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. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. 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.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

CIA Code Name: Alexa (1992)

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It's always weird to see a movie post 1994 that has OJ Simpson in it. At least it is to me. I know you can't Lucas him out of the films, and I wouldn't want anyone to, but when I turn on USA and see Naked Gun 33 and a 1/3 with OJ goofing around, it reminds me of a time when he was considered a really great guy in the American public. Watching this film, for instance, I have to take my mind back there in order to understand what the film makers were doing when they cast him.

CIA Code Name: Alexa is the first of two films that puts DTVC Hall of Famer Lorenzo Lamas in the lead role of CIA agent Mark Graver. Here he needs to use the lethal eponymous Alexa, played by Kathleen Kinmont, after local police officer OJ Simpson catches her carrying out a mission for her bad guy boss Victor Mahler (played by Alex Cord). In an homage to Hitchcock's Notorious, Lamas wants Kinmont to use Mahler's feelings for her to get her into his lair and get whatever it is he has that's a threat to national security. OJ wants in on the investigation, because his cop partner was killed by some of her ex-crime partners. Things don't go exactly as planned, and it's up to Lamas and The Juice to improvise if they wanna take the bad guys down.

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This was a pretty silly film, made sillier by the fact OJ's in it. It came out right around the trial, and it was big on cable at the time. The lack of anything resembling a budget puts the film in a weird context: it's hard to get past how cheap the CIA is and how little resources they have. Then you throw in that Lamas isn't all together that convincing as a top notch CIA agent, and the whole thing takes on an air of a bunch of grown up kids playing dress up. This is MST3K level stuff.

Lamas looks like he's playing a drug dealer from Miami Vice more than a CIA agent with his slick-backed ponytail and five o'clock shadow. I give him an A for effort, though. I'd say imagine a Renegade episode where the regular writers went on vacation, and Reno was in an alternate universe where he was in the CIA, and Cheyenne played a deadly assassin. Bobby Sixkiller I guess would've been replaced by OJ. If you watched Renegade because you thought it was funny, you'd dig Lamas in this. If you watched Renegade because you thought it was a solid TV show... well, then I'm sorry...

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OJ's in this a fair amount. He's supposed to be a "maverick" cop, but really he's a nice guy who does crazy things for no reason just so he can live up to his "maverick" moniker. The first time we see him he's at a stakeout with his partner, and he's hurting after a long night of drinking. He mixes Alka Seltzer in with his coffee in a move that's second only to Seizmore's use of beer on his cereal in Point Break in terms of depraved food pairings. With OJ being in the news again after he held some people at gun point, these movies are even weirder to me now. Hearing him on a tape yelling "Where's my shit!" and some scared guy replying "Mike took it.", it's hard to marry the new Juice with the beloved pre-1994 one. I guess he was always the bad OJ, though.

The bad guy, Mahler, doesn't make any sense. He's supposed to be really smart, like some kind of criminal mastermind, but he does ridiculously dumb things. His brother botches a mission, and to punish him, he cuts out one of his eyes. Then he sends him out on another mission so he can redeem himself. Now I've never run an international crime syndicate before, but I have to imagine the last thing I'd want is a man I'm sending out on delicate, extremely dangerous missions-- ones requiring experts to make sure everything's carried out perfectly-- to be sans one eye. Not only that, but I'd definitely not willfully cripple any of my henchmen. But I guess I'm not running an international crime syndicate.

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A dude named Michael Baily Smith plays the bad guy's top henchman. He was also Fred Williamson's top henchman in Whatever It Takes. You may remember him as Super Freddy in the fifth Nightmare on Elm Street, which marked the only time anyone other than Robert Englund played the classic horror mainstay. It also says that in 1994, right after this came out, he was in a bad Fantastic Four movie. I've never seen this thing before, and netflix and Amazon didn't have it. According to Amazon it's not out on DVD yet. It's definitely something I need to see, though.

