4.24.2015

Back in Action


1993
Directed by: Steve DiMarco
Category: Action

Believe me when I tell you that there's nothing that I love more than a really good and well made low-budget action film. Mind you, I love a lot of everything - I confess. Give me a good sci-fi, an old school kung-fu, an 80's horror, or even a silly comedy and I'm happy. But my first love is and will always be action, and in this day and age where we're hard-pressed for a decent well made non-CGI action film, well when a good one comes along......it's a pretty big deal to me.

When an ex-Green Beret cab driver (Billy Blanks) crosses paths with a tough cop (Roddy Piper) who's job is on the line, he reluctantly teams up with him to rescue his sister, who's run off with a member of the mob and in danger.

I've been aware of this film for quite some time, but for one reason or another I was never able to get my hands on one cheaply. Having never been released officially on DVD, the only other format options for me were VHS and Laserdisc, which is just fine with me since I actually prefer those formats over DVD any day of the week. But I could never find it on VHS cheap. When it comes to Low-Budget DTV flicks, I have a strict limit I set upon myself on how much I'll spend on a "blind-buy". This never fell below it, so I never bought it. The Laserdisc is even harder to come by, and never under $20. But I lucked out recently on a trade I made with a fellow VHS collector on Instagram, and finally Back in Action was physically in my hands. Was it worth the wait?

You bet your ass it was! Back in Action represents the best of what Low-Budget DTV action has to offer. The brilliant casting of Rowdy Roddy Piper and Billy Blanks are only matched by the insane onslaught of neverending fist fights, shootouts, and one-liners. Director Steve DiMarco infuses so much high energy action that I'm shocked to learn that he's not a  full-time action director. As with most of these DTV action directors, they seem to fall into television territory quite easily for some strange reason. Looking at his filmography, it seems he's only slightly dabbled in this genre from time to time while mainly directing episodes of pretty much anything and everything in every genre on tv. Kind of sad really, as he handles the action sequences really well. I'm sure it sounds a little silly to bring up, but you'd be surprised how a good lowbrow film can be hampered by an inexperienced or just plain awful director who doesn't know what he's doing, or films the thing like he doesn't have a care in the world in terms of style. More precisely, nothing but handheld camerawork. I hate that shit. It's lazy, uninteresting and can totally ruin a film for me. But here, thankfully DiMarco doesn't go that route, instead giving the film well shot set pieces that only add to it's already killer vibe.

Never a dull moment, inspired casting, nonstop action and a charm not easily found in these types of films make for a really fun time. It doesn't quite reach the level of awesome that Hologram Man was able to achieve, but it's not far behind. The chemistry between Piper and Blanks is undeniable, and the driving force behind this particular film. I've learned that they also costarred in another DTV flick called Tough & Deadly, which word of mouth suggests is a less successful film than this one is. I guess in this case, lightning doesn't strike twice. But hey, at least we have the badass Back in Action.

4.23.2015

Evilspeak


1981
Directed by: Eric Weston
Category: Horror

This was a film that I generally had no interest in seeing for some reason. Amazing cover art for sure, but I guess I didn't know enough about it at the time to ever make the effort. But that cover art would always pop up on my radar throughout the years, Hell, I even had it on my blog homepage for years just because it's freaking awesome. Little did I know that was actually none other than Clint Howard on the cover. You coulda fooled me! Then Scream Factory released this baby on Blu ray recently and after tons of positive word of mouth, I jumped on the bandwagon. And I'm glad I did, because Evilspeak is a great little slice of 80's horror heaven.

Stanley (Clint Howard) is an outsider in a military school. With only one person he can call a friend, he seems to be ruthlessly taunted on a daily basis. What's more, it seems even the coach, dean and priest don't seem to care, sometimes even getting in on the action. Stanley discovers a hidden dungeon in the school that nobody seemed to be aware of. Inside he finds ancient scriptures used to conjure up an ancient demon. Together with the power of a computer circa 1981 (quite hilarious), Stanley has revenge on his mind. 

