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Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987)
This Would Be A Decent Story, If It Wasn't A "Death Wish" Film!
In the world of violent action films, the "Death Wish" saga has a special place, because unlike many other films of its genre, there is no deep moral or philosophical subtext. It's all about one thing: pure revenge! That's what makes this installment such a disappointment, as that is all but forgotten to make another "anti-drug" message.
Charles Bronson returns as everyone's favorite vigilante, Paul Kersey. When his current girlfriend's daughter dies from a cocaine overdose, a wealthy philanthropist enlists Kersey's "special talents" to take out a couple of L.A. drug kingpins. But all is not as it seems and Kersey soon finds himself the target for death!
The story here, for the most part, has some good elements to it. The tragedy that gives way to a partnership to take down some drug lords, seems solid enough. But it just doesn't feel a good fit for the character of Paul Kersey. His being fed info on his targets by the mysterious "Mr. White" (played by veteran character actor John P. Ryan), seems more fit to a government agent or law enforcement official, than to a street vigilante. His bag has always been personal revenge. Once Kersey kills the guy who sold his girlfriend's daughter the drugs, the story should have been over for him. But it wasn't.
As things move along, more little trip ups bring you out of the story. Like Soon-Tek Oh, as one of the detectives out to catch the "vigilante," suddenly revealed to be a corrupt cop working for one of the drug lords. It pretty much comes from out of the blue and takes you out of the story. The sub-plot with the girlfriend (played by Kay Lenz), who's a reporter doing a story on the drug problem, goes nowhere and is only filler until she end up as the "damsel in distress" for Kersey to have to rescue near the films end. The whole third act is just a complete mess. Once Kersey learns that "Mr. White" isn't who he thinks he is, there'd be no reason for him to kill Kersey. He had no idea who he really was. He could have just taken over the drug trade, as he planned, and left Kersey alone. All the plots he does to try to kill him just make no sense. And the ending, with the final comeuppance, is telegraphed so hard, you'd think it was written by Western Union.
That's not to say there's nothing any good here. The opening sequence to the film certainly has that feel of past efforts and rings true to Kersey's character, as well as being a nice bit of foreshadowing to a similar situation near the films end. The action sequences in the oil field battle were superbly done. And you have a couple of bit roles from a young Danny Trejo and Tim Russ early in their careers. But none of that overrides the silliness of this whole plot. Director J. Lee Thompson and writer Gail Morgan Hickman, who worked with Bronson on the much better film "Murphy's Law," really just dropped the ball on this one, by not seeming to understand the motivations and character of Paul Kersey. He's not about "making the world a better place," he's about cold and calculated revenge. Nothing more, nothing less.
In the final analysis, "Death Wish 4: The Crackdown" is an example of what happens when you try to force a square peg through a round hole. This could have been an entertaining story, if it was of some original character. But trying to make Paul Kersey fit this mold simply doesn't work. The film isn't terrible, but it is easily the weakest of the "Death Wish" franchise. Unless you're simply a die-hard of seeing Bronson kill scumbags, you can probably give this one a pass.
The Boys Next Door (1985)
The Prophetic Rage of Youth!
Sometimes a film comes along, that will truly stick with you long after you've seen it. It will gnaw at your mind and make you look at life and people in a very different way, which you never did before. "The Boys Next Door" is just such a film for me.
Director Penelope Spheeris is probably most well-known for her work on perennial comedic fare, such as "Wayne's World" and "Black Sheep," but long before that she was a very edgy and somewhat visionary filmmaker. Some of her earliest works have a very deep social commentary to them, of which this film is one of her best (and most overlooked). This tale of two high school outcasts, who go to the big city and raise some murderous hell, almost has a modern ring to it. In the wake of real life events, like the massacres at Columbine and Virginia Tech, this film seems less the low-rent crime drama it probably was seen as when it first debuted and more like a prophecy of things to come.
It is absolutely chilling in how it shows the casual use of violence by two supposed teenagers. Their lack of conscience and concern for anything or anyone, save themselves, feels like a mirror being held up to our so-called modern world. What really stuck out for me, though, was the moments of seemingly uncontainable rage expressed by the character of Roy (incredibly performed by Maxwell Caulfield). One scene that truly made my blood run cold, was after his first act of violence on a gas-station attendant, when he and his friend Bo (played by a very young Charlie Sheen, in one of his earliest leading roles) are talking about it in their hotel room, and Roy expresses that the beating wasn't good enough. That he should have killed him. The look of satisfaction on his face as he expresses these thoughts, brought out a dark symmetry to the character, which would dominate everything he does afterwards. It actually comes off like a blueprint to the mindset of such thrill-killers that we see in our real world today. I really enjoyed how the film almost plays like a docudrama in some instances, like this one.
While some of the language and settings might be a bit dated, the emotion and societal insights into the mind of teenage rage are as powerful now as they ever were back in 1985 (when the film debuted). At the time, this film had a bit of controversy about it, due to the amounts of violence shown on screen, but I think that today, in our much more politically-correct minded world-view, it is the thoughts behind the violence which should be more disturbing. It is a film that has truly become MORE relevant as time has gone by, not less. If there is anything lacking in the film, it would be not enough information given on the characters life at home. We see the torment they have with not fitting in with their peers at school, as well as their fears of living out the rest of their lives at dead-end jobs, but there is little info on the role played by the family in helping these boys to be filled with such murderous contempt. There is one scene with Roy's father being shown as a neglectful parent, more interested in getting his next beer than the welfare of his son, but I felt this brief glimpse should have been expand on more. Still, even lacking in this one area, the film is still a very potent brew to behold.
Make no mistake, this is not a "feel good" or party film. It is a shocking, and sometimes twisted, look into how society can mold a teenager into a raging killer and how easily that rage can be let loose on an unprepared society. And the fact these two characters are attractive looking, as well, only deepens the scary similarities of our current times. Despite that, however, it is certainly a very worthwhile film and is deserving of much more attention. If you are looking for a film that isn't just out to entertain you, but also make you think, this is one movie you need to seek out! But be warned... prepare to be unnerved by much of what you will see. I doubt many will walk away from this film totally unaffected, nor should they.
Terminator Salvation (2009)
It Should Have Been "Terminated" On The Drawing Board!
I had high hopes, like many, going into this film. As a fan of the franchise, I was looking forward to that "blown out of my seat" experience the other films of this saga have given me. Besides which, this is the film we've all been waiting for since the beginning, right? The future war! The resistance vs. Skynet! It couldn't possibly be bad, could it? Oh, you couldn't be more wrong!
This film lacked anything in the way of atmosphere or suspense. The mood of the film was extremely flat from almost the start and never really came to life. On top of that, I feel too much time was spent on the machines and not enough on John Connor and the humans (whom you'd think we should be rooting for). Sam Worthington's character, of the man made into a machine, never gained any sympathy or interest from me. The fact they gave away the "secret" to his character in the trailers, certainly didn't help that, either. His character's actions are schizophrenic, at best, half the time making little sense, if any, and almost never ring true. A major flaw, to be sure, with how much time he gets on screen.
Then you have Christian Bale, who plays John Connor as a "Batman-lite" affair. He uses the same kind of voice here, that he did in "The Dark Knight" and it just doesn't work. He portrays none of the charisma and leadership that we know the character is supposed to have. All the emotions we've felt for him in the past are all stripped away here, as he comes off like a whiny and self-absorbed jerk. Hardly one you'd want being the savior of the human race. None of the other resistance members get enough screen time to make any kind of impression on you, so you never develop any bond in what might happen to them. I don't know if the cast just didn't care about the film, or if the script just gave them nothing to work with, but there is no fire in any of the performances.
