The Cult Corner: The Phantom (1996)

by robotGEEK

Back in the mid 90's, studio's were pulling obscure comic characters out of the vaults and realizing them as live action big budget films. Obviously, this was before the Marvel Cinematic Universe took the comic book film world by storm. But it was after Batman, primarily Batman Forever, which did rock solid business, so in the hopes of capitalizing on that success, studio's were looking for lesser known properties to bring to fruition. My guess is that these properties were far less expensive than say anything from Marvel or DC's catalog's.

Released in 1996, The Phantom ultimately bombed at the box office, not even making half of it's reported budget back, killing any chances of a reported trilogy. But does poor box office negate a solid film? Certainly not. Because despite some issues I had, it's still an enjoyable film. And you know, I do remember seeing this at the theater (I must have been one of the few), and remember actually being excited about it prior to it's release because it did look cool, or in the least...fun. But that was 22 years ago and I honestly don't remember a thing about it. And that's never a good sign, right? When I saw Hulu recently added it to their new lineup, my wife and I jumped right in hoping for the best. Let's dig in.

The Phantom, for all intents and purposes, is a very well made film. It's got a pretty impressive cast with some solid standouts for sure (Treat Williams is just the best, as is cult icon James Remar; I had no memory of Catherine Zeta-Jones being in this), and a surprisingly formidable hero with Billy Zane delivering a very likable performance. It's biggest issue I think is that it lacks any real excitement. Sure it has some action sequences, but none of it is terribly exciting or packs any sort of real punch. I never would have picked Aussie filmmaker Simon Wincer (Free Willy, Harley Davidson & the Marlboro Man) as the director for something like this. I'm sure the attraction was that he had done a bunch of Indiana Jones Chronicles episodes and movies, therefor proving he could handle the adventure stuff, but he's also a terribly uninteresting director too. He's more of a serviceable filmmaker. He gets the job done, but there are no frills and thrills about it. So while the film may have all the bells and whistles of a big budget studio film (45 million was a lot of money in 1995/6), it doesn't carry any sort of visual flare. Sergio Leone, Joel Schumacher and Joe Dante were all attached to direct at different moments throughout it's long-gestating history, with Dante intending it to be more of a tongue-in-cheek film with a lot of comedic overtones.

Another issue is the script, here credited to Jeffrey Boam, a legend in his own right with The Lost Boys, Lethal Weapon 2, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Innerspace under his belt. So bringing Boam on board for this seemed like a no-brainer, yet in the end it's just okay. There's nothing that ever really stands out about this in any regards; certainly not the action, and it always feels like it's missing something. It's a shame too, because it has all of the right ingredients; exotic locations, a really fun cast, and a budget that allows for some major fun in the action and stunts department, but outside of an impressive moment in the beginning involving a truck on a collapsing bridge (William Friedkin's Sorcerer did it better), there's really nothing memorable about any of it.

In the end, despite my issues with it's overall aesthetic, it wasn't bad.....at all. In fact, it was quite a lot of fun. It felt like something Stephen Sommers would have made, sort of like what he did with The Mummy world he created 3 years later in 1999, only a lot tamer. And you can't deny the excellent cast here, who all bring their A-Game to the table, most notably a very fun Treat Williams as the villain, who coincidentally would work with Stephen Sommers 2 years later in the excellent Deep Rising. Everyone is just so much fun in here, and I kept thinking how constantly surprised I was with the faces that kept popping up, like legendary cult icon Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, here as The Great Kabai Sengh, a pirate that appears in the last act who brings a lot of fun to the experience where the film desperately needed it.

Overall a fun time. It's not bad in any light, it just feels like it could have and should have been so much better. I personally would have chosen a different director, and infused the film with more excitement, whatever that entails. If anything, it serves as an excellent time-capsule for the mid 90's, where comic book (in this case, comic strip) films were still hit-or-miss. The Shadow, released 2 years earlier in 1994, and The Rocketeer in 1991 are other excellent examples. They're fun little films that, despite not having done well upon their initial release (though The Rocketeer and The Shadow did turn a very small profit, but weren't the runaway successes the studio's had banked on. Dick Tracey did far better overall), and have retained a sort of cult status, and rightfully so. They're actually pretty good....considering.


