Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Fight from the Philippines: WHITE FORCE (1988)

Sam Jones and Eddy Romero made a movie together?! Who do I gotta kill to see that?! Well, as it turns out, nobody. Sometimes cheap-jack DVD companies are awesome.

Fresh off of the classic, noisy, low-rent ninja actioner SILENT ASSASSINS (1988), Mr. Flash Gordon himself shipped out to the Philippines to star in the Mad Doctor of Blood Island’s guerrilla-war / drug-busting / espionage pot-boiler. The plot should be medicated with Ritalin as it scrambles from one completely ludicrous scenario to another barely hanging on to its own premise. Special agent Johnny Quinn (Jones) is trying to rescue his partner (who seems to be an odd candidate for a field agent, as he is in his 60s and looks to be on a cheeseburger diet) from a notorious drug-dealer’s jungle camp. His partner gives him a “laser disk” and just as Quinn is hauling him out of danger, a sniper shoots his partner dead. When Quinn returns to HQ, his boss (the inimitable Vic Diaz) is convinced that he is a double agent and killed his own partner. Naturally Quinn busts loose and must fight against both the agency, the drug-dealers and his partner's pissed off daughter (who eventually teams up with him) in an effort to clear his name and bring the bad guys to justice.

On the plus side this is a pretty damned amusing romp complete with quite a bit of unintentional hilarity; for example one of the people who is helping Quinn clear his name is a super computer expert, nick-named “Wizard” who instead of being your average, snot nosed Anthony Michael Hall type, is a short, bald, 50-ish guy with a cop mustache (the prolific Jaime Fabregas). As if that wasn’t snicker-inducing enough, Wizard helps Quinn kidnap his boss in a lightning raid complete with ski-masks and shotguns. Their get-away vehicle? His royal blue company van with the word “Wizard” emblazoned in giant letters across both sides.

Also amusing is the “laser disk.” A 1” brass coin with a hole in the middle that is inserted into a 5.25” floppy drive! Is there anything more entertaining than filmmakers who have only heard about computers in passing and assume that everyone has too? Another highlight is Vic Diaz trying to play the concerned father of couple of teen boys, one of whom he wishes wouldn't dress in the flamboyant, accessorized way that could only indicate one thing to a parent in the '80s: The "G" word... yes, he's gangsta! Oh and for some reason, the family keeps a python named "Alice" as a pet, who tries to eat at the table and apparently gets upset by family arguments. Hey, I've never been to the Philippines, this could be totally normal. Like those spongy, fluorescent pink hotdogs...

The down-side is that the film is so low-budget that it not only cannot afford much in the way of big action scenes, it sometimes simply wimps out on them completely. At one point Quinn and company break out of captivity in the docked yacht of the evil British drug lord (Timothy Hughes). They fight a couple of guards, but there are just too many. Wizard then heads off to the control room and makes an announcement over the PA system of free food and drink for everyone! Come and get it! In America, this would prompt most people to ask “what kind” before deciding to do you the favor of eating your food. Apparently not so in the Philippines, as the words “free” and “food” are like Yogi Bear and a pic-a-nic basket causing a tidal wave of humanity to swarm over the ship, befuddling the guards, while our heroes make their less-than-exciting escape. Another cop out is the car stunts are, with one exception, done so that the cars will suffer as little damage as possible (two cars get airborne, but only about three feet off the ground). Does someone need to drive them to work tomorrow or something?

Either way there is more than enough entertainment value to be found here for fans of ultra-cheap Philippine-shot flicks, particularly since the DVD can be easily found for about $5 to $10.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Quick Fix: Recent Viewings and Video Ramblings

CASH ON DEMAND (1961) - I stumbled across this one in a Krytpic Army challenge from Mr. Kitley at Kitley's Krypt (that's a lot of Ks for one sentence) to watch films by May-born horror heroes Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, or Vincent Price. I ended up with two Cushing titles for some reason with the other being the dreadful MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND. This one, however, is a keeper. Mr. Fordyce (Cushing) is an uptight bank manager who makes Ebenezer Scrooge look kind by comparison. He runs a tight ship and is on the verge of firing Pearson (Richard Vernon) over a tiny infraction ("It is a conspiracy!" Fordyce cries). But Fordyce soon gets a taste of his own medicine when he is given a surprise visit by banking security man Hepburn (Andre Morell). To say any more would ruin the surprise of this excellent thriller from Hammer studios. Adapted from a stage play, this is a small film with only one setting but plenty of great scenes. Cushing is fantastic in his role as the banking tyrant and Morell is also superb as his adversary. The rapport on screen is incredible and even more fun knowing that Cushing and Morell were teamed as Sherlock Holmes and Watson respectively just a few years prior. This is available in Columbia's recent ICONS OF SUSPENSE: HAMMER FILMS set and is a real find.

DOCTOR DEATH: SEEKER OF SOULS (1973) - Distraught after the death of his wife Laura, Fred Saunders (Barry Coe) turns to psychics to help deliver on her promise of "I will return to you." All of them are frauds until he runs into Dr. Death (John Considine), who has found a way to transfer a living soul into a dead body for only $50,000. Sure, Fred won't have his wife's soul but he will have her body with a new soul in it. Unfortunately, Laura refuses to allow a soul into her body. Fred says not to bother anymore because he is totally into his new secretary (Cheryl Miller). But Dr. Death will not be detered as he is the most persistent soul transferrer ever. This is an enjoyable early 70s horror flick that plays out like an EC Comics tale. The funniest thing is how Dr. Death is so determined to accomplish his goal. He must be a Scorpio. A great segment has Dr. Death showing the various bodies he has inhabited over the last thousand years. Look for former lead Stooge Moe Howard in a cameo as a Dr. Death audience member. This hit DVD recently via Scorpion Releasing.

