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, November 30, 2011

Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms (1998)

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I'm not sure why, but these two Universal Soldier made for The Movie Channel sequels are some of the most requested at the DTVC. I'd always kind of just stuck them aside, figuring I'd get to them eventually. Unfortunately, Netflix decided they were going to put my feet to the fire by letting me know that they were taking both movies off of Watch Instantly, and I knew I'd never bother getting them any other way if I didn't see them on Watch Instantly, so here we are, finally making them happen, starting with part 2.

Universal Soldier 2 picks up where part 1 left off, with Matt Bataglia as Luc Devereaux and Chandra West as Veronica the reporter. Gary Busey, who runs the UniSol program, is taking it private, hoping to sell the soldiers to the highest bidder. He's able to get Bataglia back by some homing device, but when Chandra West goes in after him, she saves his brother, played by Jeff Wincott, instead. Now the two brothers have to take Busey down before the UniSol technology winds up in the wrong hands.

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I guess this was like a couple of episodes for a proposed TV show mushed together, a case of someone trying to make lemonade out of some lemons. Unfortunately we all ended up with burning eyes from the citric acid squirted into them that was this movie. There is virtually no action until the end. Even if it's two episodes of a TV show, episode one would've sucked for that alone. There's only so much "Luc Devereaux trying to be human" we can endure before we need it broken up with something else. Then you have a totally wasted Jeff Wincott, a sick martial artist who spends most of the movie strapped to a chair. Then you have to buy Matt Bataglia as the hero, which maybe you can do with more action, but the way this went like a human interest piece-- let's just say the whole thing was sautéed in wrong sauce.

I've read somewhere that Van Damme joked about how all his movies spawned sequels that starred actors other than him. Bloodsport had Daniel Bernhardt, Kickboxer had Sasha Mitchell; but what makes these two TV sequels to Universal Soldier different is that Matt Bataglia plays the actual character Van Damme played in the original. Something about that had to have upset Van Damme, because he felt the need to right the wrongs of these movies by rebooting them the same year the second one came out. Also, Van Damme was losing his box office relevance, so maybe he thought he could recapture that by reclaiming one of his more notable characters. Either way, all three movies turned out bad, and it was probably good that Van Damme took ten years before he revisited it. It would've been cool though to see what, if done well, a Universal Soldier syndicated TV show would've looked like. Put it on the Action Pack with Hercules.

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Gary Busey as the main baddie is pretty sweet, but we expect that going in. Are there better ways to get your Busey fix? No doubt. But how many times have we seen Busey's name on the marquee only to find it's a bait-and-switch? Exactly, so at least here we know he's holding it down. I also really liked Chandra West as Ally Walker's character from the first one. Had this been turned into a TV show, it would've been her more than anyone else that people would've tuned into on a weekly basis, because she anchored any scene she was in with her wit and assertiveness-- let's just say Matt Bataglia would've looked a lot worse without her guiding him through their scenes.

I can only imagine Jeff Wincott signed on for this hoping he'd have regular work on a TV show, because this wasn't a good look for him. That's too bad, considering his character covered some uncharted Universal Soldier territory-- a UniSol that hadn't had his memory wiped, and was just dropped into the modern world after having been frozen since the late 50s. Why they didn't explore that more is beyond me. That would've made for much more effective padding. Also, Wincott could carry that kind of thing better. How can you not see Wincott as a hard-nosed soldier from the 50s interacting with late-90s America? Apparently the people who made it couldn't see that.

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Finally, I want to talk about something that really irked me. (And no, I'm not talking about that tiny dude they tried to throw on us as Dolph Lundgren.) Near the end, West and Battaglia need to get their hands on transportation, so they steal the camper from a honeymooning couple while they're at a rest stop. Of course, the thing gets shot up and destroyed. What a shitty thing to do. Those are our heroes? Ruining a couple's honeymoon? Who writes crap like that? The bad guys are supposed to steal a honeymooning couple's camper, not the good guys.

I could go on, but I better wrap this up here. This is a painfest, mostly because nothing happens. We see too much of Battaglia riding on a train or Wincott strapped to a chair than we do good solid action. And as a story, this didn't cut it to be able to manage that long with nothing happening. Maybe I should've held out longer on these.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0186654/

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Living to Die (1990)

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It's always good to get another Wings Hauser flick in, and this one, which is both directed by and stars the man, is a PM Entertainment flick as well, so I figured I would be in good hands. When it comes to great Wings, our friend Ty at Comeuppance Reviews is no stranger either, and you can click on the link to see his review of this as well.

Living to Die has Wings as a former cop living in Vegas as a PI or something. He gets a job from a local businessman (named "Minton", but pronounced "Mitten"), after the guy gets the squeeze from Arnold Vosloo over something to do with a dead hooker. As Wings digs deeper, he finds out said hooker ain't dead, and that he has a thing for said not-so-dead hooker. Is she trouble though, or really a down on her luck dame in need of his help?

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This is one of the best Wings Hauser flicks I've ever seen. This is one of the best movies I've seen period in I don't know how long. It starts off with quintessential Wings, with his trademark mouth half open shit eating grin as he hits on a female police officer. Then they pick up this paranoid dude that's being transported to a safe house, and as the guy freaks out, Wings freaks out even more, yelling "Are you on glue or something!" And the movie lives up to that awesomeness from there. Wings hits all the right notes in blending Film Noir with PM Entertainment sensibilities. One moment he's telling a dame that she and Vosloo were "trying to put the bite on Mitten", and then a few scenes later a guy has his brains splattered on a concrete wall. Not to mention there's a sweet smooth jazz score that sets the mood and makes me want to watch The Weather Channel. But ultimately, this is about the Wings, and it's all Wings all the time, from the lines, to the demeanor, to the mouth half open shit eating grin. I loved this movie, and I don't get to say that that often.

I went back through the Wings archives, and he has a surprisingly high rate of success here at the DTVC. It seems like for every bad one he has two good ones, which is like Dolph Lundgren territory. That makes this one potentially being his best a big deal, but I think it's the case. Between that beginning which is fantastic, to the middle where he's playing that combination of a Noir and a PM Entertainment lead perfectly, to the end, which I don't want to give away, but where he was excellent too. It's a great combination of a pretty cool movie, and the vintage Wings that you come to a movie like this for.

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There's nothing like a good Zack Morris phone appearance in a movie. It's better than a boom mic. It's also one of the great things about watching movies from the early 90s, to see things like that that bring on a sense of nostalgia. This thing wasn't called a Zack Morris phone back then, it was a sign of conspicuous consumption. It was the iPhone of its time, only it didn't come with the advertising blitzes that cell phones come with now. No one cared about 4G or updating their fantasy teams back then, the mere fact that you could make a phone call without leaving your poker game was enough-- and these guys played five card draw, not Texas Hold 'Em.

To continue on that point, look at Wings drinking from that Bud Light can. Remember when Bud Light cans looked like that? Maybe it's because I was 10 or 11 at the time, but it seems like Bud Light was much cooler back then. Again, at 10 I probably didn't know exactly what constituted cool, but it felt like Bud Light was a trend setter, not the choice of posers that it looks like now. Were the guys in the Bud Light commercials as not cool then as they are now? Was it a poser beer back then too? Man, I don't know, I just see that old silver can and I think cool, and I see the new blue one and I think "Here we go, bunch of tools."

