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!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Newsploitation: Bryanston makin' it rain!

Shark! Shark! Shark!  That is pretty much all you’ll hear this weekend from entertainment sites as they celebrate the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s JAWS (1975).  Now don’t get us wrong, we love that monster shark opus (after all, it begat Bruno Mattei’s CRUEL JAWS [1995]), but we probably can’t say anything about it that hasn’t been said before.  So let’s take the time to acknowledge another birthday for a film that was brave enough to go hoof-to-fin with that blockbuster.  Yes, today also marks the 40th anniversary of release of the Satanic shocker THE DEVIL’S RAIN (1975).

Ol’ Beelzebub was always a go to evil figure for filmmakers and Satanism was big business again in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s thanks mostly to ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) and THE EXORCIST (1973).  Producer Sandy Howard must have had his finger on the pulse as the first mention of THE DEVIL’S RAIN as a potential project of his came in a December 5, 1973 issue of Variety, a few weeks before the aforementioned EXORCIST caused a phenomenon in the United States.  The worldwide tallies for that film must have certainly influenced the shady distributor Bryanston Pictures to announce in June 1974 that they were going to finance and distribute the picture with Howard.  Headed by the mafia-connected Peraino family, Bryanston had made bank on the X-rated features DEEP THROAT (1972) and THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES (1973) and were looking to expand their horizons (they would score their first massive mainstream hit in late ’74 with Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE).  Seriously, if you’re making a film about a deal with the devil who better to fund the film than the mob?  In the press release the script was credited to Gabe Essoe and Jim Ashton.  By the time the film was in production, a third screenwriter, Gerald Hopman, was also credited.

The fall of 1974 saw the momentum pick up on the project.  On October 25 it was announced that Robert Fuest signed on as director.  Hailing from the UK, Fuest certainly had the credentials at this point to do a satanic shocker as he had previously helmed AND SOON THE DARKNESS (1970) and the two DR. PHIBES films with Vincent Price. November saw announcements of the supporting actors signed including Eddie Albert and Keenan Wynn.  On December 19, it was announced that William Shatner had been signed for a lead role.  December also saw producers Jim Cullen and Mike Glick head to Mexico to scout locations in Mexico City and Durango.  Also announced in this blurb was mention of the casting of a Broadway actor in his first film role; some dude named John Travolta.  The production was scheduled to begin on January 27, 1975. Early in the new year on January 3 the company announced their final casting acquisition – Ernest Borgnine had been signed to play the head of the cult.  And to ensure authenticity on the subject matter, they hired occultist and Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey to be the “technical advisor.”  The production shot for five weeks on a budget of approximately $1.5 million and wrapped filming on March 3, coming in just one day over schedule.  The most amazing thing is on April 29 it was listed in Variety that the film had secured a PG rating.  So the turn around was just a few weeks.  Gotta love the old independents that could get a flick from start-to-screen in five months.

Since it came out in the ‘70s and that was a billion years ago, there is a lot of confusion online about when this film first came out.  You’ll see July 1975, August 1975, and October 1975.  Truth is Bryanston got the film in theaters regionally and the first area THE DEVIL’S RAIN unspooled for paying audiences was in theaters in St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri on June 20, 1975.  Bryanston was so impressed by the film’s success that they took out advertisements in Variety and Box Office magazine crowing about the haul during the first five days.  Unfortunately for them, they were gobbled up as the melting minions proved no match for Spielberg’s shark.  The company again took out an ad in Variety in August 1975 boasting about the film having made $8,735,000 in its first 45 days of release.  The sound you hear is Bruce the Shark yawning (JAWS had made over $100 million – an all-time record in those days – by that point).  Regardless, THE DEVIL’S RAIN still found its audience and is considered somewhat of a classic of the genre today.  It is definitely the world’s best melting Satanists film of all-time.

JAWS leaves THE DEVIL'S RAIN in its wake:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Defective Detectives: CONCRETE COWBOYS (1979)

Much like football stars turned actors, county music stars make for some entertaining filmmaking in the '70s and early '80s. I'm not saying they are great actors, but like football stars, they may only be good for one chord, but it's usually a highly entertaining one. Oddly, this rule of thumb does not extend to basketball stars and rock stars - though I make an exception for Gene Simmons because he picked some interesting films to be in, if you can get past the fact that he is a conceited, pompous, fan-gouging, nut-bar. Err.. what was I talking about? Oh yeah, country music stars.

Take Kris Kristofferson, probably the best example of country singer turned actor, playing memorable characters in everything from the obvious choice of western (1973s PAT GARRET AND BILLY THE KID) to the surprising choice of neo-noir (1985s TROUBLE IN MIND). While the subject is wide open for debate, for my money Jerry Reed runs a close second.