Evilspeak has a lot of positive things going for it, most of all the fact that it just screams the 1980's. But it's also got a lot of charm, something that's very hard to come by in really any film from any decade. They're either good, or they're not. But Evilspeak surprisingly falls right in the middle where it's fun and entertaining, yet is also a true blue horror film made on an obviously limited budget. But it was the 80's, so regardless, it just looks cool and nostalgic. I'm not going to say this was a perfect film, because it's not - far from it. But it's a fun one and if you love horror films - especially older ones - this will be right up your alley.

Make no mistake, Clint Howard sells the shit out of it. Honestly, if it wasn't him in the lead, I doubt it would have been as successful as it ultimately is. While there's nothing special or spectacular about Evilspeak, it's execution is commendable. Shot surprisingly well, unnecessary nudity, amusing aesthetic, spot-on casting, and an ending that makes the films generally slow-burn approach well worth the wait. That ending is what makes the film my friends, and believe me when I tell you that it's just awesome.

While not a film that I can find myself repeatedly, Evilspeak carries the goods for a good time. Gather some friends, pop those bottle caps and throw this on; it'll be a good time for all. One thing's for sure; it has one of the coolest movie posters of all time.

4.18.2015

Scream Greats Vol 1: Tom Savini Japan VHS




























I've spent so much time collecting, trading and acquiring VHS tapes this past year that I've completely neglected posting the sleeves on here like I used to. In all honesty, I'd completely forgotten that it used to be something I would always do. But I took a very long break from collecting for a few years and only recently began again, and then it hit me that I hadn't posted any covers in forever. So hopefully here's the first of many to come, if I don't get lazy about it. 

I had completely come across this tape randomly on a whim. I didn't even know it was available in Japan, and when I was casually browsing online one day it popped up while I wasn't looking for anything in particular and my heart nearly stopped. You see, I have owned this specific documentary ever since it first hit VHS. My brother and I wore the shit out of it and through the decades, I've always held onto my copy. I've slowly began collecting different versions of this film throughout the years on different formats, but never knew it was ever released in Japan until now. I grabbed it without thinking twice about the price. It NEEDED to be in my collection, and let me say, it's just gorgeous in person.

4.16.2015

Phantom of the Paradise


1974
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Category: Horror/Musical

Purely based off of this particular film's huge cult following, I was a little more than excited to finally get a chance to check this out. It pretty much all started when Scream Factory released a very impressive blu ray recently, and the enthusiasm and strong word of mouth have been boiling up to a fever pitch level of excitement. After weeks of debating on doing a "blind buy", I just went ahead and bit the bullet and bought the damn thing on blu ray and screened it for a bunch of friends for movie night recently. One of the things I was most excited about, other than the fact that it was a mid 70's rock n' roll horror musical hybrid directed by Brian De Palma, was that it was a first time watch for all of us. So you can imagine our enthusiasm was pretty high.

I'm sorry to report that for us, Phantom of the Paradise was a severe letdown and nowhere near the level of crazy, fun or awesome that we were expecting. Among it's many issues, we found it to be quite amateurish. I am aware that this was at the beginning of De Palma's feature film career, but I was still shocked at how un-De Palma it all looked and felt. Sometimes that can be a good thing, but in this case, it wasn't. Though he does implore the famous Split-Screen technique he later becomes known for, so there's that.

One of the biggest things that surprised me, and all of us for that matter, was how all the songs in here were generally not very good. For me personally, I was expecting a film full of rock songs, when in reality, rock is but a tiny segment of the film as a whole. The overall concept of the stage production goes through various stages and genre's, until they can figure out what style ends up working best for the musical. So it is not in fact a rock horror musical like I had hoped. And in any case, the songs all seemed quite dull and uninspired. None of them rhyme, and none of them are catchy. There is however, a small segment when the film resembles what we all went in expecting, a full-on rock horror musical, and it was awesome, if only for a brief moment.