Blu-Ray Review: Last House on the Left (Arrow Video)

Arrow Pulls Out All The Stops For One of Their Most Impressive Releases to Date

by robotGEEK

There's no mistaking Last House on the Left's legacy as one of the most imitated and visceral horror experiences of all time. The film, especially at the time, was a tour de force of Grindhouse filmmaking that shook you to the core and offered you a completely different angle to the revenge genre that we really hadn't seen before. Sure, if you were to watch it for the very first time today it might come off as amateur and not nearly as gory as you'd expect, but by 1972 standards, it was genre-defining and blindsided an unsuspecting public. Wes Craven's unapologetic view of raw interpersonal violence became a genre-defining classic, paving the way for a new sub-genre in the horror field and countless imitators.

But it wasn't a runaway success initially. Digging through the ample amount of extra features located within this excellent Arrow release, I learned a number of surprising things. Like LHonL went through several name changes while still in theaters because it just wasn't pulling people in. The title that we all know so well now actually came from someone else other than Wes Craven. Or that the film itself came about because local Drive-In theaters actually financed it, as was the case for many low-rent films back in the day so they could throw it in as a second feature after their main attraction.

Regardless, LHotL has remained one of the most legendary horror classics for nearly 50 years and it's status only continues to grow, with the culmination of this incredible new Blu-Ray set courtesy of Arrow Video, which includes not only the film, but 3 different cuts of the film, including the legendary uncut version. You also get a plethora of extras to indulge in, and just speaking from experience, you will need an entire weekend at least to dig through all of it. So let's dig in.

  • Three cuts of the film newly restored in 2K from original film elements
  • Original uncompressed mono audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • 6 x collector's postcards
  • Double-sided fold-out poster
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork
  • Limited edition 60-page perfect-bound book featuring new writing on the film by author Stephen Thrower
  • Soundtrack CD

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the Unrated Version
  • Isolated score newly remastered from the original 17.5" magnetic tracks
  • Brand new audio commentary with Bill Ackerman and Amanda Reyes
  • Archival audio commentary with writer/director Wes Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham
  • Archival audio commentary with stars David Hess, Marc Sheffler and Fred Lincoln
  • Archival introduction to the film by Wes Craven
  • Still Standing: The Legacy of The Last House on the Left - archival interview with Wes Craven
  • Celluloid Crime of the Century - Archival documentary featuring interviews with Wes Craven, Sean S. Cunningham, actors David Hess, Fred Lincoln, Jeramie Rain, Marc Sheffler and Martin Kove
  • Scoring Last House - archival interview with actor/composer David Hess
  • It's Only a Movie: The Making of Last House in the Left - archival featurette
  • Forbidden Footage - the cast and crew discuss the film's most controversial sequences
  • Junior's Story - a brand new interview with actor Marc Sheffler
  • Blood and Guts- a brand new interview with makeup artist Anne Paul
  • The Road Leads to Terror - a brand new featurette revisiting the film's original shooting locations<
  • Deleted Scene: "Mari Dying at the Lake
  • Extended Outtakes and Dailies, newly transferred in HD
  • Trailers, TV Spot and Radio Spots
  • Image Galleries
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the Krug & Company and R-Rated cuts of the film
  • The Craven Touch - a brand new featurette bringing together interviews with a number of Wes Craven's collaborators including Sean S. Cunningham, composer Charles Bernstein, producer Peter Locke, cinematographer Mark Irwin and actress Amanda Wyss
  • Early Days and "Night of Vengeance" - filmmaker Roy Frumkes remembers Wes Craven and Last House on the Left
  • Tales That'll Tear Your Heart Out - unfinished short film by Wes Craven
  • Q&A with Marc Sheffler from a 2017 screening of the film at The American Cinematheque
  • Krug Conquers England - archival featurette charting the theatrical tour of the first ever uncut screening of the film in the UK
  • CD featuring the complete, newly remastered film score

