Here's a little project I'm very happy with. I have to admit that on a creative level, I've been on a lull for a very long time. But having taken myself out of the world of Facebook recently, I'm finding that I have a lot more time for more creative endeavors. I wanted to start with something small, so I came up with the idea of doing a custom VHS cover since I'd never actually done one before.
So I had this VHS bootleg of Roger Corman's Unreleased Fantastic Four movie from 1994. I purchased the bootleg from an online vendor years ago, but just judging from the quality of the actual tape, and the horrendous job on the cover art and label for the tape, I'd guess this particular tape has literally been around since the mid 90's. It's easily one of the worst dupes/boot's I've ever come across. On a scale of 1 - 10, I'd probably give this either a 1 or 2. Yes, it's that bad, practically unwatchable. But, when you consider the fact that there wasn't an internet when this bootleg surfaced, or at least the kind we have now, then this was really the only way to watch this remarkable little film. So we didn't complain. It was all we had and the only way we'd ever get to see it.
So I've had this really awful bootleg of a pretty incredible movie sitting on my shelf for a very long time. But I always HATED the cover art that came with it. I hated looking at it. Essentially it just looked like someone used the most primitive program they could find on their computer to put some words above a really terrible and blurry image from the film, then proceeded to make copy after copy of that same image. That's the type of quality we're talking about. I would guess it literally took this person about a whole 5 minutes to come up with it. My guess is that whoever made this was probably selling them at conventions back in the 90's and early 2000's.
Since the first bootleg's started circulating the internet and conventions, this film has become readily available on bootleg DVD's and on numerous streaming sites. So you can pretty much watch it with the snap of your fingers now. But the funny thing is that with all the different bootleg DVD and VHS versions out there, I still never found a cover I actually liked. I considered just downloading one of those cover images and using that, but really, none of them are appealing. They're as boring and uninspired as any of the covers for any new Marvel movie nowaday's. So I just figured making my own will be the only way to go. I had come across a random image similar in style and color online, but it was just the front image, made to look like the cover of a comic book, and wasn't going to work fully for what I needed. So I took a lot of inspiration from that one image and altered it to work for a wrap around VHS cover, taking out certain things I felt unnecessary, and added things I felt were important.
Playing around with different and new fonts was fun, finding the specific FF font wasn't hard at all, easily obtainable from a number of free font sites. I made sure to include Roger Corman's New Concorde logo on the spine considering it's his company that ultimately funded the film. And we all know the story behind that by now, even more so with the release of the documentary Doomed!The Untold Story of Roger Corman's Fantastic Four. I had actually hoped they would have also released it on VHS, but sadly that was not the case.
For the back I know I wanted to include in image of Dr. Doom because he's hands-down the best Doom interpretation out of any FF film, which is both sad and awesome. Sad in that none of the big budget FF films still couldn't get it right, and awesome in that this tiny little ultra-low-budget film did.
When I first put the image on the back, my intention was to make it smaller and throw in a bunch of other images from the movie; standard for any back cover. But when I saw how glorious he looked covering the entire area, I just left it. I think it works.
Since I have a bunch of old empty VHS clamshells laying around, I just used one of those, complete with sticker residue and, as you can see with this back image, still with the old Blockbuster purchase sticker.
Anyway, hope you dig it. It was a fun little experiment, and in any case, this looks a helluva lot better than it did sitting on my shelf before.
|VHS cover scan courtesy of LostVideoArchive-vhsarchive.blogspot.com|
First, here's some quick notes on the production. Released in 1986, it's produced by Michael Mann and directed by Paul Michael Glaser, a year before he took over directing reigns on The Running Man. The cast is a largely eclectic ensemble of familiar faces like Stephan Lang (playing a Native American??), Leon, Lauren Holly (Dumb & Dumber), John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), Michael Carmine (Leviathan, *batteries not included), Laurence Fishburne, and James Remar (Quiet Cool, 48 Hrs.). This cast is nuts, but then there are the peculiar casting choices in general, like having Stephan Lang play a Native American, and James Remar a Hispanic named Nestor.
Now onto the film itself. I can't even begin and "try" to explain this film. It constantly shifts genre's, story lines, and tone so radically that I can't even pinpoint what type of film this is, other than just fucking awesome. It's awesome, trust me on this. Don't try to figure it out, just go with it and proceed to have your mind blown at how bizarre and off the wall this entire experience is.
