80's Thriller Throwback: Next of Kin

Directed by: John Irvin
Category: Action/Thriller

Here's another in a long line of 80's action/thrillers I never got around to, and as I hit my local thriftshop for VHS tapes, I'm finding more and more that the ones I pick up are films like these. It's been a really fun ride digging through these forgotten little films that get little attention, and I'm discovering more and more that films like this end up being pretty great gems. Well, for me anyway. So let's dig in.

When the brother of a Chicago police officer is killed by the son of a mob boss, the officer decides to take the law into his own hands, and ends up with help from his large backwoods hillbilly family who come to the big city to help. 

This film really surprised me for a number of reasons. I had purposely avoided this one until now because honestly, I didn't think it looked very good. I had this preconceived notion about what it was about, and now that I've finally seen it, I can admit that I was pretty way off. Long story short, I really enjoyed this, and it's far better than I could have anticipated.

For starters, the cast kind of blew me away. Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, Ben Stiller (?), Ted Levine, Adam Baldwin and Liam Neeson were not names I expected to see in this, yet that's what I love about this film that kept surprising me at every turn. And of course, there's Swayze just being great as a total badass. Incidentally he made this the same year he starred in the classic Road House, yet this one kind of just came and went with little attention. And that's really a shame, because it's actually quite good.

Directed by John Irvin following Raw Deal (1986) and Hamburger Hill (1987), Irvin does a fine job shooting this one with more style and substance than he displayed with the highly underwhelming Raw Deal just 3 years earlier. Here he definitely gives the film a more gritty atmosphere than he displayed before, and the urban city setting does an outstanding job complimenting that. On a visual level, Next of Kin really shines as an 80's action picture and that's something I had my doubts on going in. I'm relieved to learn that my fears were unfounded.

I think a lot of people will be surprised to learn that while the casting is kind of all over the place, the one that really shines here is Liam Neeson, playing a backwoods hillbilly. Neeson wasn't a well known name yet, and it would take Darkman the following year to shoot him into the big leagues, but here he's quite effective and literally steals every single scene he's in with his commanding presence. He's the skinniest I've ever seen him, yet he's still a physically imposing figure, and his hillbilly accept kind of surprised me at how well it turned out, considering he still hasn't been able to do a convincing American one to this day.

One of the biggest surprises for me was the Italian mob part of the story. I think had I known beforehand that it wasn't a film about hillbilly's that took place in the back county, but rather a film about the Italian mob in Chicago circa 1989, I would most certainly have been more eager to check it out much sooner. This just might teach me never to judge a film so harshly before I actually watch it. Live and learn.

All in all, there's a lot to like about Next of Kin that easily makes it an underrated classic. So much is done right that it's really hard not to enjoy this one. The action is is top notch, the cast and especially Swayze and Neeson give it their best while the gritty style and atmosphere only adds to the experience. I'm surprised this doesn't get more recognition. It's absolutely a hidden gem in the 80's Action/Thriller genre and if you never got around to seeing it like I did, do yourself a favor and get on it asap. I think you just might be surprised at how good it is.


Heavy Metal Horror: The Devil's Candy Film Review

This was a film I had been hearing rumblings about from film festivals. The fact that it was a follow-up from The Loved Ones director got me really excited, because Loved Ones was quite excellent and a total surprise. It seemed to take a while for it to finally get a release here in the states, but once it hit On Demand a few weeks back, we made it our Saturday night movie. Let's dig in.

Minor Spoilers Ahead:
The Devil's Candy won't win anyone over who went in expecting something as good as The Loved Ones. In fact, as a film, it's pretty simple and surprisingly unimaginative. The best thing it has going for it is it's deeply rooted heavy metal soundtrack, which I must admit was quite excellent. On a visual level, it's a great looking film. Writer/Director Sean Byrne takes his time setting up shots, and it shows. The film may be bathed in darkness, but it's a beauty to look at. I think the thing I struggled with is that it's just not very interesting. It's about Jesse Hellman (Ethan Embry), a struggling artist who moves into a new farmhouse with his family, only to discover that it's haunted. Soon the evil entity possesses him, in turn producing some of his best art he's ever made. This entity also possesses the house's former tenant, a mentally unstable man who abides by it's evil intentions and kills because the house, or voices rather, tells him to, who soon becomes obsessed with Jesse's young daughter Zooey. It all comes across rather simply, and try as it might, it just doesn't pack the same visceral punch as Byrne's previous film.

I think the first thing that really kinda floored me is that it starred Ethan Embry, someone I hadn't seen in anything in nearly 20 years until I saw him as a regular in Grace & Frankie on Netflix. I just assumed he had dropped out of acting before then, but it seems he kept fairly busy in a number of projects all these years. I had no idea. But then to see him starring as a heavy metal artist with long hair, covered in tattoos, and ripped with a muscular physique kind of blew my mind. He does a fine job in the role, and I think for the casual moviegoer, you probably wouldn't even recognize him, which says a lot about his immersion into the role. He sells it and he sells it well.

Believe it or not, that's Ethan Embry
While not a bad film, it wasn't very memorable or engaging either. When it was over, we kind of just looked at each other and said "eh, it was alright". And then the reality starts to sink in that this really could have been much, much better. Performances are strong, the film looks great (a rarity in horror these days), and the metal soundtrack is killer, but as a whole, the film is a bit too conventional and bland for a film that really could have stood to stand out from pack, much in the way the ultra-satisfying We Are Still Here did. There's never really any explanation to anything either, and while that's not terribly important, it is when the film plays out in a very standard way. It would be different if it was really clever and engaging, which would in turn deter you from asking those questions, but The Devils Candy is not, and so while you sit there through it's slow pace you can't help but ask a number of questions that never get answered, and it becomes a bit frustrating. I won't mention those specific questions here, because I don't want to plant that seed in your head.

