The Direct to Video Connoisseur

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

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman's the Fantastic Four (2015)

I don't remember where I first found out about this, I think it was recommended on Amazon Prime, but I knew it was something I had to see.  Recently I had Mitch from The Video Vacuum on the podcast to discuss this film, in addition to the other DTV Marvel movies, and what the genre is like now with all the blockbusters.  You can check out that podcast on our Talk Shoe site, or by searching for us on iTunes.

Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman's the Fantastic Four is a documentary that takes us behind the scenes of a movie that was finished, but never officially released, and now lives on in bootlegged versions.  It takes us back to a time when Marvel was hard-up for cash and sold the rights of their films to lesser entities like Cannon.  In this case, a producer had the rights to the Fantastic Four, and wanted to get it made quickly and on the cheap.  That's where Roger Corman came in, and the movie did get made; but before it could be released, it died on the vine, and before we knew it, FOX had the rights and the film was made on the big screen, and the rest was history.

I really enjoyed this.  I think as a comic book fan growing up in the 80s and 90s, this may have captured the feeling of that time better than any of the dramatic adaptations of any of the comics.  The interviews were compelling, the sense of expectation and what this movie could mean for everyone's careers, coupled with the misgivings they had around things like the budget and timeline they were working with, really took us behind the scenes in a way that, at least for me, put a lot of how all this works into a new perspective.  The idea that maybe this low-budget film was being used by Marvel to leverage FOX into a deal, or that perhaps the person who had the rights was using Corman to leverage Marvel to buy him off, and that ultimately it's the actors and crew--and to some extent us as fans--who suffer when the film is shelved and buried.  To my mind, we needed this movie and to hear what the people involved had to say, almost as much as the people involved needed to get their story out.

I have to confess, I haven't seen any of the bootlegged copies of the finished product that are floating around, but I would like to.  From what I've seen, I think it would be a great accompaniment to The Punisher, Captain America, and Nick Fury.  The fact that Marvel, under Disney, is trying to bury these DTV installments is a shame--and shortsighted.  While no one is clamoring for a special edition of the 2015 Fantastic Four reboot that barely covered its budget at the gate, a Shout Factory blu-ray with all the extras for the 1994 version would definitely be a hit--and would also gin up interest in a new incarnation if they ever wanted to try it on the big screen again.  The thing is, I don't know if the Fantastic Four is the kind of thing that can pull in $4 billion worldwide.  Maybe now that Disney has it (I think, right?), a Disney+ series with all the characters they have at their disposal would be way to go.

I don't know if I'd say Roger Corman's reputation takes a hit in this movie, but I don't know that he looks good either, and it was a bit of a disappointment to see that.  I'm going to get into Lloyd Kaufman's small part in this later, but it's almost like he predicted what was going to happen here.  At the very least, Corman lost control of this picture, and I think that's what happens when you take on someone else's property.  For us, the idea of The Fantastic Four being shot on the Carnosaur set is too amazing for words, but it sounds like when Stan Lee saw it, he crapped himself.  Anyway, the way the documentary paints it--or at least the impression I got--is that Corman was substantially compensated for the trouble he went to in producing this and subsequently allowing it to be buried, but he wasn't exactly forthright with the cast and crew about that.  If that's the case, I don't know if it takes some of the shine off Corman as a low-budget producer, but it does give us a more realistic understanding of the business he's in and the decisions he has to make.

One of the things Mitch and I discussed on the podcast was if there was a place for the DTV comic book movie in the modern blockbuster environment, and I think there is.  I don't know if the Fantastic Four is it, but I think with the way DTV and straight to streaming has become bigger and includes bigger names, there are a lot of Marvel and DC properties that would work in the modern DTV world.  Moon Knight is one I've brought up before, with Dolph Lundgren at the helm--though Scott Adkins would work too.  With all the DTV work Nicolas Cage has been doing, Ghost Rider seems to be another obvious one.  She-Hulk is one that hasn't been done yet, and while I wouldn't see a big screen market for her, a DTV film using a WWE star the way WWE has taken over DTV properties like The Marine sequels would work.  Winter Soldier is another that could be done well, especially in an Eastern European setting, where a lot of DTV films are shot.  Finally, what about some of the X products?  Maybe a Domino DTV flick that slots in between Deadpool sequels?  One thing that may hurt us with possible new DTV comic book flicks though is the success of The Joker.  A $55 million budget that was turned into over $1 billion worldwide at the gate might have studios thinking with the right story and talent, they don't need to spend $500 million and have to make $4 billion to be a success. 

Finally, I wanted to talk about Lloyd Kaufman's small part at the beginning of the film.  We find out that Kaufman and Troma were also approached for the Fantastic Four adaptation, and Kaufman turned it down.  His reasoning was, what's in it for us?  We have our own brand, and our own characters, I don't see the benefit in us trying to make a film for someone else with someone else's characters.  As I mentioned above, I wonder if he foresaw the trouble that Corman ended up having--at the very least, he knew he would be beholden to someone else creatively, and he didn't want that.  As much as Corman and the 1994 Fantastic Four that never happened get to the heart of what DTV films are all about, there are very few who embody the spirit more than Kaufman, and this appearance and his explanation on why he declined to work on this project really showed why he's so great.  Here's to you Mr. Kaufman, you're one of the good ones.

I can't recommend this enough.  If you have Prime, I would check it out, or even rent it if you need to, it's really worth it.  In terms of the podcast, that was also a great episode worth checking out.  Mitch and I did almost 2 hours on the subject of comic book movies, so if you're traveling for the holidays, load it up have it on in the background while you're on the road/in the air/ridin' that train, high on cocaine, etc.

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Saturday, December 21, 2019

Code Name: Wild Geese (1984)

When Will from The Exploding Helicopter podcast asked if I wanted to be a guest on his show, he suggested a few movies, and this was on the list.  As I had been looking to do more Antonio Margheriti, and get some more flicks with DTVC Hall of Famer Klaus Kinski, this seemed like the perfect choice.  As an aside, if you haven't been checking out the Exploding Helicopter site, and podcast, you really must--not to mention following him on Twitter, where he posts great gifs of some of the best exploding helicopters in cinema.

Code Name: Wild Geese has Lewis Collins as a guy who leads a rag-tag group of mercenaries in Asia.  USA DEA agent Ernest Borgnine contracts with Collins's crew to take out some heroin dealers in the Golden Triangle.  The problem is, they get all the way out there, blow up the drugs, only to have a henchman blow up their helicopter.  Not only that, but they discover another drug depot.  Now they need to destroy the second one, survive, and get home.  Oh, and there's also Klaus Kinski, he's never up to any good.

I had fun with this.  It wasn't the greatest, the characters weren't well developed, especially the star, Lewis Collins, whom I thought they could've done more with.  Also, despite having a consistent action quotient, it did get repetitive at times--how many times can you see guys being shot and falling from high up, or shimmying to death as they get sprayed with gunfire?  On the other hand, Margheriti's model-work was fantastic, including a great car chase, a train explosion, and blowing up buildings that he rendered from the actual structures they were shooting--in fact, this was so well-done, it took Will telling me they were models for me to catch it.  I also enjoyed Kinski, Borgnine, and Lee Van Cleef, who played the helicopter pilot.  I think you could do a lot worse for a low-budget military jungle actioner.

