Digging Into De Palma's Early Thrillers

 As much as I like to think I'm a De Palma fan, I realized that I had only really scratched the surface of his filmography. So I decided to dig into his early films, the ones I never actually got around to - namely his "thrillers". 

One thing immediately stands out when you watch a film that he both wrote and directed himself: they're so bizarre, but in the best possible way. They never stick to a specific storyline, theme or genre, often shifting all 3 of these things throughout the film. Though he didn't actually write The Fury himself, it certainly fits into this aesthetic. If you've never seen an early Brian De Palma thriller, I'd highly suggest you do so as soon as possible.

I'd have to say that Blow Out is probably my favorite. It's such an underrated masterpiece in the thriller genre, But Body Double would probably be his most "De Palma" film in this early area of his career. It's kind of nuts and amazing at the same time. In any case, any of these would be a good one to start with, because they're all well representative of the specific way he makes films, and it's safe to say that nobody has ever come close to displaying the mastery that he has, and nobody probably will. 

Also of note, if you haven't yet watched the fascinating and highly entertaining documentary De Palma, I'd encourage you to do so immediately. It's literally 2 hours of De Palma talking about every single one of his films in order and it's awesome. A must watch for cinephiles. I've included the trailer below:


Cobra (1986) - Deleted Scenes (Info, Pictures and Clips)

I recently came across this the other day, and had a field day. It's quite literally a goldmine of lost content regarding the troubled editing process with this Stallone/Cosmatos classic. While not everything that was sadly cut from the first Workprint version, there's still a ton of stuff in here that kind of blows my mind, things that I had never seen before or was even aware of. While we may never find that lost and mythical Workprint of this insanely badass classic, this will have to do.

Special thanks to YouTube user Jack Craven for putting all of this together from various sources.


Albert Pyun's Mean Guns Film Review

Directed by: Albert Pyun
Category: Action

I always feel like I always have to defend Albert Pyun as a director, and it's not always easy. As much as I love the guy as a filmmaker, even I have to admit that I have to question his choices from time to time. While he has a little over 50 titles under his belt as a director, in all honesty, I really only like about a good handful. But it's those handful that I love so much that keep me hoping I'll find more. And I'm still working on it. To date I've only scratched the surface of his entire filmography. So there's always that hope I'll find more of his earlier films that will blow me away the way Cyborg, Nemesis, Captain America, Dollman and Brain Smasher: A Love Story did when I first saw them.

Mean Guns has been on my radar for a very long time. You'd think it would be right up my alley, I mean, with the combo of 90's action, Christopher Lambert, and Pyun behind the directors chair. I should have been all over this long ago. At some point I even picked up a Japan Laserdisc because it was in widescreen, and as far as I know, it's not available in widescreen in any form here in the state, though I'm sure in other parts of the world it's more than likely gotten a blu ray release by now. That's not a big deal for a lot of people, but it's always been for me. I prefer to see certain films in their proper aspect ratio, and I know Pyun has had considerable trouble getting his films released that way. He's even said so. So when I came across a Mean Guns Japan Laserdisc in widescreen one day, I immediately jumped on it.

To my surprise, Mean Guns was better than I expected it to be, but it wasn't awesome. It certainly has some cool things going for it, but overall it's kind of a numbing experience. If there was such a thing as "too much action", then Mean Guns would certainly be the example. It's pretty much a nonstop barrage of guns, shootouts and people dying left and right, but at the same time, it's not very violent. Mainly in the sense that yes you see lots of people getting shot over and over again, but you don't see any blood. But you do see them fall if that counts for anything.

About a good halfway through the film I began to get bored because shocking as it may seem, the endless and uninteresting killing got dull very quickly. To make up for lack of onscreen blood, they instead amp up the gunshot sounds to a ridiculous high, which tends to come off as overindulgent. I don't know, maybe this was their plan all along, but if it was, then they seriously missed a great opportunity to give us a badass action flick. The odd, yet interesting use of mambo music throughout the entire film also adds to the camp factor. It's hard to take a film like this seriously for so many of these reasons. On one hand, it looks slick - everyone is wearing black or in trench coats, and Pyun does a fine job directing this. I wouldn't say it's one of his best efforts, but I've seen worse from him. But on the other hand, it has a weird beat to it, and the constant mambo music takes away a lot of it's edge.

