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!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Buns and Ammo: MALIBU EXPRESS (1985)

Confession time – before last week I had only seen two Andy Sidaris movies.  One was his 70s action flick SEVEN (1979) and the other was one of his many 90s action epics (sorry, I can’t remember which one it was).  I know my Greek half was definitely disappointed in myself in this cultural gap. All of that is changing though as I’ve recently picked up the DVD set “Girls, Guns, & G-Strings.” This 12-film collection is light on the wallet, heavy on the T&A and will allow me to experience his filmography in chronological order.  1985 here I come!

MALIBU EXPRESS features the exploits of Cody Abilene (Darby Hinton), a private detective with a mustache on loan from Tom Selleck.  Abilene is hired by Contessa Luciana (Sybil Danning) to infiltrate the family of Lady Lillian Chamberlain (Niki Dantine) as her home seems to be the ground zero for someone who is illegally selling computers to the Russians.  The Cold War is fixin’ to get hot!  There is a wide assortment of odd suspects including daughter Anita (Shelly Taylor Morgan), niece Liza (Playboy Playmate Lorraine Michaels), her transvestite husband Stuart (Michael Andrews) and stud chauffeur Shane (Brett Baxter Clark, the muscle meathead in DEATHSTALKER IV).   Along the way, Cody receives help from a bevy of beautiful babes including cop Beverly (Lori Sutton, the Playmate in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH) and race car driver June Khnockers (Playboy Playmate Lynda Wiesmeier).  And he must constantly be on the lookout for the buffoon Buffingtons, a redneck family looking to avenge their racing loss to Cody’s dad.

Believe it or not, this is the most entertaining film I’ve seen in months.  That means I’ve been watching a lot of crap or it is just a breezy fun film (a combination of both of those really).  The plot is convoluted as hell and I had to keep reminding myself what exactly Cody was investigating. Honestly, though, if you are watching a Sidaris flick for an intricate murder mystery, you are in the wrong place.  Kind of like a straight guy at a Lady Gaga concert.  One thing that really surprised me was the amount of intentional humor in the film. And some of it actually works, like Cody’s inability to shoot right.  The drag races with the Buffington family?  Eh, not so much.

Of course, Sidaris is legendary for one thing – mounds and mounds of nekkid chicks.  And he doesn’t disappoint here.  The man is seemingly incapable of going 5 minutes without a nude scene and it is gratuitous maximus.  Like the bit where Cody is stranded in the desert and finds a used car lot where the nubile owner immediately pops her top when she sees him.  Man, if I had a dime for every time that happened to me.  In addition to Playboy Playmates Lorraine Michaels and Lynda Wiesmeier getting nude, Sidaris also cast Playmates Kimberly McArthur and Barbara Edwards as Faye and May respectively, two horny girls who are always trying to get it on with Cody on his boat (poor guy).  You have to love the shower scene between the two where Edwards glances into the camera THREE times and tries to play it off. There is also porn star Shanna McCullough as a massage girl and softcore star Robyn Hilton (the busty babe from BLAZING SADDLES), who surprisingly stays clothed as the family maid. And, of course, there is the stunning Sybil Danning.  Danning is a favorite around these parts, thanks mostly to her amazing shower scene with the equally topless Linda Blair in CHAINED HEAT (1983).  She only has a small supporting role here, but I’m sure you will remember it.  She wears some of the most amazing outfits that allow her to practice, as Bruce Lee might say, the art of being nude without being nude (full Danning nude here).

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  So rather than bore you with any more of my language, I’ll give you this visual volume of MALIBU EXPRESS.  For educational purposes, naturally.

It's subtle, see if you can spot it:

Sidaris: "Okay, just don't look at the camera...ah, screw it!"

Sybil Danning practicing the fine art of being nude without being nude:

80s exercise according to Lorraine Michaels:

Shanna McCullough suffers for her art:

"This might have been a murder!"

Lori Sutton...OMG, check out that jukebox!