Reed, a Georgia born epitome of a suthun' good ol' boy, dropped out of high school and signed his first recording deal at 17 years old. Like so many others he suffered a string of flops before he moved to Nashville and made a name for himself - with a stint in the army in between. He was given a boost by the legendary Chet Atkins and became a star in the '60s, even doing some pickin' on Elvis' 1968 comeback album in which he covers Reed's own "Guitar Man". So what would be the next step in his career? Movies of course!

Reed kicked off his silver-screen career with the under-appreciated Burt Reynolds outing W.W. AND THE DIXIE DANCEKINGS (1975). Even though he had been writing music for TV shows and movies since the mid-'60s, he never appeared in something until then. After a slight misstep, stretching his range by playing the villain in GATOR (1976 - and I'm not dissin' the movie, just saying), Reed stuck with the charming, happy-go-lucky, bullshittin', wisecrackin', beer-drinkin', fist-fightin' redneck persona that according to some was not really much of an act.

In 1979  Reed took the next logical step as an actor and moved into the world of the small screen with none other than the mustache man himself, Tom Selleck.

Spanning only a mere eight episodes (including the movie), the pilot for the series CONCRETE COWBOYS starred Reed and Selleck as a couple of country bumpkins from the wilds of Montana. The pair are attempting to get to Hollywood via their thumbs with J.D. (Reed) lookin' to "drink all the beer and love all the women," while Will (Selleck) is content with spending his free time reading encyclopedias. After getting in a brawl over a rigged poker game and tearing down the entire auto shop on the heads of the crooked sheriff and his boys, the modern cowboys hop a freight train. Next stop Hollywood! ...or not.

Finding themselves in Nashville, J.D. calls up a guy named Lonnie (Randy Powell of DALLAS fame) that he met once while blind drunk. As luck would have it, Lonnie is going out of town on business, but invites the boys to stay at his condo and drive his car while he's away. All they have to do in return is pick up a package for him. As it turns out Lonnie's car is a '73 Corvette C3 rag-top and his condo is a swinger pad with all of the amenities including a CCTV in the bedroom. J.D. marvels at it all saying "lookit that couch, it'll take you all week to sit on it."

Of course things get complicated quickly after they pick up the brown-paper parcel from a bus station locker and a shady character starts following them. Adding to the intrigue, a woman named Kate (Morgan Fairchild) shows up looking for Lonnie, who she believes to be a private investigator, to look into the disappearance of her sister Carla, who is presumed dead. Will wants nothing to do with it, but J.D. lights up when Kate hands them one thousand dollars to look into it. Says Will, "we ain't detectives!" To which J.D. replies, "neither is Jack Lord or Buddy Epson!" Can't argue with that logic.

So begins their trek to discover what happened to Carla by interviewing a number of characters around Nashville, each with their own story about their perception of the woman who may have been a conniving manipulator hell-bent on being a star, or another beautiful belle being eaten alive by the big city. Yes, it's a Southern-fried gumshoe outing with shades of RASHOMON (1950) and COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER (1980). Say what you will, but I got cashmoney that says you've never run across that high concept before.

During their investigations, they visit a country wax museum run by The King of Country Music Roy Acuff, meet up with Ray Stevens and Barbara Mandrell at the original Alleycat Club, get shot at, crash into a police station, get into a fist fight at a floating craps game, get thrown in jail, get chased out of the Opryland Hotel, put the moves on an aging cathouse madam and finally end up following the trail to (fictional) country music star Woody Stone (Claude Akins).

Directed by Burt Kennedy, who seems tailor made for the project, and written by celebrated Hammer Horror veteran Jimmy Sangster, who moved into TV during the '70s dabbling in redneck television with the likes of his other country TV mystery movie THE MUSIC CITY MURDERS (1979). this pilot really shouldn't be as surprisingly entertaining as it is considering all of the talent on board. Unfortunately for Reed, Selleck decided to move on to other projects (including MAGNUM P.I. in 1980) with Geoffrey Scott and his mustache (of DARK SHADOWS fame) taking over the role of Will, to the disappointment of all concerned.

In spite of Selleck struggling with his southern twang and seemingly attempting to impersonate Burt Reynolds' signature laugh, he made a great straight man for Reed's fast and loose charmer. The series lasted only seven episodes, which is a shame as it should have been a hit given the pilot that got the ball rolling. The episodes, to my knowledge, have never been released on video, except for one that was packaged with the pilot on VHS as RAMBIN MAN and RAMBLIN MAN 2. The retitling of the pilot as RAMBLIN MAN was released several times by different companies sporting cover art that seemed to want to eschew the fact that Jerry Reed was top billed and one even including the image of a black Porche for no apparent reason than to give the impression that it might be some sort of MAGNUM P.I. spin-off that everyone seems to have missed. Though, if that is the case, wouldn't you put, I don't know, maybe a red Ferrari on the cover? Eh, details, details.

