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, July 24, 2021

Santa's Summer House (2012)

Last December I had our friend Mitch from the Video Vacuum on the pod to discuss this movie. It was a curiosity on a lot of levels, as it has some big DTV action names in it with Daniels, Rothrock, Bernhardt, and Kathy Long, plus it was directed by schlock auteur David DeCoteau. I figured now, in July, I could post it as a "Christmas in July" kind of theme. In addition to us, Mitch also reviewed this for his site, so you can go there to get more of his thoughts. Now, without any further ado. 

Santa's Summer House is about some people hoping to go to a resort, but whose van gets lost and they find themselves at a mansion. While the driver looks to see if he can get them back on track, the nice couple who own the mansion allow the people to stay there. You've probably already guessed that this mansion is the big man's summer house, and these people are here for a reason: they have shit they need to work out, and the big man and his wife want to help make that happen. But before they do, we're treated to some croquet. A lot of croquet...


This is exactly what you'd think it is: David DeCoteau throwing something together in a week or so, all in the same location, with a group of stars who probably had a week between projects that could be tossed in. The problem is, as a Christmas movie, it doesn't have the schlock fun that a Lifetime thriller DeCoteau's been doing lately would've had. One of the toughest moments was the extended croquet scene that Mitch compared to "rock climbing" and "sandstorm" from MSTK, and it definitely had that element of Deep Hurting. In the pod episode, Mitch and I discussed what we thought this movie could have been. Give us people at a Christmas resort, and somehow there's a hostage situation, and our action heroes need to take them down. Of course, that costs money, and this film was made on the cheap. Ultimately what this is, is a novelty for DTV action fans, and as a completist like me who feels like he has to see them all, I had to do it. If you don't have that desire to see all of Rothrock or Daniels's films, you may want to skip this one.

We'll start with Gary Daniels, as this is his 52nd film on the site. He almost plays the same busy businessman that he played in DeCoteau's The Wrong Child. Again, at least that one had the Lifetime fun thriller element that this one lacked. It feels like we've lost him a bit since he had his 50th movie on here, and I don't know that reviewing this makes up for that, even if he's getting his 52nd tag. It's a reminder that we need to get to more of Daniels's action stuff on the site, especially since I have a bunch in the can that just needs to get reviewed. 


The film's other Hall of Famer, Cynthia Rothrock, also hasn't been getting a lot of run on here lately either, which needs to be rectified. She's now at 37 films on the site, and closing in on joining that 40 Club. Unlike Daniels though, we don't currently have any Rothrock in the can that we need to review. I'm probably going to need to dig into her Hong Kong stuff, and see how much of it is on YouTube, if we're going to keep her posts going, as we've done almost all of her US DTV stuff--there's also more like this, like A Doggone Hollywood where she plays "Mom in Car." It's going to test my completist sensibilities for sure. 

Let's have a hearty warm welcome back to the great Daniel Bernhardt, who we haven't seen here in almost 10 years! I have to say, out of everyone in the film, he was playing the jerk character who becomes less jerky later, but to me he seemed like the one I'd most like to go on vacation with. Imagine walking around a resort with him in open polos and linen pants. Let's load up on the best of everything and have our run of the place. And I think a European resort would be even better, with a guy whose Swiss, I wouldn't feel as much like an Ugly American. Total European bros just kickin' it.


The superhero movie has become really popular recently, but when you think about it, Santa maybe has the strongest set of powers. He's pretty much omnipotent, at least by this film's standards. He was able to make a fog that redirected the resort van in the direction of his mansion, but also could magically make all of these people book a stay at a local resort. He also has the ability to be omnipresent, as that's the only way to explain how he can put presents in so many houses in one night, even accounting for different time zones. How would you beat Santa then if he became evil? He's like Thanos with all the Infinity Stones. I feel like that kind of power could rip the fabric of time and space. How do you stop someone who could be anywhere at any time? 

And with that, it's time to wrap this up. As of this writing, this is only available to rent on Prime for $.99, which in my mind is still too much, unless you're an extreme completist. If you want to hear more about our discussion, you can check out the podcast episode on iTunes, Stitcher, or Spotify. Thanks again for coming on Mitch, it was a great time!

