Review: Fright Night Part 2

VHS cover scan courtesy of VHSwasteland.com

Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Category: Horror/Cult Classics

A special thanks to my buddy Ingo over at Hellford 667 Movie Reviews for giving me the opportunity to check this fantastic film out recently. This is one of those oddly out of print films that for some reason go for astronomical figures on the internet for a bare bones full frame DVD. Even on VHS you'll never pay less than 10 bucks for this sucker, which is still a little steep for a VHS for my tastes. But since it's been out of print for many years now people feel strangely justified in charging over $100 for a DVD that doesn't offer anything you couldn't get out of the VHS, but whatever.

Fright Night Part 2, like Hellraiser 2 and Evil Dead 2 is another prime example of a horror sequel that actually works. It's not always easy though and it "doesn't" always work, just look at The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Friday the 13th Part 2, The Lost Boys 2 and Creepshow 2 for an example. And the vampire genre is even tougher. Look how long they took to even touch The Lost Boys, one of the coolest vampire movies ever made. Yea it's severely dated, but that only adds to it's charm. Even though it's got 80's written all over it, Joel Schumacher and friends knocked it out of the park with hip music, cool visuals and one of the most badass ensemble casts ever assembled and making mega stars out of  everyone, mainly the two Corey's more than anybody else.

Like The Lost Boys, Fright Night is undoubtedly one of the best vampire movies to come out of the 80's. Writer/Director Tom Holland fashioned a great horror/comedy hybrid with brilliant casting and inventive ideas and execution that to this day easily ranks it as one of the best in the genre. What made it work was that it wasn't in your face comedy or slapstick, but rather more tongue in cheek. Fright Night Part 2, surprisingly, easily ranks as one of the better horror sequels out there. Director Tommy Lee Wallace, who know's a thing or two about the genre having worked along side master John Carpenter in the beginning of his career, makes a really solid effort and gives the film a professional visual flare that would most likely have been missing had anybody else stepped into the directors chair. I gotta give the guy credit, while I wasn't a fan of Halloween III (his previous big screen effort), here he's crafted a completely self contained horror film that while playing homage to it's predecessor, more importantly becomes it's own unique standout film.

I loved this film and it works great on many levels. It's a great sequel, it's a great horror film and it's a great vampire film. I'm still shocked that this isn't as readily available as it should be. This is a great film yet, because of it's unavailability so many people are missing out. Also, I'm not even sure if this ever even got a theatrical release. I remember when it hit home video because I was all over it waiting in anticipation, but don't ever remember it hitting my local theater which is a shame because this is so much better than a lot of the crap that was coming out around that time.

Charlie Brewster has spent 3 years in therapy trying to get over the events of the first film. He's convinced himself that what he remembered didn't actually happen, but was instead the result of his neighbor being a serial killer and not a vampire. He's going to college now and even has a way too hot and better than he deserves girlfriend named Alex. Meanwhile, Peter Vincent is still running his local cable show Fright Night and  after not having seen each other for a few years, Charlie decides to pay Peter a visit for old times sake. 
Unexpectedly a beautiful and mysterious woman named Regine appears in town with an entourage of unique friends who takes an interest and liking to Charlie Brewster. After the woman appears Charlie starts having nightmares again and also starts to distinguish unique behavior like sensitivity to sunlight, sleepy all day and also a strange attraction to this mysterious woman. Soon Charlie finds out that the woman is a vampire and her friends creatures of the night and the woman has come looking for Charlie Brewster specifically with her own a sinister agenda.

One of the best things Fright Night 2 has going for it is it's outstanding ensemble cast. Roddy McDowell is always great and surprisingly here has a much bigger role and more to do. But Julie Carmen as the mysterious woman Regine is interesting casting. She is pretty in an exotic kinda way, but I don't think I would have chosen her for the role of the seductress. Her entourage on the other hand is an awesome bunch. As the lone wolf man in the group you have the great character actor John Gries (who interestingly also played a werewolf in the excellent The Monster Squad the year before), regular bad guy Brian Thompson (better known as The Night Slasher from Cobra) who's only real thing besides being Regine's driver is that he eats bugs regularly, and the super hot Traci Lind as Charlie's better than he deserves girlfriend. On a side note, I remember from the very first time I ever saw this all the way up until recently not ever knowing if the black dude with the weirdest haircut I've ever seen who spends most of the time on film in roller-skates from Regine's group was a guy or a woman. I honestly couldn't tell because it kinda looks like a dude, but he wears makeup, looks and acts very feminine and wears womens clothing. It also didn't help that he/she doesn't utter a single word in the entire film. Reading up on it I know now it was a guy named Russell Clark playing the part, but it doesn't explain whether the character was supposed to be male or female. One of those mysteries I guess. Another aspect of the film that fascinates me is how in the end, it ultimately becomes a movie about revenge, and I always enjoy a good revenge story.

I enjoyed every single second of this film and that's a testament to the all the talent involved in bringing this awesome film to life. As I was while recently watching John Carpenter's excellent The Ward, I felt like a teenager again watching a great horror film for the first time for several reasons. One, it being almost completely unavailable to the general public, which means I haven't been able to get my hands on it for a very long time. Two, because it was made at the right time by the right people with the right cast. Seriously, if they had made this today you know the cast they would put together would be unnaturally attractive people from semi reality shows on MTV like The Hills or something like that. That's how they always do it these days. They always go for the biggest television star instead of the biggest talent. They never hire any "real" looking people. But that's how they did it back then and that's why we always remember them, because these people looked like normal real people.
Director Tommy Lee Wallace (Stephen King's It) keeps the momentum building to an outstanding finale and gives the film such an unexpected visual panache. His use of practical and optical effects are also to be commended. They look pretty damn impressive and when the gore comes into play, it's done really well. I also liked how they pretty much kept the same exact score from the first film throughout. It really lends great atmosphere and an aura of authenticity to the film. Like, just as it's it's own film in it's own right, you need that constant subtle reminder that this great film is part of something bigger and the music does that sincerely.

I really hope this becomes readily available to "everybody" someday. I don't know if it as anything to do with the rights or whatever, but this film begs to be released in Widescreen on Blu-ray with some special features. Hell, I'd even settle for a decent newer DVD release. 


Review: Red State

Directed by: Kevin Smith
Category: Horror?

First thing you should be know before continuing to read on is that this review is "full" of spoilers and if you haven't seen it yet or just don't want the premise to be spoiled for you, then you probably shouldn't continue reading on because there is no way I'd be able to write anything about it without giving anything away. It's just one of those kinda films. Also a quick note, you can check out my buddy Ingo's excellent review of this film here over at his movie blog Hellford 667 Movie Reviews. We both pretty much feel the same about it and it hit on all the same marks for both of us.

There are both good and bad aspects about Red State that have divided critics and moviegoers right down the middle. For me, I'm still not sure how I will ultimately feel about it as there were things I both liked and disliked about it, but for the most part as of this writing I liked it quite a bit.