While this signaled the end of Reed's TV acting career, it certainly isn't a failure in anything other than ratings terms. Matter of fact, it is better than your average TV pilot with plenty of on-screen talent and another of Reed's catchy theme songs (this one being "Breakin' Loose") that, like so many, doesn't seem to have ever been released. Don't feel too bad for Reed though, as 1981 saw his return to the big screen as a hit man in the Robin Williams and Walter Matthau team up THE SURVIVORS (1981). What? No, I don't know what you are talking about. There is no such thing as SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT 3.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Newsploitation: Giving More Time to ANOTHER 48 HRS. (1990)

Often dismissed by critics and audiences as simply a cash in, ANOTHER 48 HRS. is actually a fine sequel to the original film and features some of the best action captured by Walter Hill during his career.  It leaves one to wonder what it could have been had Paramount not slapped it together so quickly to regain some box office momentum and actually developed it properly.

1989 was a particularly brutal year (by entertainment industry standards) for Eddie Murphy.  COMING TO AMERICA (1988) had been a huge success for the actor, giving him enough clout for Paramount to let him handle nearly everything outside of craft services on his next feature, HARLEM NIGHTS (1989), which filmed in the spring of ‘89.  Unfortunately, beginning in August 1989, Murphy’s name was in the trades seemingly daily after Art Buchwald filed a lawsuit regarding AMERICA in 1988.  As the suit went forward in 1989, Murphy and several of his people were deposed and it made headlines week after week.  It is hard to say this impacted the box office of NIGHTS, but when that film opened in November 1989, it only did so-so (by Murphy standards).

Times were also tough (again by entertainment industry standards) for director Walter Hill.  He hadn’t had a massive hit since the original 48 HRS. (1982) and he was still feeling the sting from RED HEAT (1988) – with Schwarzenegger and Jim Belushi trying the 48 HRS. formula – turning out to be a big budget flop for Carolco. He returned with the much smaller (and excellent) crime-drama JOHNNY HANDSOME (1989), but that also fared poorly.  Prior to helming this sequel (his first), Hill had spent most of 1989 prepping a biker pic for Carolco called AMERICAN IRON, working on TALES FROM THE CRYPT, and negotiating to remake the Japanese comedy (!) A TAXING WOMAN (1987).

This is when ANOTHER 48 HRS. enters the scene.  Just two weeks after Paramount released NIGHTS, they made an out-of-nowhere announcement that Murphy was reteaming with Walter Hill and Nick Nolte for the sequel.  Not only that, they said it would begin filming in January 1990 and hit theaters in June 1990 with a budget rumored between $30 to 50 million dollars.  If you know anything about big budget filmmaking, that is freakin’ insane. The thought process from the studio was probably to bolster what had been a disappointing 1989 (only one Paramount title – the third Indiana Jones movie – made it into the box office top 20 that year) with a big name in a familiar situation. With a script by three writers – Jeb Stuart, Larry Gross, and John Fasano (yes, the filmmaker behind THE JITTERS and BLACK ROSES) – filming began as promised and lasted until April 1990.  Murphy even suffered an injury while filming the nightclub shootout, but soldiered through as they finished a few days ahead of schedule in mid-April.  So, yeah, they were still shooting up to six weeks before the film was scheduled to come out.  Post-production must have been hell.

When all was said and done, Hill turned in cut that was nearly two-and-a-half hours long. Paramount refined it and brought it down to two hours.  “Wait,” I hear you say, “the version I saw in theaters was only 90 minutes.”  Yup, in a true stroke for brilliance, the studio decided to cut an addition 30 minutes out of the film just weeks before it hit theaters.  Now you can understand why there are three credited editors on the film.  Sadly, to this day, none of the nearly hour worth of footage has appeared in any home video format. Yes, because no one wants more action and Eddie Murphy.

Not surprising since it was the only big release that weekend, ANOTHER opening in first place with a haul of just over $19.4 million dollars.  This was the third biggest opening of Murphy’s career, behind BEVERLY HILLS COP II (1987) and COMING TO AMERICA (1988) with $26 million and $21 million, respectively. Unfortunately, it topped out in the U.S. at $80 million.  A fine sum by a normal person’s standards (and far bigger than the original), but Hollywood isn’t filled with normal people. Because it didn’t crack $100 million in the U.S. like the aforementioned entries in Murphy’s filmography, the film was deemed a “flop.”  Yes, despite having made Paramount over a billion dollars up to this point, they were disappointed.  Murphy would actually take a break for two years after this film.  So, yeah, slapping a movie that cost tens of millions of dollars together in a matter of months might not be the best idea. The ultimate irony here is that Paramount ended up having the biggest film that summer in the fantasy-romance (and non-sequel) GHOST (1990), which only cost them $22 million dollars and went on to make $500 million worldwide.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


With the return of the cult icon Hugh Keays-Byrne to international screens as Immortan Joe in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015), we decided to talk about some of his other film roles. You'd think we'd want to talk about some of the great films he has appeared in over the decades like STONE (1974), MAN FROM HONG KONG (1975), CHAIN REACTION (1980), or BLOOD OF HEROES (1989). That would be too easy when there are films like LES PATTERSON on hand. Quite possibly the biggest Aussie disaster since the 1899 destruction of Bathurst by cyclone Mahina.