When I did the pod, I talked about a kind of Chekhov's Gun theory I have with Klaus Kinski: if you have Kinski in your movie, he has to eventually be a baddie, and that's what happened here.  It's not the Kinski on 10 that we love though.  He's kind of subdued, wearing jumpsuits, chewing up scenery.  Also, he's dubbed, I guess because his lines were in German in the original, and that tempers some of his punch as an actor.  I think as a Kinski enthusiast, it was fun to see him here, but it wasn't the full-on Kinski we love.

I wasn't familiar with Lewis Collins before doing the Exploding Helicopter pod, but Will being from England, knew all about him.  His show, The Professionals, didn't air here in the States, but I discovered in reading up on him on imdb, that he was up for the role of James Bond, I guess at the time Timothy Dalton got it.  After seeing Lewis Collins in this, I think he would've made a great Bond--or at least an interesting one.  I think Margheriti tried to tap into that here, combining a bit of international man of intrigue with grizzled war leader.  Again, like a lot of the character development, it was uneven, so we never got a full sense of either.

Anytime we get an Oscar winner on the DTVC it's great.  Usually it's Nicolas Cage or Cuba Gooding Jr., but Ernest Borgnine is another winner with a strong DTV CV.  One of the things I liked best about this was seeing his scenes with Kinski.  We know Kinski was very anti-Hollywood, and the Oscar is the greatest honor Hollywood can bestow on an actor, so I got the sense in watching him with Borgnine that he was like "Oscar huh?  I'm not impressed."  Borgnine for his credit was doing his thing, and even opposite Kinski there was a sense that he could care less and felt like he had nothing to prove.  One thing I appreciate about both actors is they treat acting like a profession, and if the money is right, they'll take the job and do their work.

Finally, because I was a guest on the Exploding Helicopter podcast for this film, I feel it's necessary to discuss the exploding helicopter action.  As I told Will, what impressed me here was how the exploding helicopter was integral to the plot.  Usually the exploding helicopter is a quick and easy way to infuse action into a film, but beyond possibly killing off a baddie in the denouement, it doesn't have any impact one way or the other on how the story unfolds.  When I think of movie tropes, the exploding helicopter is up there with damsels in distress and car chases as one of the most prevalent, but unlike those other two, for me it's the one that's tacked on the most, so to see it have that kind of impact on the characters was refreshing for me.

I found this on Prime, and thought it was a fun time.  It's not the greatest, but not the worst way to spend 90 minutes.  Thank you again to Will for having me on the Exploding Helicopter pod, and for everyone who hasn't checked out yet, definitely do.

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Saturday, December 14, 2019

Rumble (2018)

We've been back for almost 3 months now, and this is the first time we've got Gary Daniels up here.  Not sure why it's taken us this long, but we're here now and ready to make up for lost time.  Let's see how this one turned out.

Rumble has Gary Daniels as a former MMA champ whose girlfriend is into a pimp for money, so he needs to keep fighting to make the money back.  While in Mexico for a fight, his girlfriend is kidnapped, and the man holding her is a mysterious cartel leader who forces Daniels to fight in order to get her back.  Will Gary be able to figure out who is holding his girlfriend in time to save them both?

I'm not sure where to go with this one.  This is meant to be a different kind of Gary Daniels movie, up to the point it isn't, and I think that identity crisis is its ultimate undoing.  At times it's trying to be your traditional Daniels actioner, like when he's taking out three guys who are chasing him at once.  But then you have non-Daniels elements, like how it tries to be this Hitchcockian-Usual Suspects suspense thriller, where we don't know who is after Daniels and what he ultimately wants, but we think it could be any of the people Daniels has been in contact with to this point.  The biggest issue for me though was just how many times Daniels's character got his ass kicked.  Like, at the end, when he wins a fight, I'm like "oh yeah, that's right, he can do that."  Maybe that's the key complaint with this film: they spend so much time diminishing Daniels's abilities as a hero, that when he finally shows he can prevail, it actually stretches credulity.

Definitely not what we want from a Daniels action flick.  There are times when his character is getting his ass kicked, and I'm like "I can't watch this happen."  Daniels was the fight choreographer, and maybe that was the thing, he didn't want to choreograph wins for himself in all his fights, and I get that, but I also feel like he has to understand the reputation he's built with his fans.  Cold Harvest, Recoil, Bloodmoon, among many others, showcased a top notch athlete with supreme skills, and while maybe that's not the movie that's being made here, or that Daniels wanted to choreograph for his character's role, there's a certain expectation when his name's on the marquee, and his fans want something that meets that expectation.  Right away, we find out his character is on the run from a pimp.  Gary Daniels is playing a character on the run from a pimp?  The pimp and his henchmen are the intro fodder in a usual Daniels flick, he doesn't run from them, he warms up on them.  I get that this movie is supposed to be viewed separate from the rest of Daniels's flicks, but there should also be an understanding of what expectations seeing Daniels's name on the box evokes from fans like me.

This was directed by R. Ellis Frazier, who did another Daniels flick we've reviewed here, Across the Line, and from what I've seen of his filmography, he does a lot of these DTV flicks shot in Mexico, many of which were written by this film's screenwriter, Benjamin Budd.  This is one of those ones where I would've liked to have had it on DVD and been able to listen to their commentary, if they had it, to see what they were going for in certain spots, especially the unevenness in Daniels character between when he couldn't take down anyone, and when he could beat up the same guys who were kicking his ass earlier.  I get why they would cast Daniels in this role, because he could fight, so playing an MMA champion wouldn't be much of a stretch; but going from having him take down three fake police officers at once, then not being able to beat up a pimp's hatchet man, made it hard to understand what his character's abilities were, especially when we're used to Daniels being more of the former than the latter.  There are a bunch of other Ellis/Budd collaborations listed on imdb, including two on my radar, Misfire with Daniels, and Larceny with Dolph Lundgren.  It'll be interesting to see how either of those go.

Getting back to Daniels, this is his 44th tag here, putting him behind only Dolph Lundgren's 49 (one of which was for the Van Damme Film Fest on the 400th post); and with Albert Pyun's 41, puts him in exclusive company in the 40+ club.  He's been a workhorse for just over three decades, giving us such classics as Bloodmoon, Cold Harvest, and Recoil, and while he also does a lot of small parts in films with bigger stars, he's carried enough as the lead that I think he's put in his work.  I also think too that he's earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to a movie like this that may have been too ambitious and missed its mark for me.  With 40+ and counting, we still have a ways to go to get caught up on the rest of his films, so it'll be interesting to see how some of those went as well.

The Hitchcockian element was something that, at least I appreciated the effort on, but by the same token, it begs the question: who are you making this film for?  Most film fans picking this up when they see Gary Daniels on the tin want this badass here.  Maybe the better Hitchcockian thriller would have been him losing his girlfriend under mysterious circumstances, but he needs to find out what happened by investigating, as opposed to getting his ass kicked for two-thirds of the film.  Goes to a bar to interrogate people, bar fight ensues, bar's destroyed, but Daniels gets his answers.  Goes to an outdoor market, chase, then fight ensues, local business people eking out a meager existence have their products destroyed, but Daniels gets his answers.  See where this is going?  There's a right way and a wrong way to make a good Gary Daniels film, and it doesn't have to be the in-your-face mile-a-minute action of a PM Entertainment flick either.  Us action fans don't ask for much, but if you give us what we want, we're loyal and grateful.