For a film that carries in insane amount of action, I found it to be surprisingly tedious and dull for the most part, which is sad and frustrating because it has so much potential. All the right ingredients are here, but squandered to try a different tactical approach that kind of falls flat. It's not a terrible way to spend an hour and a half of your life, because it does have some positive things going for it, and that might be enough for you to enjoy it. I don't want it to come off like I'm beating this up too much, because it's not a bad film at all. It just could have been so much better with some minor changes.


The Demolitionist Film Review

French VHS cover scan courtesy of Nanarland.com

Directed by: Robert Kurtzman
Category: Action

If you're in the mood for a fun low-budget, cheesy sci-fi/action Robocop ripoff, then boy do I have the film for you. It won't blow your mind or anything, but if you're into this kind of stuff, then The Demolotionist will make you happy. I mean, look at this cover. It's incredible. Just judging from that cover alone, if this was the type of film you were in the mood for, I can guarantee you that you will not be disappointed. The Demolitionist will deliver the goods and then some.

Essentially just a female Robocop ripoff, this film seems to revel in it's cheesiness, never taking itself too seriously. Everything is over the top, from the hammy acting, to the dialogue, to the cartoonish violence and the bright neon lighting. Some may be put off by some of these things, especially the pink powder squibs instead of blood when victims are shot, but I actually quite enjoyed it for all of these reasons. In fact, it's when the film tries to be serious that it starts to fall apart. Luckily these scenes are few and far between, and the film recovers.

I have to assume that the hamminess of it all was intentional, because there's just so much of it, but in a really fun and entertaining way. So if that sort of thing turns you off, then maybe this isn't for you. But if it doesn't deter you, then I can tell you're in for a great time, with quite a few surprises as well.

For starters, the casting in this is just insane. I don't even know where to begin, but pretty much every few minutes you'll see an icon pop up in a bit part, and then there's the main cast, all notable cult icons. Again, it's insane and I spent more time picking out all the familiar faces than paying attention to the actual plot, which like I said, is just Robocop but with a female instead.

Something else that surprised me was how well this was made. When you go into these types of films, you have to expect it to have a certain low-budget quality, and this one does. But what surprised me was how good everything looked for the most part. There are moments where certain sequences or shots have a professional quality, like something out of a big budget film. And then the remainder of the film definitely puts a lot of style in every shot. I wouldn't say it works all of the time, but when it does work, it adds something to the overall experience.

I've only seen 2 other films with effects wizard Robert Kurtzman as director. The first being Wishmaster, which I absolutely loved, and the other one being the ultra-low-budget horror film The Rage, which I disliked so much that I couldn't even finish it. So while the cover of this one just screamed awesome and attracted literally every one of my senses, I was still on the fence about whether I would actually enjoy it or not.  Kurtzman fell so hard from one picture to the next that I found it hard to work up any real excitement over this. But that cover man. It's amazing. I was in.
What I didn't realize until now was that this was Kurtzman's first film as a director after co-founding KNB Effects Group. I had always thought Wishmaster was his first film for some reason, but that would be false. This film was made 2 years before Wishmaster. He does show some promise as a filmmaker, especially with his one and only big budget film Wishmaster, but I don't know how much of that was attributed to his DoP or Cinematographer. Sadly, he never built on that promise as The Rage clearly shows his decline in style, substance, and quality.

Moving on. There are several area's where the film does falter quite a bit. First and foremost, when it tries to be serious and throw emotion at us. Another area would be that a lot of the action sequences just aren't choreographed and edited very well. And much to my surprise, the film isn't gory, or even very violent. Yes, there is a lot of action in here, but it's all very cartoony and silly. In fact, I don't even recall much blood at all. And lastly, there was this annoying thing that kept happening with nearly every shot. The camera angle would be set, and whether it was a still shot or a tracking shot, it would begin to slightly tilt towards a dutch angle. It happened so often that it became a constant annoyance, and sadly, it ended up ruining some rather stunning shots where it would have been better without that happening.

All in all a very fun experience. Deeply flawed, yet there's so much to enjoy that you can easily overlook a lot of this low-budget films shortcomings. I guess the best way I can describe it is that it's a hot mess.


Armed Response (1986) Film Review

VHS cover scan courtesy of Ryan Gelatin as submitted to SerialKillerCalender.com

Directed by: Fred Olen Ray
Category: Action

Sometimes you come across a film that perfectly delivers exactly what the cover art promises, and what you are hoping for; nothing more, nothing less. This is that film. If you're looking for a solid little low-budget action flick that delivers just the right amount of awesome, action, and 80's vibe, then this is the film for you.