Native Australian actor and writer Barry Humphries started his career with the creation of the hugely popular comic strip "Barry McKenzie", a biting satire of the ocker mentality (sort of an outback redneck), that turned into a cultural phenomenon which glorified the ockers, much to the chagrin of Humphries. Of course, I'm sure Humphries couldn't have been that irritated with it as it lead to his TV character comedies (Edna Everage being the most well known outside of Oz) and two very funny feature films THE ADVENTURES OF BARRY MCKENZIE (1972) and BARRY MCKENZIE HOLDS HIS OWN (1974), both directed by Bruce Beresford.

A Barry McKenzie strip from November 1966

Apparently Humphries decided that after a long string of successful outings he was done with all that and created a feature film based on his other attack on Aussie culture, Ambassador Les Patterson. I should point out that while some of his work comes off as good natured ribbing, Humphries did not intend them to be. In interviews he has expressed his contempt for Australia and was genuinely hoping to make people angry. Perhaps he finally succeeded in that goal.

After being fed a couple cans of beans in an attempt to sober him up, Australian Ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Les Patterson (Barry Humphries) delivers a drunken speech on the finer points of Oz, saying "we've got more culture than a penicillin factory!" These pearls of wisdom are only interrupted by a massive flatus that conflagrates setting Shiek Mustafa Toul (Garth Meade) ablaze.

While the Prime Minister of Australia, Bob (Paul Jennings), is in the midst of tearing Les a new one, he gets a call from US President Rivers (an uncredited Joan Rivers). Apparently Shiek Toul is the ruler of the small, but pivotal Arabic state that is about to accept help from the Russians to oppress the masses. The US is looking to support a military coup, installing a suave Colonel Richard Godowni (Thaao Penghlis) to the throne and securing the sales of military hardware. To this end, President Rivers demands that Patterson be promoted to the ambassador to Abu Niveah, thus ensuring a catastrophic breakdown that would allow Godowni to take over. A surprisingly complicated set-up for a movie that kicks off with an exploding fart joke.

Of course, upon arrival, Patterson discovers that Toul has plans on torturing him to death and asks if he has any last words, to which Patterson replies "Too right I do! My your balls turn into bicycle wheels and backpedal up your ass!" Much like Patterson's wingtip platform shoes, this Aussie insult was dated in 1987 and was actually used to much funnier effect fifteen years prior in one of Bazza's "authentic folk songs" in first Barry McKenzie film.

The coup is assisted by Godowni's right hand man Inspector Farouk (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who as it turns out is having an affair with the local embassy man (Andrew Clarke) while wearing make-up and tassles. Yep, as George White pointed out during a Facebook discussion of Keays-Byrne's RESISTANCE (1994), this is in fact the way you have never wanted to see him.

After the coup is successful, Patterson runs into a French scientist, Dr. Charles Herpes (Henri Szeps), who has discovered an antidote to an obscure virus that makes people swell up into a mess of squirting pustules before they die. Patterson convinces him that they could make a bundle by infecting the world with the virus and then presenting the antidote to much acclaim... and cash.  Unfortunately this plan is cut short when Godowni secretly makes a pact with the Russians who steal the virus with the plan to destroy America by selling them infected toilet seats. I'm probably making this sound more highbrow than it really is.

Fortunately Herpes has sent the antidote (or as Patterson puts it "the anecdote") to his sister, a drag lounge act in a revolving restaurant. When President Rivers discovers what is going on she shouts "I want Herpes! I wan't Herpes badly!" As if that wasn't funny enough it is actually recycled from a previous scene. I don't think I need to tell you that doing this joke twice doesn't make it any funnier.

Dame Edna is also thrown into the mix, here posing as the leader of a group of feminist housewife emissaries, the "Possums for Peace", when in fact she is an undercover CIA badass. Another good idea handled so clumsily by Humphries, you'd think Tom Brady deflated his balls.

This hot mess culminates in the revolving restaurant of which the speed has been accidentally ramped up to max by a mischievous koala bear, allowing for food to be smashed into faces and numerous tuxedoed waiters bearing silver trays of food to be comically knocked off their feet. Yep, we are getting a slapstick scene that was running on fumes thirty years prior. Hell, even Mel Brooks subtly mocked the cliche in BLAZING SADDLES thirteen years prior. This setpiece allows for an exchange between Edna and one of her "Possums for Peace" group in which Edna says "I think it is the San Andreas fault!" which gets the reply "I thought it was somebody's fault!" Oh the pain, the pain!

