed all of those nuances that were added to the story. Just the same, I thought this was well-shot, well-acted, and the score added a depth to it that I really appreciated. Again, this is not a 1- or 2-star IMDb hatchet-job review kind of movie, it deserves much better treatment than that; but also again, the 90-minute rule wins, and I think it wins that much more convincingly because we know where we're headed.

Director/writer Matthew J. Lawrence did give me some background on the process. In particular, he talked about the budgetary constraints, which, on the one hand is something that needs to be taken into consideration; but on the other, if my main concern is the film's length, usually low-budget films clock in lower than 90 minutes, not higher. Often where a low-budget film runs into issues is in the performances, especially if the cast is inexperienced, and that didn't happen here; or in the way it was shot, with bad takes needing to be left in to save costs, I didn't see any bad takes here. With that in mind, while I feel like it's important to grade a low-budget film on a curve and in so doing respect the effort and earnestness that the cast and crew bring to a project like this, this is an overall entertaining film, and even if I weren't grading on a curve, I'd be giving it high marks for all of the things it did well. It's just I never quite understood the idea of going onto IMDb or Letterboxd and killing a movie like this. Yes, a Marvel movie that has a budget so high a rounding error could cover my outstanding student loan debt deserves to be killed if it misses the mark, but not something like this that's doing the best it can to turn out a quality film despite the roadblocks in its way. (I'll step off my soapbox now.)

Another interesting thing that I had a hunch people would be upset about, is the fact that the coven pretends to be a harmless Wiccan group as a cover for their deadly Satanic exercises. In a 100-minute film, the plot exposition where we hear someone in the group mention that they were pretending to be Wiccan to throw Joe the intrepid reporter off the scent, is something that could easily be missed, especially considering how witchcraft-y the coven seem to be. I think that was another source of bad reviews for this film, but I want anyone to know that may be considering watching this that it's in no way meant to slander the Wicca faith. If anything, it's another mark in the "bad" column for our baddies, the fact that they would try to give the Wicca faith a bad name, giving us more reason to root against them.

One other thing Lawrence talked about is the moorland in Yorkshire where he grew up, and how it was both beautiful and eerie. That paralleled my own experience, growing up in a York of my own, York County, Maine, because Maine has similar qualities, which Stephen King has made millions of dollars off depicting so well. This film could have used more of that element, like when Joe sees a villager staring at him when he first arrives, but we never hear from him again. Throwing in a creepy elderly person here or there, a cat hissing, little touches to set the atmosphere a bit more, I think could have enhanced what Lawrence was going for even more.

Finally, a friend of mine a few years back told me about a linguistic study he read that said the Yorkshire accent in the 18th century would have sounded more like a Massachusetts accent does today. I understand that with the budgetary constraints they couldn't have flown in any actors from Boston, MA to do that opening scene, but how amazing would that have have been? One actor who we've seen in another screener we had here, Slip and Fall, comes to mind, and that's William DeCoff, who played the lawyer in that one. Imagining him with his Mass accent as the satanic priest is fantastic.

Since I'm recasting the opening sequence with Boston character actors, it's probably time to wrap this up. I think this has some real solid performances, great sets, a haunting score, plus the way it was shot really worked; ultimately though, the runtime coupled with the fact that the opening scene has to foreshadow what the end will be, otherwise it wouldn't be there, betrays it a bit and can make that 100-minute runtime a tougher sit. Just the same, I think this is worth giving a look, especially since right now you can get it on Amazon Prime. Thank you again to Matthew J. Lawrence for sending this over, I really appreciated it!

For more info:

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Debt Collectors (2020)

When I watched this, this was the most recent Scott Adkins film out, but between then and now, he's had a new film released, Legacy of Lies, which shows you just how much Adkins is living up to his title of hardest working person in action right now. Considering I have a bunch of Adkins from when I was on hiatus that I need to catch up on, being one movie behind on this isn't such a big deal.