And even if the script doesn't let the actors down, it has more than a few problems itself. They never really explain why Sam Worthington's character is the one chosen by Skynet. The story never gives you any feelings of dread or panic, despite tons of action on the screen. And while those action sequences are well shot and choreographed, they lack any real excitement. It never gets your pulse pounding. Plus there are tons of little things in the film, like Connor's wife being pregnant, which get no explanation or even a passing mention. I mean, what's the point in doing that, if it doesn't mean anything? And why is Skynet herding people into camps (ala the Nazis)? Shouldn't it simply be destroying all human life, to protect itself and win the war? It is another plot point that makes no sense, nor is given any reasoning for, in a script filled with them.
Worst of all, and the one major flaw that ruins the whole film for me, is how, after Skynet has captured Kyle Reese (played by Anton Yelchin, in one of the few decent performances in the film), it doesn't kill him immediately, but uses him as bait to lure John Connor into a rescue mission. This kind of thinking, in terms of revenge and greed, is an emotional human failing Skynet should not have. It is a machine. It should know the simple equation: "Kill Kyle Reese, John Connor is no more!" The only reason for it, is to provide the big end battle, where Connor faces the Terminator 101-model (with CGI used to show Arnold in his prime). It's all just a waste and doesn't deliver any thrills.
Many folks blasted "T3" for some of the inconsistencies it had, but compared to this mess of a film, it was sheer cinematic brilliance! "Terminator Salvation" could truly be considered a franchise killer, on par with the fiasco that "Batman and Robin" was for the Batman one. Old school fans of this saga will not find this enjoyable, and any attempts to bring in new fans will be dashed at the overly-complicated back-story used to get them up to speed on this film. In short, this is a film that will appeal to few people, be they fans of these films or not. It is a complete waste of time, money and talent. And that is the purest definition of the term "whipped up movie," which this effort most assuredly is, that I can think of!
A By-The-Numbers Slasher Affair!
From the late 70's through the early 80's, it was the golden era of the slasher horror film. During this period, many played on the old standby of a killer in the woods theme ("The Prowler", "Don't Go In The Woods", "The Burning" and, of course, "Friday the 13th"). By 1982, this had become "old hat." Yet, late in the game, here comes "Madman"! The basic plot is what you would expect: Some camp counselors wind up as the targets of a legendary kill-crazy farmer, appropriately named, Madman Marz. It is a completely predictable and by-the-numbers slasher formula.
The acting is, as is usually the case in most low-budget slashers, almost non-existent. Save for the character of Betsy (played by Gaylen Ross, under the name "Alexis Dubin," as I guess she didn't want it to be known she was in a cheesy slasher flick), none of the characters gets developed enough to the point you know or care about any of them. The killer isn't really developed any, either, as he is portrayed as the typical "super-human" maniac, showing incredible physical strength and speed, beyond any mere mortal. It's said he murdered his family, but you never really learn why, as the script is more interested in setting up hokey hot-tub scenes, in an effort to provide the prerequisite nudity in such films. Everything just plods along in a very predictable manner.
So, what you are left with is the special effects and atmosphere to provide you any real entertainment. Fortunately, it actually does. One of the things I really liked about the setting, is how well they played up how easy it is to get lost in the woods at night. The sameness of the surroundings actually helped convey a sense of tension in not knowing exactly where you are. And since this is a time before the advent of cell phones, it comes off somewhat realistically. Of course, some of that is undone by a soundtrack which, at times, sounds like someone who got their hands on a Kasio keyboard and suddenly thought they were John Carpenter.
As for the killings themselves, it's a mixed bag that ranges from the extremely gruesome to the extremely phony! Although, some of the kills are pretty inventive, like the one where the girl is beheaded by the hood of the car she is trying to get working. I also like that they tried to keep the killer more to the shadows for most of the film. Something that might have been more out of necessity, than to illicit a sense of mystery, as when you get a good look at the killer the cheapness of the effects shows how much they lacked a budget here.
In the end, the film is merely a typical example of the schlocky early 80's slasher formula. It could be entertaining for those who are fans of the genre, or those who love to mock it. Otherwise, you can probably pass on it. It's simply another unoriginal slasher film, that looks extremely cheap and has not aged very well. Might make for a good Halloween party film, though, as it comes off as the technological equivalent of telling a ghost story around a campfire.
Agony of Love (1966)
60's Smut With An Actual Plot!
Made in the time when the drive-ins ruled entertainment, during the golden age of sexploitation smut, "The Agony of Love" is a real standout among many of its competitors of the era, not the least of which is due to that luscious 60's silicone siren, Pat Barrington.
The basics of the plot are pretty much typical of what you can expect to get from a film of this kind and from this period. But while lacking in anything resembling originality, it still manages to give you the goods. Pat Barrington plays a neglected housewife, who hooks on the side, not for the money or the thrills, but to feel loved and desired. While the subject matter might have been consider almost taboo in the 60's, by today's standards it's not really all that shocking. Still, this is certainly no film meant for children.
Pat's obvious physical "talents" are one of the things that separates her from many women in this genre. More than ample, she has probably some of the the nicest body curves of the times. Unlike her physical form, though, her acting abilities are negligible, at best, since her emoting and delivery of dialog is very flat. Yet, in this film, which is one of the few times she ever got a starring role, that seems to work to her (and the film's) benefit. Her monotoned vocal range, when she speaks, as well as the vacant look behind her eyes, is very befitting to the "damaged goods" kind of character she is playing here. Whether more by accident than design, or the director simply playing to her weaknesses and making them a strength, this is most likely the best performance of her career, bar none.
This is William Rotsler's first time out as both writer and director of a film, as well as the first of several times he'd work with Pat Barrington over the course of the decade, but it is easily his best work. The use of some nice camera shots, puts this a step up from other like films of the era. And one scene, where Pat's character discusses a dream with a psychiatrist, is shot with an almost psychedelic flair. It was very much in keeping with the "trippy" 60's vibe, but gave this film something a little extra against its compatriots. Also, the twist ending is one you might not see coming. Rotsler does drag a bit on some of the sexual scenes (which showcase several kinds of fetishes), even though Pat's form is very nice to look at, which feels more like a directorial excess than anything else, but over all it is certainly one of the best shot sexploitation films I've ever seen (and I've watch quite a few).
This would be the last starring role of Pat's career (in which she only had two or three in total). And when the 60's came to a close, she disappeared from the world of film and never returned. Still, she certainly made her mark as one of the most voluptuous vixen of the decade and shown that even a drive-in "skin-flick" could actually be entertaining, for more than just the obvious reasons. It is actually difficult to rate films of this kind, as the standards of them are usually extremely low, but this one has a little something special to it, beyond what you might come to expect of this brand of film. If you are a fan of this film genre, you'd do well to check it out.
The Spirit (2008)
A "Soulless" Spirit, Indeed!
First off, I have to say that I am a comic book reader and a superhero fan. I really like how the characters from some of my favorite comics, have been able to explode off the pages and on to the silver screen. Most times, I usually get a bit of a thrill seeing these characters brought to life. Then, however, there are times like when I watched "The Spirit" and wish they never would have left those four-color magazines.
Everything about this film is just wrong. The acting, the directing, the script, even the casting. It is flawed on almost every possible level a film can be. Gabriel Macht's performance in the title role is flat and completely uninspired. You can tell he was just phoning it in. Scarlett Johansson is totally wasted in her role, which was so superfluous, that she'd have been better off just not showing up on the set. Sam Jackson plays Sam Jackson, even though they call him "the Octopus." It's the same character he's been playing ever since "Pulp Fiction," and it's no longer entertaining (especially in a script this poor). Eva Mendes brings a little bit of sizzle and sexual intensity to things, but she's spends very little time on screen and simply cannot save this heaping pile of garbage.