PROJECT: METALBEAST (1995) - In 1974 a scientist procures some werewolf blood in Budapest and, for whatever reason, injects it into himself back in DC. He is killed with silver bullets by Miller (Barry Bostwick) and put into cryogenic freeze. Cut to 20 years later and Miller thaws him out to use in a military experiment developing new skin made of flesh and metal. Scientist Anne De Carlo (Kim Delany) has issues using a real corpse. Her problems get significantly worse when she removes the silver bullets from his chest and Metalbeast is born.

If I'm crazy for renting this back when it first hit video and not liking it, what does it make me if I decide to re-watch it 15 years later just to make sure I don't like it? This really feels like two scripts were just thrown up in the air and where they landed is how the filmmakers shot. Director Alessandro De Gaetano does little right as he keeps the monster off screen for nearly an hour. To his credit, some of the murders are gory. Also, the design of Metalbeast by John Buechler's MMI FX house is pretty damn cool and it is played by Kane Hodder.

There is one scene in there that will blow you mind though. It is early on and some folks are playing cards. It gets down to two folks as everyone else folds and this one guy says, "Show your cards." He shows his and has a Full House. Wow. No one can possibly beat that. Then the person he is playing shows theirs and says, "Royal Flush" and everyone goes, "Whooooa!" NO FREAKIN' WAY! Has that ever been done in cinema before? Here's an 11-second video of the beast being blown up to save you 90 minutes:

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Gweilo Dojo: GOLDEN NEEDLES (1974)

It's almost one of those crazy fanboy wet dreams that the studios love so much these days. Drooling fanboy's have long speculated "who would win in a fight? Jason or Freddy?" At the time Hollywood's creativity was at a point where they bravely stepped up to the plate and said "we'll make a whole movie about that!" Of course now, that would be too daring since it isn't actually a remake of a past film. Come to think of it, maybe they could do a remake of FREDDY VS. JASON (2003)! It's Anyway, one of my favorite underrated directors is Robert Clouse and one of my favorite actors is Joe Don Baker. What if they made a movie together? But wait, they did! My fanboy match-up come true.

During the Sung Dynasty a single gold statue was made for the emperor. A statue that holds acupuncture needles in the seven forbidden acupuncture points. When correctly used, the needles in the precise spots can rejuvenate the elderly and the infirm, and provide extraordinary sexual vigor (is there anything in Chinese medicine that isn’t supposed to give you a righteous hard-on?). If used incorrectly, however, the recipient will get nothing more than a painful death! Another reason it is important to get to know your doctor, I guess. This statue has been the Chinese Holy Grail of sorts, often stolen and briefly possessed by different people throughout history. And now it’s going to be stolen again.

So starts director Robert Clouse’s vastly entertaining east-meets-west action-thriller epic GOLDEN NEEDLES, starring the inimitable Joe Don Baker and a great Lalo Shifrin score. 

The movie kicks into gear straight out of the gate. An old man, unable to move because of the stiffness in his joints lies on a table in a Hong Kong acupuncturist’s room. The acupuncturist begins putting the legendary golden needles in the patient one by one… with each instertion the joints begin to move and finally the patient is able to get down off of the table and walk out as if he was a lad of only a mere 65 years of age! That’s when the flamethrowers come in. Yep, not content to simply beat up an old man and a couple of hot young girls and take the statue, or villain sends in two goons in flameproof suits and full-blown flamethrowers torching everything and everyone in their path (ummmm… the statue is gold, wouldn’t the flames melt it?) . Now that’s how you start a movie about an acupuncture statue!

The mastermind of the aforementioned theft is crime-boss Lin Toa (Roy Chiao, recognizable to US film fans from INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM [1984] and BLOODSPORT [1988]) who is in the process of painting one of his subordinates… no, not painting a picture of them, actually painting on their body, while raising the price of his nefarious deed on his buyer, a cowboy hat wearin’, southern drawlin’ American from… Ohio? Wtf? Anyway, Felicity (Elizabeth Ashley) get’s pissy about having the price raised and goes back to her middle-man Kwan (Tony Lee) to give him the bad news. Kwan is actually ecstatic about the news because he now believes that the statue is genuine and not some cheap knock-off (why would a Chinese man be so suspicious of forgeries, I wonder?)… Kwan is convinced that the answer is to steal back the statue and there’s only one man who can pull off this job and he’s… MITCHE… err, no, wait, he’s Dan.

Maybe I’m easily amused, but for my money there’s nothing funnier than seeing Joe Don Baker play a brawlin’ toughguy, playing Pai Gow in a Chinese bar, bellowing “Ah, soy!” when he loses all his “champagne money”. Even better he’s ready to turn down the lucrative job of stealing the statue from Lin Toa until he sees Felicity. Now you may be scratching your head thinking she ain’t exactly no Uschi Digard! But hey, the guy’s been living in Hong Kong for a lot of years and I’m sure that seeing an American woman is like beer-goggling with compounded interest. Or, as we find out during the negotiation, he could just be off his freakin’ nut. If some of his peculiarities in MITCHELL (1975) weren’t peculiar enough for you, read on.