This tale of revenge and double-crosses centered around the Yakuza clan, the Chinese Tong, and father and son war veterans came at a time when I was struggling to find anything good after a string of terrible or mediocre action films. You'd think it would be easy to make these, but apparently it's not, because I kept throwing on dud after dud until finally getting around to this one and being pleasantly surprised....finally.

I think one of the biggest surprises for me was that this was directed by Fred Olen Ray, a filmmaker with questionable ability for most of his career. Honestly, without sounding too much like a dick, this is probably the only film of his that I've seen that I genuinely like. I admit that I haven't seen a lot of his vast filmography, but one thing I've noticed is that the quality of his work is never consistent. A lot of it is just terrible, with most of it being dismissive. But somehow, in some way, all the stars aligned for this one effort and while it's not a great piece of work, it's one helluva fun B-Movie in the action genre.

Aside from the fact that Ray actually turned out a solid film, the casting of this thing is just fantastic. First and foremost, you have the legends Lee Van Cleef and David Carradine. But it's really the little bit parts filled to the brim with genre icons that really stand out like Micheal Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), Brent Huff (Strike Commando 2, Born to Fight), Mako (Conan the Destroyer, The Perfect Weapon), Dick Miller (!!!), Laurene Landon (Maniac Cop 1 & 2), and David Goss (Hollywood Cop). Man, what a fantastic cast all around for such a small film.

I'm not going to lie to you and say that this is one of the best low-budget action movies I've ever seen, because it's not. But it sure is one helluva good time in this little niche department. It's got a great cast, a fun vibe, and shockingly, it's made competently well. Too bad Ray couldn't keep up with this type of quality of work. If anything, Armed Response shows that the guy has the goods. In some ways you can compare him to Jim Wynorski. Both filmmakers have tackled pretty much every genre imaginable, but really hit their mark in the horror genre, before settling into softcore porn for the majority of their later career, only to strangely segway into family friendly comedies now and then. They both really left their mark though with a low-budget horror flick; Wynorski with Chopping Mall (1986), and Ray with Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988). It's a shame that even though they both deliver multiple films a year - and still continue to, they have never been able to capture the magic of these early offerings in their careers.

Armed Response was awesome, plain and simple. Give it a shot, should the mood for this type of film strikes you. You won't be disappointed.


Body Melt Film Review

Body Melt VHS Cover Scan courtesy of VHSCollector.com

Directed by: Philip Brophy
Category: Horror

I'm just going to say right up front that this was not a hit with me or my movie group. I don't know, I guess had I known what we were getting ourselves into, our reaction might have turned out different. But we didn't, and based on all I heard from others and online, it was an early 90's gory horror film. That's all I knew going in. So essentially, we were pretty excited.

I don't know. Maybe I just didn't get it. But this was a terrible film. And I'm not alone on this. None in our group liked it at all. In fact, someone fell asleep and slept through the entire thing because he was so bored. The film offers nothing to keep you invested for the first 45 minutes, and sometimes you wonder what kind of film this is even supposed to be, because it's painfully obvious that the filmmakers aren't even sure. The first half of the film is utterly confusing, and there are no hints or signs whatsoever that anything that's happening, however random or intentional it is, has any meaning later on in the film. You're so confused as the film jumps from one story to the next without any connection between any of them. Of course you find out later that there are, but by then, you just don't care anymore.

I think the films biggest fault is just how uneven it is. For a film that's short and doesn't even crack the standard hour and a half, it's surprisingly dull for the most part. It lacks a consistent pace and oftentimes shifts tones so regularly that you really can't tell what genre this is supposed to fall under. And sometimes that's fine and it works, but when a film is as boring as this one is, you just get annoyed. Whether it was intentional or not, Body Melt shifts from early Peter Jackson comedy/horror, to serious detective story, to.......oh hell, who cares? It's a mess.

One of the biggest draws to this film is it's over the top gross-out effects work, so I hoped that if the film as a whole was bad, then maybe it's killer effects work would save the day. Nope. While the effects work is indeed impressive, especially for a low-budget horror film, these sequences are shockingly brief, and very few and far between. For a film called Body Melt, there just wasn't enough Body Melting to be done.