Ultimately this left us all a bit confused and let down. It's a crazy film for sure, but I am finding it hard to understand the cult status. I honestly didn't find it to be very good, or entertaining for that matter. Neither of us did. But......to each their own.

4.15.2015

Hologram Man

VHS cover courtesy of VHSCollector.com

1995
Directed by: Richard Pepin
Category: Action

One day while trolling on Instagram, a fellow collector I follow posted a picture of this VHS. The cover looked lame and cheesy to say the least, and everything about it screamed low-budget trash. I mean, even the name is silly. I was hooked. I asked the guy what he thought about it and he said that I would pretty much love it because it's nonstop action. I was sold.

Hologram Man is the reason I love this shit. I honestly can't remember the last time I was this entertained by a low-budget action flick. Literally from it's opening frame to the very last, Hologram Man is filled with so much insane over-the-top nonstop action that for the casual moviegoer, it might very well be nauseating. But not for lovers of this kind of shit like us. No sir. Hologram Man maintains a momentum that in all honesty, is really hard to beat. It's a full-throttle action ride from beginning to end, and it kinda blew me away for a number of reasons.

I had just finished watching another low-budget DTV actioner called Back in Action (review coming soon) starring Roddy Piper and Billy Blanks. While that one was a well made and a fun little action film that did not disappoint, the only thing that it did not have was any "wow" factor. It was full of action; fist fights, shootouts and the like, but nothing really that makes it stand out from the crowd, other than the fact that it was never dull. Quite the contrary. Back in Action was thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end. But Hologram Man takes that to an entirely new level because it's so absurd, insanely cheesy, and kinda schlocky from time to time. In other words, it's fucking awesome. Not only that, it's shot really well. If I were to compare this to anything, my first thought would be Albert Pyun's Nemesis. And that's quite a comparison to live up to my friends, because as we all know. the first Nemesis is just all kinds of awesome. I would have to say that it's arguably the highlight of Pyun's action film career. The sequels.........let's just forget about them for a moment.

Without getting deep into a synopsis, Hologram Man is essentially Virtuosity, Nemesis and Demolition Man all mixed together. Sound cool right? And it is. I had a constant smile on my face the entire time because it was ridiculous, fun, insane, and altogether a nonstop thrill-ride. Seriously, what more could you ask for in a low-budget action flick?

Of course, Hologram Man probably took a lot of it's style and substance from Nemesis since this came out 3 years after. The same can be said about a lot of the plot details from Demolition Man, as that film came out 2 years before this one did. But while this shares a lot of similarities to Virtuosity, that film came out the same year as this one did, so maybe we can just chalk that up to coincidence?

I'll be honest, the gimmicky effects work is pretty awful, but that's part of it's charm. It's pre-CGI quality stuff going on in here, so it's about as ancient as it could possibly get. But while the effects work is amateurish to say the least, it somehow all works in a B Movie kind of way. But what sells everything is the badass stuntwork, of which there are plenty. Explosions galore which almost outrival the insane amount of explosions in I Come in Peace AKA Dark Angel, killer stuntwork, and a seemingly endless barrage of gun battles and car chases easily make this a standout among the flock. Just try to ignore the silly and hilarious VHS cover art and font.

One of the first things I did was look up director Richard Pepin, who I am unfamiliar with. The guy shot the hell out of this thing and I was excited to see what else he may have been involved in. It appears while he's primarily a producer with over 100 films to his credit, he dabbles in directing from time to time and always in the low-budget action genre. It's a safe bet that I will probably track down a good number of his films to see if they're any bit as entertaining as this one.

I should also mention that one of the many things that constantly surprised me about this one was the insane cast. It seems "everyone" is in this. And when I say everyone, I mean pretty much every character actor you can think of from the 80's and 90's. It's nuts!