For the most part I enjoyed it. This is unlike anything "obviously" Kevin Smith has ever done and if his name wasn't attached to it, I'd swear there was a better more experienced director behind the camera. The style he chose to use for this particular film works well the this kind of genre and while it was 95% hand held shaky cam style of camera work, I have to admit it looked pretty damn good even though most of you know I hate that shit. Here he chose to use a washed out filter that gives the film almost a vintage and muted look, but only adds to the sense of dread that he builds up for the first half of the film. And that's an important fact because as most people know after seeing this is that Red State ultimately becomes almost two separate types of films divided by the halfway mark. The first half is a thriller more than anything, and the second half becomes a siege type of film where the FBI and the occupants of the compound commence in a standoff and then a shootout as the FBI seriously fuck up and after receiving orders from the higher's up decide to shoot to kill with no witnesses.

Three high school boys answer an online ad for an orgy. Once they get to the home of the woman who posted the ad she advises them to get drunk first, only the boys have no idea that the alcohol has been spiked and knocks them out. When they awaken they are stripped and held prisoner by a radical fundamentalist preacher (Michael Parks) with a sinister agenda who uses his small congregation to lure unsuspecting "sinners" who he feels are the reason for the worlds demise and kills them. At the same time the FBI have been on to the preacher for years and after receiving important intel, ascend on the compound in what is supposed to be a simple arrest over an "arms" charge.

As a thriller Red State works tremendously. In all honesty, it's probably one of the better thriller's I've probably seen all year and while you watch it you just can't help to think that the guy who has given us Clerks, Mallrats and Jay and Silent Bob made this well crafted thriller. The blood is plentiful and the violence, when there is violence, is well executed and as realistic and gory as it could possibly be; a definite plus in my book.
But on the negative side it's a pretty big "bait and switch" as it's been erroneously marketed as a horror film. I'm sorry, but this is "not" a horror film, not even close. It does possess some pretty nifty and unsettling moments of suspense, shock and awe, but for the most part there's nothing scary about it. Also, Netflix Instant currently has this available under there "new releases" section and in part of the description it specifically states that 3 high school boys come face to face with a supernatural force. What a huge letdown to find out that that is 100% positive false advertisement in terms of the "supernatural" part of it. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that's the truth and I don't think they should market this as a horror film and state that there are supernatural aspects to it when in fact, there are not. That would be the single most aspect that I did not like about it though. Another would be too much talking (a la Quentin Tarantino) and way too much preachiness about church and whether or not homosexuality is wrong. I know it's an important part of the story but it almost felt too much like Smith was trying to say something about his personal view on it.

But really, those are the only things I didn't like as the rest of the film works pretty well. In a lot of aspects it reminded me a lot of From Dusk Till Dawn, how right at the halfway mark it turns into a completely different kind of movie. FDTD starts off as a action/suspense thriller and once they hit the bar, it turns into a full on horror film. Red State starts off as an eerie suspense thriller before turning into something like Assault on Precinct 13 (the original) as once the FBI get involved it becomes a siege. I actually enjoyed that part of it, how it ultimately turns into two separate films. I just wish I hadn't been waiting for the "horror" and "supernatural" elements to come into play the entire time I watched it as that's how it's been falsely advertised. I probably would've enjoyed it a whole lot more if I hadn't. But in any case, it was a really solid effort on Kevin Smith's part and definitely his most impressive effort to date. After seeing the stylistic choices he made and the talent displayed behind the camera on this film I have no doubt in my mind the guy can pull of a serious zombie film some day, or even just a flat out horror film. I would really love to see that.

I don't think I need to go into the cast because with the talents of John Goodman as an FBI agent, Melissa Leo as the preacher's daughter and the one who lured the young boy's and Michael Parks as the radical preacher, you know they deliver and it's all outstanding performances from each and every one of them, Parks in particular who I haven't seen been given a role before this to shine as bright as he does here.

Since it's currently available on Netflix Instant, I say give it a shot while it's still available and check out Kevin Smith's most important cinema effort to date. The guy impressed the hell out of me here stylistically and at least in my eyes, has redeemed himself after Cop Out.

On a side note, please allow me to vent a little on the whole Netflix thing. I know a lot of people are pissed and have been fuming (even canceling there subscriptions in protest) over the whole Qwikster debacle and how they've raised there rates and were at one time considering separating there services and all that. To be honest, if it were not for Netflix or Netflix Instant I would never have the opportunity to see most of the films I've seen these past few years. It saves me a trip to the local video store (of which as of this date there is only 1 left), and offers me films that I would never even find at a video store and would ultimately have to end up purchasing otherwise just to see. And currently I'm not in a financial position to buy every movie I want to see, especially if it might be bad or just ok. So even if they had done the whole Qwikster thing, I would have just gone along with it because in the end, the small fee I pay every month to watch unlimited movies in every genre is still worth it to me. They recently raised there prices and I still think it's fair and a far better deal than singly renting films for $5 a pop at the local video store that you only get to keep for 1 night. Hell, even Redbox just announced a raise in there fee's and once they hit that first jump of getting us to rent them for more than $1 in our mindset, it'll only be a matter of time before they keep raising them. Thanks for letting me vent and remember, they are just "my" opinions and nothing more.


Review: Nighthawks

Directed by: Bruce Malmuth
Category: Badass Cinema

After watching pretty much nothing but horror flicks these past few weeks (Halloween always gets me in the mood), I am somewhat burned out on that genre and felt I needed some good ol' action to balance it out. This one has been in my queue for months now and I thought now is a good time as any to revisit a film I remember liking a lot back in the 80's and one I felt was a major shift in Stallone's choice of roles.

Nighthawks is insanely badass and such a severely underrated piece of Badass Cinema. We're so used to seeing Stallone play characatures of real people or play characters with super human abilities in films like Cobra, Demolition Man, Rambo: First Blood Part 2, Cliffhanger and a plethora of other films in his awesome career. But in Nighthawks he plays a regular New York City cop with real problems who does mess up quite often like a real human being would, which is really different compared to a lot of the other characters he's played throughout his lustrous career. Nighthawks also marks a couple of firsts for geeks like me who keep tabs on shit like this. It's the first time we see Stallone sport a rockin' beard all the way through the entire film. He had one in the workout montage of Rocky IV, but shaved the sucker when it was time to fight Drago. It's the first time Stallone played a cop in a film. It's Rutger Hauer's first American film. It's the first solo feature directing gig for Bruce Malmuth who many years later would ignite Steven Seagal's career with Hard to Kill. Yea I know Seagal did Above the Law two years before, but that's not the film that made him famous ( I never even heard of that film until "after" Hard to Kill ), it was Hard to Kill.

Rutger Hauer plays Wulfgar, an International terrorist who's fled France and relocated to New York City ready to cause some chaos. Deke DaSilva (Stallone) and Mathew Fox ( Billy Dee Williams) are two undercover cops who, because of there track record and skills at getting the job done, are assigned to a new anti-terrorism task force specifically made to track, hunt and kill Wulfgar as they "assume" New York would be his likely hunting ground for International coverage. Wulfgar is used to getting the upper hand and getting things done his way but may have finally met his match in Deke DaSilva. 

Everything in this film works perfectly. The look and design of the film. Keith Emerson's sometimes funky, sometimes dead on serious score. The hard action/cop thriller tone made famously and frequently during this time. And most importantly, the casting of Stallone and Billy Dee Williams. Stallone steals the show and proves without a doubt that he can play more than an over the top action star. This is Stallone between Rocky II and III and two years before First Blood would make him an international action star. I loved how he looked in this film. Just check him out with that big hair, oversized tinted specs and leather jacket. 1981, gotta love it!
Sad thing is that this type of film, while rampant in the 70's to early 80's, wouldn't make it to the theater these days which is sad. It's an intense story and character driven film and those unfortunately aren't the type of films producers or studio's want to waste there money on promoting these days. Now it's all about spectacle, budget and how to outdo the previous years biggest picture.
While there might not be any special effects or huge action set pieces in Nighthawks, this film grips you right from the beginning and doesn't let go until the very last frame because it's made so damn well from David Shaber's (The Warriors) razor sharp script to Bruce Malmuth's no frills direction.