All in all, not a bad way to spend an hour and a half of your time. I like a lot of things about the direction writer/director Sean Byrne took with this one, but the things he "didn't" do are the ones we walked away with more than anything. It's not a very memorable film, but certainly worth a watch. And if you grew up on 80's and 90's metal, then you'll at least love the soundtrack.

How to see it:
As of this posting, it's only available to stream on a number of sites like Vudu, YouTube, Amazon and Google Play, typically for $6.99. I haven't heard yet of any form of physical release on DVD or Blu Ray, but I'm sure that's soon to come.


Raging 80's!: Cyclone Film Review

Directed by: Fred Olen Ray
Category: Action/Thriller

Where has this film been all my life? Believe it or not, this is the very first time I've ever seen it, and I'm literally kicking myself for not having seen it sooner. Really, I have no excuse. I'd always known about it, but I guess I didn't know enough about it to really want to seek it out, like the fact that it co-starred Jeffrey Combs, and that it was directed by Fred Olen Ray in his early days, when he was delivering quality work. Something made me remember this recently, and I remembered that I had this as part of a 4-pack DVD set from Shout! Factory, so it was on! No excuses. Let's dig in. 

For my personal tastes, it literally has everything I could want in a film like this: hot babes, lots of explosions, a super slick bike, Dar Robinson as a bad guy, rad 80's synth score and a short running time that's filled to the brim with just enough action, cheese, stunts and nudity to make this one a breeze to sit through. I think the main thing that pushed me to finally see this was the fact that Fred Olen Ray directed it right after his 80's action classic Armed Response, so I hoped that maybe some of that quality transferred over to this one, because let's face it, from the late 80's on it pretty much went downhill for him.

Camel toe never looked so good

Heather Thomas stars as the hot girlfriend of a nerdy scientist (Jeffrey Combs) who must keep the top secret bike he's been working on called the Cyclone out of the wrong hands after he's murdered. Thomas, who had just ended her stint on The Fall Guy just the year before, really shines here. It's a damn shame she never broke out as an action heroin because here, she proves she can hold her own against anyone and look damn fine doing it too. Fred Olen Ray, who's no stranger to shooting beautiful women in all their glory, does a fine job capturing all of Thomas' best.....ahem....ASSets. When you see the innumerable shots of Thomas' ass in sprayed-on jeans, you'll know what I mean.

Dar Robinson being evil in a punk nightclub

For me, the best thing this film has going for it, next to the insatiably cute Heather Thomas in the lead, and I can't believe I'm actually saying this, is Olen Ray's ability to shoot it with a certain style. This film, for all it's cheesiness, looks pretty great, minus some lazy camerawork here and there. But for the most part, Ray puts just as much effort into making it look good, especially in the action department, as he does shooting Thomas' ass. It's done in an even-handed way and never looks or feels rushed, which goes a long way in films like this.

I think one of Cyclone's biggest assets is it's casting. Sure there's Heather Thomas killing it in the lead, but then we also have Jeffrey Combs as the Cyclone inventor and nerdy boyfriend. As much as the casting of Combs was a really nice surprise, the thing that really got me excited was having legendary stuntman and actor Dar Robinson as one of the main bad guys. He just has such a unique look and energy about him that he really puts any other villain in any film he's in to shame. It happened in Stick and he's easily the standout here. It's also a bit sad knowing this was his last performance. He would die in a motorcycle accident this same year (1986) at the age of 39 while performing a stunt on the film Million Dollar Mystery. And then there's Martin Laundau (Ed Wood) coming and going in small bits here and there, but doing a helluva job as a slimy evil businessman.

Cyclone was everything I was hoping for in a film like this. It's exactly what I needed after a series of duds and it delivered in a way that I could appreciate. It's a little dumb, but it's also very 80's and highly stylized, pleasantly cheesy and never ever gets dull or overstays it's welcome. It's just about as perfect as could be for this type of film. The fact that this was made when director Fred Olen Ray was on a high note in the mid 80's only adds to this films enormous appeal. The stunt-work, of which there is plenty, will also surprise you.

How to see it:
You can pick this one up fairly easily on VHS and Laserdisc. There's an Out Of Print DVD that goes for more than it's worth, but you're best bet is to pick up this 4 Action-Pack from Shout! Factory in a 2-disc set that's easily available for around $10 shipped. Not only do you get 3 other cult classics, but you get them all in widescreen, which is a huge plus and in regards to Cyclone, in it's best presentation to date.


The Love Witch Film Review: A Love Letter to Hammer Horror

The only thing I knew going into this was that it was a throwback to Hammer Films, and that I had seen a listing for it playing at an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema theater a while back while I was visiting Austin for the weekend. Other than than, I went in fairly cold, not knowing what to expect really or if it was a serious take, or a comedy, or a horror film. The main selling point was that it was about a witch, and my wife loves that kind of stuff, so when Amazon recently offered it under their "new releases", we jumped on it on a Saturday night. Let's dig in.

When Elaine, a modern day witch, uses spells and potions to get men to fall in love with her, she gets more than she bargained for, and gets herself into some serious trouble. 

Quite simply, this little film was such a breath of fresh air. A wonderful homage to classic Hammer films and melodrama's of the 60's and 70's, only done with a very tongue-in-cheek type humor that's not overly done, and still manages to effectively pull off what it's trying to do for the most part. To put it simply, it's a love letter to this era, and while not perfect, there is so much to love about this entire production. From the casting, to the insanely detailed and authentic design of everything from the sets, the clothes, the hair, makeup and down to the camera work. I was so enthralled into this world that writer/director/producer Anna Biller has created that I soaked up every single 35mm frame and image like it was my last. It's also important to note that Biller is also the set decorator, editor, did the score, costume designer, and art director, literally making her a one-woman-army. Wearing all these different hats behind the scenes didn't impede negatively on the films success either. Usually when one person does so many different jobs in a single film they tend to ignore or not put much effort into a certain area, but not here, except maybe the script, which I'll get into later. As far as pure design goes, the film is flawless in bringing this era of filmmaking back to life.