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After a couple rants on nostalgia, I might as well look at some of the supporting cast. Arnold Vosloo is the other big name, though in 1990 he wasn't so much. He's great as the con man, especially with his South African accent. Asher Brauner is Minton (again, pronounced "Mitten") the bad businessman, and his character is interesting because he starts off as a not so bad guy, but becomes more of a heel as the film goes on. Our Film Noir femme fatale is played by Darcy DeMoss. She's pretty hot, but has a TMI love scene with Hauser that was a bit much. I guess being the director has its privileges, and we shouldn't be mad at him for that. Finally, we have PM mainstay RJ Walker, who is sporting some sweet hair in this. It's like the inspiration for Will Farrell in Zoolander kind of hair.

This is available on DVD or VHS, and you can even get it new for sale at Amazon. This is the Wings Hauser you came for, in my mind it doesn't get any better, so if you dig Wings, this is worth the effort to track down. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100039/

Monday, November 28, 2011

Born to Ride (2011)

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I came across this on Watch Instantly, and thought the idea of a biker flick with Casper Van Dien, William Forsythe, Patrick Muldoon, and Branscombe Richmond sounded pretty good. On the other hand, I've seen enough of these movies to know that that combination could go horribly wrong-- in fact, there was probably a better chance that it'll go wrong--, but I figured I'd give it a shot and see how it goes.

Born to Ride has Van Dien as a guy who rides motorcycles with Patrick Muldoon, and as the two of them are setting out on a long trip, they see an older dude getting worked over by some muggers. The guy gets stabbed, and on his deathbed, he gives Van Dien a box of money and stuff to give to his daughter in South Bend, Indiana. At the same time, in Arizona, a couple guys hatch a scheme to blackmail a senator while he's taking a payoff from William Forsythe. Forsythe is pissed at this, and he hunts the two guys down, though not before they hide the tape in one of Muldoon's bags. Now Forsythe's goons-- including Branscombe Richmond-- are hot on their trail. Will our heroes survive?

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I think I got what I deserved on this one. All the warning signs were there, but I went for it anyway, and I paid the price. Where to start. Maybe the fact that the cover makes this out to be an all out biker flick when it isn't. There's no counterculture going on here, no badassness, none of that cool stuff we want from a biker flick. On the other hand, there's no action, no suspense, no drama, nothing to grab onto as a viewer. I'm not sure what this was supposed to be, a feel good Hallmark Movie event, a celebration of getting out there and hitting the open road, a 90s-style suspense yarn-- it was too all over the place to tell. And by the end of the 90 minutes, I'm left wondering why this movie was made at all.

As you know, I try to be solutions oriented here at the DTVC. I'm not just going to tell you what's wrong, but when the retort "do you think you could do any better?" comes, I like to see if I can. I think one way would be to pare this thing down, keep the blackmail aspect, but have Van Dien and Muldoon have to rescue the blackmailers or something. Either that, or go The Savage Seven route, have Van Dien and Muldoon stop at a reservation, and find the people there fighting greedy developer William Forsythe and his baddies. In that case, you make Branscombe Richmond a good guy, maybe a tribal leader who gives Van Dien and Muldoon some direction in their lives, something to fight for beyond just driving around and not caring about the world. It may sound like an overdone plot, but at least it works.

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The fact that this went bad wasn't the fault of the actors involved, foremost among them Casper Van Dien. The character was actually pretty cool, but wasted in this script. He doesn't even confront Forsythe and his baddies, he just finds the tape and calls the cops. Let this guy do something. He has two fights in 90 minutes. He spends more time overcome with emotion than doing anything biker film-like, which would be great if this were a Hallmark pictures original; but then, why is there the Forsythe/blackmail angle in this? Again, all over the place, and ultimately not getting anywhere.

The other names in this were pretty good too. Patrick Muldoon played a real LA biker with his surfer-dude way of talking. It was pretty funny, but at the same time he could mix it up in a fight too, he just unfortunately didn't get too many opportunities for that either. William Forsythe was equally underused as a villain, going from menacing at the beginning, to just another guy yelling into a cell phone and smashing a tennis racket in anger. He would've been fantastic as an evil land developer. Finally, Richmond was an ill-conceived straight man for an even more poorly conceived comic relief bumbling hatchetman in the form of Forsythe's brother in-law. Completely sautéed in wrong sauce, as was much of this movie.

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One area that, from what I could tell, was this movie's raison d'etre, but, like most of the film, was barely fleshed out, was this idea of hopping on a bike and tearing up the open road. No schedule, no place to be, the only destination is where we end up. It does sound fantastic. It would be great to get a small Indian motorcycle and see what this country has to offer, and through a movie we're supposed to be able to live vicariously through actors who are living out the things we couldn't do. It's another place that this movie could've been better but wasn't. What if they canned the whole blackmail/chase scenario, and made the movie episodic, three or four smaller stories where Van Dien and Muldoon help out some people in need, three or four human interest pieces that show America's vast regional diversity.

Unfortunately, this movie didn't do that, and really, didn't do anything else either. I have to confess, I was even taken in by the cover, because I thought it was of a woman in black leather pants, but it turns out they're just dark blue jeans. It's a metaphor for the whole movie, we're going in expecting some biker black leather action, and all we get is some dark blue designer jeans on some motorcycles. Don't fall prey to this one, take a pass.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1721491/

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Toxic Avenger (1984)

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I don't remember when I first saw The Toxic Avenger. I couldn't have been that old though, late middle school maybe. This is one I've been meaning to do for sometime, and I considered doing it as a milestone post, but figured why wait, we got it now, let's fire it up and make it happen.

The Toxic Avenger takes place in Tromaville, NJ, a New York suburb that has the distinction of being the toxic waste capital of the world. It's there that our hero Melvin works at the Tromaville gym, and after a practical joke gone bad, he finds himself diving head first into a drum of toxic waste. He's then transformed into a hideous monster with superhuman strength and an ability to sense when evil is being done. Unfortunately for the town's mayor, the idea of a monster cleaning up the town's crime problem is a problem for him, because he's Tromaville's most prolific criminal. Can our hero prevail when even the national guard has been called in to stop him?

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You don't need me to tell you how great this is. As a send up of the action and superhero genres it's excellent, plus you have all the gore you expect and want from Troma. I loved the love story between Toxie and the blind girl, especially when she's remodeling his toxic waste dump shack. The brutality is so over the top that I couldn't help but laugh at that too, like the Clockwork Orange homage when a thug beats an old lady with her cane while humming "Singin' in the Rain"; or the twelve-year-old kid that's run over by some kids playing a game where objects are worth points, a la Death Race. This is a true classic, and has only gotten better over time.

I wish I had seen this right before I watched Sgt. Kabukiman with Lloyd Kaufman's commentary, because it would've given me a better perspective on what Kaufman was going for with Kabukiman versus what other people involved with that project wanted him to do. When Toxie takes out baddies, he's pretty brutal, and they come up with all kinds of creative ways to off people. It's a little different from The Exterminator though, because this brutality is meant to be funny-- or funnier. When I see things in Sgt. Kabukiman like the hooker and pimp turned into bloody sushi, in the context of The Toxic Avenger, it's a much milder version of a guy getting his hands stuffed in a deep fryer or having his eyes poked out. There's something about the way Troma does this kind of thing that works though.