This pre-Austin Powers bumbling Bond satire is mainly just an excuse for a string of quite possibly the most forced humor in the history of cinema. The jokes feel like they were hastily written the morning of the shoot. Some even seem unfinished. In one scene Edna is told she will be put up in "the Hotel Sodom" and she says "like Sodom and Gomorrah?" to which the reply is "not quite." This is followed by a shot of the hotel sign that reads "Hotel Sodom". What happened there? Did Humphries lose the rest of that joke in a poker game or was the punchline the fact that the neon sign reads "Sod Hot" in the background of a later shot?

In one scene, that is possibly the funniest in the entire film, Patterson gives some money to a street beggar, saying "Australian dollars!" The beggar spits on them and says "do you have Mexican?" (ummm, in 1987 everyone knew what a peso is, but whatever). There are a couple of mildly amusing gags, but that is the closest we ever to a clever joke. More importantly he is managing to insult three countries in a single two-line joke, which has to be some sort of record. To be fair Humphries attacks everybody, but just doesn't do it in creative way as he did in BARRY MCKENZIE. For example, the Irish are targeted in a throwaway gag that features a man in thick glasses who puts on a pair of headphones the wrong way. You could use this gag with any nationality and it still wouldn't be particularly funny. If you want to see the Irish skewered, look no further than the UK series FATHER TED (1995), where priests are depicted as lecherous, diseased, alcoholic, dimwitted, vain and greedy, but with a razor-sharp wit.

Even worse, there is a scene in the White House where President Rivers is being shown an image of the virus, to which she says "it's horrible, it's like a little Vincent Price!" Hey, hey, hey! Say what you want about the Irish, but you leave Vincent Price out of this!

Directed by the other downunder George Miller (sometimes credited as T. George Miller), known mostly for TV work, but also credited with THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER (1982) and THE NEVERENDING STORY II (1990), does a fair job of presenting the material. Unfortunately with gags that would make an eight year-old groan, it's hardly his fault that the film comes off so poorly. Humphries has expressed embarrassment over this movie in our modern era, but I hope it's not because of the rampant politically incorrect content and more for the fact that this clumsy mess was written by a man whose name was once uttered in the same breath as pommy bastards such as Spike Milligan and Peter Cook.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi Vey!: RESISTANCE (1994)

With MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) roaring into theaters this weekend, we figured we’d get something post-apocalyptic up for review.  Using our hive mind, Tom and I both ended up watching the Australian film RESISTANCE (1994) on the same evening without mentioning it to each other.  As they say great minds think alike…and apparently ours do too!  What led us both to this film is it was co-directed by Hugh Keays-Byrne, the great Brit-by-birth-Aussie-by-career actor. Keays-Byrne is legendary in the Mad Max universe for his portrayal of the villain Toecutter in the first film and – in one of the coolest casting moves by a director in the last few years – returned to the series as new villain Immortan Joe in FURY ROAD.  So seeing his version of a bleak Australian future was definitely interesting.  The end result was also, uh, interesting.

The film opens with a declaration that “the time is now” and explains how the people are rioting, the country is bankrupt, and martial law is in effect.  The bulk of the film takes place at the isolated Ithaca Flour Mill, run by the seedy (haha) Strickland (Bogdan Koca).  It is harvest time and Natalie (Helen Jones) has returned to her hometown with Wiley (Robyn Nevin) to get a temporary job in the fields/factory.  However, Ithaca forewoman Jean (Lorna Lesley) informs the workers that she only has room for fifteen people versus last year’s fifty, due to Strickland cutting a deal with the government to use prison labor.  This creates a conflict for Jean as well as her husband, Autrey (Sam Toomey), is currently locked up in one of these government work farms.  The dusty town is filled with all kinds of odd characters including Natalie’s family (that lives a tribal, off-the-grid existence) and Peter (Keays-Byrne), a drunk who bootlegs grain alcohol and has a dark political past.

What no one in the town knows is that the Government has passed the “Emergency Powers Act” and soon the place is surrounded by spike strips, huge tanks, a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears soldiers, and some downright bloodthirsty mercenaries.  When Autrey and another local boy escape from the prison camp and are killed by the soldiers, Jean decides she must team up with Natalie to offer a bit of the film’s title.

One of the problems with the film is I unfairly went into it with the Mad Max series in mind.  This was obviously helped by the VHS cover (see above) which depicts a tattoo-clad woman sporting an AK-47 seemingly ready to deliver some justice and seeing Aussie legend Grant Page listed as the stunt coordinator.  Unfortunately, this is a bit more Sad Max than Mad Max.  If you are waiting for the moment where the people rise up and take it to their military oppressors, you’ll be waiting a long time as that doesn’t happen until the 90 minute mark and lasts all of five minutes.  Such delayed pathos doesn’t really help when you keep thinking something is about to go off.  For example, after Autrey is killed, I thought that Jean was going to go off. Instead she decides to just go back to work and then pack up after she gets fired.  Later she illegally reclaims his body and the military stomps down to his funeral pyre…to politely ask a soldier to point out who stole the body and then do nothing.  It is a film that just doesn’t seem to get going, which is a shame as there are lots of fertile ideas.  For example, Peter’s activist past is brought up and you get the feeling he was tortured, but the filmmakers never delve into it (or even continue on with his story once he is identified by the Government).  It definitely has a us-versus-them mentality, but sometimes things are a bit too on the nose (like when someone screams at the military guys “fuckin’ animals, fuckin’ terrorists!”).  I assume the script was partially improvised as the final screen credit goes to The Macau Collective.  What the film does do pretty well is creating this little town and the characters that inhabit it.  That might just be down to casting regular folks who play themselves, but that works well.  Another aspect where the film is really stunning is the widescreen cinematography by Sally Bongers.  Sadly, the VHS copy I watched is full screen.  To make it hurt even more, the tape opens with a widescreen trailer that showcases the film’s gorgeous look in capturing these desolate locations.