A group of criminals (thugs, thieves, drug dealers, murderers) are taken and gathered from a local jail and sent to the everglades for survival training by someone named Indian Joe (Stephen Lang). Indian Joe is in charge of a program where he will train these criminals in the art of survival, in the process learning how to live with one another and learning lessons about life. Once completed they are sent to Miami to take on the local criminal activity.
Really, that's barely scratching the surface of this film, because there is so much going on and so many different storylines, yet it works. It all works shockingly well and it makes sense, in a chaotic 80's neon sorta way. Not to mention the film just "looks" great. I don't know if this is all on director Paul Michael Glaser, or if we should really be thanking his DoP, but whatever the case, the film stylistically and aesthetically has such a large retro cool 80's vibe to it. The hair, the clothes, the bright neon colors, the music, it's all thrown together so well, it's literally a hard punch of 80's nostalgia right to your gut.
Band of the Hand was nothing like what I was expecting based on that cover. Now that I think about it, I'm not really even sure what I was expecting based on the cover art. Maybe something with a Miami Vice feel, which it certainly carries, but there's also so much more and it goes in so many different directions that it's Miami Vice inspiration is only a very small fraction of the awesome found in here. I'm shocked this doesn't have a much larger cult following. While I did some research, I discovered that this was intended as a series, with this film acting as a series pilot. When it didn't get picked up for series, they decided to release it as a theatrical feature. I'm sure producer Michael Mann (Manhunter, Miami Vice) just saw the immense potential because this thing just looks amazing. Sadly though it was a flop, not even making it's budget back. Still, I would have thought that the home video market (that's what it was called back in the day) would have seen this thing take off, where it would have really found it's audience. Thus, it did not. What's even more, I've never actually heard anyone ever discuss this, or bring it up, so I've never given this a second thought. Again, I'm shocked.
I've just discovered that while it barely got a few DVD releases in the 2000's, there's finally a Blu Ray coming courtesy of Mill Creek; I'm told in December 2016. I for one will be first in line for this one. It's a must have for my collection, and I can only imagine how striking it will look on Blu Ray.
If you've never seen this, I implore you to change that as soon as possible. Band of the Hand was just the right amount of everything thrown in but the kitchen sink that by creating something totally unique, it justifies the craziness.
Since I no longer have a home computer or scanner (I stick to my laptop, mostly at work), I have to rely on various sources for my VHS scans. While I do have this on tape, and the cover is considerably less worn than this image above, I didn't have a way to scan it myself. So this image comes courtesy of VHS Archive. I'll probably start looking into getting a scanner again as I have a large number of tapes that I could not find cover images for. Soon!
|VHS scan courtesy of Chud.com / HBO's terrible cover art|
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Category: Good Question
Every so often, I'll finally get off my ass and take a film that's been on my radar for what seems like forever, and actually make the effort to finally see it, only to be absolutely blown away. That's what happened with my experience watching Cast A Deadly Spell.
In the 40's, everyone uses magic to some capacity. And then there's hard-boiled detective Dt. Lovecraft (Fred Ward), who is one of the only people who refuses to use it, making him a unique outsider. When he's hired to retrieve a stolen Necronomicon, he's thrust into the dark world of magic and may have taken on more than he bargained for.
A Made-for-HBO movie (VERY well made) released way back in 1991, and only appearing on HBO, this little gem literally blew us away upon our first ever viewing just a few weeks ago. It was a huge breath of fresh air, and quite the clever little film. It's hard really to describe what kind of film it is, because it successfully marries several different genre's together brilliantly and effectively. It's so successful in fact that I'm kind of shocked that this hasn't been pushed for a wider release. Having only ever appeared on HBO, and subsequently released on VHS (not sure if it was available for sale or if all the copies we come across were meant for home video rentals to video stores) and Laserdisc (I've seen some foreign editions, but have yet to see a U.S. release), it's never gotten an official DVD release to this day, and honestly, that's such a tragedy.
Working with elements of a film noir, horror, comedy, and a hard-edged detective story, Cast A Deadly Spell turns out something totally unique, and it works splendidly. It's just the right amount of funny, horror, action, and thrills that it never strays too far in any of those directions, making it equal parts awesome all around.
On the technical side, a lot of props need to be given to director Martin Campbell. At this point, he hadn't really made a name for himself in the U.S. as a director, as he was mainly working in television over the U.K.. Just a few years later he began working in action films by directing the Bond flick Goldeneye, The Mask of Zorro and No Escape. But he really hit it big when he reignited the stale James Bond franchise by directing Casino Royale in 2006. But then he directed Green Lantern in 2011, and well, it's been hard to bounce back from that huge misfire. But hey, with this film, he does a helluva job with the visual aspect, giving the film a true "noir" look and feel.