This is the third Kathleen Kinmont film I've reviewed on here, the other two being Gangland and the Wings Hauser classic Art of Dying, where she had the nasty sex with food scene with the DTVC Hall of Famer. In the latter, as with Renegade (more so with Renegade), Kinmont's more off-beat than she is dead serious, which is how we find her in this film and Gangland. The off-beat plays much better from her. Maybe its because I first saw her in Renegade, but when she plays dead serious, it just seems forced, and when dead serious seems forced, it comes off silly and overbearing. As far as I can tell her best work was in Renegade, and I'm still waiting for her to shake me of that conception.

This is a solid rental for a bad movie night. It's silly enough on it's own that you won't need to be that good at mocking a bad film to enjoy this one, and the OJ factor gives it a wrinkle that other films of it's ilk that you might see at the video store won't have. This one's so dumb, it's can't disappoint.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0103907/

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Absolon (2003)

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Christopher Lambert has always been a fan favorite in the DTVC Hall of Fame. My friends and I have always dug his movies. There's something about the combination of the usually ludicrous plot, his great voice, and the interesting co-stars he seems to drum up. Whether it's a sexy thriller about chess players or a futuristic remake of Beowulf complete with bad techno music, homeboy seldom fails to deliver.

Absolon stars our man as a cop in a future ravished by a horrible disease that's nearly wiped out the entire population. In order to stay alive, the survivors take Absolon, the eponymous drug that keeps them from dying of the disease. A man who may have found the cure is murdered, and Lambert and his partner are on the case. Suspicious federal agent Lou Diamond Phillips is tracking them, and his motives become clear when we see him talking to Ron Perlman, the head of the corporation who makes Absolon, and the last person who'd want to see a cure on the market. Anyway, the guy who worked with the guy who was killed has Lambert unknowingly ingest what will eventually, after it incubates in his system, will be the cure. Now he's just gotta survive the incubation period so he can save the world. You can do it, Lamby baby!

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This is a pretty bad movie, but I think I liked it. I'm not sure exactly. If you asked me specifically what I liked, I'm not sure I could tell you. Perlman was cool, as always. The guy that gave Lambert the drink with the cure in it had the same Ben Sherman full-zip cardigan I bought at Foxwoods with the winnings off a huge horse bet, so that was sweet. On the other hand, the future made no sense. For some things we regressed in technology, and in others it was better: like we have the ability to fill a whole room with a hologram to reenact a murder (not one that can interact with you physically like in Star Trek, so it wasn't that silly), but our clock radios are worse than they were in 1968.

Lambert did his thing. I liked his laid back look, including the hoodie and messed up hair. If he wasn't so old, you could see him hosting TRL. I guess if you flash forward twenty years to when I'm his age, I'll probably still dress like that, and so will other people my age who dress like that now, so I guess it's not that much of a stretch. He hooks up with his female lead, Kelly Brook, which isn't that much of a surprise because action heroes usually get a piece of the heroine; but here Lambert's character seemed surprised he was getting some, and that was kind of refreshing. None of the Van Damme wink-wink nudge-nudge don't you wish you me kind of stuff.

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Lou Diamond Phillips, or LDP, as his fans call him, didn't do too much for me. It was interesting to see him in it, because it was LDP, the dude from Young Guns and whatnot, but he wasn't as cool as he was in The Big Hit. I think it was the way the character was written; but Lou Diamond's supposed to be a good actor, he needs to do more with a poorly written character than he did. We could've had any number of Highlander, or even Beastmaster, villains come in and scowl a lot and it would've done the trick. It probably would've cost less too... though maybe I'm wrong about that.

Speaking of Highlander, beyond the obvious with this being a Lambert film, we also have Ron Perlman, who did a guest turn on a Highlander episode. I love Perlman in pretty much everything except Beauty and the Beast (because that was just a dumb show), and this was no exception. He plays a great evil company head, and he steals every scene he's in. I remember watching the interviews done with the cast and crew after I watched the Highlander episode he did on DVD. One of the producers complained that Perlman "mailed it in". I think that makes me like him even more. He probably mailed it in in this movie too, but he's still the man.

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Lambert's partner is this hot woman named Roberta Angelica. If you watched any syndicated TV, you may remember her as the chick who mud wrestled Tia Carrere in Relic Hunter. For some reason in this film, they kind of ruin her by giving her weird hair and whatnot. The only reason I could see for that would be how much hotter she was than the female lead, Brook, who we had to believe Lambert would want to do. What they should've done was not ruin Angelica's looks, and then just had Lambert hook up with both of them. We'd buy that, I think...