There's a scene in the film where, after Wulfgar has fled to New York after having plastic surgery to change his face, DaSilva and Fox are in a nightclub after learning that Wulfgar has a pattern of picking up pretty girls at nightclubs and using them for a place to stay. After learning he's recently had plastic surgery they're not sure what he might look like, but scour the nightclub anyway after following a tip that he picked up his last victim there. DaSilva (Stallone) thinks he spots someone who "could" resemble Wulfgar and within a minute Wulfgar and DaSilva lock eye contact for what seems like forever to The Rolling Stones "Brown Sugar"* before a shootout ensues. That scene makes the fuckin' movie for me. It's intense and brilliantly staged and sets the overall tone for the entire film. I loved that sequence.

I remember seeing a couple of different interviews back around 1997 after the failure of Judge Dredd, The Specialist and Assassins, but before he started doing DTV stuff that he wanted to shift his career and get more into films like Nighthawks and Daylight. Films that were more about the characters than action. I guess feeling his big budget movie choices were waning he wanted to shift gears and concentrate more on story driven films. I think he tried and succeeded with Copland, but the majority of his efforts fell into the DTV world before revitalizing his career all by himself by writing/directing/starring in Rocky, Rambo and The Expendables. Good thing too because we definitely needed some more badass Stallone in our cinema's.
Rutger Hauer is of course awesome as the villain Wulfgar. He hadn't yet made the splash he did in Blade Runner, that was the following year. But as with every role he chooses, he delivers the goods and turns in a creepy performance as the terrorist Wulgar who can kill randomly, willingly and often, but stops when it comes to babies as in one standout sequence in a cable car when Wulfgar demands the asshole cop (DaSilva) come retrieve the baby because he doesn't want the headlines to read "Wulfgar: Baby Killer".
Billy Dee Williams (yes, Lando Calrissian himself) plays DaSilva's wisecracking partner Fox with just the right amount of smoothness that made his portrayal of Lando Calrissian such a standout character. Top notch work from everybody involved.

Most people have heard of this film but have never seen it, which is such a travesty because this film easily ranks as one of the best cop thriller's to come out of that era. I think Stallone will impress anybody who thinks he's just a larger than life action hero with his role in this film. Do yourself a favor and check this sucker out and tell me that nightclub stare-down between DaSilva and Wulfgar doesn't give you chills.

* Depending on which version you watch as different releases of this film had different music for that sequence. The theatrical version contains The Stones "Brown Sugar" as well as the full frame Good Time 2001 release. But the 2004 Universal Widescreen release changed that song for some reason. Maybe copyright issues or something like that. In any case, The Rolling Stones "Brown Sugar" playing to that sequence makes such a drastic difference and it's a shame Universal changed it for the most recent and far superior in quality release. Currently it's available on Netflix Instant "with" the classic Stones song intact. So see it while you still can. 


New Movie Roundup

Although this blog is mainly dedicated to older films in the sci-fi, horror, action and exploitation genre's, I just as much enjoy watching new flicks when I can, so here are some quick thoughts on some recently released films.

Sucker Punch:
Unfortunately I didn't enjoy this nearly as much as I thought or had hoped I would. I think it had a few cool standout scenes, but overall it was such a jumbled mess.
First of all, I didn't like the premise of how it all pretty much takes place in babydoll's head. It's all said in the trailers so I don't think I'm giving anything away. I didn't like how all these badass sequences were the result of a dance number she "supposedly" does to entertain men and the fact that we never got to see these "supposedly" incredible dance numbers. I felt kinda cheated in that aspect.

Scott Glenn was badass. Most of the visuals were as well, but way too much slow-mo for my taste. Sad thing is that none of these girls even looked very attractive under a pound of makeup. They looked more like prostitutes than anything, which is sad because they are all kinda hot in there own way.

I think the best sequence for me would have been the sequence in the bunkers fighting the soldiers in gas masks. Visually that was just an awesome thing to see and if there was an entire movie revolving that story somehow, then that would definitely be something. But all these sequences you see in the trailers are so short and you want more. I've always been a fan of Zack Snyder and for the most part have enjoyed everything he's put out so far, especially Watchmen, but Sucker Punch is probably the best most recent example of a film falling short because of the "style over substance" issue.

Now this is a film I thoroughly enjoyed. This is the kind of film I wish Dwayne Johnson would be making more of instead of those crappy family films like The Tooth Fairy. If there was any other actor worthy of picking up the mantle after Schwarzenneger and Stallone, it would be this guy, but he keeps dropping the ball with these lame attempts at family entertainment when he should be focusing on becoming "the" action hero of the 2000's. I'm just sayin'.

When Driver (Johnson) is double crossed and sent to prison, he only has one thing on his mind.....revenge. For the murder of his brother and friends and for being double crossed and sent to prison. The second he gets out, he's on a rampage tracking down every single man that put him there with furious vengeance and ultimately on the hunt for the ringleader. 

This is a really nice throwback to 80's and 90's action filmmaking. Not a drop of CGI and pretty much as straight up as you can get in the revenge genre. It's violent, hard edged and keeps a nice constant pace. Director George Tillman Jr. adds just the right amount of visual flair that never goes overboard on the "flashy", but keeps it interesting with some nice camerawork. My only complaint, and there's just one, is that the ending should have had much more of a bang. He spends the entire movie hunting down the ringleader and when he finally finds the villain, it's all over pretty quick. I just wish it would have had a bigger ending than it did, but other than that it's pretty much one of the only rare examples of a straight up action flick you're likely to find these days. Very well made.

Source Code:
Duncan Jones has made two feature films, and I've enjoyed both immensely. Moon was such a rare treat in terms of old school style filmmaking that I couldn't wait to see what he was going to do next. Source Code didn't disappoint. Though it's pretty heavy on the CGI, he uses it wisely and not overtly that it takes away from the story. This ended up being more thriller than sci-fi, but it keeps it's sci-fi elements in check and we're treated to a solid thriller dealing with time travel and a plethora of "what if's".

I really enjoyed this film. It keeps you guessing most of the time and all the leads give solid performances. I don't really want to get too into the story as I'm afraid of giving too much away, but trust me when I say that this is a pretty great thriller.
Duncan Jones is definitely someone who's going to have a  standout career directing films and who seems to choose his projects wisely. He reminds me of a young Ridley Scott with his style of filmmaking and I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon:
I'll be honest, I am not a fan of these Transformers live action films. I hate the design of the Transformers themselves and most of all I can't stand Michael Bay's schizophrenic style of filmmaking in this series. I mean, it's pretty ridiculous. Most of the time it seems like he just threw the camera in the air and whatever happened, happened. I grew up on them with the original toys and with the cartoon series and the way they are designed in these films really piss me off. They don't look like Transformers to me. They look like something out of an anime.