After Dan decides that he doesn’t want to steal the statue, Felicity decides to haggle…
Felicity: “There’s nothin’ any good in this world that isn’t too dangerous.”
Dan: ”That’s not what my momma used to say.”
Felicity: “What did your mommy used to tell ya?”
Dan: “Well, she used to say, um, ‘wear your galoshes…’ ‘stay out of trouble…’ I been stayin’ out of trouble lately and I find it’s real nice.”
Felicity: “What do you want?”
Dan: “Hmmm… she used to hold my hand… she’d say ‘don’t worry darlin’ mommy’s here’.”
Felicity: “There’s 25 thousand dollars coming to Kwan, I can add five more, that makes thirty.”
Dan: “…used to hug me a lot too… say ‘everything’s alright, I love you’.”
Felicity: “Look, I’m begging.”
Dan: “Huh?” 

Man, if a golden idol, flamethrowers and a crazy-talkin’ Joe Don Baker doesn’t grab you by the proverbial boo-boo, you got the wrong blog. When all is said and done, Dan decides he will steal the statue in exchange for thirty grand and a roll in the hay with Felicity. How does Joe Don luck out on all these classy parts? Oh, and he needs to be hugged and told “I love you”. Seriously.

Dan busts into Lin Toa’s upper level (how did he know the statue was there?) snags the statue only to be jumped by a couple of thugs who are, apparently, the only criminal badasses in Hong Kong who don’t know a lick of martial arts. After dispatching the mugs with some good ol’ American know-how, Lin’s stooges decide the best way to foil this robbery is to fill the entire bottom level of the building with snakes! Snakes! Why did it have to be… oh, never mind. Too bad they didn't realize who they were dealing with, as Mitch... I mean, Dan, has no problem diving head-first through a window to escape! Doh! They should have put spiders on the window! Dammit!

From here on out it’s double crosses and more action as the statue switches hands, the Chinese government sends in an ass-kicking kung fu agent (Frances Fong), Jim Kelly shows up as an antiques expert, and Burgess Meredith turns in the most eccentric performance of his career as a wealthy wing-nut in a bow tie that wants the statue for himself so that he can live forever and he doesn't care who has to die to make that happen! Still with me? That’s what I said, Jim Kelly as an ass kickin’ antiques expert. Uh huh, damn right, you better think twice about shoplifting that 16th century armoire, cause that dealer might bust a hole in your soul! There are some other great moments to be found in here, including a monster shellfish platter of doom, a martial arts donnybrook in an upscale Los Angeles athletics club, and Felicity claiming that she "can always handle boredom better in a bathtub."

There seems to be nothing Dan likes better than breaking glass and throwing things. Even better, throwing things that break... like people through windows. When the thugs kill Kwan by throwing him through a skylight, Dan settles the score old school by throwing two thugs through two skylights! That’s how it’s done in the US of A punks! In addition to ridiculous amounts of throwing and breakage, there's kung-fu fights a plenty (obviously someone was thinking that this might be Frances Fong’s breakout role - they were wrong), plus a damn cool foot-chase at the climax in which some of Lin Toa’s thugs decide to enlist the help of the locals to chase Dan down by yelling out that he killed a child. This leads to an angry mob of damn near one hundred pissed off Chinese chasing after Dan’s gweilo ass through the narrow streets of Hong Kong. That expression of barely controlled terror on Joe Don's face? Pretty sure you can't chalk that all up to acting. Sure it may be a bit of a stretch to think that Joe Don Baker could outrun anyone, much less a literal hoard of Chinese that collectively weigh less than a Volkswagon Beetle, but astute viewers will notice that the mob is kept at bay by his propensity for throwing things; boxes, ladders, bicycles...

Bob Clouse, is in my opinion, a totally underrated director that made quite a few entertaining little movies during the ‘70s for Warner Brothers, including that little-known film ENTER THE DRAGON (1973). His entry into the “Nature’s Revenge” slash “Animals Attack” subgenre, THE PACK (1977) is a more than worthy entry and his post-apocalypse film THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR (1975) is without question the inspiration for THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981). Clouse sort of slid off of the map, due to terminal illness, in the mid ‘90s after making some less than well received US/HK co-productions. Not to mention a series of notorious stinkers in the ‘80s that some of us still remember with misty-eyed reverence… I’m mean seriously, by my math, GYMKATA (1985) plus "drive-in" equals gold! It’s too bad that Warner Brother’s doesn’t take his work with them (other than ENTER THE DRAGON) seriously enough to at least give them DVD releases. Even to their cynical, corporate, art-blind eyes the amazing casting alone should be selling points. With GOLDEN NEEDLES, Clouse is definitely in his comfort zone and while it may be a bit too silly for some and not silly enough for others, it's definitely a must-see for Joe Don Baker fans, as sort of a kung fu cousin to MITCHELL.

[EDIT] Amazingly NetFlix has added a full-scope version of this film to their rapidly-expanding library of streaming films! Sadly still no DVD release in sight.

My sentiments exactly

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The "Never Got Made" File #16: HERCULES 1984

Once again, the enterprising Italians prove their merit with this announced but never realized modern attempt at the legend of Hercules. Luigi Cozzi had an international hit in 1983 with the Lou Ferrigno vehicle HERCULES so it seems only fitting his fellow countrymen jumped on the ball quickly. Sergio Corbucci had scored big a few years earlier with SUPER FUZZ (1980) so it is surprising this never got off the ground. I guess the challenges were limited. No doubt his "Based Upon an Original Idea by" credit came from a conversation where he said, "I got it! How about we set the story of Hercules in modern times? We'll call it HERCULES 1984! And we will release it in 1983!" In the end, it looks like a project that could have easily equaled the cheese of HERCULES IN NEW YORK (1970), the film that introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger to the world. Sharp-eyed Video Junkies click to make it larger and take note of the disembodied hands wrapped around one leg.