And on that note, time to wrap this up.  The bonus here is it is Daniels-centric, and he has some good fights which he himself choreographed.  But I think it's hard to split the baby with what this was going for, and the fact that Daniels's character got his ass kicked so much it made it tough to watch in spots.  I don't think this touches his best stuff, but I do appreciate that this wasn't one of his others where he's taking a backseat to other actors, and hopefully we'll at least get more of him in this capacity.

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Saturday, December 7, 2019

T-Force (1994)

This was the feature film on a recent episode of the Exploding Helicopter podcast (which if you haven't checked it out yet, you should!), and my first thought was "let me check out my review on it."  Turned out I didn't have a review for it yet, because it was one I had watched and planned to review before the unplanned hiatus.  I guess now is as good a time as any to take care of that.  In addition to being featured on the Exploding Helicopter podcast, our friends Ty and Brett reviewed this over at their site,

T-Force takes place in the near future, and in that time robots are prevalent.  The newest creation: robot cops.  After terrorists led by Vernon Wells take over a building, and the robot cops swoop in and take out a bunch of innocent bystanders at the same time they take out Wells and his men, a decision is made to scrap them altogether.  The problem is, they have a sense of self, and don't wanna die.  Jack Scalia and one of the robot cops who didn't join his robot friends are all that stand in their way.  The robots' way I mean, not Scalia and the other robot...

This is the real deal PM Entertainment.  That Vernon Wells building takeover happens right away, so they don't waste any time with the good action--I think they blow up a helicopter in the first 15-20 minutes.  It's classic PM in the sense that, just when you think the plot may get in the way of the action, they hit us with a too-sweet action sequence to keep us happy.  The only complaint, and I don't know if you call this a complaint, is I felt it suffered from the Destro Effect, in that for me, Evan Lurie as the head robot baddie was way cooler and more likable than our "hero" Jack Scalia.  That's because Scalia's character was essentially a racist.  Between the fact that Lurie is already cooler than Scalia, and then Scalia's character is hard to root for because he's a racist, you end up needing Lurie to kill so many innocent people to make him more unlikable than Scalia, and I don't know if the movie quite gets there.  But Destro Effect aside, this is good PM Entertainment doing its job for you.

Out of all the great DTV action stars, I think I missed Evan Lurie the most during my hiatus.  Unlike people like Dolph, who I might encounter in a non-DTV context, I'm only seeing Evan Lurie in flicks like this.  The reality with this movie is, he shouldn't have been the baddie, he and his partners Malibu and Jennifer MacDonald should have been the heroes, roaming the LA area, blowing up stuff and making cool faces.  I mean, that's essentially what PM gave us with this, it was just, knowing they were the baddies, we understood it all would have to come to a bad end Lurie and his crew eventually.  Here's to you Evan Lurie, you're one of the great ones.

I think this is the first Jack Scalia film we've done here at the DTVC, which is surprising considering he's been in a lot of PM Entertainment flicks.  As I mentioned above, his character was a tough one to root for.  Again, he's already working uphill because he's not as cool as Lurie; but then they make his character a racist against robots.  He changes his tune after he works with the robot in Lurie's crew who doesn't go rogue, but why did he need that to not be a racist?  It's like when there's an incident of violence against women in the spotlight, and some guy will say "I have two daughters, so I think this is horrible."  Why do you need to have a daughter to think violence against women is bad?  And why do you need to be partnered with a robot to think not all robots are bad?

This movie had two messages that it was trying to convey.  One, the nature of self, what makes us human, and furthermore, what gives us the right to stake our claim to life on this planet.  If we create robots, can we just shut them down when we want, or do the robots have a say?  You could also say this about animals we slaughter for food, right?  We breed the pig, but the pig doesn't want to die when it's time any more than Evan Lurie did.  The difference of course, is that the pig can't blow us up.  The second message had to do with immigration and the idea of immigrants coming to America and taking jobs away from blue collar workers.  The problem with that is, they never quite resolved Scalia's mindset on that, rather just had him forget it when he befriended his robot partner.  What's interesting about both of these debates is how they've evolved 25 years later.  In terms of the nature of self and who has the right to live, the plant-based protein market is huge now, but not because people think pigs are sentient creatures, but rather because environmentally factory farming is killing us.  As far as the immigration issue, that has blown up worse than we could have imagined in 1994, with the way Trump revived it as a boogie man and rode that hysteria among white, working class voters to the 2016 election.  That might be why Scalia's character is so hard to root for today: we can see him in his MAGA hat now, and that makes him all the more gross.

Usually that previous paragraph is the one I use for the seventh one, but I couldn't end a PM Entertainment post on that note.  Seeing this again after seeing so many newer DTV flicks for the blog recently, I'm reminded of why I got into this in the first place.  PM Entertainment got it right more often than they got it wrong, and this is a prime example.  How easily could they have gotten too bogged down in the two themes I mentioned above?  But not only did they not let that happen, they had some real kick-ass scenes.  When we see that logo at the beginning of a movie, we know we're going to be in pretty good shape.  Just a smooth-talking Evan Lurie robot in a ponytail blowing up helicopters.  What more can you want?

This is the PM Entertainment you came for.  Sweet action, fun baddies with Lurie and Malibu, and plenty of schlock to go around.  As of right now, this is available to screen on YouTube, so I would check it out if you haven't already.

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Saturday, November 30, 2019

Showdown in Manila (2016)

Getting back into things after that long hiatus, I wanted to see what some of the Hall of Famers have been up to, and this one has three: Cynthia Rothrock, Don "The Dragon" Wilson, and Olivier Gruner.  In addition, it has DTVC favorites Casper Van Dien, Mark Dacascos, Tia Carrere, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, and Matthias Hues.  I couldn't not review this, right?

Showdown in Manila is about a cop, Alexander Nevsky, who gets his team killed when a bust goes bad.  He starts a PI firm with former LA cop Casper Van Dien, and gets a case dumped in his lap that may get him the revenge on the baddies, Cary Tagawa and Matthias Hues, who killed his team, when Tia Carrere hires them to find the same men who killed her husband, Mark Dacascos.  If Nevsky and Van Dien are going to pull this off, they'll need to call in some DTVC Hall of Famers.

This one was missing something, and I think the problem was there was too much shooting and too little anything else.  And it was that kind of shooting where you see one person firing a weapon in one shot, and then someone else in an entirely different shot getting hit.  The other thing is, when you have the names this had, you need more than just one Mark Dacascos fight and one Cynthia Rothrock fight for that to pay off.  I don't need Olivier Gruner and Don "The Dragon" Wilson to just fire weapons, anyone can do that, I need to see them take out a few guys at once with their martial arts.  I feel bad, because I think I'm judging the movie more on what it could have been as opposed to what it was based on the cast, but the trailer was selling me that too, and in my mind it just didn't quite deliver.