Outside of it's impressive design in nearly every department, what really makes the film work is it's cast, most notably Samantha Robinson in the lead as Elaine. Gorgeous and seductive, she looks like she literally came right out of a Hammer Film. And one of the things I liked most about this film is that Anna Biller cast all of the other roles with just as much care and precision. There's not a bad actor in the film, and each does an outstanding job in their roles. Now, it should be noted that this is a light-hearted homage that's very tongue-in-cheek and self-aware, so I think some might have mistakenly found the acting to be bad, or thrown off by it, when in fact it was purposely hammy, conveying the same cheesiness that we find in these classic films that did it by accident, only here it's on purpose. A lot of reviews I've read keep mentioning this part and I can't help but feel they're missing the point.

Now, as much as I enjoyed this, it's not perfect, and does suffer from a few issues. For all of it's style and creative energy, at times it's lacking substance and becomes tedious and sometimes dull. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that it's too long for it's own good, clocking in at 2 hours. Half an hour could easily have been trimmed. And while a lot of the things you see in the film are pretty, offering up dazzling eye candy, if it doesn't mean anything or go anywhere then you tend to get bored, and that's exactly what ends up happening, and ultimately while it starts off really strong (if you're into these kinds of films), it begins to slowly become less and less palpable. But really, and I can't state this strongly enough, you have to really be a fan of these types of films to enjoy this one, and if you can get past the first 5 minutes, then you'll know whether you can stomach the rest or not. And I say that in a very honest and genuine way, not in any way meaning to deter you. It's just that having read many other reviews on this, it seems either a lot of people just don't "get" what they're trying to accomplish here and completely miss the point, or that they just thought it was bad because of the cheesy dialogue and hammy acting, which of course was all done on purpose to accurately convey the feeling of that very special and specific time in film history.

Though a bit too long and tedious, I still found enough to love about this film that kept me invested and thoroughly entertained, mainly in the main actress who seduces you right from the beginning. and also in Anna Biller's impeccable design of literally everything. It's just a tour de force of the senses that tends to overstay it's welcome, yet still remains enjoyable "if" you're into these kinds of films.


80's Horror: The Carpenter Film Review

This is a film that's been on my radar for quite some time, mainly because of that silly cover, and also because Wings Hauser sticks primarily to action or action/thrillers, and the idea of him playing a deadly carpenter was something that always stuck with me. Never having an official DVD release, with the VHS being fairly easy to come by, I never really made much of an effort to get this when there are others that rate higher on my "want list". But a good friend of mine recently scored this, shockingly, at a local Goodwill and was kind enough to gift it to me. So let's dig in.

When an unhappy couple buys an old house and decides to renovate it, they soon discover that there may be more to the house and it's history than they bargained for as a mysterious and charming carpenter seems to appear out of nowhere at all hours of the day and night. Soon the woman starts becoming attracted to him, but is he just the figment of the imagination of a troubled woman, or is there something real and sinister happening?

I loved the concept, and the idea of Wings playing a killer carpenter. It's ridiculous for sure, but also very attractive in a cheesy way. So we went in with rather modest expectations, only to be a bit confused by the whole experience. For starters, it's not a horror film. I don't know what you would call it, but it's definitely not a horror film because it's not creepy, or scary, or even anything really. We struggled with how we would categorize it, but came up empty. It's almost as if they tried to make an undefinable film and actually succeeded. If it was meant to be horror, they sure didn't do much to steer it in that direction. The violence, of what little there was, was handled so poorly that it comes off as a bit comically surreal, with the first scene of violence making you chuckle rather than feel anything else.

The movie looks and plays out like a made-for-tv Lifetime movie, with a lot of emphasis being put into the dramatic relationship between the husband and wife, who are renovating a house, and their deteriorating relationship. Hauser, seems to randomly show up periodically, but it's never as cool as you hope it will be. In fact, his entry and exit in nearly every scene of his limited screen time is done with such little impact that each scene fizzles to an unsatisfying thud each time. Too bad too, because Hauser is clearly having a good time in the role, as he should. That character deserves a much better film than this, and for all of it's clever idea's, so much is never explained. * SPOILERS: Like, for example, why does his ghost stay attached to the house? Has he always been there, even with the previous owners? Why does he choose to kill some and not others? 

I think one of our biggest complaints is that the film was pretty devoid of any real gore, or even blood. Even if the film was lacking in many area's (which it is), and even if it didn't feel like a horror film like it was supposed to (which it doesn't), had it at least been creative in the kills, or even just gory, that would have been something. But we don't get any of that, on top of it just being pretty dull for the most part.

While not memorable or even all that likable, it's not a total loss. Wings Hauser is brilliant in the role, and he's having a great time being weird and crazy with power tools. Too bad he's barely in it. And whether it was on purpose or not, The Carpenter is just a wholly weird experience. You just can't figure out what film it's trying to be, and why it's never as good or even entertaining as it should be. The tone shifts randomly, and the film as a whole just never flows well, resulting in a weirdly uneven film experience. Hauser saves the day, but not by much.

How to see it:
To this day it's never gotten any kind of release other than VHS and Laserdisc. After having finally seen it, I can understand why I guess. I can't imagine it being all that "in demand" for a new release. You can find bootleg rips on DVD fairly cheap online, as well as the VHS, which comes in the standard cut as well as an Uncut Version.