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

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Behind the Mask: The Batman Dead End Story (2015)

I thought I'd extend my new Christmas tradition of doing a documentary to "Christmas in July," especially since I have a lot of documentaries, in particular this one, that I've seen that I thought would be worthy of review on the site here. In addition to us, our friend at RobotGEEK's Cult Cinema has covered this, so you can go to his site to see what he thought. Now, without any further ado.

Behind the Mask: The Batman Dead End Story is the story behind Sandy Collora's Batman Dead End short film that took the comic book world by storm in 2003. After directing some commercials, Collora decides to make a short film as a demonstration of his skills. His idea is a Batman movie where he fights the Joker and a Predator. At the same time, Collora's mother is dying of breast cancer, forcing him to split his time between shooting and visiting her at the hospital. When the film is released, it gets a screening at Comic Con, and the rest is history. From there Collora was the hottest property in Hollywood, but instead of taking some entry level films he doesn't like, he tries to strike out on his own, and while he doesn't get the success he expected, he has the sense that he's doing it his way.


I really enjoyed this movie. I hadn't heard about Batman Dead End before this, but seeing it now after, I get why there was the buzz. Collora made the Batman movie we as fans would have wanted, and had he had the chance to make a feature-length Batman, we can only imagine how that would have turned out. There's also an element of "pride goeth before the fall," that perhaps Collora was a bit too full of himself and hurt his career in the process; but the film handles that really well, giving us all angles of Collora's life, including the loss of his mother. When we see the video of him speaking before an audience at Comic Con, where even he's now embarrassed by how he came off at the time, there's a sense that he can be forgiven for any brash--maybe arrogant--behavior, considering the price the film took for him to make, and then seeing how successful it is, it had to be a massive flood of emotions. Beyond all of that, I think Collora exhibits the independent spirit we love from directors here at the DTVC, so it's fitting to spotlight this documentary on him.

One thing this documentary does really well, is it tells us not only who Collora is, but also spotlights the talent he had working with him. This wasn't just a fan film done by a bunch of amateur filmmakers who just really had a passion, Collora and his team were professionals, and some of the best at their crafts. The shame is, often for a lot of these guys to get work that pays enough, it has to be on big budget projects where the studios set the rules in an attempt to be as big tent as possible. What Collora shows us here is, if these guys ever got the keys to a major studio big budget picture, it would be better than we could imagine. Unfortunately it feels like the film industry has been going even further in the other direction from 2003, meaning we're even further from ever seeing something like this as a feature-length come to fruition.


The one name that came to mind when I watched Collora in his interviews, was Albert Pyun. The big difference between those two, was Pyun tried to make it in the studio system with Cannon, and got burned multiple times in seeing his vision taken away from him, which was what Collora fought against, ultimately hurting his chances of getting some of the bigger James Cameron-style productions he ultimately wanted. The other difference between the two, is Pyun got to make Captain America, and almost Spider-Man as well (Pyun said they didn't have the budget to make it look as good as they wanted, and it ran into the same issues with using wires that the Spider-Man Broadway encountered). In looking at the current comic book movie landscape, you have to feel like Collora belongs there, that the natural progression after Dead End would have led him to being one of the in-demand directors to tackle a half-a-billion dollar Marvel extravaganza--but at the same time, you also have to feel like Collora would have wanted nothing to do with that, because it was the sanitized Disney-fication Marvel that we're seeing on the screen, not the comics from the early 90s that inspired the Infinity Gauntlet and Infinity War sagas. Disney and Warner don't want Collora's visions of what these films should be, because they aren't big tent enough, they would want him to make their visions for them. By the same token, if Collora doesn't want Hollywood, maybe there is a Pyun-like DTV career out there for him where his vision can flourish on the screen for us. I'd love to see what he can do in more films.