The script is utter nonsense. I can't even really tell you what the story here is. Something about Sam Jackson out to get the blood of a Greek hero, so he can become immortal, or something. Even by the standards of a comic book script, this thing lacks anything to remotely make it understandable. The action is very cartoony, in that bad kind of way. The dramatic moments (or what passes for them) are so overwrought with clichés and ham-fisted in the delivery, that it seems more like a comedic farce. And while I have enjoyed much of Frank Miller's comic work over the years, he simply is abysmal as a film director. Where is the direction in this movie? Where is the talent we know he possesses? Directors are supposed to help their cast pull forth great performances from within them. There is none of that here. It seems everyone was just there to collect their check, the director included.
The visual styling is nice and noir-ish. It is the one area the film produced anything of value. But after having seen it in "Sin City," "300" and other films of late, it's not really special anymore and can't prop up the fact that everything else about this movie stinks on ice. So, it's attempts to distract you from a lack of plot, strong performances and any real thrills, ultimately fails, like everything else in this turkey.
"The Spirit" is the kind of travesty that sets back comic related films 40 years. It is an amateurish production all the way through. It isn't faithful to the source material, nor is it entertaining in its own right. It doesn't even have the benefit of being "so bad it is good" in that cheesy way. Comic fans won't like this. Non-comic fans won't like this. It is truly a film without a valid audience. Everyone involved in this steaming pile of manure should be ashamed of themselves. Do yourself a big favor and avoid this trash and see a GOOD comic book related movie, like "Iron Man" or "The Dark Knight," because the screams of the city are all coming from those who have watched this egregiously insulting piece of celluloid! It is easily one of the worst comic-related films of all-time.
Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)
Keep Your Bug Spray Handy!
Right off the bat, you have to know going in, that "Kingdom of the Spiders" is hardly a tour-de-force effort of film-making. It's a low-budget suspense horror film, filled with 70's cheese-tasticness. That said, however, the film does manage to entertain.
William Shatner, the perennial "cool guy" every nerd-boy wishes they could be, plays Dr. Robert "Rack" Hansen, a vet who's town is soon overrun by the eight-legged fury of millions of tarantulas. It seems the destruction of their usual food supply, by the careless use of pesticides, has caused them to look into a new source of sustenance... humans!
The overall acting in the film is passable, if unremarkable. Even the usually flamboyant stylings of "The Shat" are subdued here. There's the attempt to play up some human drama, through a love triangle between Rack, the beautiful entomologist (played by Tiffany Bolling) and the widow of Rack's dead brother (played by Marcy Lafferty). You get a couple of glimpses of Shatner's typical sexual charisma from it, but little else as far as the story goes. In fact, the whole pacing of the story is quite slow for the first 45-55 minutes of the film. This is surely to help set up the film's final act, when the spiders go on their rampage, but it isn't as effective as they probably were intending.
Really, the story and drama hinges on the spider attacks. Building slowly on the creepy feeling invoked by the spiders, watching them move from killing livestock to humans, it does create a sense of eerie tension. It plays to a fear many of us have of creepy-crawly insects and their ability to overwhelm us with sheer numbers. Director John "Bud" Cardos does effectively make the spiders into not only a credible threat, but a menacing one, as well. The scene of the townsfolk running in chaotic panic when the spiders begin attacking in force, will surely make most anyone's skin crawl. And the downbeat ending of the film is, without question, one of the best parts of the film. No typical Hollywood "happy ending" here, which only helps the movie to retain it's cult status. The film's attempt at a morality tale, by showing that mankind needs to show more respect towards nature, is both heavy-handed and poorly contrived, but that's only to be expected in a b-grade piece of 70's horror.
"Kingdom of the Spiders" is a fine piece of 70's kitsch-cinema, which doesn't try to make itself out as much more than that. And while it may pale in comparison to other movies about man facing "nature's revenge" (like "The Birds" or "Jaws", just to name a couple), it certainly is worthy of it's place of cult horror status. Just make sure to keep a can of bug spray close by, as you watch it.
If Only All Blatant "Knock-Offs" Were This Entertaining...
This Indonesian cult film takes the over-the-top action, that is a staple of American action films of the 80's, adds in a dose of mysticism, lifts several key scenes from it's title namesake and blends it all up into a schlocky treat for the viewer. This isn't high art, nor does it pretend to be. It is a blatant riff on one of the most classic action films of the decade and never apologizes once for it.
Some of the scene are direct copies of James Cameron's classic original, such as the attack on the police headquarters, the removal of the eye, even the first kill being done to obtain clothing for her naked form. You will get a deja vu feeling more than once, while watching this film. The added angle of a mystical plot device, rather than a technological one, as well as making the lead antagonist female, made for some interesting changes in this film, which the original "Terminator" could never have had.
Still, despite copious amounts of violence, some very nice nudes scenes with our sexy lead, and some slightly interesting special effects, the film is far from what you would call "good." Some of the dubbed in voices are very poorly done. Plus, speaking as a guy, the way she kills men while mating with them is... well... let's just say it's probably every guy's worst nightmare and leave it at that. Plus, they never really gave much explanation on why the Queen of the South Seas revenge against the great-granddaughter of her betraying lover will give her what she wants. I guess giving emphasis to the plot had to take a back seat to the action and nudity. Not an uncommon thing in films of this nature.
Barbara Anne Constable, who plays the lead role of the anthropologist turned unstoppable tool of destruction, is really the linchpin of the film. None of the other actors turn in anything beyond competent performances, at best, but Barbara's deadpan expressions throughout the film, even as she uses sex to kill her victims, is just as fun to watch as that of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original "Terminator" film.
If you are looking for a seriously dramatic story, with stunning personal performances, well, you'll be sadly disappointed. But if it is wild bouts of action and violence, coupled with a sexual-themed tale of revenge you desire, this film gives you all you could ever want. It is easily one of the best selections from the Mondo Macabro catalog and would be a great party film. It's a watchable movie and entertaining in that "so bad it's good" way. Just don't give a lot of thought to what you are watching. You definitely need to check your brain at the door for this one.
Jennifer's Body (2009)
The Only "Horror" Here Is Not Getting That Hour And A Half Of Your Life Back!
"Jennifer's Body" is the kind of film that should remind us all that it takes a lot more to be clever, hip and interesting, then merely spouting a few modern slang terms and a sexy pout. They try to play up a campy teen angst kind of thing here, but it never rings true. It's more like pseudo-angst, thought up by a focus group of Hollywood suits, that tries to play to what they think teenagers would find "cool," only to fail miserably in the attempt.
The premise of this tale, is about how a teenage babe (played by Megan Fox) is sacrificed to Satan, by a loser indie band in the hopes they may be granted fame and fortune, only for her to become a flesh eating demon, because she wasn't a virgin when she was sacrificed. No, really, that is the basic plot outline here.
The film tries to come off as an edgier mix of "Mean Girls" and "Scream," but ends up as merely a putrid pile of trash, that is way too self-absorbed and into itself, and comes across as thinking it is way more clever and hip than it actually is. Most teenage horror-comedies are an extremely superficial affair, but this one is shallow at BEING shallow. There's nothing here beneath the surface at all. No insights, no meaning, no message. Heck, there's no real laughs or scares, either (unless you count the row of 18 year-old guys up in front of me, who giggled at the make out scene with Fox and Seyfried). Like some vapid teen pretty girl, the film never looks out of it's own self-induced tunnel vision, thinking itself way too smart and cool, and the film loses any chance to be relevant or entertaining. It's not just style over substance, but a self-deluded and half-formed idea of style over substance. Why have a coherent story and plot? Look, Megan Fox is swimming naked in a lake! Isn't that just so awesome?!