Revisiting Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof

We all know how Tarantino and Rodriguez set out to make Grindhouse, doing something that hadn't been done before, and utilizing their ever-growing power and status as important innovative filmmakers to deliver a 2-Film Grindhouse experience, complete with fake trailers to films that we all are dying to still see, only to have it crash and burn in a matter of days. So I won't get into that. What I will say is that when I first saw Death Proof for the first time, I hated it. Hated it with a passion. I found it long, dull, too talky, and it didn't look like the kind of film they were touting it as....not to me anyway. I hated the character of Jungle Julia so much that I wished her dead within 2 minutes of seeing her on screen. I hated the constant long conversations between the females about nothing that never drove the film forward in any way. I hated that Tarantino thought he knew how women talked and acted in their little clique's. So I avoided it for years. 

And then a funny thing happened. For some reason I decided to revisit it last year, and surprisingly, I was absolutely blown away by it. I loved it. All of the things that I hated about it before didn't bother me anymore. In fact, I found these specific touches the very things that made this film so special......aside from the casting of Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike, introducing the world to the legendary hot badass that is Zoe Bell, and of course the insanely rad car stunts. I decided to revisit it yet again recently so I could introduce it to my wife for the very first time, and again, I loved it, but most importantly, she loved it more.

Tarantino has often regarded this film as his worst. I've read several quotes from him saying this, but I've never come across an article or interview where he goes into detail about why he feels this way. It's a broad statement, and I can only assume that he's not calling it a bad film at all, but rather the least of his favorites in his entire filmography of pretty great films. For a long time I considered it his worst as well, only to rediscover it and be head-over-heels in love with it now. In any case, if this is the worst he can do, then he's in damn fine shape because it's leaps and bounds better than most other directors can offer on a good day. I was also much more observant this time around, and noticed a few things about this that I hadn't before.

For starters, one of my biggest issues with this prior was that I felt Tarantino only really gave it the whole vintage Grindhouse vibe early on in the first 10-15 minutes. But that's not true. It's more prominent in the beginning, sure, but he keeps it going throughout the entire first half of the film, for a good 45 minutes.

Which brings me to another aspect of this film I hadn't noticed before. Death Proof is like 2 different stories, both 45 minutes long each, that are only connected together because they both feature Stuntman Mike as the protagonist. But they're 2 separate stories with two sets of women that Stuntman Mike is after for no other reason other than that they're pretty women. But one thing I noticed before, and again this time as well, is that unlike with the previous story involving the girls leaving the bar, Tarantino does not continue the Grindhouse-looking vibe for this second story. And that was something that bothered me a lot the first 2 times I saw it, but I realize now that it's maybe because this portion of the film really needed to focus on the insane stunt work, and having the film look muddy and grimy might tarnish all the work that went into creating some of the most intense, most spectacular car stunt work we've ever seen on film. In an era of CGI Fast & Furious nonsense, the fact that they were able to pull off some legendary car chases, crashes and stunts 100% practically just blows my mind. It's the main thing anyone will walk away from with Death Proof, and having revisited it a few times, I feel that it was a wise decision on his part to focus more on the stunts rather than the look of the film for the second half of Death Proof. Tarantino still keeps up the basic aesthetic, just without the scratches, missing scenes, and elements to make it look worn to shit.

It goes without saying that from the very beginning, QT has had an uncanny ability to expertly cast his films, and it's no different with Death Proof. Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike was just brilliant. The guy, mainly known for his iconic roles in John Carpenter films, here turns in a devilishly evil performance as an egomaniac stunt driver (so he says) who gets his rocks off out of terrorizing innocent young pretty ladies. Russell is so good in fact that it's become one of his most recognizable and iconic performances in his 50+ years long career.

But Russell isn't even the standout in this one.....shockingly. No sir. That honor goes to Zoe Bell, a stuntwoman from New Zealand who got started on Xena: Warrior Princess as a stunt double and who blew Tarantino away so much after playing The Bride's stunt double in Kill Bill that he cast her in this. Here she shines brighter than any other in the film, and she proves to be a natural in front of the camera, and most importantly, completely likable. And to see her doing her own stunts in quite a few shockingly harrowing scenes will blow you away. If anything, Death Proof, and more importantly, QT, introduced the world to Zoe Bell, and simultaneously proved what a total badass babe she is.

On the flipside, I have one single complaint, and that is that I still found Sydney Poitier as Jungle Julia utterly annoying. I hated every second she was on screen and I found her so unlikable that any scene she was in was a struggle for me to get through. Rude, stuck-up, condescending and arrogant to the max, if this is what QT was going for, then he succeeded wholeheartedly. Needless to say, I'm glad she was only in half of this film and found her death to be completely satisfying.

Upon this revisit, I have moved this film up significantly on my list of favorite Tarantino films. Not sure exactly where it falls, but it's pretty high up, definitely before Django Unchained, Jackie Brown, Hateful Eight and Inglorious Bastards. It's an often maligned and overlooked gem that only gets better with age and each new viewing. Though QT himself considers it his worst film, I find it far more enjoyable than some of his most recent films. Sure it's just as "talky", but it moves along faster and coupled with his Grindhouse-inspired touches, makes it a thoroughly enjoyable ride.


The Void Film Review

Try as you might, it was near impossible to go into this without any preconceived notion or high expecations that this was as good an 80's throwback to classic Carpenter as we would ever get. At least, that's what nearly every single review, buzz and positive word of mouth were saying when this hit the festival circuit on into it's release on demand just this past Friday. I don't remember when the last time was that a film came out and tried so hard to steer you in this particular direction. Yea there have been attempts with varying degrees of success with It Follows comes to mind as a highlight. With that being said, it was near impossible to not go in and expect to be wowed. Did it work? Let's dig in.