Sidaris: "Sorry guys, we didn't write sex scenes for you."

I'd totally buy a lemon from this used car lot!

The Buffingtons gots skillz:

Robyn Hilton of BLAZING SADDLES fame still has the goods:

Car chase, Sidaris style!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

El Terror de México: THE INFERNAL RAPIST (1988)

I’ve only seen a handful of 1980s Mexican horror films, but everything I’ve seen I have enjoyed.  Titles like CEMETERY OF TERROR, DON’T PANIC, and GRAVE ROBBERS have provided enough cheap thrills and gore that they could easily pass for the cheap-o Italian horror from that era.  Even the action flicks from Valentin Trujillo that I’ve been checking out tend to go overboard in the violence department (check out the drug dealers chopped up and fed to dogs in OCCUPATIONAL KILLER).  Our friends south of the border had no problem trashing things up.  Nothing, however, could prepare me for the pure amount of sleaze that is packed within the 82 minutes that are THE INFERNAL RAPIST.

The plot of this flick – if you can even call it that – is fairly simple.  Super criminal “El Gato” Carlos (Noe Murayama) is experiencing his final moments in an electric chair on death row.  At the precise moment he is dead from the juice, Satan appears to him in the form of, well, a woman seemingly dressed for Carnival.  She offers Carlos the chance to return to a life of wanton sin in exchange for a few souls here and there.  Si Senorita!  The catch is he has to rape and murder his satanic sacrifices and must never, ever forget to carve 666 onto their bodies.  She zaps Carlos in the eyes with some laser beams and – BAM – dude is suddenly living the high life as a drug dealer.  Nice job placement there, Satan.

For his first offering, Carlos opts to kill a man.  Now, this is where director Damián Acosta Esparza throws down the sleaze gauntlet.  Carlos is a man of his word as he not only murders the guy, but proceeds to rape his corpse and then carve 666 in the guy’s buttocks post-orgasm.  Oh, did I forget to mention this is after both men shot up heroin while wearing silk robes? This freakin’ scene happens 10 minutes into the flick!  It is in such bad taste and so sleazy that I immediately thought “I have to put this up on Youtube” the first time I saw it.  For educational purposes, of course.

Needless to say, a clip titled “worst gay rape ever” has gotten a lot of hits.  The punch line of the scene is the gay guy’s lover coming in and finding his corpse and letting out a girly shriek. Subtlety, thy name is not Mexploitation cinema.

The rest of the film is just rinse-and-repeat as Carlos seduces four different women from a beauty salon he frequents (?). He then proceeds to rape them and kill them.  He even uses his satanic powers to off a couple of nosy cops during his second attack.  For some odd reason he decides to get real creative during his final kill and makes the topless and bloody victim fly around her apartment.  Really!  All this showing off, however, results in his demise as the cops arrive before he can carve 666 onto her body.  Carlos flees from the cops to the roof, but his master appears and she is pissed that he didn’t perform his duty.  So after the cops shoot him a couple of times, she launches his body off the building.  El final magnífico!

Man, where do I start?  Well, first we have the title, THE INFERNAL RAPIST (EL VIOLADOR INFERNAL).  Sounds so much better in Spanish, doesn’t it?  This is the kind of film title you feel embarrassed writing on an order form (I know I sure did).  The kind of title you fear your not-so-understanding friends would see laying about. You are so scared they will judge you by seeing it that you cover it with porn flicks.  A title the staunchest exploitation film defender (me) has a tough time defending.  “Well, at least it ain’t…uh…I got nothing,” I say.  Even worse, this is one of those exploitation films that actually live up to their titles.  Jeez Louise, look at all this sleaze!  There is a rapist and he is indeed infernal. There is plenty of nekkid female flesh on display, but it is uncomortable to watch at times due to the rape implications (and Murayama’s “O” face as evidenced in the clip above).  The fourth murder that takes place in a hotel room is particularly unnerving. Had director Esparza made every attack unfold like the over-the-top final one with the topless woman spinning around in the air, it might have been more enjoyable. There are a few bits of unintentionally entertaining bits here and there.  For example, the cops figure out the satanic angle and figure they can catch the killer by stopping him before he can carve 666 into his victims to complete his ritual.  Uh, catching him before he kills them might be a better game plan. Even though I haven’t seen that many, I think I am safe in claiming this is one of the sleaziest Mexican exploitation films ever.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Gweilo Dojo: WHITE PHANTOM (1987)