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Long time readers and action fans will recognize this fellow right here dressed like an extra from the Frank Gorshin episode of Star Trek. That's right, it's Patrick Kilpatrick. He's only in this one scene as part of a trio of men robbing a taco restaurant. This is his first listed role on imdb, so it's great that we get to see where it all started from for him. The film's other highly recognizable face is that of late character actor Pat Ryan. He plays the evil mayor. It's too bad he passed away in 1991, because he had so many sleazebag roles in low-budget films left in him.

One scene I got a kick out of was when the poor man's Corey Feldman they had as one of the workout thugs put a garter snake in an aerobics instructor's shirt. Growing up in Maine, the garter snake was a regular part of the summer, and we used to catch them and act like the snake wranglers we saw on TV. I remember one of our cats brought one in the house, and before I had a chance to stop it, the thing had coiled itself inside the electric baseboard heater. It was a baby one, but still, it was a pain to get it out. It was only later in life that I learned that not all people grew up with these snake experiences, and most find the idea of any snakes, even garter snakes, to be abhorrent. I still hate spiders though, so I guess I'm not a total dude.

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Finally, anyone who's been rockin' with us for sometime would know about my love of McDonald's, so it should come as no surprised that I'd be stoked to see what looks like a Quarter Pounder with Cheese vintage Styrofoam container. I think the Styrofoam container had another ten years in it for McDonald's before they went the cardboard route, which is too bad. Remember the bright blue one for the Fillet-o-Fish? It was like a greenish-blue. What was the McD.L.T? A white one, right? Remember the McD.L.T.? "Hot on the hot side, cold on the cold side."

Okay, enough reminiscing about McDonald's-- especially since I don't get any ad revenue from them. This movie is currently on Watch Instantly here in the States, and while that's a great way to check it out, you should eventually consider purchasing the director's cut, because it's in widescreen and has all kinds of goodies. This is one of those ones that's well deserving of its classic status.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090190/

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

U.S. Seals II (2001)

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I'm not sure if there's another movie that I've had more requests for than this one. And I'm not sure why I haven't gotten to it until now. It's probably the fact that, outside of the director, Isaac Florentine, the only name in this is Marshall Teague, whose only claim to fame is getting his throat ripped out by Patrick Swayze in Road House. Whatever the reason, we're here now, so let's see if it lived up to the hype.

US Seals II is about two Navy SEALs, one of whom decides to be a total douche and rape and kill their sensei's hot daughter. Now it's however many years later, and the douche SEAL has teamed up with some mercenaries to kidnap a hot nuclear physicist and make a nuclear bomb. That's enough for the non-douche SEAL to be recruited by the US Army to gather a team-- including the sensei's hot daughter's twin sister-- to go in and take this douche down. Can they make it happen?

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This really does deliver in a lot of areas. Florentine gives us this great mix of high octane martial arts from modern Hong Kong cinema, the camp and nostalgia from 60s and 70s Hong Kong cinema, and the over the top explosions and whatnot from the American action genre. What more could you want? The fight scenes are amazing. Florentine lines up some top notch talent and lets them get after it. I also liked the idea that the island the baddies are holed up on has massive amounts of methane gas on it, so no one can use guns; and I liked even better that the main baddie still smokes his cigar and doesn't blow himself up. This is definitely the fun bad action flick you came for.

My one main gripe is the lack of a big name star for either the lead hero or the main baddie. The hero's name even leaves a little to be desired: Casey Sheppard. It sounds more like he's a contestant on The Bachelorette than a kick ass action dude. I'm not saying he (Michael Worth is his name) couldn't bring it fight-wise, but martial arts skills aren't all that's needed to lead an action film. This movie was calling out for a Mark Dacascos or Gary Daniels. Same with the baddie role (played by Damian Chapa). The guy was hatchetman material at best. They should've moved Marshall Teague over into the head baddie role and had this guy under him.

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One thing Isaac Florentine does well is direct action and martial arts sequences. There are no MTV edits, no overly done split-second cuts. He also gets tons of quality talent, martial artists and stuntmen and women that really know what they're doing. There are no oversized dudes with shaved heads and sleeves of tats pounding each other to the music of Disturbed wannabes. Florentine knows what we want and he knows how to deliver. Some might think he's a little too over the top-- the Foley sounds on every little movement the actors make, down to a simple head nod, for instance-- but I think for us who really like B action and old Hong Kong cinema, it makes the whole thing that much more fun.

One area of action in this that didn't work though was the underwater fight between scuba divers. The underwater fight seldom works, and the only way it ever can is if it's done quickly, and it's done with only a couple people. The reason why you need the first criteria, is that there is only so much you can do underwater before it becomes excitement by repetition. This one didn't follow that, it was very long, and as such, very repetitive. The reason why you need the second part, is that because it's underwater, and the characters are in scuba gear, it's hard to tell who's who. When there are too many, as there were in this one, it becomes confusing, as it did here. It was an idea sautéed in wrong sauce, and while I like that Florentine tried it, being the great action director that he is, he should've known better.

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For much of the history of movies and television, the world of the hot scientist was confined only to men. Actors like Robert Graves portraying etymologists in atomic bug movies or classic characters like The Professor in Gilligan's Island were the norm, while women were relegated to looking pretty as secretaries or housewives. Fortunately now, us guys can enjoy the hot scientist too, and this movie had a real looker in Kate Connor as the physicist. Hair pinned back against her head, glasses, short skirt-- be still my heart! To think that her character wouldn't have existed forty years before. Florentine also did a great job by casting two great female martial artists, Karen Kim and Sophia Crawford, because they really brought it.

This is currently on Watch Instantly, so I'd check it out. This is for B action fans only, because it is bad action to the max, and if you have trouble with how unabashedly and unironically bad action this is, you probably won't enjoy it. Otherwise buckle up and have a good time.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0283652/

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Puppet Master aka Puppetmaster (1989)

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For Halloween week of 2010, I had planned to do this movie along with Bloody Birthday and Schizoid, but when those other two movies got almost no response, I scrapped Puppet Master and went with the Lorenzo Lamas flick Body Rock instead. At this stage of the game though, I think I have more horror fans than I did then, so now is probably a better time to give this one a look. Let's see how it did.

Puppet Master is about a puppeteer that has figured out the Egyptian secret to giving life to inanimate objects, and he uses that power to give life to his puppets. Unfortunately, baddies want to get their hands on that power, so he kills himself and hides his puppets. Fifty years later, a group of psychics get a call that one of their buddies has died in a California hotel-- the same one the puppeteer killed himself in fifty years before. When they get there though, weird things start happening, and members of their crew turn up dead. Who could be responsible? And what was their friend up to?

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Wow, this is a tough one to call. The first hour or so is so dull I almost lost it. Talk about padding, there was more here than the shoulders of a blazer from the 80s. But then the last half-hour was some really fantastic horror, great deaths, great tension, really inspired shots and imagery. Where was this movie in the early going? I'm not saying I needed more puppets, because I understand that this was probably made on a scant budget, and also because you don't want to overuse the puppets and dull their effect later. I get that. But you couldn't have a few more people end up dead and spread them throughout? I mean, the first 12 minutes is an introduction that went seven minutes too long. Then we get a few cool things, only to be saddled with nothing until about the 55 minute mark. It was a pile of build-up and backstory that either had no effect on the end, or was repeating stuff we already knew. I can understand why this is a cult classic, because that last half-hour to forty minutes is fantastic; but it can't make up for what came before it, which put me to sleep.