One of the most amusing aspects of nearly all the documentaries both new and archival, is the fact that one of the films stars, Fred J. Lincoln, who played Weasle in the film and was actually a porn actor and director in real life, despises this film. Every interview you see him in he blasts the film as garbage and hints not so subtly that he should have gotten a co-directors credit, since he claims that he is responsible for a lot of what happened in front of and behind the camera with things like showing them how to properly wield a chainsaw, effects tricks, camera setups, acting tips and so on. Yet in the same breath, he talks about it's abhorrent and vulgar quality, which I really can't understand since he was such a huge part of this films production. I mean, he was there and saw what they were filming and doing a large part of those moments himself. Lincoln also states that he's been asked for decades to attend conventions and autograph signings, but has always refused. Yet he's agreed to do sit-down interviews several times throughout the years for various releases of this film. So again, I'm a bit confused about why the constant bashing and refusal to participate in promoting it's legacy because of how much he despises it, yet he will do interviews.

Though I'd seen this film maybe once or twice before, having watched it again recently at an adult age, I was able to look at it in a completely different light. I can see now what Wes Craven was trying to accomplish, whereas before I took the whole semi-documentary approach as just being amateurish. And it still comes across as very amateurish to me even today. The editing is pretty all over the place and even though I understand a lot of the style was made up on the spot, it's the type of film that's painfully obvious that it's the director's first film. I understand the documentary-style approach gives it a raw look and feel, but it also works against it in my opinion. But those were my only real gripes because the performances, especially from the menacing David Hess (as the killer's leader), elevate the film significantly. And you have to remember, none of these actors were pro's. This was Hess's first film, and a few of the other's actually came from a porn background, while other's were acting for the very first time. I think one of the most amusing bits of casting was a very young Martin Kove (Rambo: First Blood Part 2, The Karate Kid) as a bumbling deputy.

One of the other elements that I hadn't appreciated before, but was just full-on in love with this time around, and that is the films score and soundtrack, all courtesy of none other than David Hess himself. Hess was a musician before he was an actor, and supplied all of the music found within the film, oftentimes purposely making the music choice for a specific scene juxtapose that very moment to an eerie effect. And guess what??? Arrow has included David Hess's incredible soundtrack and score on a separate disc located within this massively impressive set.

I could go on and on about this release, about all of the things I learned for the very first time, of all the things I re-discovered, about every facet of the production, but in this case, it's probably best you discover them for yourself. The mountain of extra content will make even the most jaded collector happy and it's a blast to dig through.

Last House on the Left is available from any number of online retailers and personally speaking, worth every penny.


On Deadly Ground: Steven Seagal's Hilarious Masterpiece of Self-Indulgence

by robotGEEK

Holy shit. Where do I even start? On Deadly Ground is the only film from his Golden Era that I have avoided from the start. I've never seen it, because it just never looked all that interesting to me, even though I literally grew up on his films. But boy what a huge mistake that was, because having finally seen it for the first time at the ripe old age of 42, I can say that it was a blast from start to finish. But not for the reasons you may think.

On Deadly Ground is a masterpiece of self-indulgence. It's hands-down one of the biggest vanity projects I've ever seen on film, and it's all thanks to Steven Seagal, who literally makes himself out to be a mythical superhero in this film, to laughable results. Having been the director on this, I'm sure you can already imagine the standard mythical hero/secretive badass tropes run rampant in here, and they do, only they're dialed up to fucking 11 and it's hilariously epic.