The previously reviewed SAKURA KILLERS (1987) left me with such a warm ninja afterglow that I decided to see what else the filmmakers had done.  We describe that here as Video Junkie Side Effect # 36 – ninja nightmare.  This led me to SAKURA co-director Dusty Nelson’s WHITE PHANTOM and the VHS sleeve had all the 1980s trappings of a classic.  Ninja silhouette? Check.  White guy with sword? Check. Odd subtitle? Check.  Semi-big star with their name in a box?  Check. Hold on a sec, what does that say there *looks closer* “and Bo Svenson as The Colonel.”  Holy crap!  Is this somehow related to Nelson’s SAKURA KILLERS where we got Chuck Conners as the Colonel?  I’ll have more thoughts on that later in the review.

WHITE PHANTOM opens with a group of camouflaged ninjas stealing a small case of plutonium from a transport vehicle in broad daylight in California. We know this because of the huge close up on a California license plate.  It is a really intricate plan that involves pulling the hamburger-eating driver from the cab of the truck.  Back in his office in China (!), The Colonel (Svenson) receives word of the heist and the top suspect is the Sakura family (another carry over from SAKURA KILLERS, duh!). Selected for the job of locating this stolen nuke material is Mai Lin (Page Leong), an undercover agent/dancer who poses as a stripper.  Yes, she is the top choice and her first onscreen routine involves her stripping out of a ninja outfit (don’t’ get your hopes up as the film has no nudity). Maybe she did this to please her boyfriend Hanzo (Jimmy Lee), a real-life ninja who is also the top son in the Sakura family.  What a coincidence!

Also in the crowd for this ninja strip-o-rama is Willi (Jay Roberts, Jr.), a drunken American playboy who is prone to playing the harmonica.  Is there any worse kind of person?  Willi also just happens to be a white ninja.  No, really, he dresses all in white whereas Hanzo is all in black.  Ah, the complex symbolism of a 1930s b-western. As Hanzo’s father, whose face is never shown, explains, the white ninjas are a “renegade clan whose only weakness is compassion.”  Anyway, Hanzo’s job is to sell off the plutonium but he bungles that because his girlfriend/spy Mai Lin tells the Colonel when and where the sale is going down (shocker: it is by the water at night).  Shoved into the film are random scenes of the white ninja taking out members of Hanzo’s crew.  Who on earth could this man be?  Naturally, Willi and Mai Lin begin to fall in love too.  Why? Because he is the film’s hero and she is a chick.  Duh!  But not before she berates him as “a drifter who spends his time playing basketball and sleeping with whores.”  Wait, did she just call him Dennis Rodman?  But when Mai Lin is killed onstage during a James Bond-esque strip routine by Hanzo, it is on. After all, these lovebirds have known each other a full three or more days and slept together.  Is there any deeper love?  So Willi heads to the Sakura family mountaintop home to get his revenge.  Oh, and do something about that plutonium just sitting around.

Sorry if I accidentally made this sound entertaining, because it is not and the film definitely doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of SAKURA KILLERS.  Nelson, who I believe only helmed the US shot stuff in SAKURA, places his ninja action in China. So, yes, they are getting their ninja action even further away from Japan than SAKURA’s Taiwan location. Hey, what do Americans know about ninjas other than they are from Asia, right?  Now having a harmonica blowing white guy as your lead is dubious enough, but Nelson ups the annoyance factor by having Willi be a totally unlikable putz.  His second scene has him cavorting with two prostitutes while drunk and wearing panties on his head, neck and biceps. Do I need to say more? They also include harmonica stings any time the white ninja zips across the screen.  The fights are also nothing to be proud of and lack that distinct craziness offered in SAKURA.