Monday, May 31, 2010

An Acute Case of Sequelitis: BATES MOTEL (1987)

To paraphrase James Karen's character in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, "I have seen weird sequels come and I have seen weird sequels go." You can't really get more misguided and strange than BATES MOTEL (1987), a late 80s attempt to bring the PSYCHO mythos to the small screen after two pretty darn good sequels (PSYCHO II in '83 and PSYCHO III in '86).

The film opens in 1960 with Norman Bates being sentenced to spend his years in an insane asylum. Also at the asylum is an emotionally introverted ten year old boy named Alex West. Alex's only friend is his stuffed bird and his doctor (Robert Picardo) feels the best recourse of action to bring Alex out of his shell is to pair him up with fellow bird enthusiast Bates (really!). Cut to 27 years later and the grown up Alex (Bud Cort) learns his good friend Norman has passed away and left the soon-to-be-released Alex ownership of the Bates Motel. Released into the 80s wilds, Alex makes his way to his new abode and, after securing some financing from banker Tom Fuller (Gregg Henry), decides to keep the place and run it with new found friends Willie (Lori Petty) and Henry (Moses Gunn). This can mean only one thing - 80s house repair music montage as Alex decides the place needs a Southwestern make over (really!!!). But strange things keep happening as accidents plague the construction crews and dead bodies keep showing up on the grounds. Is Alex still crazy? Is the place haunted? Or is someone trying to keep him from making the motel a success?

As I mentioned earlier, I like both of the PSYCHO sequels. I think PSYCHO II is just about as good as sequel as one could expect 23 years later as it is respectful yet presents a new mystery integral to the events of the original. PSYCHO III came a few years later with star Anthony Perkins in the director's chair and, while the slasher elements are given heavier emphasis, he does well as a director, even throwing some nods to his old boss Hitchcock in there. So what better way to squash a solid trilogy than creating a goofy anthology TV series based on the famous location? Fantasy-based anthology shows were all the rage in the mid-80s thanks to series like Spielberg's AMAZING STORIES and the revivals of THE TWILIGHT ZONE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, so, go on Hollywood, give it your best shot. Uh oh.

It seems only fitting that Hollywood would latch onto one of the most successful horror franchises at the time. The concept of weekly visitors bringing their own unique stories to the Bates Motel grounds actually has some promise. What couldn't have been expected (but should have severely been stopped) was writer-director Richard Rothstein's attempt to wedge super lame comedy into the mix. Seriously, can you think of a funnier gag than a guy being released from an insane asylum and having a confused conversation with a chicken billboard at a drive thru? It's funny cuz he doesn't know what is going on! Whooweee! And who casts Bud Cort and Lori Petty together (the poor sound guy) and then tries to stoke the romantic flames? And also lets thank Rothstein for having the brain damage to make mass murderer Norman Bates a sympathetic character right off the bat. Yeah, nobody can show a shy kid the meaning of life like a guy who kept his dead mother in the basement and wore her clothes! It is doubly confusing and disappointing because Rothstein had previously written the intense HUMAN EXPERIMENTS (1980) and the underrated kid-being-stalked flick DEATH VALLEY (1982)

Not that the plot is any great shakes to begin with. You can guess the villain solely by the fact that this character is introduced and then rarely shown again. I've had more investigative and mysterious games of Clue. And while I tend to throw this line out there a lot, the climax is truly a SCOOBY DOO ending as the mystery villain you guess 20 minutes in appears in a monster get up and has their mask ripped off to reveal their identity. Ruh-row! This pilot also gives viewers a glimpse of what the potential TV series would have been like at roughly an hour in when suicidal Sally (Khrystyne Haje) checks in but soon finds her self destructive ways changed by a chance encounter with some ghost 50s teenyboppers (including Jason Bateman). So not only has the Bate Motel gotten a horrific make over, but the grounds are apparently a passageway for supernatural activity now. The show ends with Cort addressing the camera and asking folks to stop by for a visit every week. Thankfully, the viewers stayed away and this never got off the ground as a TV series. Whew, made it all the way through the review without one Master Bates joke! On the plus side, look for George "Buck" Flower as, what else, a vagrant.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

An Acute Case of Sequelitis: SCANNERS III / Audience 0

Please rise for the honorable judge Video Junkie. Sir, please hold your applause.
Be seated.
Court is now in session.
Counsel for the prosecution… Counsel for the… Bailiff? Would you please wake up the council for the prosecution?
After reading the case and in light of the mitigating circumstances herein, counsel for the prosecution will not be charged in contempt for court.
The charges against the defendant are as follows:
1 count of Criminal Neglect in the Use of a Concept Carried Over from a Previous Film.
1 count of Gratuitous Use of Thai Monastery Subplot.
1 count of Over-Editing an Amazing Stunt
1 count of Attempting to Avoid Exploitation Value.
Multiple counts of Comic Criminal Conduct.
Multiple counts of Clich├ęd Evil.
Multiple counts of Lame Scanner-Related Deaths
Multiple counts of Acting Unbecoming Even of a Direct-to-Video Sequel.