Another issue the film had was, it really was supposed to be Nevsky's, but Casper Van Dien was stealing every scene they were in together.  It made me want more of him, and the scenes that were Nevsky-focused had me waiting for when Van Dien would be back.  Then, as Van Dien is shining in every scene the way he was, I starting thinking "why isn't his character the one this is centered around?  He's more compelling."  That's a situation you never want to be in.  If you look at another "showdown" movie, Showdown in Little Tokyo, Brandon Lee was fantastic, but Dolph could carry it so well that they played off each other and the whole thing worked.  The other thing is I think Dolph had had more acting credits at that point than Brandon Lee, whereas Casper Van Dien has been around much more than Nevsky, and it showed in their scenes together.

Alexander Nevsky has made a few films over the past five years, and I think he could, with the right material, be one of those actors after Scott Adkins and Michael Jai White who could carry the torch after some of the old guard have retired--and to some extent, I think this movie was a bit of a passing of the torch with the names who were supporting him.  The problem Nevsky faces was staring at him in the person of Matthias Hues: the bad guy is usually the hulking Eastern European, and a lot of the stars working with him in this picture made their money taking down their share of Alexander Nevskys in their careers.  What that means is he's working uphill versus the high-octane martial arts of Adkins and White that make more sense to us as action fans.  I would add a Tony Jaa to that list.  I'm not saying I don't think Nevsky can have a career in DTV action, I personally would love to see him make it, I just think he needs the right material as he gets his feet under him, and I don't know that this film was it.

As we discussed, there are three DTVC Hall of Famers, and all three of them come in for the jungle scenes in the last half-hour or so.  Part of the reason why all three of them are Hall of Famers is we're used to them leading their own films--Gruner has 20 films on the DTVC, Rothrock 28, and Wilson 30.  You could also add Dacascos and his 16 films to that list, but seeing that he was also directing, his smaller role was more understandable.  The point I'm making is, adding headliners to this movie without giving them headliner roles I think brings us back to the idea that this film feels like it could have been more.  For example, Cynthia Rotherock had a good fight scene where she took out a bunch of henchmen, but that's the kind of scene an up-and-comer should get to show us what she's got, not someone who has helmed 5 DTV action franchises: China O'Brien, Rage and Honor, Martial Law, Lady Dragon, and Tiger Claws.  She's one of the biggest reasons why I got into DTV action, and to see her in this small role supporting Nevsky didn't feel right.  Same could be said of Don "The Dragon" Wilson and Olivier Gruner.  We may see more of this kind of thing going forward, where DTVC Hall of Famers take smaller supporting roles, and I don't know how we mitigate this issue of how much we're used to them being the lead, unless you only have them be baddies.  I'm not saying I need them in roles where they do a fight scene every 10-15 minutes--they've already done plenty of those for us, and plenty of great ones at that--, but I think you have to give the audience something they can really sink their teeth into so they leave feeling satisfied.

I wanted to discuss the very end of the movie, so if you don't want to know what happens, don't read this paragraph.  The way the film ends, the guys capture Tagawa, and take him back to Manila, where Matthias Hues has been lying in the trunk of their car.  They have the guys in handcuffs sitting in chairs in their office, when Tia Carrere's character comes in, and shoots them both in cold blood.  I don't want to get into the idea of victim's rights in real life, and whether or not a victim's family should have the right to get revenge like this.  Real life is one thing, but a movie is different, and it seems off when the heroes do it.  Again, this isn't real life, Mark Dacascos didn't really die, so in the construct of a movie, I think you have to have the baddie go for a gun or do something threatening to justify killing them.  They can't be restrained and defenseless, it just doesn't play well, at least to me.

For me, I unfortunately can't fully recommend this.  It had its moments, but I feel like the bigger cast made me wish they had done more.  I like Nevsky, and think he could have a big future, but there were a lot of names that overshadowed him.  In fact, many of the big names made their careers in films where they defeated Nevsky-types, and I think that undermined what they were going for.  You can find this on Amazon Prime, so if you're a Prime subscriber, this won't cost you anything more.

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Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Debt Collector (2018)

It was about time we got some Scott Adkins up on the blog now that we're back, and he certainly has a lot to choose from.  I saw that this one has a sequel in post production, so I figured it would be the one to do.  Let's see how it went.

The Debt Collector has Adkins as a guy who runs a dojo that is short on funds.  His buddy, Michael Paré, gets him a job as a debt collector for an organized crime boss.  For orientation, he shadows one of the Mandylor brothers, Louis.  Things get crazy though when they take a job from Tony Todd that may not be what it seems.  Can the guys do the right thing, or will they carry out their job no matter what?

I don't know what to think of this one.  It had action, but was it the best action?  It had a nice 95-minute runtime, and I don't know that it moved slowly, but the earlier construct of the guys just doing jobs felt a little repetitive.  How many times do I need to see them go to collect money, Scott Adkins get thrown through a wall, then win the fight and the guys get the cash, before I get the idea?  I think the movie understood that too, because at the point where I might have said "this movie is just spinning its wheels," they interject the Tony Todd element into the story.  The problem was, beyond the dilemma the characters had in whether or not they go against orders, they were really just going from going place to place to collect money, to going place to place to get information.  I don't know how you mitigate that, other than maybe having less of that construct, moving up the dilemma to earlier in the story, and then changing the paradigm to something that's more cat-and-mouse or two guys trying to stay alive and clear their names.

This movie got Scott Adkins half-right.  The half they got right was keeping his native English accent, and not forcing him to affect an American one.  I know for me, I would rather have Scott Adkins as a Brit living in LA with no explanation on how he got there, than him affecting an American accent.  The half they got wrong was in the fight scenes.  They were too knock-down-drag-em-out, which to me wastes what makes Adkins so great: full-throttle martial arts action.  I want lightning fast kicks and chops, taking out three guys at a time, maybe throwing in a few jump kicks; not trading punch with big guys who pick him up and throw him through plaster walls before Louis Mandylor swoops in and smashes a vase on the big guy's head.  This might be the first Adkins movie I've seen where his non-fight scenes outshone the ones where he fought.

As I mentioned above, this has one of the Mandylor brothers, Louis, as the old veteran debt collector showing Adkins the ropes.  I would say between the two of them, he may have made more sense in this than Adkins.  I think you could have made a compelling, mid-to-late 90s independent flick about a debt collector with a tough past who found his way into this sordid life and now is trying to cope.  Dial down the action a bit, add in some quirky supporting characters, and we could have had something really compelling.  I think that might have been another problem, this movie didn't know what it wanted to be, hard-hitting action flick or 90s throwback indie character study, and I think if it had picked one or the other and stuck with it, we could have something really great.

Tony Todd's character felt like another miss, as it really could have been that offbeat yet very evil organized crime boss that a lot of 90s indie flicks, especially post-Pulp Fiction, featured.  The way that whole plot  comes into the film, with his character wanting them to track someone down, it didn't feel fully fleshed out, almost like it was there to mitigate that issue I described where the paradigm of them going to collect money started spinning its wheels.  I wonder if the better way wasn't to mix some of those earlier debt collections into a montage, then have this Tony Todd thing be a bigger part.  Again, it was just something about the film that felt like it didn't know what it wanted to be.