But, I must say that the third installment in the series is a vast improvement. Because of the use of 3D technology, Bay was forced to keep the camera still more often than not because of the type of equipment and special 3D monster camera's they used and the film is better for it. You can actually tell what the hell is going on and who's fighting who and for a film that's filled with nonstop action from beginning to end, that's a good thing. I'll just say it, visually I was impressed with a slightly more restrained Michael Bay. The action is pretty awesome and relentless and the destruction of the city is pretty damn impressive. I'm still not sold on 3D for every film (Thor and Captain America in 3D just didn't work. 3D muddles a lot of the color and makes everything so much darker), and I'm glad I didn't see this film in 3D because it would have probably made me nauseous. I really enjoyed the expanded cast of crazies this time around, especially John Malkovich, and if you in the mood for a crazy action film with over the top destruction, you can't go wrong with this one.

This one was a pretty big disappointment.
Bottom line is that it just wasn't funny. I kept waiting and waiting for it to get it's groove, but it never found it and despite a pretty badass cast with the combined talents of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jason Bateman, Kristin Wiig, Bill Hader, Sigourney Weaver and the voice of Seth Rogen, it just didn't work.

Most of the humor felt so forced and right in the halfway mark I knew it was a lost cause. I really wanted to enjoy it though. I mean, come on. A story about two comic book geeks who attend Comic Con and then take a cross country trip who stumble upon a smart ass and wise cracking alien while simultaneously being followed by dumbass FBI guys should be funny right?

It was a valiant effort and a pretty solid idea, but the script just needed some toning. Though it was entertaining with all the classic sci-fi film references, it just ended up being too bland for it's own good.


VHS Cover Of The Day - R.O.T.O.R.


Ok, so the movie sucks and I honestly can't find one redeeming quality other than this rad cover art. 
I'm telling you, this movie is bad, horrible and just plain painful to watch. Now I love bad movies, because for the most part for me they fall into the "awfully good" category, but not this one.
I think what pisses me off more than anything is the 100% completely misleading cover. Look at the image on the back cover to the left, the one where he's pointing a gun at the camera. "That's" what he looks like in the entire film, not like the cool looking robot on the cover. Though this film was made in 1988, the guy looks like he crawled right outta 1975.
The acting is gawd awful, especially the guy who plays the lead Coldyron, Richard Gesswein in his one and only movie. You just have to see it to believe it. The direction is lame and the action laughable. But they've got a badass cover and I'm convinced if it were not for that cover, this film would never have gotten seen by anybody otherwise. 


Review: The Ward

Directed by: John Carpenter
Category: Horror

First off, I need to thank Matt over at Direct to Video Connoisseur, who's recent review for The Ward you can find here, for bringing to my attention the fact that this was currently available on Netflix Instant. The second he told me, I was on Netflix and watching it. I had been wanting to see this for a while but since it never got a release down where I'm at I was waiting for it to hit DVD. Apparently it flew right under my radar because I had no idea it was already available. Thanks Matt!

I'll be completely honest here, I loved this movie and pretty much agree with every point Matt made in his review. Watching it late last night I felt like a teenager again. I have been a filmgeek my entire life and a John Carpenter fan for just as long. He has made some of my most favorite films of all time with entries like Escape From New York, The Fog, They Live, Big Trouble in Little China, Assault on Precinct 13, and most importantly The Thing (1982), probably the best horror remake ever made and my favorite horror film of all time.

This is pure old school John Carpenter stuff here. Right from the opening sequence you know your in for something special. His visual talent is immediately apparent right from the opening scene and if you at all wondered whether he might have lost his touch as roughly ten years have gone by since he made a feature film, you can put those worries to rest because I can assure you, the John Carpenter that directed The Ward is the same John Carpenter that directed the eerie, brilliant and atmospheric The Fog (1980). Screw the crappy 2005 digitally overblown remake. If you want to see what that film was "supposed" to be like and what a true master can do with a simple fog machine, then you need to see the far superior and immensely entertaining original. I compare The Fog with The Ward because like The Fog, The Ward is a pretty straight forward story (so it seems) shot with so much brilliance in Anamorphic Widescreen that the visuals tell a lot of the story. Carpenter's visual style not only seems to have returned but actually improved since the days of the horrible Escape from L.A. and even worse Ghosts of Mars. It feels like those ten years he spent not working on a full length feature film was more of a recharge in his capabilities as a visual artist because right from the opening frame, The Ward was a pure visual feast. Keeping the CGI to a bare minimum, Carpenter instead chooses to use old school techniques and let's what you "don't" see be far more frightening than what you actually do.

Oregon, 1966. Kristen (Amber Heard) is arrested and then sent to a psychiatric facility after burning down a barn and not knowing why. Under the care of Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris), Kristen meets other inmates in the all female section of the facility with there own mental and psychological problems. Soon Kristen starts seeing a ghostly figure of a young woman appear from time to time and as she soon realizes the other girls in the facility know who this ghost is and are too afraid to even speak of her, Kristen attempts to break out of the facility and uncover who this ghost really is and also what secrets this facility holds. But as Kristen digs deeper into the mystery of the dead girl and the facility, all may not be what it seems. 

This is one of those slow burn kinda films that is all atmosphere and mood with a "big twist" ending. From all the reviews I've read you either love it or hate it. Half of the reviews state that the big reveal at the end was no big surprise and had been done countless times before and could be seen a mile away. Not for me though. I'll admit, I knew there was a big twist ending and knew that it was the deciding factor on whether you love or hate this film, but I never figured it out to be honest. I was just enjoying this film too much to really care to stop and try to figure out what was really going on with this ward. I know it sounds cheesy, but I was pretty much captivated by this whole world John Carpenter created that was such a huge throwback to early 80's psychological thrillers and I enjoyed pretty much every second of it. The set design, the actors, the beautiful cinematography, and the constant chills and eerie atmosphere all came together so perfectly that in an era of overblown camera tricks and mind numbing shaky cam, it was so refreshing to see a master use the talent that made him famous to begin with and improve on it while playing homage to a dying breed of filmmaking.

Love it or hate it The Ward is John Carpenter back in full form. If you can just sit there, enjoy the ride and relish in the fact that "the" John Carpenter is back doing what he does best and not try to spend the next 88 minutes trying to ruin the ending for yourself by figuring out the big twist then you'll have one helluva time with The Ward.


Review: Day of the Dead

Image courtesy of VHSWasteland.com
Directed by: George A. Romero
Category: Horror

Foolishly I have always considered this to be the weakest entry in Romero's "original" dead trilogy. I've always loved Dawn of the Dead the most growing up though. I think because in that film Romero had found the perfect balance of horror, dark humor and social commentary that to this day easily ranks as a fan favorite in the zombie genre. But it's funny how time and maturity changes your perspective on films. As a teenager I loved Dawn, but as an adult 26 years later (oh god has it been that long?!) with a much better appreciation of how films are made and just filmmaking in general, I've learned to really love this film more than Dawn

I think what surprised me most was how much I enjoyed this one this time around. Sure it's lost it's dark humor and social commentary, but as a dark and brooding film about a world where presumably only a handful of humans exist where zombies have taken over the world, it's a great study on human behavior set in a claustrophobic underground nuclear facility. George A. Romero's minimalistic direction gives the film an eerie and authentic feel not commonly found in a lot of horror film directors. Usually they prefer style over substance, but here Romero knows the importance of not overdoing it visually and letting the scenes and the story do it's thing. 