I just can't see how someone read this script and didn't say "wow, not much happens here for a good chunk of this. Maybe we need to fix that." Going in, I was looking for the right combination of campy and creepy, and when we get to the end, it was all there. Again, I understand that they didn't want to overuse the puppet, both because of the budget, and to keep the effect of them potent; but how hard would it have been to add some more victims, have them offed off-screen, or maybe do it where a shadow falls down on them or something. They actually did this with the poker death, so it's not like they didn't understand the concept of it. I don't know, it's either that, or they take some of the later deaths and move them to other parts of the film to break up the monotony, because that long a period of inactivity is too much.

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One area where this padding was most evident came in the White Witch character, because she goes through all this witchcraft stuff, as if it will have some kind of protective effect, and then when the puppets attack her, she's just like every other helpless lady. Either don't waste our time with the witchcraft stuff, or have it have some purpose later on in the plot-- which is what I would've liked, because she was a great character, she just unfortunately didn't amount to anything.

Barbara Crampton has a small one-scene cameo, and she's excellent. She plays a girl who has taken her boyfriend to the White Witch, who's working as a fortune teller, to find out if he'll make a good husband. This kind of thing was great in breaking up the monotony, but it really didn't happen beyond this one scene. Crampton was funny, and carried the whole routine. On the other hand, this comes around the 15 minute mark of the film, so I didn't know I'd have a good half-hour-plus before something happened again.

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I want to finish here with a question about dating and relationships. In this scene, the main character turns down a chance to sleep with the White Witch, presumably because she carries around the stuffed a preserved remains of her dead dog with her. It got me wondering, how hot would a chick have to be for me to sleep with her under those circumstances? No matter what gender you're attracted to, I think it's a valid question: how hot does someone have to be for you to ignore the fact that he or she carries their dead dog around with them? And talks to it too, we can't forget that. I don't know, I gotta say it's not as much of a deal breaker as it sounds.

But we're getting off track here. This is roughly an hour of padding followed by 30 minutes of fantastic horror. Maybe for some (and I imagine a lot, because this is so popular) that's not as much of a loss, or maybe that padding didn't seem as arduous; but it was a bit much for me. That's too bad, because that ending was almost worth the slog.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098143/

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Exterminator (1980)

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It was in the comments section of the Death Wish V review that our friend Mr. Kenner at Movies in the Attic threw down the gauntlet, saying I was too squeamish, and that's why I didn't care for that one. I figured it was time to put up or shut up. And what better flick than The Exterminator, which is one of those ones that a guy like me with a site like mine should've covered by now. It's kind of a glaring omission in our review library. So I'm killing two birds with one stone, testing my squeamishness mettle, and knocking out a review that the DTVC has needed for years. Also, our friend Simon at Explosive Action covered this one too.

The Exterminator stars Robert Ginty (Moore Beef Stew) as a Vietnam vet working as a meat packer on the docks of New York with his old Vietnam vet buddy Steve James. James saved his life while they were over there, and when James has his neck broken by a gang of thugs, Ginty feels he owes it to him to get revenge. But it triggers something in him, something dark he thought he'd left behind in 'Nam, and now he can't stop, knocking off criminals in New York in some pretty grisly ways. Now the cops, and even the CIA want him dead. Will Ginty make it out alive?

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This is like an extreme Grindhouse version of Death Wish. In a sense, this is what Death Wish V was trying to be. Kenner mentioned the scene that would get me is the one where the prostitute is disfigured with a soldering iron, and he was right on some levels. If the bacon grease scene in Samurai Cop sufficiently turned me off, that scene would have to turn me off too, and it did; I'm wondering though if something like this actually happened in New York around that time. Where would Glickenhaus come up with something so depraved otherwise? And if that's the case, maybe I can forgive it. The thing is, there were some other weird things that they didn't show but hinted about that were a bit much too, like the guy whose face is eaten off by rats, but he's still alive. On the other hand, there are some really funny kills, like the mob boss that's run through the meat grinder. Yes, that's macabre too, but in such an over the top way it can't be anything but funny. I loved Ginty too, and Christopher George as the detective pursuing him was equally excellent; plus there's some really great action, so it has a lot to latch onto for real B-movie action fans, which is probably why it's such a cult classic.

When I think of a scene that's similar to the prostitute scene here, but worked, the Wings Hauser movie Vice Squad comes to mind. In that one, Hauser as the evil pimp kills Nina Blackwood in a very brutal way, and it's hard to watch too, but it's not like this was. Had they done something more like Vice Squad, kept that element of the injured prostitute, and kept Ginty's reason to kill the perpetrators, I think I would've been better with it. I get where this movie was going though-- how can you not when in the first fifteen minutes you see a guy peeling down a layer of skin on his neck after James cuts it open by choking him with some wire-- but there's a line between gratuitous and gory, and then just plain mean-spirited, and I think with the prostitute being disfigured with a soldering iron, Glickenhaus went across that line.

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Ginty Moore Beef Stew was awesome. He has this weird nonchalance, that almost borders on despondency, then he throws in some wry humor, and then he gets pissed, and when he gets pissed, it's chilling, which I think is the final piece to this puzzle to make him the perfect hero of this twisted movie. Unlike Paul Kersey in Death Wish, The Exterminator is slightly off, still coping with trauma from Vietnam; plus he was a highly trained soldier, not the way Kersey was a medic. It's a different dynamic from Death Wish, and Ginty does a perfect job carrying that off.

DTVC favorite Steve James has a small role in this as Ginty's friend, though he's also credited as the fight coordinator, so he had a bigger role behind the scenes. As a huge Steve James fan, it was disappointing to not see him in this more, especially since he's so great at the beginning. I don't know what kind of part he'd have had if it had been bigger, because the whole idea behind The Exterminator is he's a one-man army, I just love Steve James, and feel like the more Steve James the better. If that's wrong, I don't want to be right.

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I had to finish here with Christopher George cooking a hot dog by running electricity through two forks stuck on either end of it. Anyone who grew up with Mr. Wizard's World must remember that experiment. I wonder if this movie was where they got the idea for that one. I looked it up on imdb, and the show only ran one season. Wow, it seems like it was on forever-- that's probably why I remember the hot dog cooking one so well, because it was always being repeated!

The Exterminator is actually available on Blu-Ray, which is a testament to the film's large cult following. I gotta say, though it did cross the line a couple times, the fact that it was so brutal and so unapologetic, it kind of worked for me. At the very least, I can say it always kept me on edge. On the other hand, I prefer my action to be more fun, and disfiguring prostitutes with soldering irons doesn't quite work the way a Bridge of Dragons or Showdown in Little Tokyo does in that sense. Know your audience before you consider screening this with friends for a movie night, or know yourself before considering spending money for it. Kenner's right, it's not for the squeamish-- though I think I acquitted myself better than I expected.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080707/

Friday, November 18, 2011

Peacemaker (1990)

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This one was brought to my attention by a reader via the Facebook page, which, if you don't already Like the Direct to Video Connoisseur on Facebook, it's a great place to get updates on what we're planning on doing, and to contact me with general comments and inquiries-- like recommendations or mentions of movies you think I should check out. Before we get started, I also want to mention that our friend robotGEEK hit this flick too, so go check out what he thought. (And I hotlinked your cover photo-- hope that's okay.)