What is interesting is watching the film and trying to imagine it as a prequel to MAD MAX (1979).  When I looked at it that way, it was kind of interesting.  The George Miller universe is open to literally millions of pre-energy crisis stories and it isn’t hard to imagine a scenario like this going down in the lead up to Miller’s dystopian future.  Adding to that is the fact that Keays-Byrne cast several of his co-stars from MAD MAX (1979) in supporting roles.  This hits home the best when we have Vincent Gil – who co-starred in MAD MAX (1979) as The Nightrider – as a gun-happy mercenary named Bull.  It’s not hard (and kind of fun) to imagine this character as a pre-war version of (or maybe the father of) his earlier character, creating a scenario to show how he became the lawless gear-head.  At the same time, doing that is a complete disservice to this film as it is not an action packed spectacle like Miller’s films.  There is one chase scene and a couple of big stunts.  As it stands, it is for Mad Max fans curious about Keays-Byrne behind the camera and Aussie film completists only. Hey, wait, that is us (said in unison 3000 miles apart).

Monday, May 11, 2015

Newsploitation: Go to the Head of the CLASS OF 1999

Today’s box office birthday is a mind bender as it reminds me all about time.  Remember when 1999 seemed like such a futuristic date?  Well, we’re sixteen years past that now.  And even more wild is we are now twenty-five years past the release of Mark Lester’s CLASS OF 1999 (1990), the kick ass sci-fi flick that promised man would be battling machine in that year.

A in-spirit-sequel to Lester’s own CLASS OF 1984 (1982), the follow-up took the idea of out of control teens to its futuristic extreme, resulting in a film the Lester described as “WESTWORLD (1973) meets BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955).”  The man hired to write it was C. Courtney Joyner, who had already built a sterling genre resume with Jeff Burr’s THE OFFSPRING (1987) and Renny Harlin’s PRISON (1987).  As is often the case in Hollywood, a series of other writers including Abby Wool and splatterpunk writing team John Skipp & Craig Spector worked on it.  As Joyner told Fangoria, “Mark had me do the final draft. So I was rewriting Abby’s rewrite of my rewrite of Skipp & Spector’s rewrite of my script. That’s Hollywood.”   In the end Joyner retains sole screen credit.  The project was officially announced at the American Film Market in February 1988 and was one of Veston’s bigger productions during this period with a budget of $5 million under their newly formed Lightning Pictures banner.

Production began in Seattle, Washington in November 1988 with a cast led by Bradley Gregg and Traci Lin as kind of the Romero and Juliet in a gang wasteland.  Lester also assembled an amazing supporting cast including Stacy Keach (sporting a white wig and contact lenses) and former delinquent Droog Malcolm McDowell (now in charge of delinquents).  Best of all was the trio of Patrick Kilpatrick, Pam Grier, and John P. Ryan as the futuristic robot teachers.  On the technical side, Lester had the great Mark Irwin as cinematographer, Paul Baxley coordinating the hair-raising stunts, gore FX from Rick Stratton, and robot FX supervised by Eric Allard.  It all combined into one explosive package that still holds up today.  Well, except for some of the outfits worn by the punks.  You weren’t wearing tie-dyed tights in ’99?

Unfortunately for Lester’s film, the wheels were about to fall off of Vestron. According to a Variety article on March 15, 1989, the company survived a tumultuous 1986-87 and had a great year in 1988; they drew in a net income of $20.6 million dollars (thanks mostly to the success of DIRTY DANCING [1987] and YOUNG GUNS [1988], the latter which came out via 20th Century Fox but Vestron handled foreign markets and VHS). Just over a month later, an article appeared mentioning that Vestron had hired Merrill Lynch to find investors.  Uh oh.  After that, a negative Vestron story seemed to be a daily occurrence.  A June 1989 headline read “Vestron Expected to Close Pic Wing, Pinkslip Staff.”  In August 1989 they sold their video store chain imaginatively called The Video Store to Supermarket Video and also were denied a $100 million dollar loan.  Not surprisingly, they posted huge 2nd and 3rd quarter losses and by December 1989 they were selling off everything to reduce debt.