Bub the zombie

One of the elements that makes this film stand out from the rest in the original trilogy is the fact that a single zombie was given such a big role. I think most people will agree that the casting of Sherman Howard aka Howard Sherman as Bub the zombie was brilliant fucking casting. I don't think anybody else could have gotten the audience to feel as much sympathy for a zombie as we ultimately do for Bub. Three scenes in particular stand out more than any. The first is when Dr. Logan aka Frankenstein gives Bub an unloaded handgun to see if he knows what it is. After figuring out how to cock it he aims it directly at the asshole Captain Rhodes. Crazy stuff. The second is when Dr. Logan gives Bub a walkman and turns the music on. The look on Bub's face is priceless. The third and most important sequence would be when Bub, after breaking free of his restraints after the zombies have infiltrated the underground bunker, sees his beloved Dr. Logan dead on the floor after Capt. Asshole, er I mean Rhodes, blew him away out of frustration. Bub's look of excitement after seeing Dr. Logan on the floor which subsequently turns to sadness and then anger after realizing Dr. Logan is dead is both impressive and heartbreaking at the same time. I doubt anyone else under all that zombie makeup could have emulated so much emotion and sympathy through facial expressions as Howard does in this one scene.  I've seen Sherman Howard in everything from I Come in Peace to an episode of Seinfeld, but he will always be Bub the zombie to me.

A small band of military and scientists are all that seem left in the world after a zombie plague has infected mankind. Residing in an underground nuclear facility the scientists, with the help of the military, use zombies for experiments in what they hope will be a cure for the zombie virus. When the military realizes that the lead scientist, Dr. Logan, is not working on a cure but rather on trying to figure out how they "work" and even how to possibly train them to be servants, Capt. Rhodes kills the Dr. and banishes the rest into the caves where the zombies reside. Above ground a massive horde of zombies are kept away from the underground facility by a fence until a disheartened and psychotic Pvt. Salazar releases them and the zombies find there way underground. 

When initially released it made the least money of the three and unlike the first two installments was pretty trashed by critics and fans alike. Over the years though I think people have grown a better appreciation for Day of the Dead, I know I have. Watching it the other day it wasn't nearly as bad as I remember it being when I watched it countless times back in the 80's. In fact, it wasn't bad at all! It was just a different type of zombie film compared to it's predecessor. Yes the first half is extremely slow and not much other than a lot of arguing and yelling happens, but right at the halfway mark when the shit hits the fan it hit's it hard and we're left with easily one of the best zombie films ever made. That last hour is pure and total carnage as Pvt. Salazar unleashes the horde of zombies from above down into the underground nuclear facility and no matter how slow they are, the humans are clearly outnumbered. You couldn't ask for a better ending than this as every single bad guy get's it in spectacular fashion one by one. 

Also of importance in both this film and the world of special makeup effects in general is Master of Horror Effects Tom Savini. His amazing and flat out brilliant work in this film alone is legendary and at least in my eyes, unparalleled in the world of horror makeup. The shit he displays in this film is just simply amazing. He's done makeup work for dozens of films, most notably in the horror genre, but it's with this film and his brilliant work that he'll always be remembered for. If you've never seen Scream Greats (click the link for my review), a fascinating documentary on his life and work, I strongly recommend you do so. 

I loved the whole setup sequence in the very beginning of the film. They show a lifeless and abandoned city in Florida where Romero demonstrates the beauty and effectiveness of choosing simple but powerful shots to tell the story. Sarah, John and William are surveying the city from a helicopter as we're shown scenes of devastation and abandonment. They cautiously land and proceed to inspect the city until they realize they are not alone and the zombies are simply lying in wait. A very powerful and awesome opening sequence that sets up the film perfectly. One thing that stood out as I watched this opening sequence is how much it reminded me of Rugerro Deodato's Raiders of Atlantis. It looked like it could have been that film right down to the music and even the year it was made and I kept thinking to myself how fucking incredible it would have been if Romero had decided to make an over the top Exploitation flick with tons of action and gore in the mid 80's the way only 80's cinema could have produced it. Wouldn't that have been something?

Day of the Dead is a severely underrated film in the zombie genre. As excited as I was when Romero decided to get back into the zombie genre and start making more "Dead" films, Land of the Dead left me a little disappointed with all of it's CGI gore and effects. I know it's cheaper and easier to do it that way, but it loses so much of it's impact and realism. Diary of the Dead was a severe disappointment with it's POV shaky cam and documentary style of filmmaking. Oh man it drove me nuts. If you've read any of my past reviews, then you know how I "hate" shaky cam. And to be honest, after Diary I never even gave Survival of the Dead a shot. I just didn't want to be disappointed again with more CGI blood and shaky cam camerawork. But this is the tentpole Romero zombie film for me. Beautiful camera work and amazing "practical" physical effects. The way a zombie film should be made. 


Review: The Pit and the Pendulum (1991)

Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Category: Cult Classics

I've always been a so-so fan of director Stuart Gordon. I'm a huge fan of Re-Animator, From Beyond, Fortress and even Robot Jox (just for the sheer B-Movie campiness of it all). But films like Dagon, Castle Freak and King of the Ants have left me severely underwhelmed. When I see those films, I don't see the brilliance that was behind his earlier work, most notably the one-two punch of Re-Animator and From Beyond. The Pit and the Pendulum I feel falls into the category of "missed opportunity". I think mainly because my expectations were a little high. I think because I assumed since it was a Stuart Gordon film and it dealt with a gothic tale from Edgar Allan Poe that a blending of the two would result in a gory and bloody retelling of the Pendulum story. To my surprise, there is very little blood in this film. Instead it looks like Gordon's attempt at making an honest to goodness straight up period piece with a pretty decent story, but on a very low budget. It all looks ok for the most part. Though on an obvious limited budget the sets, scenery, costumes and even restrained camera work all look pretty good; not impressive or anything, but much better than you would expect it to look.

Synopsis via Wikipedia:
Set in Spain, 1492, Grand Inquisitor Torquemada leads a bloody reign of terror, torturing and killing in the name of religion. Upset with the way the Church is practicing torture, Maria speaks out during a public burning and whipping of a title-stripped family. Maria's own beauty leads Torquemada into temptation and brutal atonement. Confused over his desires, he accuses Maria of being a witch and to be tortured until confession. During Maria's interrogation, Torquemada cannot help but to stare at her naked body leading him to order her put in the prison. Imprisoned, Maria is befriended by Esmerelda, a confessed witch. Together they struggle to save themselves from the sinister Torquemada.
Outside the castle walls, Maria's husband Antonio breaks into the castle to rescue his innocent wife. After a failed escape, Antonio is imprisoned for his actions and Torquemada decides to test his new machine of pain on him; The Pit and the Pendulum.

I remember seeing this when it first came out on VHS back in 1991, but couldn't really remember whether I liked it or not. For the most part, if I can't remember whether I liked a film or not then it's safe to say that there was a reason why it never left a lasting impression on me. On the plus, I liked all the talent and hard work that went into creating this gothic world and how good everything looks, but on the negative side I found it all very bland and boring. I still think most of it comes from my expectations of thinking I was going to see a "horror" film from master horror director Stuart Gordon based on a legendary story by Edgar Allan Poe. Instead what I got seemed more like a drama than anything else with absolutely no horror elements anywhere and nary a drop of blood. So you can say I was pretty damn disappointed when it was all over.