It's a shame really. All the right ingredients are present for a solid cult classic balls-to-the-wall gorefest, yet it repeatedly fails to deliver on so many different levels. I'm kind of surprised at how sought after this film is, and how much the VHS, DVD and Laserdiscs go for these days. After watching it, I'm glad I didn't shell out any money for it or else I would have been upset. I streamed it on a free trial through Amazon and Shudder.

It's a shame really, because we were all genuinely excited about this one. It has it's moments, but there just aren't enough of them, and the film as a whole is severely uneven and lacks any clear direction to be enjoyable.


The Punisher (1989) Australian Blu Ray Review; Digging Into The Uncut, Workprint and Theatrical Versions

The Punisher (1989) Umbrella Entertainment Blu ray cover

The Australian label Umbrella Entertainment has been slowly making a name for itself in the Cult Film's market with some pretty outstanding releases in the last few years. Though I personally hadn't gotten any yet, when I learned they would finally be releasing a version with all the deleted footage intact, and on Blu Ray, well I immediately jumped at the chance and pre-ordered my copy.

I will say that the website and the packaging both state that this would be a Region B locked release, which was surprising since I was told by several others who buy Umbrella Ent. releases regularly that they're usually Region Free. I ordered it anyway and figured I'd just borrow a friends PS4 to watch it if I had to.

First thing I did was send Umbrella Ent. an email regarding this and they were kind enough to immediately reply. They stated that even though the packaging states it's Region B, it is in fact a Region Free release and I can verify that I am able to play it on my standard U.S. blu ray player, which seriously made my day.

The Punisher (1989) Blu ray Reversible Cover Art
The first thing I noticed is that while this is a blu-ray upgrade, I have to be honest and say that I really didn't notice that much of a difference in quality. There is still tons of graininess in a lot of the film, and in terms of sharpness, again, I didn't notice much of a difference. But you know what? I really don't care. This is a film that was actually shot on film in the late 80's and I have to expect that it's never going to get a crystal clear image. Regardless, this isn't the type of film you want to see that way anyway, is it? It's an ultra-violent low-budget grindhouse flick, and I think the way it's presented here perfectly suits the film.

Now, let's get down to the real reason I, and probably you, got this film. It's for the alternate versions found on this disc. This release from UE provides us with 3 different versions of the film, all located on a single disc; The Regular Theatrical Release, The Uncut Version, and The Goldblatt Workprint Version.

The Theatrical Cut is presented in HD and looks as good as it's ever going to look, but complete with graininess as I stated before. The other 2 versions however, the Uncut and Workprint, are both presented in SD (Standard Definition).
- The Uncut Version, which I was told includes about 10 seconds of additional violence in certain scenes, is actually pretty good in terms of quality. In fact, it's pretty darn close to the HD transfer of the Theatrical Cut.
- The Workprint Version however, is a bit more of a downgrade. The quality seems to come from a VHS or Beta source. Still, when you consider the fact that you can finally see the 17 minute prologue completely edited into the film in a fairly decent quality, when the only available version I'd ever come across before was very poor quality in little clips, well that's just awesome.

Also located in the Special Features are 2 interviews; One with director Mark Goldblatt, which is very informative, and the other with Lundgren at a gym. While the Lundgren interview is much shorter and even comes across as impromptu since he's standing there sweating after working out, it also offers some very good bits of information regarding his casting and how he prepared for the role.

All in all an outstanding release if you ask me. I've been having a blast digging through all 3 different versions as well as the interviews. If there was anything I could have asked them to add or change, I would have loved to have seen the Workprint Version also in HD, and though it's never been mentioned anywhere to my knowledge, I would love to see a "Making Of" featurette. But like I said, I've never heard of there being any behind-the-scenes footage of this particular film, so I doubt any even exists.

By now you can probably find this release on many different sites, but if you want to buy it directly from the company that produced it, you can do so HERE.

*special thanks to Jeremie Damoiseau, my friend and author of the new book "Punisher: The Secret History", for some extra bits of info regarding these different versions.

I mistakenly forgot to mention that there are other additions to the Special Features section that include an audio commentary by director Mark Goldblatt on the Uncut Version, a Gag Reel, and Theatrical Trailer.


Hit List (1989) Film Review

VHS cover scan courtesy of retro-daze.org

Directed by: William Lustig
Category: Action/Thriller

This is a film that I'd been wanting to see for quite some time, yet was made difficult by the fact that it has never gotten a release outside of VHS and Laserdsic. And when I did come across it on these formats from time to time, they were always too expensive for me to spend on a blind buy not knowing if the film was really any good or not. But I do have to admit, that RCA VHS was always so attractive to me, so I always kept an eye out for it hoping I could come across one fairly cheap. And I eventually did.