Naturally titles in production for Vestron at the time like CLASS suffered greatly. Vestron had originally scheduled the film for a theatrical release on October 6, 1989, but that fell to the wayside with the company in such financial straits.  Lester’s sci-fi sequel was actually a bit lucky in that it was picked up rather quickly (other genre titles caught up in this downfall included Stan Winston’s UPWORLD [aka A GNOME NAMED GNORM] and Anthony Hickox’s SUNDOWN, both of which would sit on the shelf for years).  On March 14, 1990, a Variety article announced that CLASS OF 1999 had been acquired by Taurus Entertainment Company and they planned a theatrical release for the film.  That was the good news.  The bad news was Taurus had seemingly no footprint in the distribution market.  Previous to CLASS their biggest release was BEST OF THE BEST (1989), which they got out on 600 screens to make a total of $1.7 million.  Taurus eventually released the film in 320 locations on May 11, 1990.  With such limited exposure, it did not fare well its opening weekend and came in 13th place with a haul of $767,620. However, it should be noted that the film had the second highest per-screen average that weekend in the top fifteen outside of no. 1 title PRETTY WOMAN (1990).  Had Vestron lived on they probably would have gotten CLASS out onto at least 1,000 screens and it would have done better.  CLASS did stick around for a few weeks and continued to draw in viewers, ending with a final tally of $2,459,895 in the U.S.  This made it Taurus’ biggest grosser…and their final theatrical release.

Where CLASS OF 1999 really took off was on the home video market, which is where I first got to see it.  The film proved popular enough that Cinetel felt the need to make CLASS OF 1999 II: THE SUBSTITUTE (1994).  Unfortunately, even if it is directed by veteran stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos, this sequel is a crushing disappointment when compared to CLASS OF 1999.  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Newsploitation: STICK (1985) in the Box Office Mud!

Today’s box office birthday is an odd one because it is a film that should have kicked major ass both on the screen and at the box office.   Unfortunately the ‘80s crime flick STICK (1985) ended up getting stuck in a bunch of behind-the-scenes mishaps and executive decisions that resulted in a damaged film.  And the only person it seemed to hurt was the star, Burt Reynolds.

In early February 1983 it was announced in trade papers that Universal and Jennings Lang Productions had picked up the screen rights to Elmore Leonard’s forthcoming novel STICK with the author signed on to adapt the screenplay.  On July 27, 1983 it was announced in Daily Variety that Burt Reynolds had signed on to star in and direct the adaptation.  This was big news for Reynolds fans as it marked the actor’s return to straight action after the comedies THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS (1982), BEST FRIENDS (1982), STROKER ACE (1983), and THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN (1983).  It was also great news in that he was returning to the director’s chair after his hard hitting action flick SHARKEY’S MACHINE (1981). Unfortunately, STICK would end up being somewhat of a cursed production.

The actor slots filled up and were announced in September 1983 with a October 1983 start date in Florida penciled in.  Interestingly, one tiny blurb mentioned that Richard Benjamin – who would go on to direct Reynolds in his very next feature, CITY HEAT (1984) – turned down a role in the film.  Filming began on October 3, 1983 and disaster struck almost immediately. On Thursday, October 6, Reynolds was filming a scene with stuntman Dar Robinson and got accidentally shot in his right eye by wadding from the blanks in the gun. Reynolds was airlifted by a helicopter to a local hospital and, luckily, it didn’t do any permanent damage.  A few weeks later an even bigger disaster struck on another Thursday as a camera crane collapsed and fell on three crew members while shooting in Fort Lauderdale on November 10, 1983.  Luckily, all three – including one who was initially listed in critical condition – survived. Despite the mishaps, it was announced in Variety in December 1983 that Reynolds had completed production and come in three days ahead of schedule.

STICK was originally scheduled for an August 17, 1984 release date.  However, it became quickly apparent the film would not meet that date due to Reynolds’ health problems.  He had started filming CITY HEAT in April 1984 and was hit in the face with a chair on the first day of filming.  This, combined with suffering from TMJ, led Reynolds on a series of doctor and dentist visits which ended with him becoming addicted to painkillers.  (Oddly, Reynolds covers this part of his life in detail in his autobiography MY LIFE, but makes not a single mention of making STICK).  Also, apparently Universal execs didn’t like the film (uh, did they not read the script they approved?) and wanted major changes.  Writer Joseph Stinson was brought on to add new material.  In late August 1984 it was made official as Universal announced STICK would be moved to 1985 and that Reynolds would do some reshoots, which took place in November and December 1984.  Fans interested in alternate footage can see the original ending here.