How to watch it:
Currently, you can see it on YouTube, but I don't know how good the quality is on that download. I rented it on Amazon for $3, and it gave me a whole week to stream it. That digital streaming version was in excellent quality; no blurriness, pixelation issues or anything like that. My only gripe would be that it was in full frame, and I'd love to see it in widescreen. You can pick up the VHS for anywhere from $10 - $20, depending on the seller of course. There's also a bare bones full frame DVD out there for next to nothing, but if you're going to go that route, I'd just recommend streaming it from Amazon or grabbing the VHS. It's worth a purchase if you love this kind of stuff.

4.11.2015

Clown


2014
Directed by: Jon Watts
Category: Horror

As I sit here fighting the urge to fall asleep because I stayed up way too late last night, my desire to share some thoughts on this film were much stronger. We all know the story of Clown right? What started off as a fake trailer by a very talented newcomer, quickly became a feature film once Eli Roth came across it and was wowed enough to give the guy the chance to make a feature length film based on that little trailer that blew him away. The result is Clown, one of the most original horror films to come out in quite some time, as well as being one of the strongest debut's for a director I've come across in ages.

Clown has been on my radar for a while now, with strong word of mouth building up to practically a boiling point. Somehow people were able to see it everywhere else "except" the U.S., and all of them were positive. A few weeks ago I started seeing a ton of pictures on Facebook from people buying the Blu ray from outside of the U.S., and sharing their newly arrived mail. I was jealous, because still to this day, their is no word of a theatrical or Blu ray release here stateside. And honestly, whoever is behind this is seriously losing out on some big money because if we can't wait to see it when everyone else in the world can, most people will find a way online. That's just how it is. That's the world we live in today.

Kent (Andy Powers), a real estate agent, has a problem. His son's birthday party is any minute and the clown originally hired has cancelled, leaving the parents in a serious bind. The father notices a chest hiding in one of his homes he's currently renovating. When he opens it, he finds a fantastic looking vintage clown suit. He dons the costume and surprises his son as the clown saving the day. But there's a problem. He can't seem to take the costume off. Worse yet, the wig and makeup won't come off either. The costume and makeup seem to be bonding with his body, and before long, both his physical and mental state begin changing.

Clown was such a nice surprise. Everything about this film screams "quality". Best of all, nothing is played for laughs. This is serious horror and its' pretty goddamned great. What I noticed right off the bat is that while it seems that director Jon Watts had never made a full-on horror film before, he does a bang-up job offering up some nice tension, slow build up, and stellar performances from his cast. Another thing I found interesting is that while it wasn't as full-on gory as I was hoping for, the gore that is present is done rather well, and in any case, you don't miss any of it because the film as a whole is so good, you don't need the excessive gore to sell anything.

That is one helluva setup for a film, and through it all, Clown is quite creepy. And for someone who doesn't generally find clowns in general creepy as most others do, I found the whole mythology of clowns in this film quite creepy indeed, and entirely effective. I doubt anyone will look at them the same way again after seeing this.

In a nutshell:
From a practical point of view, there's really nothing about Clown that's spectacular. Yet, it's streamlined approach in nearly every department makes this a standout among the over-saturated new horror films of the last few years. To put it simply, it's effective and pretty damn good.

4.01.2015

80's Slasher: April Fools Day


1986
Directed by: Fred Walton
Category: Horror

While there are a handful of new reviews I need to catch up on as I sat on my ass and watched movies all weekend as I tried to recover from a 4 week flu, I figured since today is April Fool's Day, I should finally get around to doing one on this little 80's gem that I only recently discovered for the first time. 

I remember coming across this VHS many, many times back in the day of VHS, which honestly feels like many moons ago. But for one reason or another, I never took the time to watch it. I think that I just assumed it would be another low-budget cheese-fest, which it is anything but. No sir. What I pleasantly discovered was that April Fool's Day is a solidly made 80's horror slasher of the best kind. What surprised me more than anything is how well it's made. Director Fred Walton, whom I'm unfamiliar with, does an outstanding job on the tone and most importantly, the visuals. You won't find a single handheld shot in this thing, which was typical of low-budget slasher's back in the day. Needless to say, I was thoroughly impressed. 

