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.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Saigon Commandos (1988)

I found this on YouTube when I was looking for more of Don "The Dragon" Wilson's earlier filmography. More on that later, because it looks like it's possible Don "The Dragon" isn't in some of these films, including this one. Anyway, in addition to us, our good friends Ty and Brett at Comeuppance have looked at this, so you can go there to see what they thought; but also, our friend Jack J at When the Vietnam War Raged... in the Philippines, provided the VHS cover that I pulled the image for from IMDb. I always grab my covers from IMDb, and it never crossed my mind that they grabbed them from around the internet. If you're looking for more of this kind of film, Jack's site is the place to go to, because he has them all showcased, and it's a really fun site.

Saigon Commandos has Richard Young as an MP in Vietnam investigating a series of drug related murders. At the same time, there's a political leader riling up the locals. When Young gets in too deep, he gets framed for murdering his superior, so he needs to clear his name. At the same time, PJ Soles is a reporter in Saigon helping him out, and she gets kidnapped by the baddies, so on top of clearing his name, he now has to rescue her. We trust Richard Young can handle it though.


For a movie I was just watching because I thought Don "The Dragon" Wilson was in it, there isn't much here. Like if you were to ask it what kind of movie it was, it might say 'Namsploitation, or straight ahead actioner, or crime drama, so even it doesn't really know what it is. It wasn't as jungle slog-y as others in its genre, but it didn't have the spectacular elements that some in its genre have either. There's no screaming Reb Brown or shirtless Richard Norton; and the hut explode-age was minimal. It had its fun moments, and I enjoyed Richard Young and PJ Soles, but overall it's not as remarkable as it could've been.

This was produced by DTVC Hall of Famer Roger Corman. While his executive producer credits have slowed a bit, 1988 when this was made was a prime era for him, as he was really bringing the heat to fill video store shelves and cable TV line-ups; not to mention movies like this that were also more for markets outside the US like Japan and Germany. With the sheer volume of producer credits he has, we should be seeing him more on here, but this is only 29 films for him. I think the reason is he pumps out so many, and if they don't have a name in them--or a potential name in them like this one--they get lost in the shuffle. Just by statistical probability though, the more I review movies on here, the more likely I am to get more Corman, and eventually he'll slide into the 30, 40, and 50 Clubs... and beyond.


PJ Soles was an interesting inclusion here, but a welcomed one as well. When you look at her bio, in the 70s and early 80s, it's all TV and big screen stuff. Then this comes in 1988, and that's it, it's more DTV stuff. I think she could have either had a bigger part here, or been used a bit more. Reporter who becomes love interest who becomes damsel in distress is a trope we've seen too often, and I guess in her case if the parts were drying up and she had to take something, I think she did well to try to make her character more than just the wash, rinse, repeat I described above. I think that's one reason why having actresses like her in roles like this is important in a DTV film, because she can elevate the cliched above cliche, and when we're talking DTV, every bit counts.

Richard Young is solid as the lead. I haven't seen Final Mission yet, but I've heard that's the real Richard Young go to, and this one's not quite at that level. I can see how with the right material, Young could be great. According to IMDb, he hasn't done anything acting-wise since I was in high school. Maybe all he was getting were these kinds of roles, and he decided he'd had enough. I think it's interesting to consider which actors keep going in films like these once their career turns, and which actors hang it up and move onto other things. I'm sure money plays a part, but I wonder how many, when given an opportunity to transition into something else, stuck with acting because they love it, and would rather make money doing that no matter what the films are, than making the same money in another industry.