First and foremost, On Deadly Ground is an environmental movie about a greedy Texas oil tycoon named Jennings (Michael Caine???), who is hellbent on moving forward with the planned installment of a new oil rig in Alaska, even though the equipment is faulty and will leak millions of gallons of oil into the ocean, causing insurmountable damage to the environment. Enter Forrest Taft, an environmental agent who, not surprisingly, is somehow also a secret DEA, FBI, EPA, NSA, IPA (get it?), CIA, and the list goes on and on. It's literally an insane smorgasbord of government credentials that never seem to end, with the topper being a moment in the film when the legendary R. Lee Ermey was talking about Forrest to another character and dotes this wonderful line of dialogue:
"My guy in D.C. tells me that we are not dealing with a student here, we're dealing with the Professor. Any time the military has an operation that can't fail, they call this guy in to train the troops, OK? He's the kind of guy that would drink a gallon of gasoline so he could piss in your campfire! You could drop this guy off at the Arctic Circle wearing a pair of bikini underwear, without his toothbrush, and tomorrow afternoon he's going to show up at your pool side with a million dollar smile and fist full of pesos. This guy's a professional, you got me? If he reaches this rig, we're all gonna be nothing but a big goddamned hole right in the middle of Alaska. So let's go find him and kill him and get rid of the son of a bitch!"

Tell me that's not the funniest shit you've ever heard! And this film is filled to the brim with this kind of ridiculous nonsense in trying way too hard to make Forrest Taft appear indestructible, or a badass. And in reality, all this movie does is make him more of a cartoon character and look the most ridiculous that he's ever looked, starting with his fringe-laced oversized ethnic jackets that he sports continuously throughout the film. There are also unintentionally laughable moments whenever Forrest shows up to do some ass-kicking or just a "really good job" where spectators will make hilarious comments meant to show us (the viewer) how great and badass Forrest Taft is, but only makes us laugh hysterically. Does it sound like I'm complaining? I hope not, because really these are all things that make On Deadly Ground as marvelous as it is. It's pure 100% Vanity Cheese and it's amazing!

Released in 1994, Seagal was on a winning streak, and had just starred in the biggest hit of his career with Under Siege in 1992. So allowing him the chance to direct isn't all that surprising considering. What "is" surprising is that despite all of it's unintentional hilarity, on a technical level, he did a pretty good job behind the camera, which is a shame he turned it into what it ultimately became. The fact of the matter is that he's actually pretty darn capable of directing a big budget film well, handling the action intensely well, making each kill brutal and indulgently violent. What's even more surprising are the moments when he gives the film a big epic feel, capturing the gorgeous landscape of Alaska. As a first-time (and only time) director, Seagal really impressed the hell out of me with this, even if in the end he ultimately made it all about himself.

Another standout here is the surprisingly killer cast. Sure there's Seagal.....being Seagal, only dialed up to 11, and don't get me started on Michael Caine, here as the evil and ruthless Texas oil tycoon. Under a pound of heavy makeup, dyed brown hair and eye lashes, and a clear face-pull to make him appear younger, his appearance is so jaw-droppingly jarring that you just can't help but stare at him and think to yourself "something doesn't look right". Then there's his odd accent, which you just can't figure out. But moving on.

The film is littered with surprising faces, like R. Lee Ermey for one, as the leader of a mercenary group whom Jennings (Michael Caine) hires to hunt down and kill Forrest. One member of his group includes a young and almost unrecognizable Billy Bob Thornton, bearded, a lot heavier than we're used to seeing, and with his original thinning hair. Rounding out the cast of regular faces is Sven-Ole Thorson (yes, Arnold's pal), John C. McGinley and even Mike Starr in a small role as an asshole racist bar patron who gets his ass handed to him by Forrest, and ends the fight with a hilarious line about "needing time to change". Because, you know, Seagal's ass kicking made him want to turn his life around and not be a racist bigot anymore, because he's that good. The gorgeous Joan Chen shows up as an indiginous native, and the only one in her tribe to speak perfect English, who ends up going along with Taft to help him with his cause. I have to say, I've seen her in a lot of different things, and I have never seen her act so well as she does here. It's the first time I've ever seen her deliver full sentences because usually it's just a few words in a hushed tone and I can't ever figure out if she can actually act or if she even has an accent. Believe it or not, this was the first time I noticed she could in fact act, and act well. The fact that it took a Steven Seagal flick to notice that blows my mind.