No, it did not. I saw this with a group of 4 and we all went into this pretty pumped as we're all horror fans. The fact that they kept touting this as a throwback to classic John Carpenter films (among other horror directors like Lucio Fulci) was even more exciting. So it pains me to say this but when it was all over, none of us really enjoyed it. And personally speaking, I don't know where all the "throwback" talk was coming from. Outside of the fact that a lot of practical effects work was utilized, and rather well for that matter, nothing about this film screamed homage or throwback in the slightest. Not even in the one area that really would have sold it, and that would be the score, just one of many area's The Void failed to deliver.

As a film, and not being referenced to anything else, it's just alright. I kind of got the same feeling when we saw 2015's Baskin, which was constantly referred to as a darker, gorier, scarier version of Hellraiser. With both Baskin and The Void, the trailers make them look incredible, but the films themselves leave a lot to be desired. And that's really the big thing we all felt walking away from this. All the right ingredients are there; i.e. the talent in area's like the effects work and design, and you can tell they had somewhat of a decent budget to work with (and if they didn't, they did a helluva job in convincing us they did), but none of it is put to good use or utilized well at all. It's a bit frustrating because it really could have been a solid film.

And that gets me to another issue. Even if they had worked harder, or better, at the visual aspect, which they don't, and even if they had offered a truly synth inspired score to really give it that 80's retro vibe, which they don't, there are still a number of issues plaguing this film, most importantly it's pacing and structure. One of the things we struggled with for most of the film was that we just didn't care about what was happening at all. Add to that the fact that none of the characters come off as likable, and some just plain annoying, we found it difficult to connect with anyone in the film, let alone care about them. And then there's just the film itself, which just doesn't flow. Moments of pure boredom are only interrupted occasionally with a cool scene of some practical monster effects stuff that still gets muddled in the shaky-cam darkness of how these guys choose to shoot this film. Again, another missed opportunity to really make the effects work shine, the only good thing this film has going for it, and it's done in such a way that makes it hard to ever make out what's happening because of A) Shaky-cam, B) darkly lit, and C) quick edits. It's just another example of how their specific way of making this film, in essence, only sabotages it.

A bunch of unlikable characters we care nothing about

When the big reveal comes into play, and you figure out who's responsible for what's happening, it's again treated with little sizzle, resulting in a reveal that leaves little impact. In fact, I had to ask several in the group who they were referring to because it just wasn't made very clear. It's just another example of how poorly things were handled in a film that's ultimately a muddled mess.

It's not a total loss though. I will say the marketing and poster art has been pretty great. It's the kind of talent and inspiration in this area that you wish would have been implored in all other area's of this film. The effects work is also commendable in a time when most films like this stick strictly to CGI because it's cheaper and easier. The final act, as bizarre as it is, is definitely the highlight of the film and reminded me more of a trippy version of Hellraiser more than anything.

Overall it could have been great. A number of creative decisions really hampers the experience, mainly in that the filmmakers chose to shoot it like any other new horror film, rather than going for the full-on throwback vibe, which it very easily could have done with some minor changes and would have been all the better for it. I think the marketing really went above and beyond to sell the shit out of The Void when the film is nowhere near as good as the posters and festival buzz leads you to believe. I liked the idea as a whole though, but it just wasn't executed well. Had it been, it could have been a totally different and better film.


Documentary Dynamite!: Final Cut - The Making of Heaven's Gate and the Unmaking of a Studio

Months ago, when I discovered Michael Cimino's gritty, bloody masterpiece Year of the Dragon, I became somewhat obsessed with knowing as much as I could about Cimino, not only the filmmaker but the man. I soon discovered that former United Artists head honcho Steven Bach wrote a book about his experience in dealing with Cimino when he and UA hired him to make his next feature, after just having won Oscars in directing and for Best Picture for The Deer Hunter. That next feature would be the notorious Heaven's Gate, an epic period western that was originally budgeted at 7 million to produce (that figure came from Cimino himself), and would ultimately skyrocket to close to 50 million, and bombing so hard at the box office that it would go down in history as one of, if not the biggest, box office disaster in history. Remember, this was 1979-1980 and that was a lot of money back then. The entire situation was so bad that it's often blamed for destroying United Artists, one of the biggest studio's at the time.

This book, Final Cut, written by Steven Bach himself chronicles the years long headache and disaster of trying to control a perfectionist who would do as many as 50-100 takes for a single shot, and who got so behind schedule right from it's very first week of production that the story of making the film became much more entertaining than the film itself. Since it's release, Final Cut has been re-released several times with expanded or updated versions and you can find it for cheap on any online marketplace like Amazon, eBay or Half.com.

But wait, there's good news. While reading this book and really enjoying it - though personally I felt Bach tends to get sidetracked, going into area's that really have nothing to do with working on Heaven's Gate as a studio head, like for example, he keeps bringing up Woody Allen. I'm assuming it's because he was a great example of a filmmaker who made films on time, on budget, and was easy to work with, the complete opposite of his experience working with Michael Cimino. Bach also goes into great detail about how UA began from it's early days, so he dedicates a lot of time and many chapters on things like this until you get to the good stuff, which I found tedious more often than not. In any case, I discovered that there's a documentary of the same name based on this very book. So if you're not in the mood to read the actual book, the doc will certainly fill the bill.
Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and writer/director Michael Cimino 

I gave it a watch last week and found it to be every bit as entertaining and informative as I had hoped. Using vintage footage of everything from on-set photos and new and old interviews, of a lot of the key players in the film and production, including Steven Bach himself, the documentary wisely trims the fat of the book and keeps to the meat of the story. Plus, it's narrated by Willem Dafoe, who adds a touch of awesome to the whole thing. I had heard that this doc was prevented from making it into the Criterion Collection DVD and Blu Ray release by Cimino himself, so the only way currently to see it is on YouTube, and thankfully, it's in it's entirety. There are several uploads where you can view it in parts, but there's also the entire thing available without it being broken up. For your convenience, I'll include the complete version below. Enjoy!