For me though the biggest thing that makes Dead End short film work is the inclusion of the Predator, aka "Big Red." In the video of Collora addressing the fans at Comic Con, he shouts out "is that how Batman is supposed to be done?" and when the crowd only gives him a tepid response, he shouts "I can't hear you! Is that how Batman is supposed to be done?" and they cheer. When he saw that video all these years later he was embarrassed, but he also had a great point. That was how Batman was supposed to be done. Clark Bartram was a great choice, a stunt worker and body builder who looked the part and could do all the action scenes. I also liked that there was no origin story here. We all know who Batman is, just dump him in an alley and put him up against the Joker and a Predator. The fact that we don't have 90 minutes of this is a travesty. When you look at the time this was made, we'd just come off of Bat-Nipples in Batman and Robin, but at the same time, the comic book genre on the Marvel side was getting a resurgence. We wanted a Batman redux, and Collora gave us that much more than the Nolan/Bale trilogy we had coming after this, and I'm sure also better than the Robert Pattinson Batman we have coming next year. The reality is though, as long as those mediocre "yeah, but what if?..." Batman adaptations pack theaters, there will never be the impetus to give us a feature-length big budget Collora Batman, which is too bad.


Finally, I thought I would use this paragraph to describe what my perfect Batman movie would be. It's hard to say, because Batman has so many great villains, plus you throw in the Predator. Who do you choose from between the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, or Catwoman; plus baddies like Egg Head, Mr. Freeze, or King Tut; not to mention I loved the Joel Schumacher Two-Face played by Tommy Lee Jones, with the really colorful other half of his face, and his Poison Ivy played by Uma Thurman. Maybe what it would be is a Wacky Races kind of event, where Batman and Robin in the Bat-mobile have to race cross-country, with all the other villains and the Predator racing against him. Imagine the fun cars that each villain would have. Or maybe we just remake Predator 2 with Batman and the Predator trashing Gotham City, while all the villains sit and watch. My hunch is, now that Disney owns the Predator, a Batman movie is the furthest from their mind. They're probably going to jump-start the franchise so they can plug up the theaters with another film: add that to Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, and their own Disney properties, and they can choke the life out of the competing studios by taking over all the screens. 

And with that, let's wrap this up. As of my writing, you can screen Behind the Mask: The Batman Dead End Story on Tubi. Not only is it a compelling watch, but it does remind me of a time before the Disney-fication I described above, when the film industry was more open and less bid tent-ish. Collora is a true independent spirit, and this film both celebrates that, and gives us a great account of what it took to make his great fan film.

For more info:

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

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Captain America (1979)

I had been meaning to watch the Reb Brown Captain Americas for a long time, so once I saw that they were on Tubi, I had to give them a go. From there though, I wasn't sure if I should review them, considering they're TV movies, and the only real connection they have to our site is that they star DTVC Hall of Famer Reb Brown. But then, with this weekend being the 4th of July holiday here in the states, I thought, what better way to celebrate, right? So here we are looking at a TV movie on the weekend of the 4th. In addition to us, our friend Mitch at the Video Vacuum has also done this as part of his Captain America-Palooza, so you can go there to see what he thought.

Captain America has Reb Brown as Steve Rogers, a guy fresh out of the Marines and looking to relax and drive his van up and down the coast of California. But then a friend from the past calls, and when said friend turns up dead, all bets are off. At the same time, Rogers's dad's old research partner calls him over to show him the FLAG serum his dad was working on. When the baddies that killed Rogers's friend almost do the same to him, the dad's partner needs to use the serum to save him, turning him into: Captain America! The baddies won't know what hit them.


I'm a bit of split mind on this, because this film is every bit the 70s TV movie it's supposed to be, from pacing to special effects, and so it's hard to compare it to a cinematic counterpart; but at the same time, Reb Brown is Captain America. It was like this is the part he was born to play. So then we're left with this thing that should have been a weekly TV show a la The Incredible Hulk or The Amazing Spider-Man, but wasn't, so this pilot and the film after it are just what remains of something that wasn't finished. I think in comparing it to the MCU Chris Evans Caps, in the 70s they couldn't make the suit the way they can now. That bright shiny thing wasn't doing anyone any favors, and when you compare it to the Hulk who was just Lou Ferrigno painted green, I think it had more camp than the show may have wanted. By the same token, it was exciting to see Brown don the suit and start taking down baddies. Ah, what could have been...