Debt Collectors picks up where Debt Collector left off, sometime in the future Louis Mandylor visits Scott Adkins at the dive bar he's working in, and offers him a chance to get back into the debt collecting game--one round of collecting, big bonus, and he's done. Adkins agrees, but as they're collecting debts, something isn't adding up, and as the film goes on we realize that someone from the past wants revenge on them and their boss Tommy, and it's this revenge character that's driving all the debt collecting action. Will the guys figure out the situation and find a way out in time to save Tommy and the whole operation?

When I did Debt Collector, the message I got was "Debt Collectors is nice, but you really should be reviewing Avengement." It felt like though when Debt Collector got a sequel, more people were saying what a great movie it was, and how they couldn't wait for this one. For me, the main issue I had with the first one was that it kind of spun its wheels based on the construct of them going from place to place to collect debts and get into fights, and that isn't really mitigated here with the inclusion of the baddie; but by the same token, I think the individual confrontations were more exciting in this one than that one. The reality is, this concept works better as a TV show, where the main characters can run into 43-minute five-act problems each week, and that keeps the story from needing any padding to keep us from the end. I still enjoyed myself though.

I was looking at Adkins IMDb bio, and from 2016 to 2020, he's had 21 movies come out (plus it looks like he has number 22 in Seized coming out in October). Of those 21 (almost 22), I've only seen 8, so I can't say how big his part is in all of them, but of the ones I have seen he's usually the lead, and he's the lead while doing a lot of high-octane fight scenes. This is his 16th film on the site, plus I believe I have five that I've watched that I'm waiting to review, so we should have a lot more from him coming in the near future, especially once we get caught up on the massive Dolph, Daniels, and Seagal backlog I still have.

Louis Mandylor is back as well. Like the previous one, he does a great job in making his character Sue a guy you want to root for. I can tell he enjoys playing this part, which helps us manage the scenes where there isn't as much action. He's become something of a Jesse V. Johnson mainstay, as he's not just in this but also The Mercenary and Avengement. In looking at his bio, he's doing a lot of smaller parts in things, so it's good to see him in something like this where he has one of the lead roles and he's able to take a character he really likes and run with it.

We're always on the lookout for Star Trek alums, so it was great to see Marina Sirtis here as another organized crime boss that the guys are collecting money from. I was trying to think how many other cast members from TNG we've seen on the site. I know Michael Dorn has made a couple of appearances; then Gates McFadden was in one of my favorite Christmas movies ever, Make the Yuletide Gay; and one of our earliest movies was Mortuary with Denise Crosby. I was surprised we didn't have any Brent Spiner, but I never tagged him if we did, and I can't think of anything we've reviewed that had him in it.

This is Jesse V. Johnson's 8th tag as director here at the DTVC, which moves him past the great Jim Wynorski. Where does this put him overall as a director on the site? Albert Pyun has the most with 41 (he has 43 tags listed, but one tag is from the second Mean Guns review, and one is for being producer on Nemesis 5). Second we have a big drop down to Fred Olen Ray, who has 14 movies tagged, and then Sam Firstenberg comes in third with 12. Of Art Camacho's 46 tags, I think 11 are as director, and that ties him with Isaac Florentine, who also has 11. And then DTVC Hall of Famer Cirio H. Santiago has 9. After that it's Jesse V. Johnson at 8. That's quite elite company when you think about it, but Johnson has been putting out some pretty exciting stuff recently that's hard to ignore, so he gives me no choice but to review it and keep his tagged number growing.

And with that we wrap this up. Most people will get this to rent or buy on VOD, but in the US it's no available on Netflix, and it's also available on Hoopla as of my writing this post. If you're not familiar with it, Hoopla allows you to use you local library card to stream movies in their library for a few days, as if you're borrowing them. Some of the other titles on there that I had trouble finding other places: Battle of the Damned, VFW, and Beyond the Law. Hopefully they'll add more in the future, as there are a lot of titles out there that are only available to rent.

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Thursday, September 10, 2020

New York Chinatown (1982)

I found out that from Ty at Comeuppance that today is Don "The Dragon" Wilson's birthday, and I had this in the can, so I figured why not pull the trigger rather than wait on it. I found it available to stream among JCT's YouTube videos, and had been meaning to do it for a long time, as it is the Dragon's first feature film, so what better one to cover on his birthday. So without any further ado...