The film is littered with nonsensical exposition, like the fact that the indigenous tribe have a fully functioning snowmobile at their disposal, and somehow have fuel to make it work, makes no sense, especially when Forrest Taft had been utilizing dog sleds up until that point. There's another moment; actually it's the same sequence where Forrest beats the shit out of the racist bar patron, where he challenges this big, fat bigot of a man to a game of "slap the hands" (WTF??), where if Forrest is able to slap your hands before you can pull them away, he can punch you in the chest. Naturally Forrest is an ace at this girl's game, and the beat-down ends with the bully wanting to change his life. You can't make this shit up!

What is the essence of a man? Apparently playing the hand-slap game will tell you.

On Deadly Ground, quite frankly, is remarkable for a number of reasons. One, that it's actually competently made by a self-righteous first-time director. Two, that it's hilariously hedonistic to the point of almost being a parody. Three, the action, of what surprisingly little there is, is actually pretty badass and impressively brutal. Four, the casting, not counting an oddly out of place Michael Caine, adds a layer of a very specific 90's cool to the production. Five, and the most important of the bunch, is that it's just a very fun time from start to finish. It's a flamboyant mess all around and I loved every minute of it. Is it a great typical Steven Seagal action movie? No, but it sure is a helluva fun time watching this hot mess.


90's Action Attack: Death Warrant (1990)

JCVD's Prison Flick Deserves Another Look

by robotGEEK

When it comes to JCVD films, this is one, along with Black Eagle, that I've systematically avoided revisiting for years. And that's only because I just don't remember anything all that great about them when I first watched them back in the late 80's/early 90's. I know, that was a very long time ago, and if I've learned anything from revisiting films, it's that my initial reaction (especially at such a young age of around 13 or 14), doesn't always hold merit. I've learned that revisiting films usually change my mind drastically, and that's exactly what happened with Death Warrant.

Released in 1990, along with Lionheart, and at the peak of his stardom, Death Warrant would be JCVD's prison movie, much in the same way Lock Up is for Stallone just a year earlier. Though it was filmed before Lionheart, but released after due to distribution issues between Cannon and MGM, it's said that Seagal was also a contender for the lead as they were both going toe-to-toe as the martial arts/action star at the time (that was a great era for action films). It's also a slight detour for JCVD, as it strays a bit from action and more into the thriller territory. Some would even argue that it's even a horror film in some ways, which I could totally understand. But personally, it feels more like a thriller than anything, with some action elements thrown in to make his fans happy. In some ways, it feels a lot like the excellent and highly underrated The First Power, starring Lou Diamond Phillips, another thriller/horror/action hybrid that works remarkably well, but has gotten little attention since it's release.

I decided to happily revisit this one whilst in the middle of a Van Damme kick, and to my surprise, I loved every second of it. Everything about this works so well on any level; their's plenty of action and fighting to keep the action fans happy, and there's plenty of thriller elements to justify calling it a prison thriller, even down to the somewhat horror vibe when it comes to one of the films villains, a serial killer by the name of The Sandman, who constantly claims he "wants your dreams".

On the surface, Death Warrant, despite it's toe-dipping into several genres effectively, is a pretty straightforward film about a cop (Van Damme), who is sent undercover as an inmate to a prison where inmates are dying at an alarming rate. Once inside, he quickly realizes that the sadistic warden has his own agenda, and must learn to use the "system within the system" to get any answers. He also comes face to face with The Sandman (Patrick Kilpatrick) once again, whom he thought he killed earlier. With the threat of The Sandman blowing his cover as a cop, Burke (Van Damme) enlists the help of several prisoners and must figure out who's killing these inmates and try to survive long enough to uncover the truth.

Written by Blade, Batman Begins and Man of Steel scribe Davis S. Goyer, Death Warrant would mark his first script, which would be followed by a string of low-budget films before hitting it big with the superhero genre years later, which, some would argue, wasn't necessarily a good thing. Goyer does a serviceable job here, giving the film a dark, bleak atmosphere and tone that is a hallmark of any film he writes or directs, but also keeping it very much a JCVD flick, which means lots of fighting. And this is the area that my memory betrays me, because I remember it being a bit boring, which as I watch it now was totally wrong. There are plenty of fights littered throughout, including one with the legendary Al Leong in a laundry room that I didn't see coming, and was aaaaawesome.