What do you think, could that be Don "The Dragon" Wilson? Probably not, right? But I think that was the closest I came to spotting him. Then when I looked him up on IMDb, I found that this, along with some other "Donald Wilson" credits were moved off his IMDb page and onto one specifically for a "Donald Wilson". When I was doing the site in the late 2000s/early 2010s, these films weren't on Don "The Dragon's" IMDb page, but then when I picked things back up in 2019, they were all added. Now they're gone again. This includes Siege of Firebase Gloria, which we reviewed and tagged Wilson in, and has also been moved off of the Dragon's page. The interesting thing is, "Donald Wilson's" career stops in 1990 with Delta Force 2, where he's actually credited as "Don Wilson," the same name Don "The Dragon" is listed under in IMDb, and that's around the same time Wilson is being credited exclusively as "Don 'The Dragon' Wilson." Is there a mysterious "Donald Wilson" who was acting in films shot in the Philippines at that time who isn't the same person as Don "The Dragon"? Wonders never cease, but until we get to the bottom of it, I'm keeping the tags for this film and Siege of Firebase Gloria.

And with that, let's wrap this up. Beyond being a possible Don "The Dragon" film, there isn't much here to latch onto. If you're a fan of 'Namsploitation, there is some here to like, but overall I think it's not remarkable enough. JCT has it uploaded onto his YouTube page, so that's the best place to see it I think.

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And if you haven't yet, check out my novel, Chad in Accounting, in paperback or on Kindle!

Saturday, March 20, 2021

The Underground (1997)

I first caught wind of this when our friend Jon Cross from the After Movie Diner and Miscellaneous Plumbing Fixtures (the latter of which has a new album out that you should grab on Bandcamp now!) brought it up when he was on the Jeff Speakman episode of the podcast. I figured I had to see it, so he got me a copy, and here we are. In addition to us, there are only 4 other critic reviews on IMDb, but one is from our good friends Ty and Brett from Comeuppance (in one of their first reviews ever!), so you can go there to see what they thought. Now, without any further ado.

The Underground is a PM flick starring Jeff Fahey as a cop who, with his partner, are investigating the killings of hip hop artists in the LA area. When his partner is killed, Fahey is a cop on the edge, ready to bring these guys down no matter the cost. The twist: the killers aren't rival rappers, they're a disco group called the Las Vegas Disco Express, and they're upset that a former band mate has sampled one of their songs and isn't paying them. Lucky for Vanilla Ice Bowie and Queen were much nicer about that.


Where do we start on this one? This is the PM you came for. Is it one of their best? Maybe not, but it definitely lives up to that logo on the screen. In classic PM style, we have action that builds on itself, bringing us to the scene depicted on the cover where Fahey is riding on the hood of a car in pursuit of the baddie, played by the inimitable Gregory Scott Cummins. We also have the "plucked from the headlines" approach, in this case the violence that was happening between rival rappers, but with the twist that it's actually not rappers committing the crimes at all, and I think that bled into a commentary that was popular among older people at that time, that rap would go the way of Disco eventually--which as we know never happened. Throw in the fact that the film was a take on 48 Hours when Fahey gets his new partner, and you have the makings of a solid PM flick.

PM is technically the film's one Hall of Famer, so we should start with them. We tend to think of them as more of an early 90s phenomenon, but this late 90s period produced some real gems of theirs--in fact my top two PM films, Recoil and The Sweeper come from this time. It's almost like there are two competing vibes with these though: PM is really hitting their stride, but also PM is on the way out, and that duality is only enhanced I think by the idea that we as the viewer feel the same way about movies like these as a whole. We may never get a decade like the 90s for DTV action ever again, especially with the way the market is trending, and I think this film typifies how great the 90s were, because it's probably not going to make any top 10 or even top 20 or 30 lists, but I would take the Pepsi Challenge with it over most of what we've seen in the decades after. As of this posting I haven't done a top DTV films of the 10s, but I did do one for the 00s, and based off that list, I think I would put this in at number 7 after Pistol Whipped. I mean, think of that, a film that I wouldn't even put at 30 for the 90s, I would have 7th best for the 00s. But that shows you how deep and entertaining the 90s were for DTV action. 