Counsel for the prosecution, your opening arguments…

Have you ever told someone about how cool and underrated a movie is based purely on 20 year-old recollections? I have. The tagline of the movie is “Get ready for the ultimate display of brain power” which is ironic as I certainly didn’t see any displayed in this movie. Even funnier, the production company is proudly displayed as "MaloFilm", which is freakin' hilarious as "malo" is Spanish for "bad". Now there's an inconvenient truth!

The film opens with a Christmas party in which an ethnically diverse group is chatting about those crazy-ass “scanners” that everyone is talking about. Drunk Santa Dude swears that they are real and after a round of “nu-uhhs”, he calls over a funny-lookin’ spud in a toupee so cheap and obvious, that I swear the ghosts of Burt Reynolds and William Shater suddenly appeared next to me on my sofa laughing their asses off. Anyway, Drunk Santa Dude badgers Alex (Steve Parrish) into showing off his mad scanner skillz, as if he’s going to bust out some David Blaine card trick. Instead of doing what a real 20-something with psychic powers would do and pulling a Scott Baio, popping a girl’s blouse open, he decides to psychically push Drunk Santa Dude through the hall door towards the wide-open balcony doors. You can see where this is headed… Drunk Duchebag Dude slaps Alex on the shoulder, snapping his concentration, causing Drunk Santa Dude to fly out the balcony doors and plummet to his crimson death.

Alex, inconsolable, flees to a Thai monastery where, apparently, scanners never have any problems. Cue Asian monastic flute music and epic shot of Alex climbing a hill to the monastery.

Cut to Alex’s foster sister, Helena (Liliana Komorowska), who is also a scanner. She can’t stand taking her scanner medicine and has lost another job because of it. Lucky for her (and unlucky for everyone else), her foster father (the ubiquitous Colin Fox) is in charge of R&D of the brand new EPH-3, a patch application (subtle and inconspicuous with its brushed aluminum and flashing LEDs).
Daddy warns her that it’s not ready for use, but she just can’t stand the voices in her head, which apparently occur even when there aren’t any people around, and sneaks a patch. Hocus pocus, presto changeo, Helena is suddenly fully accessorized, sporting snappy black dresses, immaculate hair, glamour make up and ray ban sunglasses, and you know what that means! She’s now eeeeeeevil! And you know what eeeeeeevil people do… take over the world! Muahahahahahaha!! *ahem*

Top Sure Signs That a Scanner is Eeeeeeevil:
1. Wears Ray-Ban Sunglasses
2. Over-Dresses in Fashionable Black (or, on special occasions, Jezebel Red)
3. Two Words: Trendy Hairdo
4. Plays Pop-Metal Way Too Loud
5. Grins Maniacally While Crushing Fruit in Hand
6. Becomes Sexually Aggressive
7. Prone to “Wacky” Humor, Even in Death
8. Makes Birds Explode if They Poop on Their Fashionable Black Attire

In order to achieve her goal of world domination, Helena decides that she’s going to humiliate her condescending boss (by using her scanner powers to make him dance and do a public striptease in front of an important client), kill her foster father after trying to seduce him in a hot-tub (says family friend as they are wheeling out the body: “what was he doing in the hot-tub at this hour? He hated that thing!”), take over his company (aha! The title of the movie! Oh wait, that’s kinda lame), and buy the TV network that her ex-boss was after and use her scanner abilities to control the minds of everyone on the planet by providing commentary on a football game and revealing her master plan to the masses after making a football player's head explode. Phew! Got all that? Ummmm… most badguys just try to rob Fort Knox and stuff. Of course her incredibly Machiavellian scheme is unraveled by Alex, who returns to save the world from his now evil sister.

In addition to a needlessly complex and incredibly silly plot for world domination, Helena decides she is going to get revenge on the doctor who runs a clinic for scanners, that is actually a facility in which he keeps scanners as his own personal lab-rats, torturing them for his own sadistic pleasure. After confronting the doctor, the doctor admonishes her for being a rotten kid with a wag of his finger. You’d think he’d know that she is exhibiting signs of eeeeeevilness, since he’s such an expert, but no he wags his finger until Helena who has clearly had enough makes his finger… explode. Yes, if you follow the logic, if a scanner can tap into a person’s nervous system and you can make their heads explode, you can make them dance, burn themselves with cigars, and cause their fingers to combust. Fair enough.

Once Helena detonates Dr. Braumann’s finger and subsequently his cranium, she finds the patients, opens a suitcase full of EPH-3 patches and launches into a “funny” info-mercial speech in which she tells them to “act now to receive this special offer”, etc. Honestly, it's a full-on Ron Popiel schpeil that goes on so long that it actually stops being annoying and starts being unintentionally funny. Wtf were they thinking while editing this? Once the rejects are all patched up, they suddenly develop wacky personalities and look as they just got back from a try-out for a Blues Brother’s cover band. Lemme tell ya, the scenes with “funny” scanners really start pushing this movie into a realm of badness that is ruled by the mighty TROLL 2 (1990). An example of a comic highlight is when Alex is in the hospital, after sustaining a concussion from falling off of a ten-story building onto a police car, and uses his monastic training to temporarily stop his heart in an effort to get away from an evil scanner nurse (yeah, you read that right). After being taken to a morgue where the coroner is listening to opera music while performing his gristly duties (someone’s been watching RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD), Alex rises from the slab and says to the terrified coroner “can I use your phone?” to which the coroner stammers “is it a local call?” Wah-wah-wah... Man, talk about a looooong walk to get to that punchline!