Peacemaker-- or A Love Out of This World, as it's known in Romantic Comedy circles-- is a Rom Com about a woman who's a divorcée working as a coroner, planning to finish things up in the lab and spend the night alone with some wine and some episodes of Days she'd taped, when the stiff she's about to carve open comes to life and kidnaps her. In the parking lot, as they're driving away, Robert Forster attacks them, and he and the guy that kidnapped her fight it out. After a night spent tied up with the phone cord, our heroine finds she's falling in love with her kidnapper, and wants to help him take out Forster. Turns out Forster and her new boyfriend are aliens, and one is a cop-- known by them as a "Peacekeeper"--, and the other a serial killer. Problem is, she can't tell which is which. "Damn it, maybe mom was right, and I should've tried 8 Minute Dating!"

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All right, as much as this hits the spots of a Romantic Comedy, it's also a really great action flick. It's the kind of one where you feel bad for the stuntmen, because they get sent through the ringer. Dumped from dirt bikes, tossed out of windows, flipped over in cop cars, hanging off of speeding trucks, it's all there. Forster is fantastic, and Robert Davi as the local cop that hits on our heroine is also great. This is pretty much everything you want in a DTV 90s actioner, from the actors you recognize, to the actors you don't, and the heavy duty action in between. An all around good time.

This is not the first time we've had an action flick that played out like a Romantic Comedy. Cyborg Cop is one example, where two opposites attract lovers meet in a banana republic, one looking to find out what happened to his brother, the other a reporter looking for a big scoop. They fight, he manhandles her, she doesn't like it, then she does, they make love, John Rhys-Davies kidnaps her, and she needs rescuing. Would've been great if not for David Bradley's fanny pack, right? Then there's Deadly Prey, which, I know it's a classic lazy man's joke to say action movies are metaphorical gay romances, but I think in Deadly Prey's case, it actually works. With Peacekeeper, it's one of those where, if you watch it from the Romantic Comedy viewpoint, it's even funnier, and makes the movie more enjoyable. I'm not trying to be ironic, the dynamic between the doctor and the alien cop feels very Romantic Comedy-esque-- only with a lot more violence and explosions, which is awesome.

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Robert Forster is a guy whom everyone knows from all kinds of stuff, including Jackie Brown, for which he earned a well-deserved best supporting actor Oscar nominee. For my money, he made that movie. He brings some of that great Forster quality here in another supporting role as the serial killer or maybe not the serial killer, and it adds some nuance to the role, which it really deserved. DTVC favorite Robert Davi has a small part as the police sergeant that has a thing for our heroine. Like Forster, he has an ability to add nuance to roles that need it, but might not exactly have it written in. He's great as that guy who's kind of a jerk and a chauvinist, but is also stand-up and heroic. It's kind of too bad both guys weren't in the film more, but along with the solid action, they do an excellent job of propping up what otherwise would've been a bad Romantic Comedy.

Beyond the Romantic Comedy aspect, this also had the bad sci-fi aspect, and this commits the most egregious, yet most common, sci-fi movie gaff: the shifting rules gaff. A man has the strength to crush a telephone in his hands, or stop a car from running him over with his foot, but a thin woman with a purse can knock him over. A man is strong enough to cut his own hand off to get out of handcuffs, but not strong enough to break the handcuffs instead. Our aliens can only be killed by having trauma done directly to the brain, but somehow being blown up in a shack full of dynamite doesn't qualify for that. This is all of that bad sci-fi that, when a movie dwells on it and comes off proud of it, can really detract from the proceedings; but in a case like this, is used only to allow guys to be blown up and shot and crashed through windows multiple times, meaning it ups the action quotient, which is always a bonus.

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Finally, I had to bring up the cameo of this Time/Life UFO book here, which was used as a moment of comic relief, but really brought back memories of these silly book collections. When I was really young, like six or seven, I remember staying up late on the weekends or during the summer, and seeing commercials for these books and being scared out of my mind. I had nightmares that I was being abducted by aliens, and would wake up as the tractor beam was lifting me to the ship. Then I grew up (turned 10) and learned that these Time/Life books and episodes of Unsolved Mysteries were total crap and I was a moron (even as a 7-year-old) for believing in them. Now what's the show, Ancient Aliens, a show about how non-white cultures couldn't possibly have ever created anything before the White Man arrived, so aliens must've helped them. Good stuff.

Unfortunately, the History Channel and Discovery don't play movies like this, but they should, because this is just great 90s DTV action. As far as I know, it's only used VHS, or, if you have a laser disc player, you can get it on that too. I say keep your eye out for it, or go to Amazon, because it's not that expensive there. This is a good addition to your 80s/90s action collection-- or 80s/90s Romantic Comedy collection.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100343/

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cool as Ice (1991)

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Like most kids my age, I ran from this movie as quick as I could when it came out. Vanilla Ice was well past his shelf life, even for a 12-year-old. I'd moved on to Grunge and Gangster Rap, and Vanilla Ice and Hammer and Poison and whoever else were old news. Of course, as I grew older and wiser, I at least realized that I never should've turned my back on Poison, but I also gained a better appreciation for films like Cool as Ice, and when VH-1 aired it in 2001, I taped it and my buddies and I had a ton of fun with it. Unfortunately, that tape disappeared-- and would you have really wanted me to capture images from a tape off of TV with a VH-1 logo in the bottom corner?-- but fortunately, Netflix added it to their Watch Instantly library, and now I'm passing the savings onto you.

Cool as Ice stars Vanilla Ice as Johnny, a rapper with a traveling four-person troupe that are stuck in a small town after one of the troupe's sport bikes break down. In that small town, Johnny finds love in the form of Kathy-- whom he immediately dubs "Kat" and steals her organizer--, and these two form an opposites attract/no one gives them a chance/they're horrible for each other romance. At the same time, Kat's dad, Steven Keaton, is visited by two crooked cops he put away twenty years ago, after they saw him on TV with Kat, and thus his witness protection cover is blown. Can Johnny and Kat's love survive? Is she being selfish to care about Johnny when her family's lives are being threatened by these two angry cops?

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This is the kind of movie that, if it starred Cary Grant back in the 50s, would've been seen as him just making a paycheck, and 60 years later ends up as a novelty on TCM, and no one thinks twice about it. I'm not comparing Vanilla Ice to Cary Grant, what I'm saying is, if you're Cary Grant, you can afford to have a couple Cool as Ice movies in your filmography, but when you're Vanilla Ice, you're first movie can't be a crappy campy romance flick. Who was the target audience for this? The fact that it made a million at the box office is a miracle. But what it's become now is 90 minutes of bad movie fun. I think I have more fun with it every time I watch it. As an actual movie, the sets, the colors, the music video style direction, even the songs that aren't the "Thank you for lettin' me be myself" one are pretty good; but the bad romance and the way that's carried out is so silly, not to mention the fact that poor Vanilla Ice looks like a clown in his outfits and with his dialog. "Drop that zero and get with the hero." It's about as good as bad gets.