The story revolves around a girl who invites her classmates to a weekend get-together at her father's lake house for a weekend of fun and leisure. As soon as her classmates land on the island, things immediately start taking a turn for the worse, and they find themselves trapped on an island with no chance of escape, with a host who seems like she's got a few screws loose herself. 

I think a lot of people will find this film surprising for a number of reasons, most importantly the impressive cast. It kills! And guess what? They're actually likable. When I threw this on I remember I kept yelling "She's in this?!", and "He's in this too?!". A really great ensemble cast is important, and the casting department did a bang-up job on this one. If you love horror, you'll know these kids. 

What I love about 80's ensemble horror casting is that back then, it was so believable. These days, horror films are filled with people that don't look like normal human beings. They're too skinny. The women all have fake breasts. They look like they all just came out of a teen soap opera. They all look 15 years older than the parts they're supposed to play. But in the 80's, it was a totally different story. The stars of some of our favorite slashers looked like real people, with a good majority of them being fairly unattractive. It may sound like nitpicking, but it's a sad fact in the horror genre these days. While I certainly don't mind unnecessary nudity in my horror, when it's a bunch of skinny chicks with hideously fake boobs, then it's a huge turnoff. But I digress....

All in all, April Fool's Day is an extremely solid slasher. Well executed, acted, and entertaining throughout with a likable cast and plenty of style to burn. Last time I checked it was playing on Netflix in widescreen. Definitely worth a watch for some old-school horror if you're in the mood. 

3.31.2015

Zardoz



1974
Directed by: John Boorman
Category: Science Fiction

Zardoz is a film that I have been wanting to see for a very long time. We've all seen that image of a 70's Sean Connery wearing nothing but a cod piece, long leather thigh high boots and a ponytail. It's seared into out brains. It was only recently that I discovered that the man responsible for such classics as Deliverance and Excalibur was the guy behind this mid 70's sci-fi cult classic. So that gave me extra incentive to finally check this one out.

Zardoz has easily got to be one of the weirdest films I have ever seen. I'm not sure what the message Boorman was trying to convey, and I'm sure there is one, but it was totally lost on me. Most of the films running time makes absolutely no sense, and you literally audibly comment "Huh?", or "WTF?", on a regular basis because the images and sequences presented before you are so bizarre and so surreal. None of it makes any kind of sense, and nothing is explained; not for the majority of the film anyway. Things just happen, and you're just expected to just accept it. Sure you'll question the shit out of it all, but you won't get any clear definitive answers anytime soon. Yet by the films final act, Boorman does try to explain and give reason to a lot of what had transpired up until that point, but in all honesty, it just brings on more questions than answers, because it all still just doesn't make any sense. And you know what? That can be okay sometimes. Hell, one of my all-time favorite late 70's films is a WTF?! masterpiece, and it also makes absolutely no sense. That film would be The Visitor. But it's also entertaining to the nth degree. It's weird, strange, violent, yet also highly entertaining and gorgeously shot. I will give Zardoz some credit though, Boorman shot the hell out of this thing, and from a visual standpoint, it's insanely impressive. But that's about it.

The problem with Zardoz is that while it looks beautiful. it's also extremely dull. Sure there's some mild nudity, impressive set design and the cinematography is outstanding, but even in it's bizarre context, nothing happens, and it's slow as shit. Had Boorman infused some action - or better yet, a little adventure - into the story, that would at least be something; something to liven up the mood and speed up the pace a little bit, because the film as a whole is painfully slow and boring.