While in Thailand Alex is visited by the aforementioned family friend who is attacked by Thai kickboxers being manipulated by one of the bad scanners (completely inconspicuous with his black suit, ray bans and blond hair that is pulled back to reveal his aluminum, flashing EPH patch). Naturally this leads to a scanner battle in the middle of a thai market in which the family friend gives his warning of Helena’s switch to the darkside before expiring. The evil scanner steals a tuk-tuk and before crashing, flips Alex the bird because there's nothing a good, Thai monk-wannabe scanner hates more than rude gestures! This scene must have seemed like a great idea at a time when a whole mess of direct to video martial arts movies were being shot in Asia on the cheap. It's even more amusing now that we have had real Thai action movies hit these shores in recent years, making our feeble gweilo attempts at fight scenes look even more misguided and sad.

Trust me, you will get really tired of seeing this.

In the final showdown, Alex battles Helena in a TV station that she has taken control of and instead of using his scanner abilities to simply remove the patch, they slam each other around the station until the patch actually falls off by itself. Helena realizing that she has done all this awful stuff (she screwed up the football game goddamit!), removes the scrunchy from her hair in shame.

Is there anything funnier than someone being telepathically killed in a revolving door? Pierre David thinks not.

The super cheesy final shot of Helena’s evil spirit cackling with glee while going in to the picture tube of the studio camera only hints at the no-doubt uncharted depths of absurdity that the follow up was to be. Apparently Pierre David had been courting the Canadian networks with his proposal for a SCANNERS television series and this film was to be the lead-in for it. One can only imagine how the pich-meetings must have sounded with David waxing poetic on his evil “funny” scanners on the small screen. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your appreciation of crap tv shows), it failed to get off the ground.

Amazingly this was shot back-to-back with SCANNERS II (1991), but feels like it was made years later. It shares none of the cast, none of the atmosphere, none of the story line and even the special effects are completely different and much more cartoonish. It also relies heavily on comedy and runs fast and loose with the premise as created by Cronenberg’s original. Christian Duguay returns as director and B.J. Nelson again scripted, but this feels so much more like cheap AIP Video sequel that should have had Sam Firstenberg attached to it. Particularly since we have a pretty decent chase scene and a really impressive motorcycle stunt that feels like it was totally cribbed from AIPs repertoire.

In absentia, Pierre David stands as the council for the defense…

Pierre David, in a recent interview, said that he was still very proud of his SCANNERS series and feels that it’s some of the best work he’s done. He went on to say that he actually felt his continuation of the mythos laid down in the original is superior to Cronenberg’s film! As evidence of this David refers to the fact that his scanners move their heads when using their powers, where as in Cronenberg’s film they simply stared at their victims! Pierre, mon ami, the subtlety boat has gone to sea, and you were not even on the dock. If only you had taken that decision to over-do and used it to crank up the action and gore instead of trying to down-play it and crank up the comedy and goofiness. Seriously, the underwater exploding head with the left-over Carter Wong inflatable prop? Pretty lame man.

The verdict will now be read...

The Court rules in favor of the prosecution! This film is guilty as charged and while that can be a good thing if you are the kind of person that delights in horrible sequels, it is no less guilty of the crimes that it has committed. It is herefore sentaced to be shelved in my video collection until such time as it is deemed worthy to be brought forth and publicly ridiculed again before a sofa of cynical movie buffs.

Oh Pierre David, we have not heard the last of you, I know. It took you three years and a lot of heartache, but your vision returned...

NYPD Scanners... NEXT!

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Severe Case of Remakeitis: TRUCKS (1997)

Stephen King has billions of books in print and a gazillion dollars. Yet all of this success couldn't prepare him for the world of movie making. In the mid-1980s King decided to step behind the camera to finally do his written work justice. The end result? MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986), a film so goofy that it could only have been made by Stephen King. But don't get me wrong, MAX-O has so many redeeming qualities (car stunts, over-the-top deaths, killer arcades, AC/DC score, Pat Hingle's nose) that it is a joy to sit through for me. The US movie going public circa 1986? Not so much. Of the 36 Stephen King adaptations/cash ins given wide theatrical releases, this one came in 33rd in terms of box office gross. Who made who indeed!

Naturally the Stephen King name remained a viable brand and if it was made before it can only mean one thing to a Hollywood producer - remake! King's sole directorial effort apparently wasn't silly enough (or didn't bomb hard enough) to kill the will of producers to remake his short story "Trucks" just over a decade later in TRUCKS (1997). In this incarnation, folks are held captive by the title beasts in a rustic truck stop run by Ray (Timothy Busfield) in the town of Lunar, Nevada. Ray has moved here after the death of his wife with his son Logan (Brandon Fletcher). Also moving back to Lunar is Hope (the flat toned Brenda Bakke), who, after a bitter divorce, decides running hiking trips in her former hometown is the way to go. Surprisingly, Ray and Hope never kiss. A trio of prospective hikers arrive just before the trucks start to move on their own (no reason is given in this incarnation although they keep mentioning Area 51 nearby).