One thing that this film does have going for it above all else are it's two leads, the great Lance Henriksen as Torquemada and the incredibly beautiful and sexy Rona De Ricci as Maria, the woman Torquemada brandishes a witch who he demands to be arrested, tortured and tried for the crimes of witchery but who he ultimately becomes obsessed with.
This is Lance Henriksen at his finest. Though he pretty much rules in almost every single film he's ever been in, it's here where he's really let loose delivering an eerie and over the top performance as the tortured Grand Inquisitor Torquemada. Rona De Ricci, who amazingly has only ever made 2 films in her career, is simply stunning as the bread maker with a heart of gold Maria. The girl can certainly act and given the fact that she appears nude often, the very fact that you can even remember she can act is a testament to her natural talent. I have no idea why she never made anything else after this film, but I'd sure love to find out.

I know this film has a lot of fans, but considering the source material and the talent in front of and behind the camera, I would have expected something more grande that delved much further into the horror genre. Lance Henriksen delivers a performance of a lifetime and raises this film from just above obscurity, but in the end it doesn't save it.


VHS Cover Of The Day - Flash Gordon

Click the image for a larger version - robotGEEKSCultCinema.blogspot.com


Just picked up this awesome original 
of the 80's classic Flash Gordon.

Man, I love the U.S. cover but this one is pretty freakin' sweet. I love the Sword & The Sorcerer style of cover art and how it almost looks like a comic book cover.

This has always been one of my favorite films. It's so campy, but full of so much over the top style and substance that you just can't help but love it. Sam Jones was inspired casting as the All American football player turned intergalaxy hero. And Max Von Sydow was spot on perfect as Ming The Merciless. 
Throw in Queen's catchy and pitch perfect score and soundtrack and you have pure 80's bliss. 

I think it's about time to revisit this 80's gem and re-immerse myself in it's cheesy, campy and rock themed absurdness. 


Review: Blazing Magnum

Directed by: Alberto DeMartino
Category: Badass Cinema

Now this is a film that has completely escaped my radar until now. I've never heard of it and knew nothing about it until I accidentally came upon it browsing on eBay a few months back.

Blazing Magnum aka Shadows in an Empty Room is pure 70's hardcore genius. Take the best episodes of  Law & Order and the best parts of Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Bullitt, To Live and Die in L.A. and The French Connection and you have this brilliant Italian production from 1976 that boldly and oddly mixes gaillo thriller with hardcore police action. After Dirty Harry, I know a lot of these kinds of films were coming out left and right around this time, but how this one has not landed on the "cult classic" list is beyond me.

I think what makes this film work so well is the unorthodox pairing of well known U.S. actors with Italian supporting actors and just the fact that behind the scenes, it's a head to toe full on Italian production with all the trimmings. Everything comes together so perfectly here from Armando Trovajoli's music, Alberto DeMartino's bold and in your face and cutting edge direction to Whitman, Saxon and Landau's brilliant casting. Honestly, had this been made in the U.S., it wouldn't have been nearly as violent or as hardcore and gritty as it is here.

Detective Saitta (Stuart Whitman) is too busy busting the heads of bank robbers one day to take a phone call from his seemingly upset sister. Later that day she dies at a party after falling ill and taking medicine given to her by her doctor, who also happens to be her lover. Soon Det. Saitta, who blames Dr. Tracer (Martin Landau) for her death and aided by his partner Sergeant Mathews (John Saxon) is on the case doing whatever it takes to get answers even if it means busting heads or blasting bad guys with no code of conduct apparently in place. His sister is dead and he's getting to the bottom of it. What he uncovers is a complicated web of lies, deceit and double lives that shake the very foundation of what he always believed to be true and learns that the people closest to you are the ones you know the least. 

The story, as simple as it sounds, gets way more complicated and I often found it hard to keep track of all the characters and "possible" suspects. But towards the second half you start to familiarize yourself with the names and it does't seem as hard as it is in the first half. What I love most about this is that it could easily have gone either way in terms of category. For the most part it plays out like a really well written episode of Law &  Order: Criminal Intent, but then outta nowhere they throw in some insane action sequence or an unbelievable car chase. In the beginning when we're introduced to the main character Det. Saitta, he's in the middle of chasing a bunch of bank robbers through the streets of Canada in a crazy ass car chase until they crash and he blows all of them away with his magnum. As an introduction I thought this sequence was gloriously over the top in terms of violence, and then it turns back into a cop thriller only to be interrupted regularly by shootouts, fist fights, foot chases and in one standout sequence right smack in the halfway mark, one of the most incredible car chases I've ever seen on film. I shit you not, it easily rivals any from Bullitt, The French Connection and even To Live And Die in L.A. That car chase is insanely brutal, amazingly long and stunningly choreographed and shot. Because of these awesome bits of action and violence, this could easily have been another awesome piece of hardcore cop cinema from the late 70's. A type of film they just don't make anymore.

Stuart Whitman, who I'd never heard of before, does a bangup job as the hard nosed detective who would rather use his fist and magnum revolver to get answers than asking simple questions. Though I was surprised that he was a little older than the usual gumshoe for this kinda film, he was a badass nonetheless and certainly left an impression. John Saxon, who plays his partner, oozes cool no matter what he's in. The guy is just awesome. I actually thought he would have been the obvious choice for the lead and was surprised he played the subdued partner rather than the violent, edgy and impulsive Det. Saitta. Martin Landau always delivers the goods and he doesn't disappoint here. As the accused doctor, he exudes an aura of sadness, confusion and disappointment having not been able to do more to save his patient and lover.

One standout of the film is Armando Trovajoli's brilliant, and I mean brilliant score. I swear, I still can't get that tempo out of my head. The music he's created in here is pure 70's gold. Like something the brilliant Goblin would've turned out had they been given the job to score this film. When it was over, I even had to check the credits and make sure that it wasn't Goblin because I thought it was for the most part.

When it was all over, I actually enjoyed this more than the tent pole film of this genre, Dirty Harry. I thought it was made better, more violent and though it kept shifting genre's from thriller to hardcore cop action, the pace  was steady and the actors just plain badass.
Blazing Magnum delivers the goods on all fronts and has easily landed on my list of all time favorite cop action films.


Badass buy of the day - Nemesis Widescreen Laserdisc

Back in September, I had miraculously stumbled upon by accident a practically brand new Pioneer Laserdisc player collecting dust at a local antique store. I've always wanted one, but because of how high they go for these days, I always thought I would have to wait for Christmas or something to be able to reward myself with one. Apparently the guy I bought it from had no idea what he had as he sold it to me for a mere $20! 

When I can remember, I browse eBay for used Laserdiscs but even though they're not terribly expensive, I had not yet found one I felt comfortable spending the kind of money Laserdisc owners want for rare and hard to find films. On Laserdisc, these rare or OOP films can go for monstrous figures, at least for me. Currently, my obsession is with old VHS tapes, but occasionally browse for Laserdiscs knowing that back in the day certain films were released in this format that were never released on VHS, DVD and even Blu-ray. 
Nemesis was released on VHS and DVD, but never in widescreen and always in crappy full frame. The DVD has long been out of print and like Fright Night 2 and Split Second, go for crazy numbers on the internet, even in full frame and a bare bones DVD release with no special features. I still can't explain it.