Zardoz should have and could have been a sci-fi classic. It has all the ingredients for one; gorgeous cinematography, impressive cast, stellar set design; yet it pretty much fails everywhere else, most importantly, in the "entertainment' department. It's sad too, because visually, Zardoz looks fucking fantastic. But that's about where it stops being impressive. The biggest question I had when I walked away from this, out of many mind you, was "What the hell was Sean Connery thinking?".

3.27.2015

The Last Dragon


1985
Directed by: Michael Schultz
Category: Badass Cinema

From about the ages between 10 to 15 years old, The Last Dragon was easily my favorite movie ever. So much so that I know every line of dialogue by heart. I mean, I fucking loved this movie as a kid and completely wore out my VHS playing it so often. It was the first movie I can clearly remember as being my favorite. Of course I've had quite a few of those over the years, but I'll always remember The Last Dragon being my first.

If you've already seen this film, then you know how absurd the whole concept is. Essentially, it's an R&B Kun Fu movie from the mid 80's. Right off the bat those are two things that just don't mix, yet they somehow do in this......and quite wonderfully. There's a playful energy to it all right from the beginning, and each sequence generates enough awesome and entertainment value that there's never a dull moment, not for a single second.

As much as I love this film, I'm embarrassed to admit that it had been a long while since I'd seen it. While I own the DVD, I can honestly say it's been a good 15 years since I'd thrown it on. But with my son visiting, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to introduce him to a movie that I absolutely loved when I was his age, in the hopes that it would also become a favorite of his.

Though many years had passed since I'd last seen it, it hasn't lost any of it's magic. Watching it recently was like visiting an old friend. There are so many moments that are just flat out awesome, that it's incredibly hard to count, or pick a favorite. Like for example, Sho-Nuff's stellar entrance in the film when he invades a movie theater that's showing Enter The Dragon. Or the "glow" sequence at the end. Or the moment Bruce Leroy (Taimak) shows what he's made of when he saves Laura Charles (Vanity) from an abduction. I can go on and on, and the best part, all these scenes are still badass. While the whole concept about an R & B mid-80's Kung-Fu movie screams "WTF?!", it all works and if I were to ever show this film to a group of people, it would most definitely fall under Badass Cinema Night. No doubt.

I think that a lot of what makes this work so well is it's spot-on casting. Vanity was just on fire in the
 80's and arguably one of the hottest, sexiest women working in action films with turns in classics like Action Jackson and Never Too Young To Die. Taimak, who plays Bruce Leroy has worked sporadically in both television and film, but with The Last Dragon, he carries just the right amount of charming innocence to make him completely believable. He can also be a badass when the time calls for it. Julius Carry seemed to have come out of nowhere to portray what can only be described as one of the most colorful, badass and totally insane villains the silver screen has ever seen in the form of Sho-Nuff; The Shogun of Harlem. Every line of dialogue out of Sho-Nuff's mouth is pure gold and quite honestly, he steals the fucking show in this. I'm actually shocked they never made a spinoff with his character, because he's pretty awesome.

I also have to admit that while my music taste varies quite a bit, I've never been a fan of R&B. But 80's R&B is a totally different story. This was a time when songs were actually catchy and quite good. And though I'd never actively seek out to play any of these specific types of songs just for my enjoyment, in the context of this particular film, they are quite amazing. It's as if each song was specifically written for each corresponding sequence and hell, for all I know, maybe they were! It's a badass soundtrack and I would be proud to include this in my collection of film soundtracks.

I had always considered this a favorite from my childhood, but after revisiting it, I can honestly say it's still a favorite. It's just awesome all around and an excellent selection for Badass Cinema Night. If I were to complain about anything, and believe me, it would be hard, it would be that I wish the final battle/fight between Sho-Nuff and Bruce Leroy was longer, bigger and more epic. While it is cool, especially with the big reveal, you'd think that since the entire movie is built up around this one big confrontation between these two, that it would or should have been bigger. But that's really just nitpicking. It would have been badass, no doubt, but the big fight we get is still pretty cool. Just not as EPIC as I would have hoped.