The effects work in this is another area where the film shines. I guess we can all be extremely grateful this was made so long ago, meaning pre-CGI. And thank the heavens for that, because here it's all practical physical and optical effects, and it's glorious. It really adds a huge dash of authenticity to an already nostalgic wonderland of spirited cinema. I can't stress that enough really. With the way films are made these days, Cast a Deadly Spell was such a breath of fresh air; a revelation.
I like to compare it to the John Landis film Innocent Blood, only in the fact that it's such a big mishmash of genre's (genre's you wouldn't normally blend together), yet it works effectively well. I can't think of any other film quite like it to compare it to, except Innocent Blood, which is another surprisingly underrated film that never quite found the audience it deserved.
|Fred Ward, a zombie, and Clancy Brown|
This is such a fantastic little film, full of wonder, creativity, spirit, and awe. If you've never seen it, I urge you to seek this out ASAP. It's highly recommended. And here's hoping to a legit upgrade to DVD or Blu ray someday, in widescreen.
How to see it:
Well, as I stated before, it's never been officially released on DVD, so renting it from Netflix is out of the question. You can find bootleg's all over the place if you know where to look, and the VHS is readily available for a pretty penny. I'm sure it's on YouTube, but can't attest to the quality. I ended up renting it on Amazon Prime (luckily), and it looked great. Crystal clear image and it was even in widescreen.
|VHS cover scan courtesy of Retro-Daze.com|
Directed by: Jon Hess
Shame on me for taking so long to finally get to this. 90's martial arts/action/cop movies just don't get any better than this. Excessive Force has everything you could possibly want in a film of this type, and it delivers ten-fold. Not only did this film meet my expectations, it damn well exceeded them.
I could give you a synopsis, but basically it's virtually every single action/cop film cliche all thrown together. Which is absolutely fine because what set's this particular one apart from the vast majority of all the others is that this one is actually really good, surprisingly well made, and a blast from start to finish. It's like all the right elements came together at just the right time for this. For example, director Jon Hess does one helluva job shooting this thing, giving it a fantastic 90's cop movie vibe, full of gritty atmosphere and lots of excessive violence. In fact, I'm surprised his career didn't take off after this, the way other action director's did at the start of theirs like Renny Harlin and John McTiernan. Quite the contrary, Hess really didn't do much after this, and of all the films he's done, this is really the only solid one that stands out.
And it's sad to say, but despite a memorable turn as the lead vampire in John Carpenter's Vampires, and the assholiest of assholes in Karate Kid Part 3, Griffith really didn't turn into the new breakout action star that he should have been. It's a shame really. He's one of the few martial artists that can actually act. Not only that, while not the most handsome actor, he's definitely got a big, physically imposing presence. It really is a damn shame he never made it big.
Written/Produced/Starring Thomas Ian Griffith, Excessive Force is one of those hidden unseen gems that really should have gotten a bigger and better reception than it did. It should have given Griffith the same kind of recognition that Hard to Kill did for Seagal, or the way Kickboxer did for Van Damme. In fact, I found this one a helluva lot more entertaining and better made than Rapid Fire, the martial arts/action film that tried to turn Brandon Lee into an action star. Instead, Griffith was stuck in DTV-land, with the occasional role in a big budget film like Vampires or XXX. Still, the guy is a badass. It's like he knew exactly what kind of film he wanted, the kind of film and genre he was good at, so he just went out and wrote the damn thing himself. And he doesn't try to do a vanity project type thing where he makes himself out to be a hero. No sir. His character is actually pretty unlikable to be honest, yet he's so convincing that he's just fascinating to watch. He sells it, and he sells it really well.
Griffith was smart to surround himself with some pretty outstanding notable costars. Every time a new face popped up I was kind of caught off guard. I mean, you have Tony Todd (Candyman) as his partner, Lance Henrikesen as his boss, Burt Young (The Rocky films) as a bad guy, James Earl Jones (Darth Vader) as a friend, and the list goes on and on. It was kinda nuts at how good this cast was, all of which do what they do best.
If you like these types of films, you owe it to yourself to dig into this one. I can't stress that enough. It's just fucking awesome all around. One of the best in this genre, from any decade. And you're in luck. It's easy to get your hands on. Whether you go the DVD or VHS route, you won't pay more than $5, and that's with shipping included. I strongly suggest you seek this one out pronto. You'll thank me.