This was made-for-TV with a low budget and is decidedly less goofy and violent than King's film so one has to wonder, "Why bother?" I mean, outside of the obvious, "We'll put Kings name on it and make a ton of money." The cast of mostly Canadians is fine and the illogical scenes are abundant (for example, if machines are turning on you, why is your plan to ride a motorcycle to steal a helicopter from the Army base?). The funniest bit is a truck using its mirrors to spy on someone and then trying to play it off when someone catches it. And since when do cars with unexplained sentient powers need to see from the driver's viewpoint? There are a few gory and unrelated kill scenes (death by toy truck, death by killer hazmat suit, death by possessed cable truck) that look like they were added in post-production, seemingly confirmed by an "additional scenes" end credit. Interestingly, they were produced by William (SCARECROWS) Wesley. You can almost imagine the producers talking this one over:
Producer #1: "The movie runs 85 minutes but need some extra oomph."
Producer #2: "We could add some gory kills. You know, random stuff of people being attacked by machines."
Producer #1: "What are you thinking?"
Producer #2: "How about we have a chemical clean-up crew heading to that crash site?"
Producer #1: "But what would kill them? Their truck?"
Producer #2: "No...lemme think...I GOT IT! Imagine the machine that controls their hazmat suits comes to life."
Producer #1: "I like it! You're a genius."
Producer #2: "I know."
Amazingly, the King name is still considered a hot commodity to film producers with over 16 films currently in a state of production or development. Keep on trucking I guess! Honestly, if I ever had an audience with Michael Bay, I'd tell him to keep his hands off the classic horror films and remake something like this. It has everything he loves - cars and explosions - and chances are you aren't going to get people crying over the desecration of a classic. Ah, who am I kidding? Bay could never produce something as entertaining as MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE and I think he would struggle to match the low-end quality of TRUCKS.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

An Acute Case of Sequelitis: SCANNERS II: THE NEW ORDER (1991)

Prolific Canadian producer Pierre David could be called a lot of things, but “stupid” isn’t one of them. After exec-producing several movies for the then, up and coming director David Cronenberg (including VIDEODROME, 1983), Pierre David somehow managed to convince Cronenberg to sell him the rights to SCANNERS. I'm guessing this is one of those times when the thought of putting food on the table took precedent over artistic integrity. This was also before Cronenberg was a wise and grizzled industry veteran and had lawyers and agents to advise him against such crazy things. So in 1991 the world saw the first in a series of  four low-budget sequels to the only Cronenberg film to be sequelized. Some can mount a case about how this is a terrible thing, but honestly I feel this is far less of a crime than many other higer-profile and more successful sequels such as FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE (1991), FRIDAY THE 13th PART 8 (1989) or how about THE BIRDS II (1994)? Of course the SCANNERS sequels are not on the level of Cronenberg’s original, and I don't think anyone should expect them to be, but the original was an exploitation film and set-up a concept that would easily translate into a cheap sequel that could be entertaining without totally stomping all over the original (that is for the upcoming 2011 remake to do). For an example of a sequel totally raping the original, while watching the dark and visceral A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) back in the day, did I ever once think to myself, “you know what this movie needs? A funny cameo by Tom Arnold and Rosanne Barr!” I don't fucking think so.

Set about 25 years after the original, the scanners project has continued with an amoral scientist, Dr. Morse (Tom Butler), creating a new version of ephemerol, called EPH-2. Because this is a sequel, the new drug comes in a spiffy little bottle complete with logo. The drug is not so much a scanner suppressant as in the original, but this time out is a hyper-addictive mind-control drug that causes user’s hair to fall out, skin to get blotchy and to mentally check out. Running the show is police commander Forrester (Yvan Ponton) with his sights, figuratively and literally, set on a seat of power. Enter David Kellum (David Hewlett), a rural farm boy who has come to the big city (unnamed, but obviously Canadian) to go to med school. Too bad he’s got some weird mental powers that cause him to freak out when listening to live music through headphones in industrial, underground diners! After getting involved with a rather aggressive co-ed, Kellum is nabbed by the baddies who want him to be their uber-soldier to help “fight crime” and bring about a “new order”. In fact he’s just being manipulated into helping Forrester achieve his bloody ambitions to rule the city with an army of scanners.

While the movie starts with a bang and the final 45 minutes are fun, the final scenes are really anti-climactic and it sorely lacks in the middle. In the opening scenes of the project’s first success case, Peter Drak (Raoul Trujillo), going berserk in an arcade (scanners apparently suck at Operation Wolf), causing the senseless slaughter of dozens of innocent games, and making me wonder if I didn't miss the scene where he cut off someone's head, because obviously he must be experiencing the quickening (“der kin be onlee a couple”). I'm guessing this is actually supposed to be echoing the end of the first film where Vale gets inside the computers with his mind... but in the way a true cheeseball sequel would do it. After his microchip massacre, Drak then flees the scene, hiding out in a mannequin warehouse where he freaks the hell out because he thinks the stiffs are talking to him; to a mannequin head with a wig on it (shades of Lustig’s MANIAC [1980]) he shouts “You aren't allowed to talk to me!” At the same time he is being hunted down by scanners with tranquilizer guns who are going to capture him for Dr. Morse's experiments. This whole sequence is really damned entertaining and well shot with lots of light and shadow and does a nice job of setting the tone for a cheesy sequel. At this point the movie is a great exploitation flcik… then the plot kicks in.

While Cronenberg always had a focused, high-brow thought process behind his films mixed with a delight in exploitation trappings, he was never really much for getting the best performances out of his cast. Sometimes it seems he gets lucky (James Woods and Patrick Magoohan are two examples of actors who need no hand-holding), but other times not so much.