Michael Paré is looking to outdo Eric Roberts for most movies coming out.  If you look at his imdb, he's been doing like 4 or 5 movies a year for over a decade now, and he's not showing any signs of slowing up.  I remember imdb used to have this thing where you could look at two actors and see how many times they've worked together.  It would be interesting to see how many times Paré has been with Roberts.  I think those two would make for a great buddy cop movie, the problem is, neither of them would have time to be the leads if they're appearing in five other movies each a year.

I think you could have some fun with this one.  For me, it just felt like it had too much that wasn't fully fleshed out, plus, I personally prefer high-octane martial arts action as opposed to "I hit you, you hit me, then throw me through a wall, and then my partner will smash a vase over your head" kind of action.  At the very least, Scott Adkins keeps his natural accent, which for me is always a plus.

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Saturday, November 16, 2019

White Ghost (1988)

For the first time in I don't know how long, we're inducting a new member to the DTVC Hall of Fame!  No, it's not William Katt, it's Reb Brown!  Yes, I probably should have picked a more Reb-centric flick to do for his induction celebration, but I didn't realize he was in this as little as he was.  Well, we're already knee-deep, so we might as well get after it.  Also, our friends at have looked at this, and they joined me for the podcast we did in discussing Reb Brown and his work.

White Ghost has William Katt as our eponymous hero, a former Vietnam War vet who stayed behind after and lived in the jungle while collecting weapons and marrying Rosalind Chao.  Reb Brown, back in DC, suspects that Katt might still be out there as the mythical White Ghost that locals in the jungle think has been haunting them.  Brown gathers a team of special ops guys to bring him in, led by his former commander, Walker.  They're on a collision course to wackiness!

I don't know that this was horrible, but it had some horrible moments, like when Rosalind Chao is captured and has bamboo shoots shoved under her fingernails.  That's a bit much for me.  Beyond that, it has a heavy body count and lots of explosions.  I think for these kinds of DTV 80s jungle actioners, we've seen worse, but we've also seen better.  I think what usually carries it is the stars, and beyond Katt, Brown, and Chao, we had an interesting cast.  Katt's old CO was played by Wayne Crawford, Karl Johnson was Crawford's right-hand man, and in his crew he had John Barrett (uncredited) and Graham Clark (who starred with Brown in Space Mutiny).  I don't know that that's enough of a cast to carry this, especially if you're putting Reb Brown on the bench for all but the last few minutes.

That bit at the end though was pure classic Reb Brown.  He's in front of a helicopter, two-fisting machine guns, and screaming while he mows down Vietnamese soldiers.  Even if this weren't the movie we were reviewing to induct Brown into the Hall of Fame, that still wouldn't be enough.  Reb Brown was made for these jungle warfare romps.  Get him a tank top, head band, and a cache of weapons, and let him loose on the movie.  Even if this was supposed to be a Katt vehicle, it needed more Reb Brown.

Reb Brown enters the Hall of Fame with one of the lower tag counts (this will be his ninth, which is lower than a lot of non-Hall of Famers), but I think why he gets in is his spirit, similar to a Klaus Kinski--but in a totally different way--embodies what DTV is all about.  Also, his films tended to be on the lower end, especially the Philippine jungle ones, but there was never a sense in any movie he did that he mailed it in, and that I think matters more than anything for us as a viewer.  I never thought when I first saw him in Space Mutiny almost 20 years ago that I would have a blog, and on that blog be inducting him into our Hall of Fame, but here we are; and here's to you Reb Brown, you're one of the good ones.

William Katt was an interesting choice for the lead.  The better movie might have been with Brown in Katt's role, and Katt in Brown's, but that's one of the problems with DTV: the bigger name gets the bigger role, unless it's a bait-and-switch.  If you're going to pay Katt that much, you might as well use him.  The other thing too is, in 1988, he was only two years removed from The Greatest American Hero, and was still doing Perry Mason TV movies as a reoccurring character.  It makes me wonder if maybe this was slated for a theatrical release, and then something derailed it, and it ended up DTV.

I think sometimes with these action movies we need to suspend belief when it comes to the amount of weaponry and ammunition they have, but this film actually deals with that in a pretty realistic way.  Katt character collects it off of fallen soldiers and from various abandoned storage locales.  With the way the US funds its conflicts, it's not inconceivable that he could find a lot of that stuff left behind.  It would have been cooler though if he found some other things, like MREs.  Sure, we're action fans, but it doesn't always have to be about shooting and explosions, does it?  Okay, maybe it does.

It's time to wrap it up.  For me, this may be for 80s Jungle Flick completists, but I don't know if I can recommend it beyond that.  After Brown's great screaming action near the very end, there isn't much that I found to distinguish it from a lot of the others out there.  You can get this on Prime, or stream it on YouTube.  I think as far as our DTVC Hall of Famer, Strike Commando and Robowar are two better ones for him, plus Space Mutiny, all of which are also on Prime.

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Saturday, November 9, 2019

China Salesman (2017)

I saw this listed on imdb when I was looking up Seagal for the Perfect Weapon review.  The trailer showed this too-sweet fight between him and Mike Tyson, and I thought, man, I gotta make this happen.  I did notice that the runtime was closing in on two hours though, and I've been at this game long enough to know that that's a red flag that seldom doesn't fulfill the promise of the doom it portends.

China Salesman is a Chinese production staring Dong-Xue Li as an engineer for a Chinese telecom company that's looking to win a contract to be the cell service provider for a burgeoning African nation.  Unfortunately those pesky Westerners are at their old tricks: the competing European telecom company is actually represented by a French spy who's using the telecom bidding as a front for his attempt to foment civil war in the country in order to exploit their natural resources.  Now not only does Dong-Xue need to overcome the Westerner's sneakiness in trying to win the contract, but he also needs to save this nation from another civil war.

In the opening credits, the production company "Golden God" is written as "Gloden God."  Red flag number 2, right?  And it turns out I was right to be concerned with red flag number 1, the runtime. At about the 1:15-1:20 mark, the film hits a natural end point: Dong-Xue saves the country, wins the contract, and it looks like everyone but the baddies will live happily ever after.  Not so fast cowboy.  Instead there's this whole other storyline about how the European telecom is now suing the Chinese one, led by the nefarious French spy, and this drags on for another half-hour that we didn't need.  I don't know that I would have said this was a great movie at the shorter runtime, because it still had its "Gloden God" flaws, but at the very least, it couldn't afford that tacked-on extra thirty minutes, which was unfortunate.

Our man Seagal isn't in this for a huge amount, but the fight scene he has with Tyson is pretty good.  When you think of an extreme, aggressive boxer like Tyson versus an Aikido master like Seagal, it had all of the one redirecting the aggression and momentum of the other.  The problem was they were substituting Seagal with a stunt double, which made it disjointed.  Beyond that, Seagal was this local smuggler character who was, I guess, a good guy, or maybe a guy with no allegiances, but the role was down on the totem pole, and probably didn't warrant him being featured so prominently on the cover.  I read on imdb that casting him was a huge chunk of their budget, so I guess having him on the cover and featured in the trailer was their way of making sure they got their money's worth, but that doesn't mean we did.