New York Chinatown (spelled "China Town" in the subtitles) is a Hong Kong production shot in New York City about rival triads vying for control. One group is led by our hero, played by Alan Tang, and the group they are battling against just happen to have a young NYPD detective in their pocket, DTVC Hall of Famer Don "The Dragon" Wilson. When Tang is framed for beating up a guy under the boardwalk on Coney Island, he goes to jail, while the syndicate working with Wilson starts to take over. That's when some others in the NYPD decide the best bet to stop all of this is to let Tang out of jail and have him and the remainder of his gang fight the other gang off. It'll be a bloodbath.

This movie's not the best, but it does stand out 30 years later as Wilson's first role, which I really enjoyed. I think that elevates it beyond your standard Hong Kong flick from this period. Beyond that, the action is good, it's a nice compact 90 minutes, there are some fun characters, plus you have the cool scenery of early 80s New York City as your backdrop. I don't know how I would have felt about this film if I had seen it in 1982 (when I was 3?), but it definitely is one that feels more fun today than it might have then. The subtitles are a bit all over the place, and the JCT version is a lower-quality VHS rip, but overall this was fun for me.

The standard knock on Wilson is his wooden acting, and I don't know that I haven't been above making a crack about that myself, but what was fascinating here, especially for Wilson's first film, is how good I thought he was. He plays a great baddie! I was trying to remember if I'd seen him play a baddie in the 33 movies of his we'd done before this, and I couldn't think of any. He has one fight scene in this, fighting against a local martial arts master, and you can see where that electric stuff we recognized from all the films he did 10 or so years later came from, and in that sense I wanted more. Now that we've done almost all of his recent starring films--I think we have a couple left to cover--I'm going to try to go back and get a lot of these 80s ones he did, especially since a lot are on YouTube.

The real star of this was Alan Tang, and he definitely has that movie star presence that you'd want in a lead like this. He's cooler than the other side of the pillow, burns his share of heaters, and he gets stuff done. In some of the scenes he did with Wilson, Wilson was great at being the heel to Tang's hero. I was trying to see if I'd seen Lang in other stuff before, but on his IMDb bio a lot of the titles are in Chinese, so it's hard to know. He passed away in 2011 at only 65, but he hadn't done a film since 1993 anyway. I imagine that Hong Kong meat grinder takes it out of you, though this film didn't look as bad as a lot of them are--there weren't a lot of stunts here or dangerous scenes.

I should point out that I've never been to Chinatown in New York City before. I've been to the ones in London, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Las Vegas, and Philadelphia. I've heard that it's shrinking and the one in Queens is growing. Either way, I'd love to get up there and see it, especially after seeing it used in this film. Beyond that, as I mentioned above, the 1982 NYC backdrop really enhanced the film, and they didn't just shoot in Chinatown. We don't get many films here at the DTVC that are actually shot in New York, most are shot in a Canadian city and passed off to us as New York, so when we do, I always make a point of taking it in. It's a city, more than any in the US I think, that is itself a character in the story, and that was definitely true here.

I talked above about Wilson's early career, and I feel like when I first started the blog, a lot of these early movies weren't even listed on his IMDb bio. Then I come back from hiatus and suddenly they all were added. It might be because he was "Don Wilson" in those. I know Letteboxd had trouble distinguishing between "Don Wilson" and "The Dragon". Think of it like his pre-Bloodfist days, it's an interesting way to keep adding to his tags and reviews on the site. I count 13 of these we could do after this--and that doesn't count new ones like The Hitman Agency that I also need to see. Considering this is movie number 34 for him, does that mean the 50 Club is in sight down the road?

Before we get too carried away, let's wrap this up. The fact that you can get this free on YouTube through JCT, and it's Wilson's first feature, it's worth checking out. I enjoyed myself on those elements alone, but then you have Alan Tang, some other great supporting characters, and the 1982 NYC backdrop. Again, it's not the best movie, but it's an enjoyable one.

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