We haven't done a lot of Fahey here on the site, so to say this is his best that we've done isn't saying too much, but his work in these late-era PM flicks is fantastic stuff, and probably something I need to do more of. He may not have the martial arts ability of a Gary Daniels, but he more than makes up for it in screen presence. The whole cop on the edge thing works for him, with the popped collars, the angry looks, and the slick lines. In looking at his IMDb bio, it seems like it's more the brooding detective type in a seductive thriller that he's cast as as opposed to the cop on the edge, and I get that: the former takes much less work and much less toll on the body. I'm a fan of both, so I'll take it either way.

Before this I hadn't tagged Gregory Scott Cummins, so I took care of that with this review. If you're curious, we've done six of his films before this (I thought it was seven, but it turns out I haven't reviewed the Concorde/New Horizons classic Blood Ties yet). In films like this, he works as that baddie in a can type, where you don't need to use any plot exposition to build him up, we just know he's bad. According to IMDb, he has his MFA in acting, which would explain how he can do that so well. In a 90-minute PM action flick, where we want to get in and get out with as many helicopter explosions and car flips as possible, a guy like Cummins who can come in and be a baddie with no extra work around him is very valuable, and something we sometimes take for granted.


Finally, this is our first Brion James film in almost ten years! How does a legend like that go so long without a film? I think the reason is he passed in 1999, and since I've been back from hiatus, I've been trying to split the difference between getting caught up on the 2010s films I missed, and the 80s and 90s films we still hadn't done, like this one, and that meant poor Brion was left out in the cold. On a recent podcast episode with Ty and Brett from Comeuppance, I pronounced his first name "bry-ON", which was the silly way my friends and I said it, and didn't even realize I was saying it that way to them, it's become so ingrained in me. Here's to you Brion (bry-ON), you were one of the greats.

So with that, let's wrap this up. This is worth checking out if you see it on a streaming service or it pops up on cable. As far as I can tell though, none of the major streamers carry it, and it's not on YouTube. For my money, Tubi should have the entire PM catalog available to stream, but for some reason they only have like maybe half? That needs to change. Either way, this is worth a watch if you get a chance to see it.

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And if you haven't yet, check out my novel Chad in Accounting at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Accident Man (2018)

I had heard good things about this one, so when I saw it was available on Tubi, I jumped at it. Alas, it's time on there was short-lived, so fortunately I was able to make it happen and get my screen grabs before it was gone, in order to make the review happen on here. In addition to us, our good friends Ty and Brett at Comeuppance and Mitch at the Video Vacuum have all covered this, so you can go to their sites to see what they thought. Now, without any further ado.

Accident Man has DTVC favorite Scott Adkins as a hitman who makes his hits look like accidents. When his ex-girlfriend turns up dead, he discovers through her new girlfriend, Ashley Greene (Twilight), that one or more of his fellow hitfolks perpetrated the murder, and now he wants revenge. With the fellow hitfolk played by DTVC Hall of Famer Michael Jai White, Ray Park (Darth Maul/Toad/Snake Eyes), Amy Johnston (Lady Bloodfight), and Ray Stevenson (Punisher), it's going to be a fun 90 minutes as he solves the who-dun-it and takes all of his fellow hitpeople down in the process. Oh yeah, and it was directed by Jesse V. Johnson too.


If we're comparing this to other Adkins/Johnson collaborations, I put it behind Avengement and Savage Dog. That's not too bad though if you're putting it behind those, right? What hurts it a bit is the Adkins as a hitman origin story crammed in the middle, which deadens the pacing some. You can see how in Avengement they mitigated that by scattering the origin story across the rest of the plot. Beyond that, we get a lot of great action pieces, the kind you'd expect in an Adkins/Johnson film with the rest the names listed on the tin. Overall, I think this film is the goods.