Of course, these are filmmakers who, for no real reason, were averse to having their titles have anything to do with ninjas.  You know, ninjas, the most popular martial arts movie phenomenon of the 1980s.  The word “ninja” in a title would have more teen boys yelling “sold!” than an auctioneer at Sotheby’s during a Picasso sale.  WHITE PHANTOM? What the hell is that?  If you want your title to jump off the shelves into 13-year-old boys’ hands, you call your damn film WHITE NINJA! WHITE PHANTOM makes me think of that 1970s TV basketball TV series THE WHITE SHADOW.   At least the filmmakers stayed consistent when it came to offering military authority figures (The Colonel).

Now, that leads me into my SAKURA KILLERS/WHITE PHANTOM same universe theory.  I burst out laughing at the opening credit of “and Bo Svenson as The Colonel” and the villains once again being the Sakura family.  Hell, they even have the same logo for the gang in both films.  The big question is – which came first as both films were released in 1987? After watching both, I would like to believe that WHITE PHANTOM features the adventures of the young Colonel where he first encounters the Sakura family; SAKURA KILLERS features the older Colonel living up his life in semi-retirement on his ranch back in the USA.  Hey, this line of thinking even fills in the SAKURA plot hole of why ninjas are even attacking the Colonel in the opening.  It all makes sense now – WHITE ended with the Sakura head family getting away and vowing his revenge; so SAKURA opens with them trying to get their payback on the man who shot their master in the arm.  Makes perfect sense!  Oh Jesus, did I just waste several brain cells inventing what basically amounts to Sakura family fan fiction?  Stop me before I show up at Comic-Con dressed as the white ninja with my harmonica.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Comedy Cataclysm: SWAP MEET (1979)

If you are an American of a certain age and have a similar taste in movies as we do, you probably have waxed more than a little nostalgic for the American institution of the drive-in. Fond memories of your misspent youth probably include such questionable moments as smuggling a case of beer into a double feature and eating something that was made entirely out of foam latex and salt and painted to look like a slice of pizza. Yes, drinking beer in your car watching cheap-ass movies made by talentless hucksters. Brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it? But that was at night! What happened when the sun was up? That was the swap meet.

For those who either aren’t old enough to remember or maybe grew up in some far off land, like say, Vermont, I'm pretty sure this is what happened: one day someone was sitting around thinking about how they had all this property used for viewing movies at night that was being completely unproductive during the day. Co-incidentally, another American phenomenon would occur. All these people would bring all of their crap out of their homes, dump it in their front yard and try to sell it to passers-by, and nobody except the owner would get a piece of that action! Why not combine the two? Rent space to people who would bring all their crap, be it cheap Chinese made junk purchased in bulk for re-sale, the remnants of a deceased relative’s closet or shit blatantly stolen out of other people’s homes and cars. Oh, and if you lived in Southern California, there was usually a couple of Mexicans drilling holes in iced coconuts so you could suck out the coconut water with a straw. The swap meets were hot, dirty, and filled with people who you would never want to actively socialize with. Good times.

Just like the late ‘80s scraped the bottom of the slasher barrel desperately trying to find new themes for some psycho to kill people over (for some reason 1988’s tedious OPEN HOUSE springs to mind with its “plot” about real estate agents being stalked and killed due to housing prices), the late ‘70s and early ‘80s some some serious digging at the bottom of the teen comedy mine. This is one such item.

Clearly trying to do for the swap meet what CAR WASH did for the, erm, car wash, right down to the allegedly “catchy” title song that includes lyrics like this:

“At the swap meet, yeah, we got that special buy! At the swap meet, guaranteed to satisfy! At the swap meet, come on along we gonna make you high!”