It seems little thought was put into the script, direction, or anything else. It is merely a vehicle for Megan Fox to look ultra-sexy (in that way she usually does). No one ever bothers to go beyond this, as everyone else is just some stereotype or cipher character, used for the demands of Fox's character, who looks like she has a totally vacant expression throughout the whole movie (the very same one you'll probably have, after you watch this crap). The only thing it goes to show, is that Fox is truly a horrible actress and is certainly not up to the task of headlining a film. It takes a lot more than a few cute slang terms being thrown around, and some pathetic attempt at controversy (with a little girl-on-girl make out moment), to make a worthwhile story. Honestly, the thing feels like it was written by a couple of 13 year-old boys, who got a look at their father's Playboy collection for the first time, and thought this would be a great idea for a film. It is just a blatant attempt to appeal to the "teeny-bopper" crowd, who love films like "Twlight" and the like, and has absolutely no regards to the intelligence of the target audience (or any other audience, in general).
This is, without a doubt, the worst movie I've seen all year. If this doesn't register on many a film critics and film fans "worst of" lists for 2009, I fear for the mental sanity of the industry. "Jennifer's Body" is honest as a title for this travesty of celluloid, though, as the only thing the film ever concerns itself with is how "hawt" the title character looks. Unless you are a hormone-raging teenage boy, with Megan Fox as your ultimate fantasy plaything, avoid this dreck at all costs! Heck, even if you are one, you should avoid it, as even hormone-raging teenage boys deserve to be marketed to better than this.
The Toy Box (1971)
Playing Love With Them Human Toys!
Without a doubt, this is probably the strangest and most bizarre sexploitation film I've ever seen. And given the amount of them that I've watched, that's truly saying something.
The plot revolves around a swingers party, where the guests act out sexually perverse scenarios for a man called "Uncle" to obtain gifts from a mysterious "toy box." But when a couple of the guests suspect all is not as it seems, including the identity of "Uncle," we go from a very commonplace sexploitation piece and veer off into an insanely wild and absurd story involving aliens and humans sold as drugs.
This film isn't so much shocking, as it is it off-the-wall kooky. For the first 45 minutes, I had little idea what I was watching. It isn't until the end of the second act that the pieces of this oddball story start to fall into place. The film does live up to it's perverse billing, though, as you see plenty of weird sexual antics, not the least of which is faux necrophilia, faux cannibalism, and the first (and only, I believe) display of a woman molested by a bed. Yes, you heard right, she is sexually pleasured by an actual bed. The murders, such as they happen, are mostly off-screen implied than shown. And when you get the big revelation of who "Uncle" really is, as well as what this party is really all about, well, it'll make about as much sense as anything else you've seen up to that point.
The cast is a virtual who's who of 60's and 70's exploitation films, with the curvaceous sex bombs, Marsha Jordan and Uschi Digard, among the most notable of them. All the actors don't really do much acting, as the film is much more centered on the sexual displays, as most films of this kind are. The scenes are well shot and a few of them are actually quite erotic. As is typical of such fare, the guys are the average, hairy males you would find walking the streets in the 70's, while the women as all have bodaciously banging bods and curves. No one ever said that sexploitation films were bastions of gender equality.
Writer/director Ronald Victor Garica was obviously out to make this a very different kind of exploitation film. In that he certainly succeeded, as there is no other film I've seen that is anything like this. Of course, being unique doesn't make this an excellent effort. During most of the first act, much of the voice dubbing is off, which can be distracting. To cover for this, Garcia falls back on Doris Wishman's classic trick, of have the actor that's supposed to be speaking facing away from the camera, thereby circumventing the need for proper dubbing. The music sounds exactly like what you'd hear on old episodes of the classic "Star Trek" series and some of the special effects are, well, just not that special. Garcia's attempt to blend horror, sci-fi, and sexploitation into a cohesive form doesn't really play out, but it does make for some strange and intriguing scenes, which will probably hold your attention, until you get to the revelations behind what you've seen.
"The Toy Box" is unlike anything you could ever hope to see, then or today. While I can't quite call it "good," the quirky and outlandish nature of the film does have a very strange entertainment value to it. Within the world of sexploitation films (and, more broadly, of film in general), this one defies easy categorization and stands alone in its erratic and eccentric tone. Fans of the genre should check it out at least once, just for the experience of the sheer spectacle of it all. But don't expect it to make any kind of lasting impact on you, except to, perhaps, have you never look at your bed the same way again.
The Ultimate "Science Farce-tion" Epic!
By the time of this film's release, Mel Brooks had already established himself as the master of the genre spoof film. But "Spaceballs" is, if not his finest hour, one of the top three efforts in his long list of satirizing comedies. And geek culture would never be the same.
Basically parodying the original Star Wars saga, but mixing in elements of other sci-fi mainstays, like "Star Trek," "Alien" and others, Brooks employs his twisted skills to skewer one of the most beloved and well-known franchises in movie history and does so masterfully. There are plenty of sight-gags and word play moments, as is expected in a Mel Brooks comedy. I especially liked all the "Spaceballs" merchandise that constantly shows up in the film. From bed sheets to toilet paper, it's one of several running gags that I never get tired of.
It features some early work by Bill Pullman and Daphne Zuniga, who would both move on to bigger things in the future. Here, they have a perfect chemistry, as the snobby-but-yielding Princess and the rugged-but-tender hero. I like that, even before they fall for each other, they already argue like an old married couple.
The main stars here, though, are (the late) John Candy and Rick Moranis, both of whom are staples in the world of the 80's comedy film. John Candy has some nice scenes and gets some yuks going, but it is Rick Moranis, as the evil-but-inept Lord Dark Helmet, who basically steals the show. Most of the funniest moment and lines belong to him. From playing with his "Spaceballs" dolls, to having his men (literally) combing the desert for our heroes, he proves that, even in a total farce, evil is always the more interesting and fun to watch.
Many others have tried to imitate Brooks style of comedic humor, most notably Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, but try as others might, they simply cannot compete with the master. Because the one thing that Mel Brooks comedy spoofs do, that others do not, is know when to "not go there." His humor is tactless, without ever being tasteless. "Spaceballs" remains one of Brooks best works and is certainly my personal favorite. If you love sci-fi, or if you hate it, you'll find plenty to enjoy in this film!
An "Ice-Cold" Blooded Murder Mystery!
You always get a potential mixed bag when comics are adapted to the silver screen. Not everything done in a comic can translate to the screen and vice versa. And creative liberties are almost always used in excess, when compared to the actual source material. Fortunately, such is not the case for "Whiteout." The story revolves around a female US Marshall named Carrie Stetko (very well played by actress Kate Beckinsale), as she is forced to investigate a murder on an Antarctic base, just days before the long six month winter, and a powerful whiteout storm, is about to hit.
This dramatic "whodunit" mystery starts off on a slow burn, but yet it never feels like it is dragging. As the body count rises, the puzzle sucks you in, not just about the murders and why they are happening, but about Carrie's own past that has brought her to this desolate wilderness. Tom Skerritt is good as the comforting doctor, while Gabriel Macht is passable as the slick Government agent. But the film almost totally rests on Kate Beckinsale's role. She makes it believable, not only through her no-nonsense attitude on the job, but through the more vulnerable parts, as the painful secret she's been running from is revealed. In some ways she's as cold and dead inside, as the environment surrounding her is outside. You develop a real empathy for her character and it sucks you right into what is happening around her. Beckinsale literally carries the main emotional thrust of the film single-handed, but she does so quite well.
The cinematography is also extremely strong. The sweeping landscape shots easily convey the beauty and vast emptiness of the region. The dangers of those who would seek to dwell in such a place feels quite real. There are a few times, though, where the atmosphere of a terrain so hostile to human life isn't necessarily portrayed accurately, but they don't really detract that much from the film, as if you are already invested in Carrie and the mystery, you probably won't even notice them. Also, one of the red herrings on who is behind the killings is hammered on a little too often, which makes you know that person can't be the one, but that is a small quibble in an otherwise nice and taut mystery.