Imagine my surprise when I found Albert Pyun's post apocalyptic tour de force Nemesis available in it's glorious 1:85:1 aspect ratio. Most people who are familiar with his work knw that most of his films are not available in widescreen for some odd reason. There are a few, but not many considering how many movies the guy has made. So holy shit I'm pretty excited right now. This is one of my favorite all time Albert Pyun flicks and whether you like his films or not, most people agree Nemesis kicks all kinds of ass with it's outrageous action, gratuitous nudity and over the top violence. Bullets, boobs and blood; all the necessary ingredients for any cult classic. I couldn't imagine a more fitting start to my Laserdisc collection. 


VHS Cover Of The Day - The Punisher (1989)

Image courtesy of robotGEEK'SCultCinema.blogspot.com

Just got this sweet PAL VHS of one of my favorite comic book and 
Dolph Lundgren flicks, The Punisher (1989), in the mail today.
Check out my review from this past September here.

I think it's funny how every single image from the back of this VHS cover 
doesn't appear in the U.S. release. 
The second image looks like the sequence from the beginning of the film where the mob guy walks out of court and gets into his car with his goons where we see a "from behind" shot of the punisher watching from far away on his bike where he proceeds to follow them. 
But it's a back shot and not the shot they show here. And the last image is when he's demolishing the illegal gambling 
room with a hail of thousands of bullets. But him hanging from a chandelier is not in there either. I gotta check out the workprint version of this someday.

I wanted to add a side by side comparison of this original clamshell case for this film compared to a standard U.S. cardboard sleeve.  Here I used one of my favorite "WTF?" films, The 80's Trash Fest, Never Too Young To Die.  Look how huge this sucker is! I wish the U.S. took more cue's from the United Kingdom in terms of how to package a VHS back in the day.


Review: Friday the 13th part 2

Directed by: Steve Miner
Category: Horror

Feet. If there's anything I will take away from watching this film it's the enormous amount of "feet" shots found in here. Remember how in the last film since the identity of the actual killer was a secret till the very end they had to do imaginative camera work so that we couldn't figure out early who the killer was? In the first films case it was "first person point of view" camera shots. An insane amount of them. But let's be honest, if they had shown any part of the body of the killer at all we would've figured out right away it was a chick and maybe that it was even Jason's crazy mother. But here director Steve Miner instead decides to go with feet shots and a whole lot of them. For most of the film when they want to show the killer, it's usually just his feet or his hand, but mostly his feet with lots of walking. Lots and lots of walking. They even throw in some random shots of other people's feet walking here and there just to trip you up and psych you out so you can think "is that the killer?". Clever devils.

I've never been a fan of Steve Miner as a film director. I've never felt he had any identifiable style or anything that could prove he was at least visually any better or more inventive than the next guy, and that is completely evident in the lame camera work during the opening sequence when the heroin of the first film, Alice Hardy, is at her home alone doing mundane things like walking from room to room doing nothing in one long and boring tracking shot. Were we supposed to think it was a first person point of view kind of thing to invoke tension or suspense? I'm not sure, but it doesn't work. It's just boring and executed poorly.

Coming out exactly one year after the first film in this series, Friday the 13th part 2 really offers nothing new to the franchise, unless you count the skinny dipping in the lake bit and the start of the gratuitous nudity in these films, but I ain't complaining!
A bunch of young camp counselors are at Camp Crystal Lake "again" even though they've been warned repeatedly about what happened 5 years earlier and that they should stay away. And again, one by one they get killed off in slightly more creative fashion than the first film. This time though it's Jason doing the killing as he saw Alice behead his mother by the lake at the end of the last film and has vowed revenge on anybody coming anywhere near the lake since his ramshackle home is located deep in the woods nearby. Only he first needed to kill Alice for killing his mother in the opening sequence of the film. 

I hadn't seen any of these original films in so long that I'd forgotten that he still doesn't get his trademark hockey mask in this one, which was kind of a let down because you know, you go into a Friday the 13th film thinking you're going to see this big hulking indestructible half man/half child with a hockey mask hacking naked horny teenagers to pieces. I guess that doesn't start until part 3 or part 3D, whichever one I end up watching since both versions (complete with 3D glasses) are available on the Deluxe Edition. Instead he wears a burlap sack with one eye cut out over his head. It's a fairly entertaining and straight up slasher pick nonetheless and for the exception of the hockey mask, offered pretty much what I was expecting. The gore and violence was a little more tame than what I was expecting, but I realized after the opening credits that gore master Tom Savini wasn't involved with this one, which would've made a big difference I think. But even so, there are a lot of sequences that just feel "cut" short of there intended potential. The nude couple on the bed having sex before Jason comes in with a spear and spears them both to death right through the bed for one. That was probably the most obvious one and to be honest, if there was a chick from this film that I wanted to see nude more than any other, it was her. And that's the scene they cut! Blast the MPAA of 1981!

I know it sounds like I'm doing nothing but complaining about how bad this film is, but I actually did enjoy it quite a bit. All in all, for the most part it's an entertaining average early 80's slasher flick. It's exactly the type of film you'd expect to go in seeing and you won't be disappointed. And as with the first film, Harry Manfredini's score makes this sucker pop. It just wouldn't be the same with anybody else taking a stab at the score and I doubt it would have been as seering and as catchy. Even during the most mundane moments, it's the score that keeps you interested in what may or may not happen next in these films and the guy needs to be commended for that.

So let's talk about the ending. Does it make sense to anyone? What the hell happened to Paul? Did he get killed or not? Was it a dream? Was he even there? And that very last shot of Jason's dead mother's head sitting on the altar Jason fashioned at his shack in the woods. The camera zooms in on it sitting on a table and it's clearly not a dummy head, but an actual person in makeup with there head resting on the table. You expect something to happen as the camera zooms in but instead the image freezes before the credits roll up. Wha???
In the special features they say that the director had originally wanted the eyes to open as the camera zoomed in on it, but decided against it at the last minute feeling that it looked hockey and didn't have any real impact. But what was the "opening of the eyes" even supposed to say? I think they should have just left that sequence out completely since it didn't leave any lasting impact either way. Good job Steve Miner. I know he went on to do part 3 as well, so I'm not exactly jumping with joy but I hope it's a little more creative than this one and not an almost exact remake of the first one.

Review: The Horror Show aka House III

Directed by: James Isaac
Category: Horror

For some reason, the studio felt the need to tag this as House III everywhere else other than the U.S., where it's simply known as The Horror Show. First of all, it has absolutely nothing to do with the two previous installments of the House franchise, but I suppose they were just trying to capitalize on the name since it did in fact make them money. But I can tell you I'm pretty sure that wasn't the initial intent when they went in to make this.

Most people will agree that this is almost a carbon copy of Wes Craven's Shocker, which came out the very same year. Both have to do with villains who are put to death by the electric chair and afterwards are transformed into an electrical entity where they are allowed to travel via electric currents to taunt and torment there victims. I remember being excited about the concept of Shocker and the fact that horror master Wes Craven was making it, but was somewhat let down by how mediocre it all was. Shocker made it to the theaters while The Horror Show went straight to VHS. In my personal opinion, I have to be honest and say this is the better of the two. It's not great by any means, but still a solid direct to video horror film.