No, seriously, I did not just make that up. In spite of that last line and the fact that this was released a year after UP IN SMOKE (1979), there is no drug humor to be found at all. Some bad, and I mean baaaaad, drunk humor, but there ain’t a nickel bag to be found at this swap meet!

These girls believe in peace, not war;
these bombs will never be dropped.
In this, ahem, “dis-jointed” comedy, we have the “stories” of several characters clumsily interwoven and brought together at the meet. I’m sure it sounded positively Robert Altman on paper. High-school top jock Doug (Jon Gries in a thankless role) and his two-clown posse Buddha (Loren Lester) and Billy (Dan Spector), who have borrowed dad’s cherry T-bird and are trying to sell potted ficus trees and a used iron while trying to pick up the hippy girls. The hippy girls, Nancy (Ruth Cox) and Susan (Deborah Richter), are trying to make money to fix their van by selling turtles to obnoxious little boys who want to name them after sports stars that they hate and flush them down the toilet. Oh, and they are also trying to avoid the advances of Ferrari-driving uber-douche Roy (Jed Cooper) who pays a couple of white trash junk peddlers (previously seen harassing the hippy girls) to mess up the T-bird. But wait, there’s more! We also have a sub-plot in which the assistant manager Ziggy (Danny Goldman doing an uncanny Bud Court impression) hustles the crowd and has an odd relationship with Annie (Penthouse Pet Cheryl Rixon), an apparently homeless girl who he lets stay in his boss’ office during the day and, ummmm, “work” the crowd at night while she tries to find someone who will marry her. Yes, this rather grim scenario is actually played for laughs.

DeVito and Gries contemplate the script
In addition, writer Steve Kantz (who was partially responsible for the cult 1977 favorite RUBY) feels he should throw in as many supporting characters as possible and this will somehow magically raise the comedy quotient without having to rely on what some people call “jokes”. There is a fortune teller who predicts that the kid on the skateboard will hurt himself. He of course does, and this becomes a running gag. Rhea Perlman, as the mother of the previously mentioned youth in need of anger management therapy, is frequently used as a cut-away as she steals things and stuffs them down her dress. This actually works up to a punch line after what seems like years of build-up in which she is spotted by the manager who runs down to the meet, throws her into a chain-link fence and whips her around only to get a big close up of a shocked black woman! Phew! Are your sides splitting yet?

Plus, you know if Perlman is around, Danny DeVito can’t be far behind. We also know he’s coming because the German video release has his name video burned into the credits. Here he shows up as an adenoidal auto mechanic named Max who’s main scene is laying some bullshit on Doug about how he will fix his car like new including drying the hand-matched paint with his own soft breath. Clearly DeVito is trying to rise above the material, but there is only so much even a Michelin-star chef can do when handed a can of dog food. And, quite frankly, DeVito is no Michelin-star chef.

The alleged comedy is often completely AWOL as the filmmakers shoot tons of character moments that are simply ill-conceived to begin with. When they suddenly remember that this is a comedy, they scramble around and throw in scenes such as one where Ziggy goes to visit Annie while she does her laundry in the women’s restroom. As they talk a woman comes in, so Ziggy must jump in one of the stalls with a basket of Annie’s laundry and… a mop. As more women come in, Ziggy scrambles from one stall to another, undercranked with wacky music, trying to avoid being caught. In the end he finally stumbles out of a stall in women’s underwear and with the mop over his head. Are you feelin’ it now?

But wait, there's more! In yet another grueling sketch the guys decide that since Annie is making money having sex with guys in cars, sex might sell (if only the producers of this movie had figured that out). The plan? Set up a sign that says “everything you ever wanted in sex $10” then when they get guys in the van they tell them to walk out smiling or people will think that they can’t get it up. Yep, that’s the gag and brother, lemme tell ya, it is a long walk off of that short freakin' pier.