While Seagal wasn't in this much, Mike Tyson's character had a pretty sizable role.  He's the representative of a displaced people in Africa looking to take the country back--being manipulated by the French spy to be a baddie of course.  Based on how good his fight scene with Seagal was, I would have liked more of that, as opposed to him in a tank yelling "fire!"  There are some other films he's done recently, like one of the Kickboxer sequels, so I think it'll be good to see him in one of those, as I have a feeling they'll do more with his fighting skills.

I list the hero, Dong-Xue, down here, as opposed to near the top, because this film billed him third, despite the fact that he was the film's hero.  He represented more than simply the protagonist, he also represented China vis-a-vis the Western world, especially when it comes to developing parts of the world like Africa.  There's one scene where he and some of the other characters need to get past a hostile checkpoint so they can fix a cell tower, but they don't have a UN or Red Cross flag to show that they're not a belligerent player.  Dong-Xue finds a Chinese flag and waves it patriotically as their caravan rides past the checkpoint unharmed.  It smacked of our " 'Murica" movies, and in a way was refreshing to see done by another country.  The reality is the West doesn't have a great reputation in Africa in particular, and as a result, China can position themselves as perhaps a more palatable alternative as some of these nations look to develop their infrastructure.  Also, the title, "China Salesman," is a reference to the stereotype that the Chinese people takeover the economies that they move into and are always looking to sell people things.  Dong-Xue having to prove that he's more than just a "China Salesman" is a metaphor for China itself challenging the global economy.  I think the message would have gotten across better with the last 30 minutes dumped, but even so, is a low-budget actioner from "Gloden God" the right vehicle for messages like this anyway? 

Our friend Will over at Exploding Helicopter has been celebrating the helicopter explosion in films for years, and as you can imagine, his work is very extensive.  It's almost like Chekhov's Gun, right?  When we see a helicopter in a movie, it's gotta go down at some point, it's just a matter of how creative the filmmaker will be in doing the job.  China Salesman though strikes a blow for the helicopter here, for the first time ever in any movie I've ever seen.  A UN helicopter appears as our hero is under fire while trying to fix a cell tower.  At the same time, Mike Tyson picks up a rocket launcher and trains it on the whirlybird.  I see this, and I'm thinking "here it comes;" but it didn't, he missed.  Okay, it got lucky, we're just delaying the inevitable, right?  Of course, Iron Mike is loading up for his next shot, now we'll get that exploding helicopter.  But the helicopter did something I'd never seen when faced with a missile flying in its direction: it dodged it.  And then, on top of that, it fired a missile of it's own, blasting Tyson off the ledge he was on and incapacitating him.  It was a amazing, like the Washington Generals finally beating the Harlem Globetrotters.  

Okay, time to wrap this baby up.  You can currently stream China Salesman on Netflix, and I feel like the best bet is to stream it and watch the fight between Seagal and Tyson, because it's pretty good.  (Also if you go to the 70-minute mark to see the helicopter striking a blow for all helicopters.)  Beyond that, I think this movie tried and had a message worth giving, but it ultimately failed in the execution.  Many have suffered the hubris in trying to defeat the 88-minute rule, and this unfortunately was another casualty.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Black Water (2018)

I first found out about this one when it was suggested to me on a streaming site while I was looking for something else.  My bigger question was how I didn't know about this before?  Dolph/Van Damme in a movie together is almost as big as De Niro and Pacino--almost.

Black Water has Van Damme as Wheeler, a CIA special agent working deep cover to find someone leaking top secret info for money.  Things go bad though, and he finds himself on a submarine that technically doesn't exist, and is used for detaining and interrogating high-risk targets--like Dolph, who's being held there for unknown reasons.  While Van Damme is being interrogated, he's able to escape his cuffs and escape onto the sub with a plucky young CIA recruit, Cass.  Now Cass and Dolph are the only people who can help Van Damme get off the sub and clear his name.

This wasn't horrible, but I think for a movie with these two, "wasn't horrible" isn't exactly what you're looking for.  The movie starts with Van Damme waking up in a cell and trying to figure out where he is, while he talks to Dolpg through their cell walls.  It then takes us about 20 minutes to get us back there as we replay the events to show us what happened before. Why not just start the movie at the beginning then?  There was some nice action in that, but part of that brings me to my other issue with the movie: the submarine set was a bit too claustrophobic.  It's no coincidence that the best action scene in the movie came in that "here's what happened before" act that took place outside.  The other thing was, someone on imdb tagged this as having a Die Hard paradigm, but it really wasn't, it was more like one group against another trying to get control of the sub.  Maybe, had this been an actual Die Hard on a sub model, it would have worked better, but I still think the limitations due to the space would have been hard to overcome.

Usually if a movie has Dolph in it, we start with him, but because this was more of Van Damme's vehicle, I think it's only right to go to him first.  I really liked him in this.  His scenes with Dolph were a lot of fun; and his action sequences, especially with his gun fu and knife fu were great.  He just celebrated his 59th birthday, but based on what we're seeing with guys like Stallone and Schwarzenegger, he could have another ten years of movies like this.  I get the sense though that he wouldn't want that, that by 2029 he'll be doing something different from this, and I'm okay with that, what he's already given us has been fantastic enough.

Dolph is this movie's Chekhov's Gun.  We see him in the opening scene, and we know eventually they're going to use him, it's just a matter of when.  For that reason, I wouldn't call this a bait-and-switch, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't have liked more Dolph in the film.  For me, Dolph isn't your Chekhov's Gun character, he's the co-star, and he and Van Damme should have been taking out guys, bantering back and forth, and chewing up scenery for 90 minutes.  Steve Buscemi is great Chekhov's Gun, or maybe someone like Mike Tyson. 

We had Jasmine Waltz as Cass, the plucky recruit teamed up with Van Damme after he wins her over.  I felt like she was a victim of what I've always seen as a poor device used in action movies: the annoying partner who hampers our hero before he/she redeems themselves and becomes likable.  Why do that?  Why not just make her character likable right from the start?  Instead of having her try to keep Van Damme at gun point, when we've already established that her character is way over her head and couldn't keep him at gun point, why not have her trust her gut and support him right from the start--which, going back to Chekhov's Gun, they established during the interrogation scene that she was already having doubts that Van Damme was a baddie, and then suddenly went away from that and didn't trust him.

We talked about Van Damme's age earlier in the post, but I think I may be getting softer in my old age too (if 40's old), because I really liked the fight scene between Van Damme and his son Kris. I don't think I could do a choreographed fight with my dad, but they definitely pulled it off.  We talk about Scott Adkins or Michael Jai White as guys who could carry the torch from some of these action greats like Dolph and Van Damme, but if they're going to be sticking around another ten years, there might not be a torch to pass before they're in their 50s and 60s too; but Kris Van Damme is only in his early 30s, and with one of the all-time greats in his dad there to possibly train him, I think he's someone that by 2029 could be on the cover of these movies and taking DTV action to that next level.

Overall, as I said, I didn't think this was horrible.  I think if you have 104 minutes to kill, you could do a lot worse than this.  It's available to stream if you have Amazon Prime, or to rent on streaming through Amazon or Redbox.  For a Dolph/Van Damme flick, I expected more, but, again, it wasn't horrible.

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Saturday, October 26, 2019

Gerald's Game (2017)

For the third in our Three for Halloween, I thought I would go back to my Maine roots and pick a movie based off of a Stephen King novel.  I also thought too that it might be interesting to go away from the more traditional horror film.  Let's see how it all went.