We often look at a stars career here on the DTVC and examine how they ended up in the DTV world. Here we can see what happened for poor Reb Brown. This was supposed to be it, the series that propelled him out of his frequent guest star roles and into his own series. Playing someone as iconic as Captain America on a weekly TV show would have opened so many doors for him--so much so we may not have had him here in the DTVC Hall of Fame, though Adam West played Batman for three years and still became a staple in DTV films. In watching this I couldn't get over how much he was Captain America, even when he wasn't in the suit. I saw that Reb Brown did an interview on YouTube with The Nerdery back in 2012, and he explained why the show never happened. Universal lost the rights to Captain America, after which Marvel wanted $50,000 per episode to use him, compared to $2,500 per show for The Incredible Hulk. From there we know that Marvel sold the rights to Cannon, which led to the Albert Pyun cinematic adaptation in 1990. In my mind, that seems short-sighted, because a TV show in 1979 could have led to all kinds of merchandising that would have made Marvel much more money--or the show may have fizzled after a season or two the way The Amazing Spider-Man did. I just imagine me as a child going to school with a Reb Brown as Captain America lunchbox, and think about how much better my life could have been. In you're curious about the interview, you can check it out here.


In the trivia there was also mention of possible crossovers with the other two Marvel series at that time, which also would have been too amazing for words. That's what made comics so great, the idea that I could read an issue of Spider-Man and see Cap help him; or even better, Daredevil and have Ghost Rider show up. When I look at the success of Arrow, I see the same thing: they started with the Green Arrow, added the Flash, and it grew from there. Now we're stuck with the MCU, but one thing I did like was how they had their Daredevil series, and in the second season they introduced the Punisher. The problem with those series though was they were 13-hour movies, and by episode 8 or 9 I would hit a wall. The idea of a more episodic Captain America that was kind of like the Six-Million Dollar Man is definitely more appealing to me; and then throw in crossovers and I think it would have been perfect.

One thing the film did that I think rankled some feathers was they took liberties with the origin story. He's no longer the WWII soldier given the serum and then frozen in ice. I was okay with it though. This is its own thing, I thought it was a better product of the 70s the way they did it here. For me, I'm more upset that the Silver Surfer and Adam Warlock weren't in the Infinity War movies than I am about a TV show about Captain America that redid his origin story. It is a slippery slope though, because sometimes we need that origin story as an anchor in order to buy the rest of what we're seeing. I think that was more important for Chris Evans's Cap, because I needed something like that to believe he was the hero; whereas Reb sold it for me the moment he drove his van into the first scene. (And I am aware of why Silver Surfer and Adam Warlock couldn't be in the Infinity War movies, but that doesn't make me any less disappointed that they made the movies without them.)


Finally, I want to touch on that point I keep making about how Reb Brown looks the part of Captain America, because it is iffy territory to say that a white, blond-haired, blue-eyed, beefcake is the perfect Captain America, right? It reinforces this idea that "American" looks a certain way and dismisses the many different ways that "American" can look. On that score, I've always thought Steve James would have also made a perfect Captain America. The build, the martial arts ability, and the screen presence all add up to gold in my mind. We live in a world now where I think that's a possibility, but back when this was made--or even when American Ninja was made, where Steve James was passed over for the lead in favor of Michael Dudikoff because Duds had that "all American look", aka blond-haired and blue-eyed--it would have been a non-starter to cast a Steve James as Captain America. It's a shame, because like Reb Brown, where it would have been nice to see what he would have done with Cap in a weekly series, the same is true about James, but at least with Brown we got to see it for two TV movies, while with James it never would have been considered in his lifetime, which is too bad.

And with that, it's time to wrap this up. While Brown is great here, I think it's important to keep in mind that this is still a 70s TV movie. While it's available on Tubi, I think it's a worth a watch, and a great way to celebrate the 4th, whether you're an American or not.

For more info:

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