Buddha is, as you may have guessed, supposed to be a fat, jolly character, but it looks like they settled for brillo-haired, spare-tire laden Lester who is so annoying that you will swear that he changed his name to Larry Zerner and went on to play Shelly in FRIDAY THE 13th PART 3 (1983). In fact he didn’t. He actually went on to play the much more tolerable Charlie Boy in EVILSPEAK (1981). As if his attempt to pick up chicks with his Bogart impersonation wasn't torture enough, there is a scene where the guys steal Roy’s Ferrari while obnoxiously drunk and decide to drive it around while the cover is still on and with Buddha parked on the roof to navigate. “Wow,” you are thinking, “this could provide some opportunities for some crazy car stunts!” Ummm… no. They drive into a clearing in the middle of a field and drive in circles, undercranked like a Benny Hill sketch, complete with a Spike Jones, slide-whistle soundtrack and overdubbed cries of “wheeeeeeeee!” that sounds like the pig in that wearisome Geico commercial. The bit goes on so long and is so fucking irritating that I can’t imagine it not bringing instant sobriety to the patrons who stumbled into its original theatrical screenings.

This movie hits all the checkpoints but blows them completely: We have the obligatory hot girls (that never get topless), car chases and crashes (that are off camera), pop culture setting (that is never exploited), alchohol abuse (that is not at all funny), a disco scene (that is totally underplayed) and so on. C'mon, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you have multi-title men's magazine model on the payroll, she should be showing off her assets at the drop of a roach clip. Instead Playboy, Penthouse and Oui veteran Rixon has only two brief moments for which to display her god-given talents. For some reason it almost feels like they were after a PG rating (the old school kind, not the new one), though why that would be is a complete mystery.

Aside from the rush of mainlining pure nostalgia offered up by the location (this was shot at the Rodium in Torrance, California), this film is disappointing not only for all of the above reasons, but also because of the potential of its basic, whisper-thin, premise. If this had fallen into the hands of say… the legendary Chuck Vincent, it would have taken all of those cheese-grater “jokes”, needlessly complex script elements and a cast that have all gone on to solid careers, thrown in a scandalous amount of nudity and turned out something that was admittedly terrible, but at the same time totally entertaining. Yeah, too bad that didn’t happen.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The "Never Got Made" Files #61 - #63: Carolco's Cinematic Craziness

Chances are if you saw an action picture in the mid-80s to the mid-90s that you recognize the familiar Carolco Pictures logo to the left.  Founded in 1976 by Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna, Carolco – for years I thought it was Carloco, which sounds much better to me for a wild action company – became one of Hollywood’s biggest independent production companies thanks to their affiliation with action superstars like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger and affinity for throwing around the big bucks recklessly.  By the time they reached their 20th anniversary, the studio was all but dead thanks to its “live fast, die hard, er, young” attitude.  Carolco was totally the James Dean of the production company set.

Like most production companies, Carolco has a long history of undeveloped film projects. Their unrealized movies, however, were like their RAMBO or TERMINATOR franchises in that they became huge spectacles and the stuff of legend.  Even the casual moviegoer has probably heard mutterings about the unmade 1990s epic THE CRUSADES, a medieval tale re-teaming TOTAL RECALL’s Schwarzenegger with director Paul Verhoeven.  It is the film the Austrian famously said about, “We can’t possibly make this for less than $100 million.” I’m sure he would say $200 or $300 million nowadays.  Hey, I’ve got a way you can shave $20 million off that budget – don’t cast Ah-nold!  Anyway, this was typical of the company and today we’ll look at three ventures that encapsulate the madness of their non-moviemaking.  


The 1980s is often described as a decade of excess (at least for America it was) and a perfect example is in the late 80s Hollywood spec script sale tales.  Basically, a writer would come up with a hot idea and then studios spent obscene amounts of money in a bidding war (i.e. pissing contest).  The best part is I’d say 95% of the screenplays they went goo-goo over never got made; Hollywood in a nutshell right there.  One such script was David Chappe’s GALE FORCE, which sold for a record $500,000 to Carolco in 1989.