Unlike Shocker, this film has two standout leads that really shine in the always great Lance Henriksen and Brion James, a great character actor who's been in everything from 48 Hours, The Fifth Element and Nemesis to Tango & Cash, Flesh & Blood and a ton of television work, but will mostly be remembered as the replicant in the beginning of Blade Runner who blows that guy away during an interview when asked about his mother. Here he's allowed to go all out and really delivers the goods as serial killer "Meat Cleaver Max" who's captured by Det. Lucas McCarthy (Henriksen) and sent to the electric chair in arguably the best sequence in the entire film. After getting fried the first time he simply says "All that did was give me a hard on", to which they fry him again and not being able to put him down, he busts out of his restraints as his skins melting off his body walking over to Det. McCarthy and tells him "I'm going to tear your world apart" before collapsing on the floor to his "apparent" death. Classic stuff with Brion James clearly having a blast with the role. McCarthy thinks it's all over until he starts having strange and horrific hallucinations, nightmares, electrical surges in the house, and scary phone calls. He thinks he's going crazy until he teams up with a science teacher who's convinced that Max has somehow transferred his soul from the living to the spirit world through electricity and now he's stronger than ever being able to pass from place to place through currents and even able to manifest himself into the physical world, though it's never explained how he was able to do that. They show he was practicing at home with a homemade electric chair before the big day, but they never explain how he was able to transfer his spirit or what kind of magic he used or anything like that. And the fact that he was able to manifest to the real world was really confusing. But whatever, it's a decent little horror film with a decent budget with a few standout effects shots and the power of Lance Henriksen and the late Brion James behind it. It reminded me a lot of Renny Harlin's excellent Prison (check out my review here) in terms of style and budget, just not as awesome.

In the end it did some credible work with it's modest budget and though not great, it had a bigger impact than Shocker ever did. I found the ending completely confusing (still not sure what it meant or what did and didn't really happen) and the pace a little slow, but these two leads are such a blast to watch. My biggest complaint, besides the nonsensical script, would be Brion James incredibly annoying laugh, which was supposed to invoke fear? I think? Even when he's not around you hear that annoying little laugh, kinda like the "ch ch ch ch, ha ha ha" of Friday the 13th. Buuuuut, it doesn't work. It just drives you nuts.


Review: After the Fall of New York

Directed by: Sergio Martino
Category: Trash Cinema

Italian director Sergio Martino (Hands of Steel) directs this Escape From New York ripoff that's so identical to it's inspiration, you could swear you have just seen a low-budget sequel to that film.

When I was a kid I remember seeing this poster all over the local video stores wall. It looked cool, but I don't ever remember actually renting it. But this image has always stuck in my head and when I would occasionally browse old VHS tapes on eBay or Amazon under Sci-Fi, this would always pop up. Only recently I've learned that anywhere else outside of the U.S. it was known as 2019: After the Fall of New York, but here in the states it was always without the 2019 part. Funny thing is when I actually sat down to watch this today the guy on the cover, Michael Sopkiw (Blastfighter) looks  nothing like the guy on the cover. He doesn't wear that outfit anywhere in the film and he doesn't own that cool looking gun that looks like it's attached to his arm. I have to tell you, this leather vest looking getup is so much cooler than the actual and odd coat he wears for the entire film. He does wear that headband though, so that's something. I can only assume the picture they used for the VHS cover was promotional material they shot before they actually got down to filming the movie. But that's just my guess. In either case, I've always liked this image more than the painted poster art they used overseas and for the U.S. DVD release, which I'm actually shocked made it to DVD here in the states, in Widescreen no less.

After the Fall of New York is a solid entry in the Trash/Exploitation world of post apocalyptic films. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as his other entry in this genre, the awesome Hands of Steel from 1986, but it was an enjoyable experience if this is the kind of film you're in the mood to watch. And that's important, at least for me, because if you're not in the mood or mindset to watch this kind of film, you're not going to enjoy it. I think that's why it took me 3 separate times to try and watch it because I can be fickle and I have to be in the right state of mind when I'm watching a film in any particular genre, whether it be horror, sci-fi, action or exploitation. If I'm not in the right mood and force myself to watch a film just for a "review's" sake, I'm just not going to enjoy it.

Parsifal (Michael Sopkiw) is a mercenary forced to sneak into New York to find the only fertile woman left in the world and bring her back so that they can repopulate the planet since there hasn't been a birth of a human being for years after nuclear war. Along the way he teams up with Big Ape (George Eastman), a half man half ape who takes a liking to the last fertile human on Earth and helps to protect her on there quest. 

I think one of the things everyone can agree on right from the beginning is that it doesn't try to be anything else other than a ripoff of a huge American film that came out just a few years before, only sprinkled with bits of Mad Max and Flash Gordon for good measure. I mean, the story and structure are almost identical in every way except they change a few details here and there. As with Snake Plissken from Escape from New York, Parsifal is first asked, then forced to do the job of sneaking back into New York (which has been walled off from the rest of the world) to seek and rescue someone and bring them back to the other side. Along the way he meets a few people who help him along the way and inevitably after the first 30 minutes the movie becomes just one big long chase sequence, which is fine because who cares about story or details. The action is relentless and front and center as there's never 5 minutes that go by without a car chase, fist fight or shootout of some kind, which for the most part is handled really well.

Sopkiw does a decent enough job as the Plissken wannabe, though a little too short to play the tough guy hero with an extremely over-sized leather jacket with puffy sleeves that make him look much smaller than he really is. That was a really weird costume decision. On the plus side though, a standout of the film is it's constant use of miniature models. For a low budget Italian flick it had a lot of effects shots, but being that they didn't have the money or technology that we had here in the states to produce them, they went towards model work and I have to give them credit, while it clearly looks like model work, they did a pretty solid job with it starting with the opening tracking shot of a devastated New York and statue of liberty. It would never win any awards for effects work or anything, but you can see a lot of effort went into it and they deserve some props for that. Another awesome element is the fact that the synthesizer score sounds like something right out of an 80's arcade game like Double Dragon or Contra. It lends the film a certain charm and keeps the mood and entertainment value at a fun level. I just kept thinking of 80's arcade games though.

On the DVD there are separate interviews with director Sergio Martino and costar George Eastman (Ape Man) under the "special features" section. George Eastman is asked about his experience with making the film, to which he replies it was "fine". Then he goes on to say that Michael Sopkiw was a good guy but new to the industry, and that's all he says about him which I think is funny since he costarred with him the year after After the Fall of New York in Blastfighter for director Lamberto Bava. He talks like he barely remembers him. Then he's asked if this was the first movie he made for Martino in this particular genre and he goes on this thing about starring for him in another movie around this time with some sci-fi elements but couldn't remember the name of the movie or if it was before or after this film. He says something about a "fist" in the title and that it was like Robocop. Even the interviewer can't seem to remember or even know but they both come to the conclusion that it was Hands of Steel from 1986 and that it was indeed after this film. I just think it's kinda hilarious that he's made so many movies in so many genre's that he can't remember one from the other or that the interviewer, whether he's doing it specifically for this DVD or not, didn't really do his homework. How can you not remember the name of a movie you costarred in?

After the Fall of New York is a solid Trash Cinema/Exploitation flick with nonstop action from beginning to end. Blatantly ripping off the far superior Escape from New York in almost every turn, it's entertaining nonetheless with a certain schlock feel that never takes itself too seriously.