I think a lot of Death Warrant's success can and should be attributed to director Deran Sarafian, who really hadn't earned much credit as an action director up till this point, but handled the job phenomenally, giving the film a stylish, yet gritty look and tone that really surprised me. Visually, while prison movies can be pretty hard to film and make look interesting, he somehow pulls it off here and Death Warrant is a better film for it. It definitely carries a strong 90's "visual flavor", but done so in such a polished way that films like this just don't use anymore. Sarafian would deliver a few more action films like Gunmen and Terminal Velocity before transitioning strictly to television work, where he continues to work today.

I do have a few minor issues, like what is The Sandman's deal? What is it that he does exactly? It's never explained, other than he has some sort of supernatural power and is always saying "I'm the Sandman! I can't die!", yet he does....twice actually. And he's always talking about taking your dreams, but what does that mean? And how exactly does he do that? I think the idea of this villain (and really, he's one of two main villains in the film), is more exciting than the actual execution because as a character, he just doesn't make any sense and the film doesn't bother to flesh him out in any way. Still, Patrick Kilpatrick is always a reliable bad guy and he does what he can with the material and it works for the most part.

Highly entertaining, surprisingly solid, and another winner for Van Damme from his Golden Years, Death Warrant is a much better film than I gave it credit for, and one I will gladly include in my JCVD collection.


90's Action Attack: Executive Decision

by robotGEEK

Believe it or not, I'd been itching to revisit this one for some time. I just love tracking down older 90's films that I hadn't seen in a while, and as luck would have it, Hulu added this to their streaming site recently, so I was all ready to jump in. Let's dig in.

When terrorists take over an airline midair, an intelligence analyst accompanies a commando team to take over the plane and rescue the hostages.

Written by Jim & John Thomas (Predator), and directed by legendary editor Stuart Baird (in his directorial debut), this film surprised me a few times. First off, the misleading promotion of Steven Seagal all over the promotional material, including the poster art, is a bit deceiving since he literally dies within the first 15 minutes of the film. Stunt casting at it's best! You have to remember, this was when Seagal was a hot property, and his films were still hitting theaters. Secondly, and most surprising to me, is that it's not really an action film, but rather more of a thriller than anything with not much action at all, save for the final few minutes. Yet, it was entertaining enough within the thriller genre to keep you invested, mainly through it's excellent ensemble cast, led by the always reliable Kurt Russell.

For what it was, the script by the Thomas brothers was pretty tight, as was Stuart Baird's first time direction in a film. It definitely carries a very slick 90's aesthetic that in no doubt is brought to life through legendary cinematographer Alex Thomson's (Year of the Dragon, Legend, Cliffhanger) exquisite work behind the camera lens. The impressive modelwork in the end was also a nice touch and reminder of a time when movies were made practically. So on a technical level, Executive Decision is pretty neat.

I'm not really feeling the need to get in depth with this one, as it was ultimately just okay. The surprising lack of action and thrills definitely derailed it's potential, while the few moments of tension helped keep you going. In the end I felt it was a bit of a missed opportunity, but still; it wasn't bad. I liked it. I just didn't love it.


Documentary Spotlight: '30 Years of Garbage: The Garbage Pail Kids Story'

If You're an 80's Kid, Get Ready to Relive Your Childhood All Over Again

by robotGEEK

Somehow, in some way, I never knew this documentary existed until just a few weeks ago, when someone posted having just gotten the DVD in a Facebook group. I immediately jumped over to Amazon and ordered myself a copy. Being an 80's kid, and all around collector, I can honestly say that it was one of the most satisfying impulse purchases I've made in a long while.

In the 1980s a bunch of underground cartoonists parodied a popular doll. The resulting commercial product tapped into the international kid zeitgeist. That young generation felt that this product spoke to the revulsion they had for the corporate pop culture that was being fed to them.
This fascinating and highly enlightening documentary explores the birth of The Garbage Pail Kids, initially as a parody of Cabbage Patch Kids, which, as we all know, would ultimately bring big trouble for them (Topps Trading Cards), but also become one of the hottest, most sought after collectibles on the planet. Even today, 3 decades later, they're still hot sellers in every corner of the world, who's fanbase continues to grow.