I don't know how to recommend this. Don't buy it. Maybe rent it, but don't center your night around it if you're having people over, unless they're huge Lambert fans. If you see it on TV, you could TiVo it for shits and giggles, but don't go in expecting much. It's bad enough that you and your friends can mock it, but there's plenty out there that's a better investment to go for before you try this.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0300902/

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Into the Sun (2005)

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The fact that it took Steven Seagal so long to get into the DTVC Hall of Fame is something that looks worse and worse for the Direct to Video Connoisseur with every movie we see. He is consistently turning out quality bad action films in his post Big Screen career, and unfortunately some of my friends' bias against the big fella has kept me from seeing these gems. If it wasn't for me stumbling on a couple on Spike TV, I probably wouldn't have seen any at all. But now that I have had a taste, you can be sure there'll be more to come.

Into the Sun takes place in Tokyo, where there's a deal in place to hook up members of the Yakuza with members of the Chinese Triads to distribute heroin they can get from Myanmar's portion of the famed Golden Triangle. Seagal, a CIA agent, is called into investigate due to his experience with the Yakuza. As he digs in he finds out these are renegade factions of their respective crime organizations, and he needs to bring them to justice. Things get personal when the Yakuza guy, Kuroda, sends his baddies to kill the woman Seagal wants to settle down with and marry. Now he's pissed, and that's a bad thing.

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This is a pretty sweet film. We see parts of Tokyo we seldom see in other American pictures, like the city's Chinatown and suburbs. I'm kind of a geek when it comes to stuff like that, so it may not be as cool to others as it was to me. The action was definitely solid. Seagal was good, the bad guys were cool, the women were hot, I liked the fight scenes, and plenty of things were blown up. I'm not sure I need much more in a bad action film.

Seagal was sweet. He kicks some ass, wields a samurai sword, and says things like "I grew up here, this is my neighborhood" about areas of Tokyo, when we know he has a Detroit/Midwestern accent. In some cases he dispatches the bad guys a little too easily for my tastes, but overall I can't complain. Seagal delivers again. I only wish his energy drinks tasted as well as his performance in this.

As in many other CIA type films, Seagal, the seasoned veteran, gets a rookie tagging along whose sole purpose is to annoy us. What makes this one interesting was the casting decision. He's this guy who played the heroine's love interest in the first BloodRayne. What makes it interesting is how as an annoying rookie tagging along, he works really well, but as the cool guy who's so hot it makes Painkiller Jane want to do him he fell flat on his face. In both pictures, we want him to bite it, but only in Seagal's do we get the satisfaction. I think this is a lesson to bad movie makers: casting's important. It's the difference between annoying your audience intentionally or accidentally, and you never want the latter.

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I loved the bad guys in this. I almost didn't want them to lose. The Triad guy had a sweet fight scene with Seagal, and he also took care of the annoying rookie for us. The Japanese dudes were sweet too. The head bad guy wore these suits where he draped the top coat over himself with his arms out of the sleeves. His hatchetman was this crazy dude with weird hair that wore a cowboy hat. When he shot people, he'd have these silly looks on his face where his eyes were wide open, like he was the Runaway Bride. It totally made the movie for me.

Of course, with every movie set in the Pacific Rim, you have to have your hot Asian chicks, and this film wasn't lacking. The chick Seagal proposed to was a good deal, and it was too bad she died. There was also the Chinese woman sent to protect him. She was like Xiaoyu from Tekken Tag, which was the sweetest game ever. My buddy used to use her with Lei Wulong, and I would kill him with the Kings. I killed everyone with Kings. Giant Swing, baby.

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One thing I've found over time with my bad movie watching is that most people who share my love don't share my other love, which is sports. I think I'm the anomaly, and not the other way around, but it gives me a different perspective when I view these movies. Often sports stars cross over, and they usually don't care what kind of movie they cross over into, especially if their agents aren't that good. This film has former Ohio State and Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George in it, and he gets shot while on a covert mission in Myanmar with Seagal. It was one of those "Oh My God, That's Eddie George" things, where everyone else was like "Who?" Eddie George's best year as a player came in 1999, when his Titans made the Super Bowl and came within a few feet of winning it against the St. Louis Rams. Now he does Seagal films.