When I say "poor Vanilla Ice" I mean it, because this was obviously not who he was or how he wanted to be seen as a person, but he let other people show him the money and tell him what to do. When I listen to him rhyme, other than that "Thank you for lettin' me be myself" song, I can hear his talent. He was a solid rapper, he just used his skills to do this movie or "Ninja Rap", and that was where his career failed. It's a new world now, had he come out in today's entertainment industry, where Ice Cube does sitcoms, and Snoop Dogg does Pepsi commercials, Vanilla Ice's "Ninja Rap" and Cool as Ice-- and maybe even the doll-- would be seen as all part of the paper chase that all artists do. For some reason now it's not seen as selling out, but when Vanilla Ice and Hammer did it, it was. One thing I can say about Cool as Ice, I'd take it any day over Are We There Yet?-- which movie is the bigger sell out?

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I do need to say that, for as much fun as this is, it has some really bad elements that might be hard for the average viewer to handle. The girl's younger brother isn't the worst as far as kids in movies go, but he's bad enough-- he definitely doesn't qualify as an exception to my kids in movies rule. There were a few other characters brought in for comic relief that also didn't work, and may try your patience. Vanilla Ice's dialog can be tough to handle too. It's not all "drop that zero and get with the hero', sometimes it's grating, almost sounding like half his face was shot up with Novocaine, or like he's a suburban white kid trying to act like he isn't. It's necessary to be clear going in that this isn't a good movie, and you need to be someone who has fun with bad movies to enjoy this.

I figured I'd use this spot here to do a little mop up work and look at a few other stars in the movie. We already mentioned Steven Keaton, aka Michael Gross. Not quite Dan Aykroyd in Crossroads. Kristin Minter played Kat, the role that has become infamous as the one Gwenyth Paltrow turned down, and then bragged about turning down after she became famous. (Paltrow also made a dumb comment about how Americans are uncouth compared to our English counterparts, which I'm sure the Soccer Hooligans and Rioting Chavs loved hearing-- good work out of you Gwenyth.) Unlike Paltrow, who turned down a chance at the spotlight in Cool as Ice, model Naomi Campbell unfortunately thought the film would be a great way to jumpstart her singing career. That's her on the film's theme song, imploring everyone to get loose. We also had character actor Jack McGee as one of the crooked cops, a great role for him. Finally, Hair Metal video vixen Bobbie Brown has a one-scene cameo as a groupie giving Vanilla Ice her number at the beginning of the film. You may remember she also had one scene in Double Trouble.

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I want to finish with this scene because it is the most unintentionally funny one in the film for me-- and most of my friends too. As far as we can tell, he breaks a guy's nose with a fart. I'm kinda serious. He holds the guy with one arm, while reaching the other one behind him, and keeping it there a few seconds. Then he brings it forward in a fist, like he's holding something, then pops it open as if he's throwing something that was in his hand at the guy's nose, only the hand is empty. After, we find out that the guy has a broken nose. I don't know, you watch the movie, and you be the judge, but I think I'm right.

For the time being, this is available on Watch Instantly, so if you haven't seen this, I'd check it out there if you can. You can also get it on VHS or DVD, or do what I did and just tape it off of TV if it's on again, which I imagine it will be. I think this is one of the best as far as modern movies for a bad movie night, up there with other gems like Battlefield Earth and Steel.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101615/

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Las Vegas Bloodbath (1987)

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Recently I got a mention on Twitter from Moe Porne at Drunk on VHS, telling me that a great flick called Las Vegas Bloodbath was on the same DVD set that had Hip Hop Locos. Based on how right he and his Daily Grindhouse Podcast partner Doug Tilley were on how bad Hip Hop Locos would be-- which made it perfect for our Halloween outside the box posts, because it was very scary!-- I trusted their judgement here, and figured I didn't have anything to lose. Also, you can check out Moe and Doug's podcasts here (you can get Moe's Drunk on VHS podcasts there as well), and Doug's Daily Grindhouse No-Budget Nightmares review of Las Vegas Bloodbath here.

Las Vegas Bloodbath is about a guy who looks like a cross between Nicolas Cage and Scott Baio, and has a good job and a bemulleted girlfriend with a penchant for cheating (the mullet is in the Palm Tree style, a la the bassist for Cinderella). Long story short, our hero hopes to surprise her with the red sports car she's always wanted-- a Toyota Carolla (which must still be on the road)-- and news of his new promotion. She has a surprise for him too: a nude blond deputy sheriff in bed with her. Our hero snaps, kills them both, cuts off her head, and goes on a killing spree, railing about "daytime whores". Unfortunately while looking for more "daytime whores" to kill, he comes across the ladies of Beautiful Ladies Oil Wrestling, who are having a make-up baby shower for the baby shower they missed while doing an oil wrestling gig out in New York. Can the girls escape this nightmare alive?

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I'm going to start with the bad, just to get it out of he way. There are some scenes that go on too long, and might test your patience. For instance, when our hero picks up the "daytime whore", he asks her to direct him to a spot to consummate their transaction, and instead of just cutting to them getting there, we're treated to real time driving and real time instructions-- take a left here... now take a right...--, then there's a scene with the girls playing cards and talking about crap, that just drags on too long to the point that any so-bad-it's-good element is worn away. That stuff I could do without, and it's something I need to mention before I get into how awesome I found this overall.

Because it is pretty awesome. I have no idea what "daytime whores" are, but when our hero is driving the prostitute around, another driver gives them the finger, and the prostitute asks "what's his problem?", to which our hero responds "I don't know, maybe he doesn't like 'daytime whores'!" I'm having issues with my video editing software, otherwise I'd post that scene for you guys, because it's amazing. Then you get into the massacre of the oil wrestlers. On the one hand, it's kind of chilling, because these poor girls are tied up and taken one-by-one upstairs to be murdered; but man, those deaths are so awesome that any tension evaporates into laughter. I'm afraid to tell you too much, because I don't want to ruin it for you. Then there's the actual oil wrestling itself. It's the kind of thing that would've sucked to see in 1991, but in 2011 is totally too sweet due to the nostalgia factor alone. My final verdict: this is the opposite of a bad movie night with friends kind of flick, because the lulls are a bit much to keep a large group engaged; but if you're relaxing at home by yourself and just want a funny, low-budget horror flick, this is the one for you.

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Don't get me wrong, this is very bad. The acting is as atrocious as it gets, even worse the script is ad libbed, and the action to get to the deaths looks like kids making a video on YouTube quality fake. But somehow the aftermath of the deaths themselves look really good. I mean, kids on YouTube wish their blood and guts looked as half as good as this. That doesn't mean it's not funny, because it still is, it's just a better looking funny. It's the kind of thing that makes me want to make my own no-budget film. Maybe that's what separates a movie like this from a Hip Hop Locos-- well that, and the fact that this has edits, shoots from different angles, is well lit, actually has women in it, has dialog that consists of more than three words... you get the idea-- anyway, what separates this from a Hip Hop Locos is that this looks like the people making it had a lot of fun, and sometimes that's all you need to make a movie fun for the viewer too.

I have to admit, I kind of had a crush on Cherry Blossom here. If this was made in 1989, what does that make her, fifteen years older than me, give or take. Geez, that would mean she's nearing 50. I wonder if she can still rock a bikini like that? I wonder if she has any hair left after all that bleaching? What did she do after this? Carry on with her oil wrestling career? How long did that last? According to imdb, this was her only movie role. Maybe she's married with kids and living in a Vegas suburb. If so, I wonder if her kids know about their mom's career in oil wrestling. I hope so, and I hope they're proud of her.