Gerald's Game has Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood as a couple struggling in their marriage.  In an attempt to spice things up during their weekend away, Greenwood handcuffs Gugino to the bed, and then proceeds to die of a heart attack.  Now Gugino needs to try to keep her wits about her while she figures a way out of this predicament.  It's not going to be easy.

I know this was based on a novel, which I haven't read, but can see according to Wikipedia is 350 pages; but it felt like there was only enough material here to make a great Tales from the Crypt episode, not a 103-minute movie.  About 20 minutes in we were spinning our wheels, and I don't know that all of it was fluff padding the film until we got to the end, but a good portion of it was.  Then there was an extended ending that felt tacked on and inorganic, and in a way betrayed a lot of what made this unique for a scary movie by trying to give us a more traditional boogeyman.  I liked the idea and what they were trying for, I just think it could have been more effective in a smaller package.

Again, I haven't read the novel this was based on--in fact I haven't read anything by Stephen King before, beyond the first three pages of Pet Sematary translated into German in my German translation class in college, but I do respect him as one of Maine's most successful literary figures.  At least from what I know of him, this definitely had the brutality he's famous for, and I think the film makers were able to carry that through.  Maybe I should read the novel to see how this story is carried over 350 pages, because it's possible that what felt like padding and spinning its wheels in the movie, read much quicker in the novel.  It's funny how that works: 10 pages that might take 15-20 minutes to read can feel shorter than 5 minutes worth in a movie.

One of the biggest tropes in the DTV movie is bondage or the damsel in distress (and one of the biggest tropes in online movie reviewing is using the word "trope," but I digress...).  It's common to see either the female lead tied up in some way, or even see the male hero tied up--like Miles O'Keeffe yelling "no!" in Ator.  I think it dates back to the old pulp detective books that spawned a lot of the DTV genres we know, and when it involves the damsel in distress, can run into that vibe of control that borders on sexual deviance/embracing violence against women, but done through the surrogate of a baddie so anyone enjoying it can assuage any guilt they might have.  It's not like that in all cases, but I think for the ones where it is that, this movie really turns that trope on its ear.  There's nothing sexy or seductive about any of this, it's uncomfortable right from the start.  One could say it's an answer to Fifty Shades of Grey twenty years prior, but for me I think it's an answer to those pulp novels that were probably prevalent when King was growing up, which to me makes it an answer to the standard damsel in distress paradigm that we've become accustomed to.

As far as I can tell, this is not available on DVD.  I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing.  On the one hand, I almost never buy DVDs anymore; on the other, it seems like you can't own this, you can only stream it if you have Netflix, so in order to rewatch it you need to keep you subscription up.  I love that Netflix has so many titles available to stream, which gives me as a movie blogger many more options like this film to review; and I also know that my wife and I have a bunch of DVDs we no longer watch because it's easier to stream if it's available on a streaming service or On Demand than it is to get the DVD out, put it in the player, then get up and take it out when it's finished--plus we have an issue with finding space for all our stuff, so not having to get DVDs of all the titles we want to watch helps us; but it does put you in a tough spot if they've released a movie that you want to rewatch, because the DVD is a one-time price of $20 (or less), while Netflix is a monthly fee you have to keep paying.

It's always a treat if we get to use our "The Guy from ET" tag.  The funny thing is he plays Carla Gugino's dad in flashbacks, but they're the same age in real life.  The not so funny thing is that he's a not-so-great dad.  From this profile shot, he kind of looks like Mickey Thomas of Starship.  I think he's still touring the country, singing hits like "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now."  I imagine those shows cater to people my age and older, with plenty of seating and wine in plastic cups.  Maybe REO Speedwagon and The Outfield are on the same bill.  I get a few cups of Cab Sav in me and next thing I know I'm standing and belting out the lyrics to "Sara", when the couple born in the late 60s sitting behind me yells for me to sit down, and my face turns red and I apologize.  As I sheepishly try to return to my seat, I miss it altogether and fall in the grass, the remnants of my wine flying out of my cup and covering my face.

Before we get too knee deep in the hoopla, let's wrap this up.  I'd be curious to know how close this is to the King novel, because that might tip the scales for King fans.  For me, I think it would have been great in a smaller package, maybe in the format of a Tales from the Crypt episode or something like that.  It is available to stream on Netflix, but as far as I can tell, because it's a Netflix original, that's it, you can't get it anywhere else.

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Sunday, October 20, 2019

Chopping Mall (1986)

For the second in our Three for Halloween, I wanted to do something from the 80s.  I thought the best way to start my search would be to look up some of the best directors in field, which brought me to Jim Wynorski, and that brought me here to Chopping Mall.  On top of that, my wife Jen and I have been watching dead mall videos on YouTube, so this seemed like it could give us an added burst of stroll down memory lane.

Chopping Mall takes place at the same mall from Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Commando. Apparently after what Arnold did to the place, the mall contracts with a security firm that uses robots to patrol the space after hours.  At the same time, six kids are having a party at the furniture store they work at after the mall closes.  Sounds like they're all on a collision course to wackiness!

This movie did everything I'd want it to do, and the 77-minute runtime didn't hurt either.  Great kills, funny characters, and all the 80s nostalgia we could handle.  This is the kind of horror movie I love.  Maybe it's silly and predictable, but even that element works for me.  It's just fun to watch something like this, poke fun at it, talk about the actors we recognize, and reminisce about what it was like going to the mall back then. 

Among the actors you'd know, of course there was Barbara Crampton.  Her character devolved into the whiny one who can't handle the stress and breaks down, and, SPOILER ALERT, ultimately justifies the use of the flaming stuntperson.  We also had Tony O'Dell from Head of the Class--Howard Hesseman and Robyn Givens would have been proud.  Character actor Gerrit Graham bites it early on, which I imagine allowed him to run to other micro That Guy roles in other films and TV shows.  The heroine was played Kelli Maroney, who, among some other B movies and TV roles she had, was also Cindy in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, one of the cheerleaders at the pep rally, meaning she was in two films that were shot at the Sherman Oaks Mall.  Finally, DTVC fans will remember Arthur Roberts, the villain from Revenge of Ninja.  He plays one of the girls' fathers, but does not don his ninja garb.

And then there was this guy, Mike, played by John Terlesky.  They just don't make 'em like him anymore.  A face chiseled out of granite, a mullet that is equal parts business on top and party in the back, smacking his gum and wearing tight jeans and sneakers, all of it was great.  And we knew the moment we saw him sitting on a desk when he was supposed to be working, talking about partying that night, that he wasn't long for this world. That's the thing, this guy didn't evolve to survive past the 80s, and by 1986 his species was already starting to be selected out.  Whether it was killer robots rampaging through a mall after hours, or Bill Clinton's election, the 90s were coming to take him down, and replace him with a guy with poorer hygiene and poorer style.  None of us knew it then, but Bender would eventually have the last laugh.