I scooped this on Netflix, and if you have that, shoot it to the top of your queue, because it's worth it. If you're a Seagal fan sans Netflix, I'd go out and rent this right away, because it's sweet. This is the kind of film you and your buddies can feature on a bad movie night and yell at the screen, or you can rent and enjoy by yourself on a quiet night in. It's a good deal.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0358294/

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Immortal Combat (1994)

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I actually picked this up thinking it was a Roddy Piper film I'd seen on TNT after Monday Night Nitro almost ten years ago. In turns out it wasn't, and I'm still not sure what that movie was. I need a bad movie journal like wine connoisseurs have to make notations on movies I've seen so I'll remember them in the future. It's funny, because I'm a big wine drinker too, and I often run into the same problem when I'm at a store trying to pick up a bottle. "Have I had this before? I think so... but was it that vintage...?" Then I buy it and it's not what I was looking for.

Immortal Combat has nothing to do with the classic arcade game Mortal Kombat, and was probably just an attempt to the boost sales of a bad DTV action film, because in 1994, Mortal Kombat was itas far as what kids 12-34 were doing. This movie is about two cops, DTVC Hall of Famer Rowdy Roddy Piper and famed action star Sonny Chiba, who try to bust some party or whatever. Their partner, some chick who was in the party undercover, is murdered by some psycho who may or may not have been shot to death, and Piper wants revenge. Chiba can't join him on the quest for revenge, because he hurt his arm in the bust. Anyway, Piper goes to a Pacific island in pursuit of the baddies at some dubious company's compound, and finds out they're making nearly immortal warriors out of deceased fighters, and plan on selling the technology to warring countries. It's up to Piper to take down the company, get revenge for his partner, save the girl reporter he's fallen in love with, and crack the case.

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This wasn't too bad, but it wasn't too good either. Chiba's not in it too much, as they have him back in the States recuperating from injuries he got in the opening scenes. That's too bad, because he an Piper have some great on-screen chemistry when they're together. I could see going this route if this film was like movie three in a series of Piper/Chiba buddy pictures, but it isn't, this is a one-time deal, and it's a shame the film makers couldn't see the opportunity they had. One of Piper's best assets is his sense of humor, and Chiba's a great straight man. They'd've been Rush Hour before Rush Hour.

Speaking of Piper, he definitely delivers. The first scenes with him are he and another guy telling their superior about the bust-went-bad the night before. As he describes it, we see it first hand with his tongue-in-cheek voice-overs. It's classic Piper as he delivers beatings and is funny as he does it. Later, when he gets to the Island to pursue the baddies, he meets this cute yet spunky reporter who's on the same trail. In order to melt her cool exterior, he invites her to dance in the water with him. It's spontaneous from the standpoint of the film, and romantic in the sense of the commercial for the Hugh Grant movie, where that scene is shown to try and get us to see the movie, but just seems trite and cliched. It works way more in the Piper DTV action film than the Hugh Grant Romantic comedy. Piper's the man.

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I dug Sonny Chiba in this bad boy, and as I said above, it was too bad he wasn't in it more. He's in the beginning, and does these great action scenes where he beats a bunch of guys with the flat side of a samurai sword. It's one of those things where you want more, but don't get it until the very end, when he dons some ninja gear and helps Piper invade the bad company's compound. I've always loved Sonny Chiba, from the time I saw him in the Street Fighter movies back when I was a kid. It was sweet seeing him recently in Tarentino's Kill Bill as Hattori Honzo. He's close to seventy now, putting him in that category with Billy Dee Williams and Fred Williamson as great actors who are getting up there a bit but still going strong. I hope more DTV guys, like maybe an Albert Pyun, get their hands on him and use him for good.

Tiny "Zeus" Lister is also in this, only instead of being a baddie he's a good guy. He wears this hilarious hat early on, and Piper spares no time in mocking it. Later, he's killed by the bad guys and turned into an immortal warrior, but the good in him won't allow him to kill Piper. I liked that. It's nice to see a guy like Lister shake his bad guy stripes for one film and let us like him for a ninety minutes or so. I wouldn't want it all the time, but once in a while is cool.