In this doc, we get firsthand insight from the creators and artists themselves about their appeal in the first place, and their long-lasting success. What I found fascinating is how all of the artists were essentially undergound artists, who sadly didn't get much recognition as being those responsible for much of the cards success, but who've since gained infamy and massive recognition through a plethora of online communities dedicated solely to Garbage Pail Kids, the artists and fans.

Undergrouund artist John Pound was the initial artist who created the GPK's iconic look and style, and who is responsible for most of the legendary paintings in the initial series that kickstarted the franchise. He was soon followed by other artists such as Tom Bunk, James Warhola, Jay Lynch and a whole bunch more, but all keeping within that very specific style. One of the more fascinating things (to me anyway), is how each artist used a different medium back in the 80's (mostly acrylic and airbrush), and how that medium had changed with new artists and the times, yet some still kept that old-school way of producing them, despite the changing times.

It really seems that GPK's have only grown in popularity over the course of 30 years, with no signs of slowing down. The fact that you can now get so many items associated with the GPK brand, but not necessarily the cards is a testament to it's long-lasting popularity.

30 Years of Garbage comes packed with insight and entertainment in a full 2 hour running time, with a healthy dose of extras. Co-directed by Jeff Zapata, who worked his way up the ranks and eventually took over marketing, product development, creating, drawing, and art directing duties to become the creative director over at Topps in the 90's is also in front of the camera, giving some great insight and clarity into the company's transition into the 90's and beyond.

I think for me, one of the best sections in here was when it came time to discuss the dreaded GPK live action movie from 1987, at the height of that brand's fame. Oh man, it's a hoot! You get to hear firsthand from the actors who donned the terrible costumes, and even the films main star, Mackenzie Astin about their experiences making that now legendary cult classic, and their thoughts on it. Talk about a flashback to my childhood!

30 Years of Garbage: The Garbage Pail Kids Story is available from the official website and webstore HERE, and any number of online retailers.


80's Thriller Throwback: Sudden Impact

This 4th Entry Marks a Change of Pace for the Series, Delivering another Solid Winner

by robotGEEK

The Dirty Harry franchise has never been one of my favorites. I don't know why really. I've just never really gotten into them the way others have. But I do own the first 4 films as part of a cheap DVD set I picked up many, many years ago, because it still deserves to be in any action fan's collection. And I guess it's because of the fact that I actually own them that I find myself digging into them every 5 years or so, always hoping that maybe I'll connect with them more in some way this time around. Well, that day finally came. Let's dig in.

I'll admit, I didn't watch the first two; Dirty Harry and Magnum Force, because those are two I've seen more than any of the others and feel I know them pretty well already. I wanted to dig into the later films, most importantly, the 80's etries; Sudden Impact and The Dead Pool. But first I decided to hit the middle child, The Enforcer, and honestly, I loved it. I loved the slick direction courtesy of James Fargo, who at times made it look and feel like a western, and I loved the whole 70's vibe. I could go into a whole mini-review here on that particular one, but I'll save it for a later date. Let me just say that it was far more impressive than I expected it to be, and it was better than I remember. Which then led me to the follow up, Sudden Impact, the first and only Dirty Harry film that Clint Eastwood directed personally, which as I've grown to love Eastwood-directed films more and more lately, I was pretty excited to finally revisit.

Sudden Impact is somewhat of a departure for the franchise as it begins like most of the Dirty Harry films, but halfway through turns more into a thriller as Harry tracks down a serial killer. So unlike the other films in the franchise, where they play out like gritty detective action/thriller's, this one is like two different films split right down the middle, with the first half being a typical DH film, but once he's sent over to a small town to investigate a series of murders, it turns into a whole other film, and honestly, I fucking loved it. It's like the perfect marriage of two different genre's and it works splendidly. It also allows Eastwood to deliver some solid work behind the camera. To me, it feels like this is where Eastwood really found his "style", because it's a visually striking film. Actually, it may be the most visually impressive film in the entire series, which you really have to admire as each entry took on a different director. Speaking of which, it's probably the fact that Eastwood was in the director's chair this time around that Sandra Locke is even in this, and would mark the last time they would work together. After making a total of 6 films together, the studio demanded he stop casting her in his films as the general public was starting to grow fatigued from their constant collaborations together. I will say though that she was quite excellent in this, and of all their collaborations together, this is my favorite. Locke would go on to become a director herself, directing less than a handful of films in the 80's and 90's.