People think I'm hung up on runtime, and that's not entirely true, I just feel like there's no need to tell in 90 minutes what you can tell in 77--and no need to tell in 150 minutes what you can tell me in 90.  This movie could be an interesting case study in this concept, because the original version was called Killbots and was 90 minutes long.  I've never seen that version--this version here was what was packaged for the video market--but I can't imagine that extra 15 minutes did anything good for this.  The other advantage to a shorter runtime is it's easier to sell to people to watch with you.  Case in point, Jen watched with me, and I don't think she would have if it were longer.  Again, all filmmakers should take Roger Corman's advice and keep it under 88 minutes--and anything over that should be seen as borrowed time that needs to be justified.

In 1986 the mall was the king of commerce, and none of us could imagine the world we're in now where malls are dying and trying to find ways to repurpose themselves.  The internet is part of their demise; in addition, I think the move toward urban versus suburban living, particularly among Millennials, has shifted some of the commerce that malls once cornered back to small shops downtown--plus those small shops can now use the internet to hedge against any loss of foot traffic in ways they couldn't before; but I also think stores like Target, and later Walmart in following Target's model, turned the strip mall department store into something cool that obviated any need to go to the mall.  When we lived in Delaware County, PA, the Springfield Mall had Target as one of its anchors, and I decided to take a walk through after getting what we needed, and nobody else was doing that.  Why would they?  Unless they have a thing for malls like I do, they just got everything they needed at Target.  You couldn't say that about K-Mart back in 1986.  It'll be interesting to see what becomes of the mall in the future, especially as more and more of these spaces die out. 

All right, enough of my mall rant.  As far as I could tell, this is only available on Amazon Prime, so if you have that, I would check this out.  A great 80s mall horror action romp that at 75 minutes really can't be beat.  I think growing up in the 80s, we probably all dreamed of staying in the mall after hours, so this is a great way to indulge those fantasies while watching adorable killer robots bumping off kids in their late 20s who were playing teens.

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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Clownado (2019)

Part of getting back into doing the DTVC again was opening the old DTVC Yahoo email account, which I also hadn't touched in a long time.  Long story short, I had over 1000 emails in there, and a lot of them were from publicity companies getting the word out about their client's films.  One that I thought would be perfect for my Three for Halloween was this one, which Katie at October Coast was nice enough to send a screener over for.  Beyond the obvious, I was also intrigued by the fact that this was a Todd Sheets film, a director and schlock auteur that I was introduced to a while back by Mo from Drunk on VHS and Doug Tilley through their No Budge Nightmares podcast--which is definitely worth checking out if you haven't already.

In Clownado, Todd Sheets takes us on a delightful culinary journey through western Missouri.  We start with a small, family-owned farm that is currently producing some of the best artisan jellies, jams, and preserves in the country--the blackberry chutney is to die for!  Next, we visit a couple of culinary pioneers who are turning the world of charcuterie on its ear with some innovative cured meets and sausages....  Okay, it's actually about a woman married to a clown in a traveling carnival show who has her friend cast a curse on him and his fellow clowns, the curse turns them into supernatural clown killers that travel up and down western Missouri in a tornado, and we have a rag tag group of heroes that are the only thing that can stop them; but included is a lot of gore that looks like fancy artisan food items.  Simply scrumptious!

This is a tale of two movies for me.  The first 27 minutes or so could essentially be dumped and repackaged as a five-minute flashback sequence that Savanna, the evil clown wife, can tell everyone else when the Clownado first attacks.  The opening credits alone were almost 3 minutes!  If I were just streaming this for free on my Roku, I would have stopped it and moved onto something else.  And that would have been a shame, because from the 27-minute mark, when we see the hitchhiking Elvis impersonator, we get fantastic schlock horror at its Todd Sheets-iest.  All kinds of culinary items repurposed as gore; consistent kills, and fun kills at that; and characters that we get a kick out of watching, played by actors that, as much as they're in on the joke, they play it straight enough, which for me is the most important, because I think there's an earnestness in that that allows me to not take the product seriously (which is the intent with a movie called Clownado), but still take the effort seriously.  By the end I had almost forgotten about those first 27 minutes, but they still happened, and I think before I fully endorse this, it's important to mention, because anyone watching without that warning would be like "what was Matt talking about?"... and who knows, they may still think that!

I could have sworn I'd done a Todd Sheets film on the blog before, in particular either Nightmare Asylum or Zombie Rampage, both of which I've seen before.  He stays pretty true to his roots here, the only issue is that excessive runtime due to the opening 27 minutes.  Each of those other two movies I mentioned ran about 70 minutes, and I would say the last 70 minutes of Clownado is the Todd Sheets you came for--the exception being at about the 20-minute mark when the clowns are dismembering a body to bury it, and we get our first glimpse of Mr. Sheets's use of the fine artisan jams and jellies of Missouri.  He should open a gastropub with some of these great dishes he serves up in the death scenes.  "Ooh, let me try the fennel duck sausage with the black currant preserves coming out of that person's stomach!"

As someone who grew up in the VHS age, there is that nostalgia for the old video store days, and the look of the low-budget movies shot on video or cheap filmstock; but I have to say I appreciated this being done on modern, digital equipment.  Again, beyond the runtime, everything that was great about Todd Sheets in the early 90s was great here in 2019, the picture just looked clearer.  When I think of watching schlock horror growing up, it was about crazy kills, funny lines given by funny characters, and inventive ways to recreate gore that my buddies and me would watch and quote and talk about over and over again.  I got that here, and I like that technology has evolved to a point where filmmakers like Sheets on the budgets they're confined to can have access to a nicer quality picture.  It levels the playing field a bit, which I'm all for.

If you stay for the credits (which I always do to make sure I don't miss anything for the review), Sheets gives a thank you for the inspiration he got from some real legends in the low-budget field, names like Fred Olen Ray, Jim Wynorski, and Russ Meyer; and he also gives a shout-out to all the low-budget directors out there trying to make it work without the backing of a big movie house.  I know he didn't intend for this, but it was a reminder to me of just how much these films are a labor of love to all involved in making them.  By the same token, as much as I want to be fair in saying what I thought about the movie, I think it's also important for the film to make me feel how much it was a labor of love--the tendency for me often is to go easier on a movie if I'm sent a screener; but I think what I liked about this was by the end I felt like I didn't have to go easy on it, it won me over, and that's something I really appreciate when it comes to writing up the aftermath.

Finally, as you may know, I'm living in Philadelphia now, but am originally from southern Maine, and the gore used in the first dismemberment scene reminded me of the relish on Flo's hot dogs in York, ME.  If you've never been before, and you're in York, ME for anything, you need to check Flo's out.  Also, if you're in that area, pretty much every gift shop has their relish for sale.  You could set me up with a few Flo's dogs and a bottle of Moxie, and I'll be good to go.

I'm definitely digressing here, so time to wrap this up.  For me, outside of the first 27 minutes or so, this is what you came for, and I think it would be a fun addition to a horror movie night.  As far as where to go to see it, I only found it on On Demand through my cable company, and it was $5 to rent, which is a bit steep for me.  Hopefully it'll catch on with one of the major streaming sites soon.  Thank you again to Katie at October Coast for the screener.  Also, if you're a low-budget/indie filmmaker and want me to look at your film, you can either email me at the Yahoo account, or you can message me on the DTVC Facebook page.  I'm looking to do one screener a month right now, but that may change depending on the number of requests I get.

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