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I couldn't figure out who the bad guy in this was. I first thought he was the henchman in Whatever It Takes or CIA Codename: Alexa. Then I thought he might be one of the guys Bernhardt beats the crap out of in Bloodsport III. In fact he's none of these, but rather, Malibu from the old hit American Gladiators. In this he's sweet, because for whatever reason, he's dubbed, and the person doing his voice bears no resemblance to what's going on in the film. He'll laugh when his character doesn't seem to be laughing, or yell when it doesn't call for it. Just another one of those great things that makes bad DTV so charming.

If you're a Piper fan, this is probably worth a go to rent or whatever. Don't spend too much on it. I spent $5 on mine because I thought it was another film, and I'm not disappointed per se, but I certainly wouldn't recommend everyone spending that much on it. Renting it's the best option.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110117/

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Mutant aka Night Shadows (1984)

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I first got wind of this movie through a friend, and ended up buying it cheap (one cent before shipping) on Amazon. Unfortunately, the transfer was pretty rough. The picture had these trails whenever anyone would move, and it made us feel like we were on acid. I looked on the box, and "DVD" was written in lower case letters, maybe indicating its cheapness. The cover image I have above is from a different release, so maybe that one is of a better quality.

Mutant is about two brothers, one played by Wings Hauser, who are going on an end of school vacation. Wings is a dick, apparently, and he pisses off some rough dudes who run his car off the road. While the two are waiting in town for the car to be fixed, they run into the toughs again, and sheriff Bo Hopkins tells them to stay at some old woman's house while their car gets fixed. Wings' brother disappears over night, and he has to find him. As he does, he learns the townsfolk have been subjected to toxic waste and are turning into zombies. With the help of Hopkins and a hot teacher/bartender, Wings has to do everything he can to get out of town alive.

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As zombie movies go, I've seen better... and I've also seen worse. This is no Romero film, but it has a certain charm due to its age that makes it a little more interesting to me than say a 28 Days Later or Resident Evil, especially more than the latter. It's just a good film to put on with some friends and yell at the screen.

One of the elements that makes it so entertaining is our resident DTVC Hall of Famer Wings Livinryte. He's definitely livin' right in this. He plays a heel to start with, then gradually redeems himself because he wants to impress the hot teacher/bartender. Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you're so inclined) he has no sex with food scene with this woman like he did with Kathleen Kinmont in Art of Dying. It's funny, because the zombies in this were pretty gross, yet nothing they did was ever grosser than that sex scene.

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Speaking of the zombies, they were interesting. They had no set group of abilities or detriments. I'm not saying some were good at somethings and others at others, I'm saying at one point none of the zombies could run, then in another scene they were running, and then in another they were limping again. Depending on the convenience of the plot, they were either easy to kill or escape from, or lethal, unstoppable killing machines. One of the funnier parts was how the zombies had these gashes on the palms of their hands that oozed this yellow liquid. It was like a white grape juice stigmata.

Bo Hopkins, surprise surprise, plays a sheriff in this. He's always playing a sheriff. He actually plays a sheriff in another Wings Hauser movie, Nightmare at Noon, which also features the late great Brion James. It's hard to argue with it, because if I were making a film, and needed a small town sheriff, I can think of few people who'd fit the bill better than Hopkins. Maybe Billy Bob Thorton or Kevin Sorbo.

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Looking at the back cover, I noticed that one of the producers was named Dick Clark. I figured there was no way it was the same dude, but an imdb check confirmed it. The world's oldest teenager produced a Wings Hauser zombie film. He's uncredited in the movie, so it's probably only later that his name was associated officially with it. I wonder if he let Wings hang with him that year for New Year's Rockin' Eve. I bet he didn't even return Wings' phone calls.

This is worth your time if you rent it or can buy it cheap. Remember, though, that some transfers, like the one I have, are crap, and if you paid more than a buck or two for it, you'll feel ripped off. The good one's probably the one with the image I have at the top. The one I have has some weird creature with big teeth that isn't even in the film on the cover. Stay away from that one, unless you want bad acid flashbacks.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087796/