To make matters worse, Elmore Leonard spoke badly about the film publically leading up to its release.  STICK eventually reached theaters on April 26, 1985.  It debuted in the top spot with a haul of $3,358,299, just barely ahead of the weekend’s only other new release, JUST ONE OF THE GUYS (1985). In the end, the film made just $8,489,518 which was bad considering the $20+ million budget.  It also paled in comparison to what Reynolds – who had been a huge box office draw since 1977 – was earning in other films in the early '80s (BEST FRIENDS and WHOREHOUSE were big hits).  Because of the film’s trouble production, STICK is now often associated as the film that marked the beginning of Reynolds’ decline at the box office (actually, THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN underperformed before this).  As it stands, it did mark a downturn in his popularity as an action hero, but resulted in an interesting period of five or so years with films like this, HEAT (1986), and MALONE (1987).  It wasn’t until turning back to comedy with EVENING SHADE on TV that Reynolds again became a box office hit, albeit of a smaller variety with COP AND A HALF (1993).

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Whodoo Voodoo: MARLEY'S REVENGE (1989)

We love us some regional exploitation flicks here at Video Junkie, especially if they came out in the ‘70s and ‘80s.  There is something so damn endearing about folks outside of Hollywood trying to emulate big blockbusters (and the films are bereft of the wink-wink-nod-nod self referential “we’re intentionally making a bad movie” stuff you see in 99.9999998% of regional stuff today).  One of the hotbeds during that era was my downstairs neighbor, North Carolina.  Businessman Earl Owensby set about trying to create a Hollywood of the East in Shelby, North Carolina and I’d like to think his success pushed director Jet Eller to make MARLEY’S REVENGE: THE MONSTER MOVIE (1989).

The film opens with two cocaine smugglers on the run from a couple of good ol’ boys definitely meaning some harm.  Apparently they took Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” program to its logical end and kill anyone dealing drugs in their neck of the woods.  You know they are serious because one guy sports a Blue Oyster Cult t-shirt.  Such vigilantism is soon to be bad news for pals Alan (Donnie Broom) and Gary (Alvin Johnson).  These roommates are planning to smuggle Gary’s aunt and uncle in from Haiti.  Now last time I checked going from Haiti to North Carolina is kinda roundabouts for human smuggling, but whatever.  Alan and Gary are good guys, as evidenced by the TRANCERS (1984) poster on their wall.  Well, Alan might be a bit of a tool as he is obsessed with a comic book character named Africa Dan.

Anyway, with $6,000 bucks and a CB radio, the boys are able to facilitate this illegal immigration.  Unfortunately for them, our local vigilantes are listening on the CB and when they hear dollars and delivery point they just assume it is another cocaine deal that they must blow up.  Our leads show up at the first rendezvous point, Mr. Ed’s Lounge (no talking horse in sight), and meet up with their contact, who looks like Kurt Russell in THE THING (1982).

Also sticking their nose into this business are the local sheriff and the local newspaper reporter.  Yep, lot o’ locals in this place.  The redneck vigilante group follows our two guys to the second rendezvous point and, naturally, takes them hostage.  But not before they show them the dead Kurt Russell look-a-like to show they mean business.  Everyone travels by boat to the island drop off point where the bumbling vigilantes – who are being assisted by the sheriff, whose family was apparently killed by drug dealers – find out these guys aren’t coke dealers after all.  So how do they attempt to get out of this mess?  Eh, just kill everyone and bury them.  Hey, you can’t expect genius in a group where someone is nicknamed Tater. When the aunt is shot in the head, Uncle Marley resorts to some of his Haitian voodoo to bring forth his titular revenge.  Not only does he cause the dozens of buried victims to rise from their graves, but he summons up some 14-foot tall alligator-skeleton looking thing.  This is even more bad news for innocent Alan and Gary as the living dead gut munchers don’t know good from bad.  If only Alan idolized some comic book hero who could show him the way to survive.

MARLEY’S REVENGE was a total video roulette grab for me and was a bit of a surprise.  Any film that has rednecks dealing death within the first two minutes is going to get my attention.  Throw in TRANCERS (1984) and I WAS A TEENAGE ZOMBIE (1987) posters and I’m emailing Tom within seconds saying, “Score!”  Note to self: I should always watch at least fifteen minutes before declaring something as worthy of praise. Truth be told, this flick plays like two different films mashed together.  Writer-director Jet Eller (props for the awesome name alone) spends the first fifty or so minutes doing a reaaaaaaaaaaaally long set up for something could be realized in ten minutes.  Once the film gets to the island though and the zombies pop up, the film is actually kind of fun.  Sure, it has that same kind of logic your home movies that you shot as a teen had (for example, the reporter is only in the equation to show up with an extra boat before he is killed), but the two leads give their all when they have to run through the woods dodging zombies and monsters.  The big monster is actually kind of cool looking too, an effectively realized prop for a low budget horror movie.  The film also works as a great time capsule of ‘80s North Carolina, effectively capturing it as I remember it.  Well, except I never got to hang out in Mr. Ed’s Lounge.  If you can make it through the first fifty minutes, there is a little fun to be had in MARLEY’S REVENGE.  And a little fun is all we really need nowadays.