Having read the graphic novel the film is based upon, I already knew who is ultimately behind the murders, but it was still a real treat to watch it unfold. For those who haven't read it, I think this film will give you the kind of intelligent thriller fans of this genre of film enjoy. Don't listen to all the haters and give this film a shot. It's actually much better than many are giving it credit for.
Witches And Warlocks And Costumes, Oh My!
This film is given lots of bad press, as the worst sequel of this franchise, mostly because it doesn't connect itself to the saga of Michael Myers. But while that might be an unfair bias against the film, it is hardly without many flaws of it's own, that hinder it from being a great scary film.
The biggest problem within the film, is lack of giving proper amounts of information to make something convincing. When the doctor (played solidly by Tom Atkins) shows signs that he has feelings for Ellie (played by Stacey Nelkin) and sleeps with her, it seems to come out of nowhere. There is no build up to it, nothing to indicate that they would feel that way for each other, as they've only just met over the course of a day. Later, when the doctor frees Ellie from captivity and they race to stop the broadcasts, Ellie is revealed to be one of the robots of the evil Silver Shamrock company. But how long has that been the case? Was she one all along? Why didn't she deactivate, when they blew up the factory, like the other ones did? There are just so many things like this, that it takes you out of the moment and you lose a lot of the tension the film should be generating.
That isn't to say the film has nothing good about it. The performances by Tom Atkins and Dan O'Herlihy (as the villain of the piece) are very engaging, especially when they are on-screen together. O'Herlihy brilliantly captures that sense of quiet evil with his performance, as he's all smiles and charm one minute, then the heart of darkness the next. Atkins is great as the reluctant hero, who is clearly in over his head. Also, the musical score is top notch (not surprising, as it comes from John Carpenter). It is very eerie and constantly give you the feeling of dread. Even the jingle to the Silver Shamrock television ad can give you the spooks.
Still, despite all that, the film ultimately suffers from some very poor script writing and lack of proper explanations. It takes what could have been one of the all-time classic scare films and turns it into a mediocre effort, that should have been thought-out more.
This isn't really a bad movie, but the flaws within it keep it from being truly good. I applaud the makers for trying something different. And while the film should not be snubbed for that, it has plenty of it's own issues that lessen the appeal of it. As loathe as I am of remakes, I actually think this film could benefit from such, provided the script writing was up to par. As it stands, the film is merely watchable. Perhaps something to watch late at night, when you can't sleep. Sadly, it could have been so much more.
Swamp Thing (1982)
Who Knew "Muck" Could Be So Entertaining?
"Swamp Thing" isn't what one might call a standard horror picture. It tries to play it a bit lighter than what you would expect, given the mechanics of the story. What you end up with is a fun and campy film, that sometimes lessens it's darker edge by trying too hard for a bit of humor.
Based from the comic series from DC Comics, the tale is about a scientist, Dr. Alec Holland (played by Ray Wise), who is transformed into a marsh-layered creature of immense power, after his experiment to create a way to make a more abundant food supply, causes him to run afoul of a man bent to use it for his own ends... a man named Arcane (played by Louis Jourdan).
I've noted before I am a big time comic reader, so I'm quite well versed with the history of the title character. Wes Craven, who both wrote and directed this film, takes quite a few liberties with the characters and their source material, but still manages to keep it true enough, so that they are easy to relate to and familiar. I liked Ray Wise's approach to the character, as he brought a great deal of altruistic idealism to him, which rang true to the character from the comics. Also well cast is Louis Jourdan as Arcane, as he gave him just the right amount of arrogant egotism and flamboyant self-aggrandizement, like the typical madman who thinks they know how to rule the world would have. Of course, Adrienne Barbeau is the real standout here, not just for the obvious physical attributes (which were obviously one of the reasons she was cast in the role of Holland's/Swamp Thing's love interest), but she manages to elevate herself from being more than just the usual damsel in distress, as watching her fight off attackers and shoot a gun, shows she's no weak-willed school girl. But it was her ability to make you believe that the chemistry she shared with Holland, was strong enough for her to accept him after his change into the Swamp Thing (which was played wonderfully by Dick Durock), that really cinched her performance with me. And let's face it, she don't look bad in soaking wet clothes, either. In fact, almost all of the cast do very good jobs with material that, at times, comes off a bit overly cheesy.
If there were any negatives to the film, I'd have to say that it was in the pacing and dialog. Granted, this isn't Shakespeare, but the script sometimes seems to just strive too hard to stay closer to humor than horror. It results in some scenes losing some of the dramatic punch they might have had, if they would have allowed things to go just a touch darker. The pacing of the film is quite quick, though a bit too quick, in some cases. We never really got to see Holland actually transform into Swamp Thing, nor did we get much time spent on him trying to adjust to his new situation. I would have liked to see more of a struggle for him in dealing with what he had become and his loss of his physical humanity, as he just seems to accept it too quickly. The special effects aren't very special here, although the Swamp Thing outfit does pretty closely resemble the character in the comics, so long as you don't focus on the close-ups, when the rubbery look is very obvious. Of course, this is just a limitation of the times and can't really be counted as detriment to the film.
"Swamp Thing" is like a film that bridges the gap between the old 50's-60's horror films, with their poor special effects and unintentional cheesiness, and the more modern horror films that were to come. It does feel a bit like a throwback in a lot of ways, but the film has got a lot of heart and I think its charm ultimately won me over. It's not a very scary horror film, but it is an enjoyably fun film, nonetheless.
Some Stories Just Don't Need To Be Told... And This Is One Of Them!
This film suffers from what most "prequel" films do, in that you already know that the most important players are not going to have any real danger or harm brought to them. And in a horror film, that is simply downright destructive. But even without this handicap, this film is lacking in many other ways.
Trying to give us origins of the legend Leatherface and his brood, the film comes up short in actually giving you any of the insights it supposedly is to provide. The story is very incoherent, at times, giving you little understanding or interest in seeing what is happening on the screen. Sure, we get to learn who's face was used to make the famous mask and some interesting, if underdeveloped, tidbits about how the family became cannibals, but none of it ever gels into a film that creates a story that sucks you in. So, when the killings start, you really have little in the way of fear or interest in what you are seeing. None of the actors here provided any depth or intrigue to their roles, so you never come to feel anything for them, whether they are a killer or a victim.
The one thing the film does provided is plenty of graphic gore. Gore-fiends will no doubt get what they want. But there is no psychological edge to it, as was done in the original film. It just ends up as splatter for the sake of shock alone, like many of the "torture porn" movies that are passed off for modern horror films today.
This is what modern slasher films have come to, in the wake of films like "Hostel" and "Saw." But those, at least, were done from original concepts, unlike this one, which uses the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" name to draw fans of it to this pitiful display. This is easily one of the worst films of this franchise and an insult to true horror films of every kind. Unless you are simply a fan of watching blood splatter, this is a film you need to simply steer clear from.
Vice Squad (1982)
A Very Entertaining "Vice!"
I'm something of an amateur devotee of low budget, grindhouse films. From flicks of the 60's to the present, I've seen my fair share. However, "Vice Squad" is one that will probably always standout to me, both in good ways and bad.
The basic plot is that a prostitute named "Princess" (played by Season Hubley) helps a seasoned vice cop (played by Gary Swanson) to take down a violent and deranged pimp named "Ramrod" (played by Wings Hauser), after he kills another prostitute friend of her's (played by Nina Blackwood), but soon becomes the target of the pimp's homicidal rage, after he escapes custody. Now the race is on between the vice squad and Ramrod, as to who will get to Princess first!