The project fell into the hands of young director Renny Harlin, who himself was a hot commodity after the success of DIE HARD 2 (1990).  According to an LA Times article, Harlin would earn a cool $3 million just to sign to direct this film. The tale of a sheriff in a coastal town who has to battle thieves and save his girl during a category 5 hurricane (“It’s like DIE HARD in a hurricane,” I can hear the execs succinctly saying), the big budget film was tailored as a vehicle for Sylvester Stallone.  The company slated a March 1991 start date for the film in Louisiana for a presumably summer 1992 opening:

Note how a script written by one guy suddenly has four (FOUR!) credited screenwriters.  Carolco also mentioned the film among their product in 1990 and 1991 Variety issues (bonus NGM items: note the unmade Stallone sci-fi actioner ISOBAR from Roland Emmerich and the John Hughes comedy BARTHOLOMEW VS. NEFF for Stallone and John Candy).

Despite having a firm start date, the film never got before cameras and dissolved.  So what happened?  According to an October 1991 article in Entertainment Weekly, the film fell apart due to endless rewrites:
Chappe was taken off the movie, and a succession of new writers came in, including top-paid screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (who sold the thriller Basic Instinct to Carolco for $3 million in 1990). He scrapped the Chappe story in favor of one of his own. ''The whole thing didn't work for me,'' says Eszterhas. ''I said I'd do an original screenplay with a hurricane in it — the only similarity. (Mine) was a film noir mood piece.'' 
Director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2), who signed on to make Gale Force for $3 million, says he loved the Eszterhas script. But the writer's arty love triangle wasn't the movie Carolco wanted to sell to foreign distributors. After a few months, Eszterhas accepted a $500,000 fee and dropped out, and Carolco hired two more teams of writers, each contributing a new perspective on the story. 
But Harlin, more finicky, rejected the next wave of drafts. Finally, earlier this year a writer turned in one based almost directly on the original script — the idea had come full circle. By this time, the company had already invested an estimated $1.75 million on scripts alone.
Yeah, you got that right, the company spent millions rewriting a script they “loved” and paid a record amount for, only to come to the realization after several rewrites that the original script was the best version.  Even funnier?  Carolco claimed they pulled the plug on the $40 million dollar film because it wasn’t cost effective and instead went forward with the Stallone-Harlin team up CLIFFHANGER (1993), which cost $65 million!  Funniest of all?  The rock climbing epic contains basically the same plot as GALE FORCE, just different locations.  If you ever get an itch to see what GALE FORCE might have been like, rent the similar HARD RAIN (1998) which has basically the same premise.  At least someone in Hollywood was paying attention.  Harlin’s CLIFFHANGER turned out to be a sizable hit for Carolco and they gave him carte blanche for his next film.  That movie turned out to be CUTTHROAT ISLAND (1995), the film that effectively bankrupted Carolco.


Regardless of the behind-the-scenes chaos, at least something was born out of GALE FORCE.  The same can’t be said for MANHATTAN GHOST STORY, which unfolds like the stereotypical Hollywood “dream-cum-nightmare” scenario.  As the MGS legend has it, the film’s genesis begins when producer Robert Lawrence indiscriminately picks up T.M. Wright’s horror novel at an airport kiosk, reads it on the plane, loves it and immediately decides to option the film rights.  Ha, like I believe that.  A producer who reads?  Yeah right!

Anyway, to prove they mean (big) business, Carolco sets the film up and, in the fall of 1990, agrees to pay Ronald Bass (fresh off his RAIN MAN Oscar win) the record writer assignment sum of $2 million dollars to write the screenplay.  No doubt they had visions of GHOST (1990), the year’s top box office draw, dancing in their heads.

Yeah, you got that right again, the company paid the screenwriter big bucks to adapt a book.  Hey *raises hand* I’ll do that for ¼ of the price.  My credentials, you ask?  I know how to read and type.