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This shot here really struck me as reminiscent of one of Yasujiro Ozu's famous Pillow Shots. Yes, I'm bringing up Ozu while talking about Las Vegas Bloodbath. I wonder what Ozu would've thought of this. He really liked the color red, and this movie uses a striking shade of it, and uses it a lot. Another interesting thing is that the director, David Schwartz, doesn't move the camera that much. No, it's not the classic camera sitting on the floor looking up at sitting characters shot, but the girls do spend a lot of time sitting on the floor. It's also shot in full screen, which is what all of Ozu's films were shot in. I better stop comparing Las Vegas Bloodbath to an Ozu film before representatives of the Criterion Collection come to my house and kill me.

And we wouldn't want that, would we? so I better wrap this up. As with Hip Hop Locos, this is on the Serial Psychos two-disc six movie set, and it only set me back five bucks when I got it about five years ago. I think it's worth it for Las Vegas Bloodbath alone. Daytime Whores!

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0240670/

Monday, November 14, 2011

Down Twisted (1987)

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This is one I've been wanting to do for a while now, and was excited when I finally got my hands on it. It's another Albert Pyun flick from the mid-80s, has a great cast, and looks like a great time. If it's half as good as Dangerously Close was, we should be happy.

Down Twisted is about a famous, priceless artifact that is stolen and replaced with a replica. The problem is, as it's being shipped back to LA, it's lost, and the parties involved are trying to get it back and figure out who the double-crosser was. Enter Carey Lowell, who is looking forward to her upcoming job interview so she can quit her dead-end waitress job and move-on-up in the world, Jeffersons style. Her dead-beat roommate just happens to be one of the people who knows where the artifact is, and she gets Carey all mixed-up in it. Now she's been shanghaied and shipped across the Atlantic to some Banana Republic with some weenie lawyer, played by Charles Rocket, that seems to know more than he's letting on. The only thing we know is this: when the deal goes down, it's going down twisted.

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I really enjoyed this. It had a couple lulls, especially as the loose ends are sorting themselves out and coming together near the end, but overall it's just a fun 80s Albert Pyun flick. It has its Pyun mainstays, it has cool music-- including "No One Lives Forever" from Oingo Boingo and the "Suspicious Minds" cover by Fine Young Cannibals that was also in Dangerously Close--, and has tons of nice 80s style. I think it's one of those ones though where you really have to love the 80s to love the movie, because, as I said, it does have it's slow moments, and it might feel predictable; but if you get geeked from seeing Norbert Weisser, or Thom Mathews in a blue blazer, or Oingo Boingo playing over the opening credits, this is the flick for you.

I wonder how I'd feel about this film if this were review number 70 instead of 762, if I didn't get as geeked about Thom Mathews and Norbert Weisser as I do now with however many Pyun flicks under my belt. I guess what I would say is that I didn't enjoy Vicious Lips as much as this one, and I didn't enjoy this as much as Dangerously Close, so it's not just that I'll like any Pyun 80s flicks no matter what; but I still think it is good to control for my movie going experience as I recommend or don't recommend something. A lot of the fun in this is Pyun's ability to mix genres, and I loved how we have that low-budget 50s adventure flick combined with the style and aesthetics of the 80s-- plus, the 80s adventure flick post Indiana Jones; and I think it works better here than it did in Alien from LA.

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One of the things Pyun is known for is his use of female protagonists, and this film is the first of three in a row where he first does that, the two after being Vicious Lips and Alien from LA. It's interesting, because when we think of Pyun, the fist things that come to mind are Sword and the Sorcerer, Cyborg, and Nemesis, which are all led by the classic male protagonist, but I think it's a testament to Pyun as a director that he's constantly trying to go outside of that tradition and give us female leads that are more than just damsels in distress. Carey Lowell here is essentially that first of many, and what I liked about her character was that she would fluctuate back and forth between assertive and vulnerable, making her the most realistic element in an otherwise larger than life movie. It didn't hurt that she's stunning too, and had a lot of close-ups.

It's time to play the Pyun mainstay game again, and we have some good ones here. First and foremost, Thom Mathews, who you can see is bleached blond and rocking a too sweet blue blazer in that scene above. He plays like a hatchet man or something, walking around with a gun with a silencer and a scowl on his face, chewing up scenery. Then we had Norbert Weisser, who has actually been in more Pyun flicks than Mathews. He plays the money man that wants to buy the artifact. After those two there's Nicholas Guest, who plays the guy that double crosses everyone, and is thrown out the window by Mathews. Australian Linda Kerridge plays Mathews associate. This is the first of three straight she does with Pyun, the other two being Vicious Lips and Alien from LA. Finally, in a small cameo, Don Michael Paul plays an airplane mechanic. He's best known for Dangerously Close, but also plays Kathy Ireland's jerk ex-boyfriend in Alien from LA.

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Down Twisted can boast that it is the first big screen role for Courtney Cox, who would then go on to have a bigger role in another Cannon/Golan-Globus flick in the following year, Masters of the Universe. All she does here is bump into Carey Lowell as the two are waiting tables, then talks to Lowell about her job interview when their shift is done. I wonder if they pulled her off the Masters of the Universe lot, or if she needed to nail those two scenes in this in order to get the big role opposite Dolph. She probably made more per episode in the last seasons of Friends than the entire acting budgets of either of those films.

This is a used VHS only as far as I can tell, but it can be found for under $10, which I think is a good deal. If you're a big 80s person, or a VHS collector, this is one you should look for. Yes, it might be a little slow in parts, but it has tons of great names, a fun plot, and a solid mix of 80s style and 50s low-budget adventure flick. If you come across it in your travels, I think it's worth picking up.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092922/

Friday, November 11, 2011

Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994)

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So here we are at the end of the Death Wish series. Like part four before it, this one was given to us on VHS from our friend Kenner at Movies in the Attic, and you can go there to see what he thinks of all the Death Wish movies. Let's see how things wrapped up.

Death Wish V is the only one in the series to use a Roman numeral in the title, and stars our man Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey, this time living in a New York suburb as an architect professor under an assumed name. He seems to have given up his old Death Wishing ways, until his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend (Michael Parks) decides he doesn't want her testifying against him, so he sends someone to cut up her face, and when that isn't enough, he just kills her. Why he doesn't just do that to start with is beyond us, but whatever, now Kersey is finally pissed and finally taking his gun back out of the safe (he like took it out earlier, then put it away for whatever reason). He's coming for Parks and his gang, one by one, and he won't stop until they're all dead.

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This is a tale of two movies. The opening is atrocious. First off, it's really depraved, almost like a mild torture porn flick or something. People get all kinds of carved up and have hands and faces put into steam presses and whatnot. Who is the weirdo that made this movie? Second, even worse, Bronson is just driving around watching people, doing absolutely nothing. He pulls his gun out, so we think he's ready to get down to it, but apparently he puts it away, because when the baddies come by to kill off his girlfriend, the best he can do is fend them off with a potted plant, before he does a swan dive off a ledge, twenty feet into a pile of garbage. Yes, that's what we want from a Bronson flick, good work out of you movie. Finally, even better work, the whole deal with the girlfriend. Either you cut her face up, or you kill her, but you can't do both. Once you've spent that nickel, you're done, after that it's bad writing. So here we are, almost an hour in, and the movie has utterly sucked so far. Then, Bronson finally starts kicking ass, and it's pretty cool, but for me, it's not only too little too late, but a reminder of how much this movie was sautéed in wrong sauce to begin with. For me, the last was by far the worst.