The film is certainly not for the faint of heart, or those who easily offend. No punches are pulled in the violence and degradation that is shown. It has a sort of gritty realism to it, but it doesn't quite make it over the hump to where you totally buy it. This is due to the stretching of credibility in some key moments. I mean, would an entire vice squad really go all out to find a single prostitute, even if her life were in danger? No, probably not. One cop, maybe two, but not the whole squad. And the violent pimp, who seems to constantly flip from calm to psychopathic at the drop of hat, would he really be able to intimidate all the hard players of this underbelly of civilized society? Again, probably not. So, when such instances happen, it takes you out of the moment and costs the film a lot of the dramatic tension it's trying to build.
Director Gary Sherman certainly does a nice job of portraying the seedier side of the big city (in this case Hollywood), as the grunge and sleaze of society's "forgotten people" is well displayed almost constantly. Sadly, though, there is little shown to us beneath that grimy surface. You never get into the minds of any of the players. You get a brief scene with Princess sending her daughter away, to show she has a softer side, but you never get much context on it. Even worse is Gary Swanson's play at the vice cop who gives a damn. Besides a very wooden performance, you never really get any insight into his reasons for being a vice cop. As he is asked at the film's end, "Why do you do it, Walsh? The streets are never going to change." The question is never answered, either to the character in the film or the audience.
The one solid bit here, is Wings Hauser's turn as the ultra-violent Ramrod. He plays it up for all he's worth here. He is certainly one of the perennial heavies of the 80's, both in film and television, but he steps things up a notch here, going from mean to downright brutal. His use of a coat hanger to whip up on prostitutes, shows a level of darkness that goes beyond ordinary misogyny. While most of the other actors just sort of plod along in their roles, Wings uses his to be a force of nature in the story, which is where most of the drama and action stems from.
The film is certainly not what one would call "classic," either in the award-winning sense or otherwise, but despite it's many flaws, it still manages to hold your attention and stick with you long after you've watched it. Whether that is due to it having that special 80's vibe, that made many less-than-stellar films give you that sensation, or merely the fact you can't look away from the sometimes over-the-top slimy nature of it all, I can't say for sure. All I can say is that, for good or ill, this is one film you won't soon forget.
Shoot 'Em Up (2007)
It Hits The Mark For "Big, Dumb Fun!"
To say that this film is over the top at being over the top, would be as intellectually insightful as saying water is wet. There's not a single thing in this movie that can be taken seriously, despite the fact it's loaded with violence and adult themes, and therein lies the true charm of the spectacle.
Clive Owens plays the mystery man known only as "Smith." After he helps a women birth her child during a gunfight, he finds himself caught up in a web of outrageous political intrigue, with the baby's life, as well as his own, as the stakes.
This is basically a parody send up of every gun-blazing, ass-kicking, tough guy action film you've ever even heard about. Owens character never misses a shot (or the chance to chomp on some carrots), in shootouts that are not just overly exaggerated, but completely impossible, in many cases. You have Paul Giamatti as the sleazy hit-man out to get him and the baby, with Monica Bellucci simply providing eye-candy, as the milk-giving whore helping Smith to save the child. There isn't a single moment that you can really take any of this seriously, but the filmmakers know this and don't just fail to apologize for it, but actually revel in it.
The choreography in the gunfights is superb. If you could actually pull off some of the stunts shown here, I fully believe the real world would be as mindlessly violent as this film is. My favorite has to be the skydiving shootout, where physics and several universal laws of kinetic energy and gravity simply don't exist. This is to say nothing of the many machismo one-liners that are constantly thrown around throughout the film, which provide the perfect black humor to the massive amounts of killing going on. Of course, one can't forget the rocking soundtrack, complete with trashy metal sounds, from groups like Motley Crue and Motorhead, that only intensifies the sensation.
Is "Shoot 'Em Up" sexist? Yep. Is it somewhat homophobic? You betcha. Is it overly violent? Oh, hell yes! The film is all of that, as well as not having a single redeeming value within the whole product. Yet, despite all of this, it is still a rip-roaring, testosterone-fueled, slam-banging, out-of-control good time, that will charm it's way into your heart and have you quoting lines from it for days afterwards! If you are someone who's easily offended, or has delicate sensibilities, then this movie is one you probably should avoid. For everyone else, just sit back and watch the mindless carnage unfold. This is truly a guy's movie, for guys who like movies. And it is probably the guiltiest pleasure experience I've had in some time.
The Fly II (1989)
A "Horror Film Sleeping Pill!"
If there is one thing I loathe almost more than remakes, it's a hollow and bland sequel film to a remake. "The Fly II" is, unfortunately, just such a beast.
We pick up where Cronenberg's creepy remake of this classic horror film left off, as we now follow the exploits of the son of Seth Brundle (played by Eric Stoltz). After his mother dies giving birth to him, he becomes the personal experiment of a greedy businessman (played by Lee Richardson), who is determined to use him to unlock the secrets of his father teleportation device. You know nothing good can come of that.
Right off the bat, almost none of the characters from the original return to this outing, with the exception of John Getz, who reprises his role as the token jerk. Not a very good sign. Then, you have four screenwriters on the script, which doesn't give you much hope of a solid story. The old adage about "too many cooks spoil the broth" is in full effect here, as none of the characters ever really come to life (except, perhaps, a little bit from Richardson's).
Really, I felt like the cast was sleepwalking through their scenes most of the time. There's no passion or spark in any of the performances. To be fair, to follow up on the incredibly frenetic and passionate energy of Jeff Goldblum's character from the first film, would be a very unenviable task for most actors, but Eric Stoltz never even gets close to anything like it. None of the cast do. Maybe they were as bored with the dialog here, as I was, I don't know. But there's really no standout performances here. There's almost no performances of any kind. They are all just cyphers to the need of the plot (such as it is). Just plodding along until the "Brundle-Fly" can come out and play. This is only made worse by the fact that there's no really likable characters in the entire film. Even Stoltz and Zuniga's characters, who are supposed to be the "heroes," never evoked any kind of emotion from me, save apathy.
Director Chris Walas obviously wasn't interested in creating the eerie tension and drama that Cronenberg did in the first film, as he opts more for cornball performances and putting all his effort into the special effects. But even there the film is just lacking. You can tell he was trying hard to top the "gross out" appeal of the first film, but it never comes off that way. Much of the violence is pretty tame, especially compared to the first film. It comes off more like "Cronenberg-lite" and never really satisfies. Even the monster Martin becomes does more to invite laughter, rather than fear and revulsion.
This film is just a clear cut case of how one movie's success was used as just cause to create a pointless sequel. Everyone involved here could only have been looking to get a paycheck. It's b-grade horror at its most dull and boring. It's not even "so bad it's good" b-grade horror. There's no scares to be had here, nor any humor, save the possibility of the unintentional kind. If you've seen the first film, you certainly don't need to see this one. And if you haven't seen it, go watch that instead of this. The only thing this poor production has in common with flies, is the fact that any kind of crap will usually attract them.
Sweet Georgia (1972)
Sexploitation As Succulent As A Georgia Peach!
Southern hick sexploitation films from the 60's and 70's are not exactly a rare commodity, but this one is a little something special because you have two of the genre "royalty" working together: Harry "The King of Sexploitation" Novak and Marsha "The Queen of Soft Core" Jordan.
In "Sweet Georgia," Marsha Jordan plays the title role. Georgia is an insatiable nympho, who has no problem getting it on with anyone, from the ranch hands to her own virgin step-daughter. Seems everyone gets a piece of her sweet loving, except her drunk, fat and abusive husband. But when a sexual encounter in the stables leads to a horrible accident, things take a dark turn for everyone.