Usually we start with the Hall of Famer in this paragraph, but because this is more an Adkins film than a Michael Jai White film, we'll discuss Adkins first. This is one of six films he did with Jesse V. Johnson between 2017's Savage Dog and 2020's Debt Collectors, and we've done the other five so far, so we can look at all six and rank them. I don't know that there are any out and out duds, but I put Avengement first, Savage Dog second, this third, Debt Collector and Debt Collectors tied for fourth, and Triple Threat sixth--but for a sixth, Triple Threat is still pretty good. In the 80s or 90s, that would be a nice string of success for a Gary Daniels or even a Jeff Wincott or a Frank Zagarino; but in the 2010s/2020s, to put out six movies in four years and not have any duds is unheard of. From there, you could throw in all the other films Adkins has done in that time, and maybe the record isn't so stellar--I'm looking at you Incoming--but anyone who has six good films in four years should be celebrated. 


Speaking of celebrated, this is our first Michael Jai White film since he was inducted into the DTVC Hall of Fame. While this isn't so much a Michael Jai White film as it is a Scott Adkins one, the work White does here in a supporting role is no less integral. I also loved him getting paired with Ray Park, as the two had great chemistry. You could easily have a spin-off franchise from this featuring those two and it would work just as well. I think that's the true mark of a Hall of Famer at the DTVC: they play a  supporting part in a film, but it's hard to not think of them as a potential starring role as well.

I mentioned all of the great names in this above, but if there's been one hallmark of the 2010s and beyond, it's been films that are full of great names that don't deliver on the promise of those names. How many times do we scroll through a streaming service, or happen across a title in someone's IMDb bio, and see how many people are in the film, only to discover most of them are wasted or just have a few scenes. To see a film like this that actually delivers on the names it gives us is a nice change of pace. Maybe this is a sign that the 2020s will make up for the mostly lackluster 2010s in the DTV world. I guess we'll have to wait and see, but I hope so. If it isn't, there's still plenty of stuff from the 80s and 90s I could go back to.


Finally, we've seen three people play the Punisher here on the site: Dolph, Thomas Jane, and Ray Stevenson. While I feel like Dolph was the best one, and Jane's was mismade through no fault of his own; and I am a fan of the Jon Bernthal Netflix series one; none had the potential from a DTV standpoint that Stevenson's had. Just imagining a series of DTV Punisher flicks with Stevenson at the helm is fantastic. My hunch is the success of WandaVision will lead Disney to make more short run TV shows to gain subscribers, but I still contend that the DTV market is an untapped resource for underused Marvel properties, like the Punisher. Add Johnson as the director of those films, and I think you'd have gold. They don't even need to replace the Bernthal TV show if Disney still wanted to develop that, it could be it's own separate thing, two or three DTV flicks. How sweet would that be?

And with that, I think it's time to wrap this one up. As far as I can tell, this isn't available on any streaming services. I don't know if it's worth a one-off rental, but if it's included in Prime or added back to Tubi, I say go for it.

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And if you haven't yet, check out my novel Chad in Accounting at Amazon in paperback or Kindle!

Saturday, March 6, 2021

In Between (1991)

This was one I came across when I was looking up Gary Daniels's IMDb bio to see which ones of his I hadn't seen yet. The idea of a Wings Hauser/Robert Forster early 90s indie flick with a cameo by Daniels, plus Alexandra Paul and Robin Mattson, sounded too good to be true. Then there was the issue of tracking it down, which I was finally able to do on YouTube, though it looks like it's since been taken down. I guess the question now is, was it worth the effort? In addition to us, Entertainment Weekly covered this back in 1992, so you can go there, or find the link in the critic reviews on IMDb, if you want to see what they thought.

In Between follows DTVC Hall of Famer Wings Hauser as he wakes up in a house with two women (Paul and Mattson) and has no idea how he got there. Neither do they. Eventually they also discover they're locked inside. Finally a grim reaper of sorts, Forster, shows up and explains that they're dead, but there's a delay in moving them on to Heaven, so they need to stay in that house as a form of purgatory. As if all that wasn't enough, Forster tells us there's been a twist: one of the three can actually got back and live the rest of their life. In between--see what I did there?--all that, there's a lot of talking and a little love making, plus a shirtless Daniels outside practicing his martial arts.