80's Thriller Throwback: Runaway

As my slight obsession with collecting vintage RCA VHS tapes (I just love that classic red border cover and the side-loading action on some of them) continues, I realized that this Michael Crichton classic was originally released on this format for the very first time upon it's release. Once I realized I had to have it, it was easier said than done. Apparently, this specific VHS release is hard to come by, and if you do, it's not cheap. Sure you may find it in a thrift store for mere cents if you live in a big city, but sadly, I don't have that luxury. It took a while, but I finally came across one in excellent condition for under $10. 

This is a film that seems to get little attention all-around. If there's anything that anyone will take away from it, it will most likely be that it was Gene Simmons first gig as an actor, and the start of his triple threat as a villain in a few 80's cult classics. It's also one of the few films legendary author Michael Crichton directed himself. So let's dig in.

Runaway is an outstanding 80's thriller, and a severely underrated one at that. I just absolutely loved the world Crichton has created in this, a slightly futuristic world where robots and computers do almost everything. Now remember, this was 1984, so these things didn't exist, at least not for every day use. There are moments in the film that are eerily premonitory to where technology has come today. Though these things are but minor details in the overall story, it's these flourishes that really give this film a unique voice.

I think one of the best things this film has going for it is that it was made in the early to mid 80's. This very specific aesthetic really drives the film, giving it a tone that works really well. I seriously doubt that it would be nearly as fun or entertaining had they made this today, or in the last 15 years. Having been released in 1984 gives the film a time-stamp, even if they try to set it in a futuristic environment, it's still very much an early 80's looking film and it's really what makes it work as well as it does.

Gene Simmons being evil as Dr. Luther in Runaway (1984)
As much as I loved this film, I only have one single complaint. As a thriller, the film is superb. All the basic fundamental ingredients are here and as a film, it's structured incredibly well. The acting is top notch with everyone involved, and I think it's also the cast that really gives the film some of it's strongest assets. But if I were to complain about anything at all, it would be that Michael Crichton is not a visually arresting filmmaker. Much in the way John Badham shot Blue Thunder, Crichton chooses to shoot a good 90% of this film using handheld camera's. So there's no real style to be found anywhere. Sure there are momentary seconds of brilliance, but for the most part, it's essentially fast and loose freestyle filmmaking, which really kind of bummed me out because just with the whole set design and very specific 80's look, the film could seriously have used a more streamlined approach to the visuals. It's a great film, but it's not a visually impressive one.

All in all, it's pretty much a homerun in the 80's thriller department. It's also a solid entry in the tech-thriller genre. Everything comes together better than you expect for a highly entertaining film; killer tech, outstanding structure and solid performances, If only Crichton put as much emphasis on the visual eye candy as he did on everything else, it really could have elevated this several notches into "amazing". As it stands, it's still pretty "fantastic".


Bad Movie Night & 90's Action Attack! Presents Kill Crazy

Directed by: David Heavener
Category: Action

I should start by saying I'm not familiar with David Heavener films at all. I know of him, but this would be my very first introduction into the world of David Heavener cinema, and it seems that based on this particular films cult status, I chose one of the best, or in the very least, one of his most entertaining in his decades long career. 

A group of mental patients from a psychiatric hospital for veterans go away for the weekend on a camping trip, only to discover that the trip is actually a hunting game where they will be the ones being hunted for sport. 

So yea, Kill Crazy is pretty terrible. But you know what? That just so happens to be one of it's biggest advantages and in a weird way, one of it's most endearing qualities. It's an amateur production if I've ever seen one, and Heavener, who acts as writer/director/star and songwriter in this, has no discernible talents behind the camera. Every aspect of this production, from the script, to the really bad parts where it tries to be funny, and down to the bad directing and editing can all be attributed to the fact that Heavener should have had some help in any one of these area's. But you know what? It's these amateur touches that really gives the film it's edge. Had someone more competent come in and made it better, I doubt it would have the lasting cult status it currently has. After having finally seen it, I get it too.

I will say this, I've certainly seen worse. And while I knew it would be bad going in, obviously I was hoping for David A. Prior or Amir Shervan level/quality of entertainingly bad low-budget action. Sadly, it doesn't quite reach that level of awesome, but it gets pretty close. And that's really what makes this film one that you can endure, because while it is definitely a bad movie, it hangs on to the edge of So Bad, It's Good aka Bad Movie Night material, and that alone makes it worth the effort.

I think one of the biggest surprises for me in this film was it's cast. I'm still a bit surprised who was in this mainly because I've seen a few of them do some pretty big stuff. For starters, Burt Ward is one of the mental patients. That's right, the original Robin: The Boy Wonder from the 60's television show himself. And then there's a sort of "Welcome Back, Kotter" mini reunion with Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (Washington) and Robert Hegyes (Epstein) both playing mental patients as well. I don't know, it was kind of surreal for me to see these 3 actors from television shows I watched as a kid playing mental patients in a low-budget action film from 1990. But that's also kinda cool. It made the experience of watching this all the more.....entertaining, if a bit surreal.

Then there's the one and only David Heavener. I can't help but wonder that this guy would be a much better actor given the right material, or under the direction of a professional. He's not bad, not in the least. But one can't help but notice that he's just not a good filmmaker, and how much better the whole thing would have turned out with someone else handling the directing duties. And is it just me, or is he a dead ringer for Michael Nouri? It's uncanny.