While this wasn't as "awesome" as I was hoping for, it was still a very good thriller. There are things that work, and there are things that don't. Thankfully, the things that do work, work extremely well and make up for some of what the film lacks. Mainly what it lacks is substance. There were long stretches of time where nothing very interesting happened, yet it wasn't altogether boring either, if that makes sense. What does work in it's favor is the strong cast, Lustig's excellent visuals and a fantastic ending.

Starting with the cast, while I've always found Rip Torn to be just a flat-out odd actor, he comes across even more so in here where he tries to pull off an Italian gangster. And I'm aware of Jan Michael Vincent's reputation and substance abuse as much as the next guy, but considering Lustig had to shoot most of his scenes solo because he was just so out of it most of the time, I honestly couldn't tell. He seemed coherent enough, and I never once noticed he rarely ever shared the same shot with other actors. The guy who really steals the show in here though is Lance Henrikesen. While he seems to be one of the busiest actors in history, knocking out half a dozen films or shows a year, he always finds time to really go nuts with a character from time to time and in here, he gives us one of his most memorable, insane and most entertaining villains I've ever seen from him. Seriously. This movie is worth the watch just to see Lance play insane over the top psychotic hit man alone. Truth be told, it's Lance who ends up saving this film, making it a much better film overall than had someone else played the main bad guy role.

The action and stuntwork will definitely be a highlight for anyone who watches this, because it's what ultilmately drives the film. There are some nice sequences scattered throughout the film, but sadly, not as much as you would like. However, once the film hits it's third and final act, Hit List kicks into high gear delivering some outstanding action, stuntwork and car chases. I won't spoil it for you, except to say it's awesome and worth the investment.

William Lustig has not made a lot of films as a director, though he is a highly prolific producer. Of all the films he's made, he'll most likely be remembered as the director of such cult classics as the Maniac Cop trilogy, Vigilante and Maniac. I personally find him a highly underrated filmmaker. He has a very specific style when it comes to making films, a very gritty, yet stylized approach that give all of his films a very Lustig quality. I had always hoped he would direct more, or use his specific talents in the action/thriller genre, but it just seems that those weren't in the cards. I am glad that he did ultimately give us a handful of gems though. I just wish there were more.


No Contest II: AKA Face The Evil Film Review

VHS scan courtesy of Talesfromthesnikt.blogspot.com
This is the perfect example of why you can't have too much of a good thing. When  I randomly came across the first film in the series, No Contest about a year ago, it was more than just a pleasant surprise. It was awesome. I fucking loved it. Essentially just a low-budget Die Hard ripoff, it ended up being one of the better ones in a sea of Die Hard ripoffs. In fact, it's damn near an identical clone! What was even more surprising, aside from it's impressive casting, was that it was directed by Paul Lynch, who's only real big credit was directing the very first Prom Night. He again returns in the director's chair, and again re-teams with star Shannon Tweed.

In this sequel, oddly re-titled Face The Evil here in the U.S., they bring along the always reliable baddie Lance Henrikeson, and Bruce Payne, who shockingly turns a good guy performance this time around. While not as impressive as the cast of the first film, they do solid work with what they have to work with.

Aesthetically, director Paul Lynch seems to kind of go-through-the-motions here. While a competent
VHS scan courtesy of VHSCollector.com
looking film, it's a far cry from his slick streamlined approach where he was channeling John McTiernan. Here he takes a much looser and more freestyle approach, meaning you won't find any of the impressive widescreen shots and kickass camerawork that made the first one so good.

I have to admit. I had high hopes for this one. I mean, how could I not? The first one was just so fun and well made when I wasn't really expecting much to begin with. And knowing the same star and director were returning only got my excitement even hotter. But while the story, about a mad man who wants to release a chemical agent that kills instantly, was okay, the many sub-par fight scenes, action sequences, and less than stellar camerawork leave you let down.

While knowing full well that Shannon Tweed cannot possibly do most of the fighting and stunts in both of these films, it was easier to take seeing her stunt double the first time around simply because the first one was a much better and enjoyable film all around. Here though, it comes off as annoying when 90% of the time you see a stunt double with a bad blonde wig doing everything, even the simplest punches, kicks, or tumbles.

I think what this film does best is remind you how good the first film was, and if anything, get's you to go back and revisit that randomly surprising film.