Here, the plot really isn’t so bad, but keeping in Cronenberg tradition Hewlett is no great sweeps as an actor. Granted he is leagues ahead of the appropriately named Steven Lack (Cameron Vale in part one), who Cronenberg admits he cast solely because of his ice-blue eyes. Even so, his rather bland, adenoidal performance makes for some tedious scenes of character development (and a rather hilarious scene in which the exotic, stylish Trujillo calls Hewlett, who looks like Quentin Tarantino's long lost and less annoying brother, a “pretty boy”). The scenes between Kellum and love-interest Alice (Isabelle Mejias) are mercifully free of the ravages of chemistry and charisma. Some of the scenes are simply laughable, such as the scenes in which Alice is, in true soap-opera fashion, hospitalized for a couple of days for a concussion that she received from being bitch-slapped by a villain during a convenience store robbery (that Kellum foils in a satisfyingly messy way)! The weepy drama that ensues when Kellum visits her in the hospital is hilariously inane. Even worse are the fumbling attempts at social commentary in a few subplots, one involving the poisoning of milk, causing numerous infant deaths and scenes where Kellum and Alice are working for a lab that does animal experiments on cute, fluffy puppies – oh noeeesss!

While Cronenberg himself may not sport the greatest acting, he always makes up for it in other ways and in SCANNERS, he never makes the cardinal sin of bookending the drama with action. SCANNERS has a very organic rhythm, plot/character development, action, plot/character development, action, plot/character development, action; like a beating pulse. Screenwriter B.J. Nelson (of LONE WOLF MCQUIAD [1983] fame) would have done better to emulate this in addition to the psychic concept.

Once the plot proper starts rolling again, we find out what exactly Forrester’s machinations are, things start kicking into gear and we get back into the groove. Political assassination, scanner drug dealers, guys with shotguns, countless bloody noses, the discovery of Kellum’s scanner sister (Deborah Raffin) and a revolt against the “New Order” complete with creatively violent demises make this movie a lot of fun. Even Tom Harvey (the inspector from STRANGE BREW [1983]), shows up as the police cheif, one of Forrester’s road-blocks that must be disposed of. If the middle of the film didn’t drag so much and the leads had some sort of personality, this would be a great little piece of schlock.

While this movie definitely had its high points and it's low points, apparently it was such a huge hit in Sweden, that the distributors contacted Pierre David  and demanded another sequel, this time would they get a blockbuster or a franchise killer? SCANNERS III... NEXT!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The "Never Got Made" File #15: PARASITE II

As you can tell from our previous post, Charles Band's PARASITE (1982) is a film that gets our juices flowing here at VJ. So imagine our infinite sadness when Band announced a sequel to be shot for his newly founded Empire Pictures in 1983/84 that never materialized.

"The Terror Continues..." promises the tagline and the credits on the poster definitely seem to indicate that. Robert Glaudini was listed as returning as parasitic researcher Dr. Paul Dean. Chances are Demi Moore wouldn't be back as she was beginning her Hollywood climb in flicks like BLAME IT ON RIO (1984) and NO SMALL AFFAIR (1984). The same three scripters who wrote the original film were listed as providing this screenplay. The artwork and tiny plot-pitch line ("27 floors of living, creeping, shocking 3-D") seem to indicate that Dean would return to the fabled futuristic cities of the original and most likely confront the parasite in a high-rise. It is like "DIE HARD with parasites" years before DIE HARD. Parasites loose in a high-rise. Ah, what could have been. Hey, wait a second, that is David Cronenberg's SHIVERS (1977; aka THE PARASITE MURDERS)!

Sadly, this never made it to the proposed shooting date of August. Too bad as I'm sure it would have been at least entertaining and feature gooey monster effects. Band instead gave us sci-fi/horror omnibus THE DUNGEONMASTER (1984; aka RAGEWAR). It was all too common for announced Band projects to never materialize. For more in-depth info on other unfilmed Band productions (both Empire and Full Moon), check out The Tomb, a fantastic resource of all things unmade Band (warning: lots of flicks about tiny monsters/aliens).

Monday, May 24, 2010

Things we learned from watching PARASITE (1982)

In the future…

…1992 looks a lot like 1982, if the entirety of 1982 took place in the California desert.

…we still have gas pumps but they will have cool acrylic pyramids on them!

…the last person you want having your back in a brawl is Demi "Can't take a punch" Moore.

…"We got canned fruit, canned beer and canned soup", but at least it all costs the same.

…gangs called The Ray Guns will actually be taken seriously.

…if someone’s carrying around a thermos, there must be something extremely valuable in it!

…Jeff Goldbum and Ray Romano make sweet love and give birth to Robert Glaudini.

...Glaudini has only enough fight in him to take out two punks in the opening. After that, he is useless.

...Glaudini gets the girl despite showing he is filled with strawberry jam.

…don't go sticking your hand into a crazy, sick dude’s thermos!

...parasites can be killed with ultra-high frequency sound but you need the bigger parasite to identify the frequency of the smaller one inside you (do whaaaaat?).

…kids get sent to work camps run by corporations… Yeah, nothing has changed.

…gas prices have only gone up 2000%, but they don’t take cash, here in the wasteland they only accept Merchant Silver Cards. They’re everywhere, you don’t want to be.

…instant coffee will be referred to as “the real thing” and packets will fetch big money, at least $5 each!

…sickies get their kicks by pretending to rape their chicks and an abandoned kitchen is a perfect place for an S&M three-way!

…Demi Moore still can’t act.

…rattlesnakes are never up to any good. Ever.

…Lamborghini Countachs still look futuristic.

…you can stick a pole through someone and blood will still come out the end of it.

…corporate executives/assassins can appreciate good lemonade, but prefer not to drink it.

…laboratory-created parasites enjoy leaping down on their victims from the ceiling.

...if you're going to beat Demi Moore's ass, at least have the decency to take her outside and do it in the lemon garden.