As with most films of this type, the production values are pretty low and the acting abilities of everyone, save the sensuous Marsha Jordan, almost non-existent. It's pretty much left up to Marsha and her voluptuous curves to carry the film, which she actually does fairly well. The story is pretty thin, as it revolves around this group of people stay with the drunken head of the household, only until he strikes some gold from his mine. Of course, he never does and this part of the plot is quickly forgotten when everyone starts having their trysts with Georgia. There is some nice full frontal nudity of Marsha, too, which is always a treat for the viewer. The sex scenes are not over too quickly, nor do they feel as though they are dragging on, either. Marsha's girl-on-girl scene with Barbara Mills is particularly erotic. The dialog is corny and unintentionally humorous (with lines like: "Shut up and lay me!") and except for Marsha, all the other actors sound like they are reading their lines off cue-cards. Fortunately, Ms. Jordan's banging bod and steamy screen presence is enough to hold things together and keep it interesting enough until the final act.
The last third of the film does take a rather morbid and dark turn that you don't see coming, which really helps it to stand out from other such sexploitation efforts of the times and will help make it a bit more memorable than most. It's also one of the last films Marsha Jordan did, before leaving the business.
"Sweet Georgia" is slightly better than the typical entry of this genre and shows why Harry Novak really knew how to take such inane concepts as this and make them entertaining, if not always interesting. Genre fans are sure to get some fun mileage out of this effort. If you are a fan of the buxom Marsha Jordan, this one is definitely a keeper for your collection. All in all, it's pretty decent fare for this brand of film and certainly worth a viewing or two.
This Is Where The Story Should Have Ended!
As one of the longest running horror franchise in movie history, there really isn't much left up the sleeve of the "Friday the 13th" series to scare us with by the sixth installment. So, they decided to focus less on horror and a little more of fun. The results are not too bad, as far as sequels go.
Determined to make sure Jason is dead once and for all, Tommy Jarvis (played by Thom Mathews) digs up his body with the intent to cremate him. Instead, he accidentally reanimates Jason and the killing spree begins again. Can Tommy stop the now-undead murder machine, or will the local Sheriff (played by David Kegan) and a town that wants to move on from the horrors of Jason Voorhees end up getting him, along with all of them, killed in the process?
Right off the bat, if you are expecting straight-on horror from this outing, you are sure to be disappointed. Writer/Director Tom McLoughlin opts to take things a bit less serious than past chapters of this saga have been, adding in an element of humor to the mix and toning down on the graphic gore (although, personally, I think we could have used a little bit more of the latter). It's a formula he would use in many of the horror works he'd do after this, for both the big screen and the small one. While in less capable hands such things usually become a train wreck, McLoughlin never lets the humor stray too far into goofy slapstick and utter parody. There are a few of the in-jokes and camera mugging moments that are groan worthy, but overall the humor never totally overpowers the more horrific aspects of the film, as has happened in other attempts like this.
The cast, which is mostly a "who's who" of television roles, does an overall solid job with the material they are given, with Thom Mathews and David Kegan the real standouts. Mathews does a great job of making you feel for Tommy's plight, while Kegan's sheriff is a great foil to Tommy. Jennifer Cooke (who fans of the 80's television series "V" will remember) is sexy, but never in a trampy way. In fact, there wasn't really anything in the way of nudity in this film, unlike so many others of its kind, but I never even missed it, as I was just having a lot of fun watching things unfold.
In a lot of ways "Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI" was one of the earliest films that help to bridge the gulf between horror and humor, that many others would follow for the next couple of decades. And while those efforts are certainly a mixed bag, I think they made it work well enough here to make an enjoyable little popcorn horror-comedy, provided you don't think about the actual plot too much. Die-hards of straight-laced horror and gore, as well as this saga's previous chapters, will probably not find this film to their tastes. But for horror buffs who can take their scares a little less seriously, this film is a great way to kill an hour and a half and have some fun doing it. It's a fairly enjoyable sequel to this franchise and certainly a decent horror-comedy in its own right.
Death Race (2008)
Enjoyable Mindless Fun, For A Remake!
Hollywood is well-known for trotting out the big and mindless action films and "Death Race" is certainly no different, in that regard. The basics of the plot are a pretty well-traveled affair and none of the actors does any real stretching beyond their character's needs. From Joan Allen's "ballbuster" warden, to Jason Statham's "hard-ass" hero, to Ian McShane's "Yoda-like" veteran inmate, nothing new, innovative or different is brought out.
Of course, no one really sees films like this for deep and meaningful performances. It's all about the action and this one gives you plenty of it. The car battles are done exceedingly well. You actually feel like you are in the vehicle, as the action unfolds. The stunts on the track are pretty much what you expect. If you like to watch fast cars and big explosions, this film will not fail you.
One of the things that's interesting about this film, is exactly how it is connected to Roger Corman's cult classic "Death Race 2000." Originally, this was to be a sequel, with futuristic floating cars, like out of "Back to the Future Part II," but the expense forced that to be changed. The film's writer/director, Paul W.S. Anderson, has said that this is meant as a prequel to Corman's film, but since this takes place AFTER the time period of it, I find that hard to swallow.
So, for myself, I see it as an updated remake, which I normally find very putrid, since most remakes are of films that are already good on their own. But "Death Race" is of that rare breed, where the remake can be taken on it's own and enjoyed, without it being disrespectful to the previous version. Something made much easier, by the guest voicing of (the late) David Carradine as "Frankenstein" (the same character he played in Corman's classic original).
So, while "Death Race" isn't a film that will leave you pondering deep philosophical questions about life and humanity, it manages to pack in plenty of thrills and action that one comes to expect of the typical summer flick. It's simply big, dumb fun and very re-watchable! What every action blockbuster aspires to be. It is sure to appeal to the 14-year old in every guy.
The Hellcats (1968)
You'd Be Better Off Watching Actual Cats, Instead Of This!
Normally, I'd go into a nice little paragraph which sets up my thoughts of the film, followed by a quick synopsis of the plot, my thoughts of the various attributes of the film (acting, directing, cinematography, etc.) and close with a pithy little nugget that sums up my overall feelings.
I can't do that with "The Hellcats," because I still have no idea what I just saw. It certainly wasn't a coherent movie. There was no discernible plot to be found here. No interesting performances, no dramatic tension, nothing you would except to see when watching a film. As far as I could tell, it's basically a film that throws together every stereotypical biker cliché in the book and tries to let a story unfold from that. And it epically fails.
I know dropping acid and smoking weed was the hip thing going in the late 60's. It is pretty obvious that almost anyone involved with this venture was using them before, during, and after production. Maybe if I'd have done so before watching this... spectacle, I might have been able to understand it. Regardless, it had the same effect on me any illegal narcotics could: It warped my perceptions of logic and reality, killed off a large number of brain cells, and when I awoke from the stupor it put me in, I couldn't have told you what time of day it is. Avoid this crap pile like the plague it is! I wish I had. It's probably THE worst film I've ever seen (and given some of the ones I have, that's saying something)!
Deadly Weapons (1974)
The Ultimate Case Of "More Is Less!"
Crime drama and sexploitation go together like peanut butter and jelly, and Doris Wishman is certainly one director who made a career off blending the perverse with the criminal. So, you'd think with a gimmick like Chesty Morgan at her disposal, you'd have an easy winning sleaze-fest. Sadly, you'd be very much mistaken.
In "Deadly Weapons," Chesty plays a woman named Crystal, who's boyfriend is a member of the mob. But when he double-crosses his boss, he ends up dead. So, Crystal sets out to revenge her lover with the two best weapons she has: her enormous breasts! That's as far as any story development goes.