Oh, and lest we forget his uber catchy country songs littered throughout the film, starting with the opening credits. I tell you what, they're fantastically cheesy, catchy, and unintentionally hilarious. It's painfully apparent Heavener wanted to be a country singer. I discovered that an earlier film of his, Outlaw Force, simultaneously released a soundtrack of his country songs on vinyl along with the film. In fact, the VHS has an ad that runs before the film to order that soundtrack by telephone. I've been told that commercial/ad is actually the best part of watching Outlaw Force. I guess I'll have to get to it someday to see for myself.

In one sense I was kind of hoping for more unintentionally hilarious Bad Movie Night material. As it stands, it's a decent entry into that particular little sub-genre that I love so much. We had a good time with it and it's one of those that gets better and more entertaining as it moves along, culminating in a very satisfying third act. I wouldn't say it's one of the best, but it may be one of the best in David Heavener's career.

How to see it:
Officially it's never been released on any format other than VHS here in the U.S., however, you can find it uploaded in it's entirety on YouTube from several different users.


VHS Cover of the Day: Thrashin'

Here's a film that I've known about nearly my entire life, yet only saw it for the very first time this past year. Of course, I loved it to death. It's just the right amount of 80's cheesy goodness in all the right ways, never overstaying it's welcome in any department and hitting all the right notes. In short, it's a blast from start to finish, and pure 80's cheesy bliss.

But getting my hands on one of these original tapes was easier said than done. Unfortunately it's a highly sought after one and I could never come across one for under $20. I'm sure if I lived in a bigger city I'd eventually find one in a thrift store, but unfortunately, I live in a tiny town that is notorious for offering crap when it comes to VHS tapes. I always kept an eye out though online and in VHS groups, hoping that one day my patience would pay off. Well, that time has come. Finally, I stumbled upon an eBay listing where they were selling it for a relatively reasonable price, and so I snatched it up. Of course, one of the things I love about these old tapes are the stickers that are found all over the cover and tape itself. I love them. It's an image into that tapes history. So the one that really had to make me laugh was the one found on the back, with a "Goodwill" sticker on it that had a price of .71 cents. Needless to say, the person I got this from made a hefty profit.

Now, if I can just get my hands on an original VHS of Rad...


The Punisher (1989) Ghana Movie Posters

Today I wanted to take a moment to spotlight these amazing hand-painted posters from Ghana of one of my all-time favorite movies, The Punisher from 1989. I've been following this art gallery, Deadly Prey Gallery, out of Chicago, IL for some time, but it wasn't until my good friend Jeremie Damoiseau, author of the kickass book Punisher: The Secret History, which chronicles the behind the scenes making of this 80's Dolph Lundgren masterpiece, turned me onto these two incredible images, that I knew they even existed. And now that I see them, my only thought is "How do I get these for my home?".

If you know anything about these Ghanaian movie posters, then you know it's a true art form, and a dying one at that. So when artists from Ghana are still commissioned to turn some of our favorite cult films into hand-painted movie posters, often on two sewn-together rice or flour sacks, it's always a big deal. And as you may or may not know, sometimes they represent the particular film well, and other times it's as if the artist never actually saw the film and painted whatever came into their heads, which is also part of their appeal, am I right?

Deadly Prey Gallery sells every one of their hand-painted Ghanaian movie posters at their gallery and online. They're not cheap, but they're also one-of-a-kind pieces of art that can never be duplicated. When you purchase one, you purchase it knowing you own the one and only one in existence, and that right there is worth every penny.

You can visit their official website HERE.
You can visit their Instagram page HERE.
You can visit their Facebook page HERE.
You can purchase Jeremie Damoiseau's book, Punisher: The Secret History HERE.

59" X 41.5" $1,400 / Artist: Salvation / Contact DeadlyPreyGallery.com for purchase info

I couldn't find any online info on this particular piece


80's Attack!: Traxx Film Review

Directed by: Jerome Gary
Category: Action/Comedy

I remember coming across this tape many, many times as I regularly frequented the video stores back in the day. To be honest, I always thought the guy on the cover was David Rasche. And I continued to think that until recently, decades later. It wasn't until a fellow VHS Instagramer posted this tape and said something along the lines of "Holy shit, this is my new favorite movie". That kind of surprised me, so I did some digging and found that there are a whole lot of people who love this movie too. In fact, I didn't find a negative thing said about it. I also learned that it's not a cheap film to come by on tape, and since it's never gotten an official DVD or Blu Ray release here in the states as of yet, it would seem that the prices for this tape would be justified, according to the sellers. I secured a copy for about what they go for these days, so let's dig in.

One of the most important things I discovered about this film is that it doesn't star David Rasche after all, rather a radio disc jockey, and a highly famous one at that, by the name of Shadoe Stevens, making his film debut. It also stars Robert Davi as the bad guy, so I was pretty much sold with that alone. I have to admit though that the idea of it being an action/comedy, rather than an action film that's also funny, or a comedy that has some great action, had me a bit nervous. I hoped for the best, because with these low-budget action films, you never know. There are lots of hidden gems found in this genre, some of which have become all-time personal favorites, so I'm not ready to rule anything out just yet.

I wish I could say I loved this as much as most others do, but I just found it to be okay. It's good, and certainly entertaining for sure. Shadoe Stevens is a natural in front of the camera, and an even bigger badass as an ex-mercenary who wants to break into the cookie business, who decides to clean up a crime-ridden town for a big payday so he can fund this new venture. It's a silly premise, and an even sillier movie, which works in most area's, and doesn't quite hit the mark in others. And that's really my biggest complaint about this one. It never really hits the mark 100%, often narrowly missing it by a single beat. It's these moments that leave you a bit frustrated, because in all honesty, this very well could have easily been a home run. All the right ingredients are here, they're just not put together well.