The Entertainment Weekly guy gave this a D. I feel like that's a but harsh, considering Forster was so great he alone had to be worth at least a C; but I get where he was coming from. It didn't feel like there was 90 minutes worth of material here. It's almost like writer/director Thomas Constantinides was trying to literally recreate the feel of every day figurative purgatories, like when you're stuck at the DMV and you have no idea when your number will be called because people who were there after you have already been taken care of, but is that entertaining? Essentially we're waiting for Robert Forster to show up and move the film along. I think as a 45-minute play, or a short novel (novella?) this could work, because I like the concept of it, but it feels like a 90-minute film wasn't the vehicle for it.

Let's start with the first of our Hall of Famers in this, the great Wings Hauser. I get why he would have made this, and I bet as it was being made it probably felt like it was all going to work, and then maybe it was screened and he thought "hmm, those scenes seemed to work better as we were shooting it." The other thing though too that we see here is just how much of a professional actor he is. Yes, there's a unique "Wings" quality that he brings to his DTV films that we love so much; but here we have a film that isn't asking for that "Wings" quality so much, and he's still able to do his job. I had Ty and Brett from Comeuppance Reviews on the podcast a bit ago, and we talked about Wings and what makes him so great. I think it's that combination, where he can crank his Wings up to 11 and blow the movie up; or he can dial it down to 5 like he did here, and still turn in a solid performance despite the film's limitations.


For the film's other Hall of Famer, Gary Daniels, this is film 51. I think I would have reviewed this sooner, but because he's in it so little, I didn't want it to be his 50th on the site. According to IMDb, I think this is his third movie ever, after The Secret of King Mahis Island and Final Reprisal. With this review, we've now covered all of his 90s and 2000s films except for two Hong Kong ones, City Hunter and Mission of Justice, and the 2009 Bruce Lee biopic--which at 3 hours is one I may never cover on here. When you look at the fact that he's only the second member of the 50 Club, there's the question of why I've covered so many of his films, and I think the answer comes in the combination of how many films he's done, how many of them were readily available for me to grab when I started the site, and then just how explosive he is as a martial artist. At this point though, we're looking at a film here that only checks off the first box, because we've done so many of the others. I guess it's the completist in me.

We've seen Alexandra Paul I believe one other time on here, in the Peter Weller film Sunset Grill. In looking at her IMDb bio I thought we'd have done more of her filmse, especially The Paper Boy, but actually she does more TV work, which explains why I've seen a lot of her movies, but we wouldn't have reviewed them. And then Robin Mattson I confused with Charlene Fernetz from Street Justice, so I had a whole Street Justice paragraph ready to go until I found out I was wrong on that. She was also in the Reb Brown Captain America movie, so this won't be the last we see of her here either. Maybe I could do a Paper Boy/Captain America set of redemption posts for Paul and Mattson, since this post was so Wings/Daniels/Forster heavy and their contributions were under-mentioned.


And that leads us to the inimitable Robert Forster. Like the purgatory of waiting at the doctor's office and being excited when someone finally comes into the room to break up the monotony of waiting, Forster would appear in his flashy double-breasted suits and break up the monotony of this film. I had Jon Cross of the After Movie Diner and Miscellaneous Plumbing Fixtures (who just released a new album, I've Been There, go buy it on Bandcamp now!) on the podcast a while back (I can't remember the episode, I want to say it was the Fred Williamson one, but it could have been Godfrey Ho too), and we were talking about how Jackie Brown as an overall film left something to be desired, but the Pam Grier/Robert Forster scenes were some of, if not were, Tarantino's best work ever. And this is the kind of Forster we get here, it's that level, but the problem is, because of the film's purgatory construct, we were craving more Forster to keep the film moving, and he's so good, that we feel the vacuum left in his absence that much more, which hurt the scenes he wasn't in.

With that I think it's good to wrap this up. I looked into it some, and this is actually available to buy for $2.99 on Amazon streaming under the title Stuck in Purgatory. I think for Forster completists, that might actually be worth it. For Wings fans, it's something to put way down your list, and for Daniels fans it should be near the end of your Daniels journey. 

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