The hardest part about this one was how much I wanted Bronson to kick some ass. Seriously, I'm not paying to watch Bronson drive around in a Jeep Cherokee and spy on people, much less to watch him run around his apartment scared because for some reason or another he put his damn gun away when he knew the bad guys would be coming for his woman at some point. I know they were trying to flesh out some idea that he wanted to let the law handle things, but we don't watch Bronson flicks in 1994 to see him conflicted about whether or not he wants to go Death Wishing again. Jesus Christ, we're watching a movie called Death Wish V: The Face of Death, not Death Wish V: Conflicted About Whether or Not He Wants to Death Wish. Just get the frickin' gun out and start mowing the suckers down!

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And even worse about this is how great a baddie Michael Parks was. Because this takes so long to get going, his crew has this weird vibe where we're told how powerful he is, but he barely has any men, and it doesn't take long for Bronson to take them out-- because, after the first near hour of blah, he doesn't have a lot of time left. One of the interesting things about this one is that, not only does it have a Roman numeral in the title, but it's the first one with a true main baddie. While Parks definitely hits it out of the park, the film itself leaves a little to be desired, which is too bad.

This had a bunch of other people in it. Lesley-Anne Dawn played his girlfriend. She's done a lot of Soap and TV work, but she had a small part each in the Seagal flicks Mercenary of Justice and Today You Die. That might be because her husband, Donald E. FontLeRoy directed them. Robert Joy, who was in the Lambert flick Resurrection, plays Parks's crazy hit man. Great character actor Saul Rubinek plays the local DA, and another great character actor, Miguel Sandoval, plays his buddy. Finally, this was directed by Allan Goldstein, whom you may know from 2001: A Space Travesty, the Bosworth flick Virus, and one I remember from the mid-90s called Synapse with MTV VJ Karen Duffy. His direction was pretty solid-- it was his turn as co-writer that left a lot to be desired.

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Erica Fairfield played Bronson's future step-daughter, and I was thinking, since this was made in 1994, if she had been in my high school I would've thought she was pretty hot because she's always in a skirt, and back then, girls only wore skirts-- at least in my high school-- on a special occasion. I wasn't sure, though, if she was my age or not, because she looked a little younger than 14 or 15, which is what I would've been around the time period this was shot. So I looked her up, and it turns out she's much younger than me. I was born on April 1st of '79, and she was born on April 4th.

All right, before this gets weird, let's wrap it up (though it's a weird concept anyway, watching movies from when you were younger with girls in them who are younger but are really your age too). For me, this is by far my least favorite of the Death Wish films, and a big part of that is the lack of any positive action on Bronson's end early on. The cover shouldn't be an image of him holding a gun, it should be him peering through the window of a Jeep Cherokee while other people do things, because that's the whole first hour or so. Despite a decent ending, this ultimately too sautéed in wrong sauce.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109578/

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mars (1997)

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I noticed it had been about six months since I'd done an Olivier Gruner flick, and this is one I'd actually seen almost ten years ago, so I figured I'd go with it. As luck would have it, only a few days before, our buddy Simon from Down Under at Explosive Action hit this one too, so you can go over there and check out his take-- also, I hotlinked your cover photo, so hopefully that's okay.

Mars takes place on the red planet, where Olivier Gruner plays Caution Templer (probably a take on Alphaville's Lemmy Caution), a highly trained security officer of the planet's mining company. He's investigating his brother's murder, and finds that everywhere he goes he has to beat the crap out of people to get answers. At the same time, Shari Belafonte is the company doctor, and she's figured out the source of a planet-wide plague. If she reveals her findings, it could blow the top off everything. Will she survive to get her message out in time? And how does her story dovetail with Gruner's?

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I didn't mind this. It was something of a Total Recall knock off, but it was definitely smaller in scale, more self-contained, and tried to play up some more Noir-ish aspects-- though the extent to which they really follow through with those Noir-ish aspects leaves a lot to be desired, with Gruner just beating the crap out of people, almost Walker, Texas Ranger style, the way Chuck Norris drove around in a pick-up truck and beat the crap out of people. I gotta say, though, I really dig that kind of thing. The one thing I didn't like was the grafted in local sleezeball character, because, unlike the way he was done in Total Recall, here he was just annoying. Annoying sidekicks always take away from a film's enjoyment. Kickass action stars doing their thing do not.

One very odd thing to note about Gruner's performance here: most of his lines were dubbed with someone else's voice. I'm not kidding. Whose idea was that? Gruner's English isn't that bad. What, was there some concern that it wouldn't be believable that he'd have a French accent? Dude, Schwarzenegger had a thicker accent than Gruner has, and we had no problem with him as a US government agent in Total Recall. As far as the action goes, Gruner's fights were really solid. The gunfights were a little schlocky, but this is 1990s DTV action, how good do we expect them to be? We've seen a lot worse with Gruner, and we've seen a lot of Gruner bait-and-switches, and this is neither, so in that sense it's not bad.

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One thing I liked about both this and Total Recall was the Old West/Film Noir aspect to Mars. Of course, both take it to that next level and make it an all out action film-- Total Recall on a much bigger scale. It'd be nice to see a movie take this concept to the next level. A real Martian mystery. Maybe even a TV show about a Mike Hammer-style character on Mars. Imagine the voice-overs "Georgie was a dancer at the Mount Olympus. She had three boobs and a whole lotta joie de vive. I figured if anyone could give me the 411 on this Perkins fella, it'd be her."

This has a pretty decent cast of supporting characters too. I mentioned Shari Belafonte above. She was really cool as the fast talking, hard-nosed doctor, which made it all the weirder that she ended up being the damsel in distress, but I guess that's what happens when you sign on for a DTV action flick and you're a woman. I liked Lindsey Ginter as the main baddie. He was also in another Gruner flick, Mercenary, which I'm sure you all remember. Lee De Broux plays the head Keeper in the sector Gruner enters to investigate his brother's murder. You may remember him from RoboCop. Director Jon Hess will probably be familiar to readers as the dude who directed Excessive Force, the Thomas Ian Griffith/Lance Henriksen actioner-- don't ask, I'm planning to do it soon. Finally, this had classic That Guy Nils Allen Stewart, as, what else, a thug. It's interesting that, for as big a dude as he is, he's always getting his ass kicked in movies, and it's no different here.

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Okay, maybe Nils Allen Stewart wasn't finally, because a heavily made-up Nick from Family Ties plays Pete the Hermit, a dude with a thick Irish brogue. "Ay, yo Alex, you seen Mallory?" I remember seeing the name Scott Valentine in the opening credits, and I was like "Nick!", but then I forgot about it. When I saw this dude, I thought "man, he looks familiar. Who is that? Oh lord, Scott Valentine, it's Nick!" The guy's actually been in quite a bit of stuff. Who'd a thunk it? He'll always be Nick to me.

This is available both new and used on DVD and VHS, and can be found pretty cheap. I'm not sure you need to go out of your way to get it, but if you see it for a few bucks why not, or if you've seen a lot of Gruner's better stuff already, and are looking for more, this is a good next choice. It's the kind of thing that, ten years ago when this stuff was on TV more, would be perfect for that 3AM paper procrastination.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0137094/