Carolco actively developed the supernatural project for years.  Sharon Stone, hot after Carolco’s BASIC INSTINCT (1991), was eventually signed to star and Carolco ran this ad in 1993 for the film with Mark Rydell (ON GOLDEN POND) attached to direct.

That is the closest the film has ever come to being before the cameras.  Just a few months later, this tiny blurb ran in October 1993 announcing Rydell was leaving the project:

The project stayed active in the screenwriting phase until Carolco's death in 1996. Eventually, the movie option was sold to Disney following Carolco’s bankruptcy where it was (once again) actively rewritten and developed as a project for Julia Roberts and director Wayne Wang.  Amusingly, it still has not been made.

#63 SADE

Now, before you think I am being overly cynical, let me say that I can understand the mindset behind the aforementioned spending sprees.  Action and horror pictures sell and, to quote ROBOCOP’s Emil, “It takes money to make money.”  This next example, however, is a perfect illustration of Hollywood’s tunnel vision and “inside the bubble” thinking.  In 1993, Carolco shelled out $1 million for the rights to Maurice Lever’s Sade: A Biography.  Yes, they wanted to do a biopic on 18th century aristocratic kink freak Donatien Alphonse François, Maquis de Sade.  Attached to direct was Paul Verhoeven, a man seemingly incapable of filming a movie for under $50 million.  Even worse, they were courting Jack Nicholson or Gerard Depardieu to star *grabs trash can and pukes*.

Now I would probably see a film like this.  Would Joe and Martha Moviegoer?  Hell no.  Not much happened on the production front, although Verhoeven did tell Movieline that he was hoping to cast his perennial female lead Sharon Stone as de Sade’s mother.  Yes, a woman in her late 30s as mother to potential stars 10 to 20 years her senior. Genius.  The film didn’t get made as Verhoeven moved onto the other film mention in the brief article above, SHOWGIRLS (1995) aka the world’s most expensive T&A film that helped bankrupt Carolco alongside a swashbuckling Geena Davis.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Fangs for Nothing: FRIGHT NIGHT PART II (1988)

True story that will make you cry - I never got to see FRIGHT NIGHT PART II in the theater. Living overseas at the time, the Armed Forces entertainment system depended mostly on big releases.  If it got into 1,000 theaters in the U.S., chances are it would hit the military base theaters within a few months time.  Oh, and for some reason we got every Cannon Films movie.  Yay Charles Bronson!  So with this vampire sequel slipping into only 150 theaters in May of 1989, chances were slim that I would get to see it unfold on the big screen.  I eventually got to see it on VHS and enjoyed the hell out of it.  It is a great sequel that hits the similar riffs of the first film, yet slightly alters them.  But, even back then as semi-formed Video Junkie, I knew the transition to home video had cropped off a lot of the action.

In 2003, Artisan pulled a big screw you on the fans by finally releasing the popular film on the FULLSCREEN format.  Yay.  It looked like a widescreen release would never see the light of day as the execs would probably say lack of interest in their shoddy fullscreen release means no one wants to see it widescreen so they can't re-release it. Thankfully, some Video God intervened and the film was shown in its proper aspect ratio on the short-lived channel Monsters HD.  Why is this so important?  Well, director Tommy Lee Wallace was an longtime friend of John Carpenter.  And, like his buddy, he loves to use the widescreen framing to full effect.  Homeboys know how to compose the hell out of a 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio.  And here are just a few comparison shots (fullscreen vs. widescreen) to show you what the hell I am so giddy about when, after 23 years of waiting, I finally got to check out the full FRIGHT NIGHT PART II.















Pretty wild, ain't it?  Some weren't as unfortunate as me and did get to see this on the big screen *cough, Tom, cough* but at least I can get some semblance of what it was like.  I'm telling you, once I get that time machine working, I am totally going back to check this thing out in the theater.  Save the world from Hitler?  Stop Ted Bundy?  Kill the ancestors of the Kardashians?  All of those can wait.  I gots to see me some FRIGHT NIGHT PART II on the big screen.