To say the plot here is tissue thin, is really an insult to tissues. Little in this freak show makes any sense. We never learn what the information is that the crime boss is so eager to recover. And when Chesty's character goes for her revenge, there is absolutely no planning of any kind. She just packs up and miraculously finds her targets. The attempt for a twist ending, unlike Chesty herself, falls completely flat. Throw in some of Wishman's typical directorial excesses throughout the film, like lingering camera shots of the floor or ashtrays and plants, as well as a group of actors who don't know how to deliver lines, even they are sent by Western Union, and you have a train wreak larger than Chesty's own boobs.
And speaking of which, let me say, as an American male of the heterosexual persuasion, I love me some boobies. But Chesty's aren't sexy at all. Not just because their massive size is so unseemly, but she really doesn't even know how to use them effectively. There's a striptease scene she does about halfway in the film and it has to be the most unerotic thing I've ever seen. She just looks like she walking through the whole movie bored out of her mind. Even a scene where she bathes is completely unenticing.
Is there anything worth seeing here? Well, there is some nice scenic shots of the old 70's Las Vegas and Miami. And the opening montage during the credits is as close as Chesty comes to doing anything of value with her ample mammaries. That's about it, however.
No one ever goes into a sexploitation film like this expecting great cinematic brilliance, but you do expect some level of entertainment value, either by arousal or unintentional humor and a fun plot. This film has neither of those qualities, which given Chesty's figure you might think wouldn't be possible. There was certainly enough potential with the material and assets here to make something that could have been some dirty fun, but there was simply no follow through by anyone involved with this production. What you end up with is an uninteresting and unerotic film, which is pretty much a kiss of death in this genre. Unless you are a total Doris Wishman die-hard, this one should be an easy skip for you.
Drive Angry (2011)
Tries Too Hard To Be Gritty And Exploitative!
Nic Cage's career has been one heck of a roller-coaster ride. From highs so high, you'd think he was worthy of a place among Hollywood's leading men legends, to lows so low, that you wonder if his agent is out to sabotage him to never working in film again, his film credits have run the gamut. In the grand scheme of all that, "Drive Angry," while not the lowest point he's ever hit, certainly is on that end of the dividing line.
Cage plays a man named Milton, who's come back from the depths of Hell, to revenge his daughter's murder and grand-daughter's kidnapping at the hands of Jonah King (played by Billy Burke) and his devil cult. All while picking up a sexy sidekick (played by Amber Heard) and dodging a hell-born truant officer (played by William Fichtner).
If that plot sounds completely preposterous, that's only because it is. The film is on the level of a low-budget grindhouse affair, but is lacking in the true grit and feeling of sleaziness that a true one would have. Cage spends the entire film with the same expression on his face, whether he's blowing people away, talking about his love for his daughter, or getting it on with a cheap floozy. Meanwhile, Billy Burke's character is simply evil incarnate, without a single redeeming factor or any complexity of any kind. He doesn't just lack depth of character, but shallowness of character. Amber Heard is simply some very sexy arm candy for Cage, as the plot shows her to be little more than the perpetual damsel in distress, even when she's trying to kick some ass herself. The only one to bring anything of value to this proceeding, is William Fichtner as the hellspawn retriever known as "the Accountant." His deadpan expressions and flippant remarks make up most of the humor to be found (which isn't much) in this action-paced mess.
Co-Writer/Director Patrick Lussier, who's resume includes such cinematic gems like "Dracula 2000," "The Prophecy 3" and "White Noise 2" opts to leave out such unnecessary trivialities, like a coherent plot, character motivations and explanations, and emotional drama, to give more time to the much more important special effects, action sequences, and 3-D elements. Why create a mood, when you can simply blow things up?
Pretty much everything else is just explosions, car chases, and blood-letting. Some of which is fairly well done and the one sole area the film tries to excel at. We get no real insights into Cage's or Heard's characters. The script has Cage telling us how much he loved his daughter and how Heard was "waiting for something" in her life, but it's never really bought to life in the film. There is absolutely zero emotional investment in any of these characters. Even in the most shoot-'em-up action-fest around, you need to make folks care about what happens to the hero. Such is never the case here, because to do that would take time away from blasting people with shotguns and watching cars race down the highway. Despite it's R-rating, the film actually feels like it's aimed to appeal to boys between 12-16 years-old, which is only fitting as the film is on the same maturity level.
In the end, "Drive Angry" is an empty barrel, as the amount of noise made during the viewing should no doubt tell you. It hits one-note throughout its 104 minute run time and never even tries to go beyond it. I could almost believe they wanted to make a grindhouse film, except the budget for the action and special effects goes against that, as well as going after a star of Nic Cage's level (although, with films like this to his credits, that might start to change). It's too "shiny" to be a grindhouse film, but too poorly conceived to be a true Hollywood action blockbuster. I suppose if you had a couple hours to kill and were looking for a totally mindless experience, you could do worse than this film. But for the action junkies out there, you have many other offerings that will fill your need for carnage, and are better made films, than this one is. It's really only one to see, when you've seen most everything else this film genre has to offer.
The Exterminator (1980)
The Concrete Jungle Is Deadlier Than The Vietnam One!
Something that can be found in all the best grindhouse films, is their ability to tap into the most primal of human emotions. The rawness of the film style brings a gritty realism to the proceeding. That is certainly true in the case of the vengeance-fueled fantasy that is "The Exterminator!" Former vet, John Eastland (played very effectively by Robert Ginty), finds life in New York City is even more savage than the jungles of Vietnam, after the near-fatal assault of his best friend causes him to wage his own personal war on the criminal element of the city. Of course, such actions will not go unnoticed.
Right from the start, writer/director James Glickenhaus lets you know just what you are in for with this film, as it begins with a horrific flashback to Eastland's time in 'Nam and sets the tone of the violent displays that will soon follow it. While the special effects are not what one would call "high quality," the sheer brutality of what is shown (and often what is not shown) adds a degree of realism that most big budget special effects extravaganzas never could hope to achieve. The beheading scene during the wartime flashback (done masterfully by special effect artist Stan Winston), for example, perfectly illustrates what I mean. It's a gripping moment, due to the harshness and savage way it is presented. Most of the violence is presented in this fashion and it gives the film an edge over many of the like-minded ones that were being produced at the time. They also did a very good job of portraying New York City in the late 70's. The feeling of urban decay, filth, and human misery is almost palpable. Quite simply, you might almost feel the need to bathe after watching this film.
As far as the story goes, it's pretty straight-forward. Just your typical revenge style fantasy stuff, which was like a cottage industry back then. There are some bits about the political climate of the time woven into things, as Eastland's actions are not taken well by political figures, who feel his war on crime makes them look inept and weak. But while the politics are in the background, they never really dominate the story. Instead, the focus is kept on Eastland's private war. Most of the performances range from adequate to banal, but then one doesn't watch this kind of cinema expecting Oscar-worthy acting. Robert Ginty was never really a great actor, with this film being his biggest claim to fame, but he truly brought out a great performance here. You can understand and relate to him and why he's doing what he is. I also liked the role of the cop out to stop him (played solidly by Christopher George). However, the romance he strikes up with a nurse (played by Samantha Eggar) doesn't really fit in with the rest of the tone of the film. As a result, it feels tacked on and unnecessary, only serving to take time away from getting more insights into Ginty's character. The ending of the film is, without question, not your typical Hollywood kind and the film only benefits from that.
While many might see "The Exterminator" as just a fairly typical entry into this sub-genre of film, I think some of the smaller bits within it shine through enough that it stands out from most fare of this nature. Within the realm of grindhouse flicks, this one is certainly one of the better ones out there. The rawness and grit of the setting and the downtroddened feeling in the performances, gives the film a legitimacy few others of it's kind ever have. Genre fans would do well to seek it out.