I think the problem comes from the fact that it wants to be a comedy more than an action film, so the action is treated secondary, and it looks like it too. Only, there is a ton of action in here, right from the opening frames, yet it's just not handled very well, so it never comes off as good looking action, and it really puts a big damper on these sequences, of which there are a plethora of. I feel that had the film been treated more like an action film that was also funny, rather than a comedy that just happened to have some acion, and hired someone experienced in shooting action sequences, it could have really been great. It's painfully obvious this director has never handled action before, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he never did again after this. He's terrible at it. There's just too much action in this film for it to have been handled by an amateur, but that's exactly what we have here. About halfway through, the concept starts to wear itself thin, and you keep hoping that either the comedy will start to hit the right notes, or the action will step up, but sadly, neither happens, resulting in a film that always feels like it's one step off.

It's a pity really, because Shadoe Stevens is great, a natural, as is Robert Davi, and I have to admit, Priscilla Barnes is sexy as hell. If only it wasn't severely lacking in the action department, the forced comedy and absurd silliness of it could easily have been overlooked. As it stands, it's always just a single step away from being awesome. It's always missing that one beat or one ingredient that really could have made this shine. For my money, if they had had an actual action director, better editor or better second unit director, it would have fixed any number of it's pacing issues. But you know, I have to give them credit for doing something unique. It does work part of the time, and you can see what they were trying to do. I guess it goes without saying that I respect the effort if anything else.

How to see it:
You can watch it in it's entirety on YouTube. It's never been released on DVD here in the U.S. and it's currently not available to stream anywhere, not even to rent on Amazon. The VHS tape will run you anywhere from $10-$20, and frankly, that's a little too high for a film that's just alright.


The Secret History of Spider-Man Movies

Boy, it seems I keep coming across more and more information and fantastic articles regarding early Spider-Man movie efforts that never got off the ground. Here's a fantastic article by Charlie Jane Anders I recently came across detailing all of these failed attempts, with a lot of in-depth information and research, most of which I was completely unaware of. As originally published on the website io9.com back in 2011, Anders does an excellent job at sticking to the important information and the facts, while not veering off into personal opinions on the matter, something I know I would have been guilty of had I done it. Anyway, follow the link below for an excellent read on all things related to the decades long battle to try to get this Marvel character to the big screen. You'll also find links to the finished scripts to these abandoned films. Enjoy!


Nothing But Trouble Film Review: Nothing But Confusion

Directed by: Dan Aykroyd
Category: ???

The one thing I’ll always remember about this film is that one of my best friends back when this first came out loved it so much, and I hated it. He loved it because it was so weird, and I hated it for that very same reason. He had/has a tendency to lean more towards the weird and bizarre, while I usually stuck to mainstream. So it’s no surprise his favorite filmmaker is David Lynch, and mine would be someone more along the lines of Peter Hyams, Paul Verhoeven or Craig R. Baxley. I haven’t seen this since it first hit home video, and at the time, I just couldn’t understand how or why anyone could love or enjoy this film. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned these past few years, it’s that my tastes have changed vicariously, so maybe I’d actually enjoy it this time around. When I scored this on DVD for a mere 25 cents at a pawn shop, I figured it was a sign. So let’s dig in.

I can tell you that 25 years haven’t made it any less bizarre, but I didn’t hate it as much as I did back then. I enjoyed it to a very slight degree, because it was fairly insane from start to finish, but I can’t say it’s something I enjoyed for the right reasons or that I’ll ever feel the need to revisit this.

Written/Directed/Starring Dan Aykroyd, with a story by his brother Peter, Nothing But Trouble is kind of a surreal decent into backwoods hell in some alternate universe rather than a comedy, which is how it’s been marketed. It’s not funny, not in the slightest, and any attempt at even a dry humor falls flat, but what it lacks in humor it more than makes up for in being darkly imaginative and slightly teetering on absurd dark humor. It’s an uncomfortable surreal nightmare that doesn’t quite know what kind of film it’s trying to be, so I can only imagine the surprise, and maybe even disgust, of the casual moviegoer who actually paid good money to see this in a theater because it starred Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy Demi Moore.

I actually don’t know the real reason, but I can only guess the reason these high profile actors agreed to participate in this was as a favor to Aykroyd. I can’t imagine these actors actually reading the script and thinking it was something they’d voluntarily want to be a part of. Even my movie companion, who loves weird movies (the weirder the better) found this to be too weird in a conventional way. She couldn’t understand so many of the creative decisions made in front of and behind the camera/scenes and struggled with finding any kind of enjoyment in it since she couldn’t even tell what type of film it was supposed to be. In fact, just based on the cover art alone, she thought it was a western, and she didn’t believe me when I told her it was set in the present tense via the early 90’s.

I have to give credit to Dan Aykroyd though. The guy, somehow, managed to make one of the weirdest films I’ve ever seen inside the Hollywood system, complete with all the bells and whistles. As far as production goes, it’s a bit impressive. At least in that department (sets and set design), it doesn’t disappoint. You’re eyes are constantly trying to take in and make sense of the Mad Max/Post Apocalyptic-style surroundings located within an old courthouse and it’s backyard. It's highly surreal in a very unconventional way.You don't know whether to be impressed, or wonder just what the hell it is you're watching.

I guess I can understand it's appeal to some people. It's weird as shit and never tries to be anything but. I'm sure the studio was worried and not sure how to exactly market it, so I suppose comedy was the safer bet, especially with this particular cast. But it's not a comedy. nor is it a horror film. It has particular elements that relate to both of those genre's, but never enough or done correctly to fall into either of those categories. Dark comedy or black comedy might be the way to go. In any case, it's not a highlight of Aykroyd's career either as a writer or director, and I'm not surprised that he never directed anything again after this.

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