Sudden Impact is a first for a number of reasons. Though most assume the famous line "Go ahead, make my day" came from the first Dirty Harry film, it was actually this film (the 4th in the franchise) that the now legendary line, synonymous with all things Dirty Harry, came from. It was also the first time Harry didn't have a partner, and the first time he used a semi-automatic gun, rather than his famous revolver. As I mentioned before, it's the first and only DH film Eastwood directed himself, making it a much richer experience in my opinion. Sudden Impact ultimately became the highest grossing film in the franchise. Whether that is attributed to Eastwood's work behind the camera or not is up to debate. But I personally believe so. It could also be because it had been 7 years since the last Dirty Harry film, and fans in 1983 were eager for another one.

There were so many things I loved about this specific entry, but a lot of it really falls on it's time period of 1983. The film's very specific 80's aesthetic adds a heavy dose of 80's nostalgia into the fold, where everything from Harry's Members Only jackets to his totally retro Gargoyle's sunglasses (immortalized the following year in The Terminator) just make everything look so damn cool. 80's thrillers are arguably some of the best (my personal favorite), and Sudden Impact is another perfect example of why.

Sudden Impact, my personal favorite in the franchise, is also a pretty great 80's thriller in it's own right, going toe-to-toe with the best of them. It marks a lot of "firsts" for the franchise, as well as proving Clint Eastwood as a pretty excellent director, giving the series a significant boost in quality and craftsmanship. This would mark Eastwood's 10th film as a director, and he would only grow stronger as one of the most impressive directors in film history, eventually earning his first Oscar as Best Director for his classic western Unforgiven in 1992. Sudden Impact is an early example of his mastery behind the camera, and clearly one of his best films all around. If it's been a long while since you've seen it, it may be time for a revisit. It might surprise you.


Hereditary Spoiler-Free Film Review

First Time Feature Film Writer/Director Ari Aster Has Created One of the Creepiest Film Experiences I've Ever Had

by robotGEEK

I'll admit, the hype machine has been a bit over the top lately. It seems companies just freely say "the scariest movie ever", or "you won't be able to finish it because it's too scary". Most of the time it's just ignorant marketing and not true...at all. But Hereditary is different. Hereditary, a psychological horror film masquerading as an intense dysfunctional family drama, is legitimately one of the creepiest films I've ever seen. This is hands-down one of the most sophisticated and intensely unsettling films ever made. The razor sharp precision in everything from the slow buildup (it is intensely slow-burn), the incredible performances, the meticulously detail-oriented direction and sure-handed script all lend themselves to such an intense experience that you can't help but simmer on what you've seen for hours and hours afterwards. This is about as intense as any psychological horror film can possibly get, and while it may not be everyone's cup of tea, there's no denying the expert craftsmanship involved and the lingering effects on your brain.

Is it the scariest film ever made? I don't know. What is? I've never seen a film that actually scared me. But there are a handful that I find genuinely disturbing and creep me out, like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Candyman and The Shining. Hereditary is one of those films. It's constant sense of dread presents itself in a slow-burn experience for the first half as you wonder if this is really a drama rather than a horror film. But trust me, if you can make it to the second half, the payoff is magnificent, because it really is two different films in one, split right down the middle in it's 2 hour running time. Once the second half kicks in, you won't know what hit you - as if the rug has just been pulled from right under you.

I've never seen the young actress Milly Shapiro before, who's displayed prominently on the marketing material, but she blew me away. There's just something eerie and unsettling about her every second she's on screen that I just could not take my eyes off of her. She's hypnotizing in a way that easily makes her one of the most unforgettable characters in a horror film in recent memory. I wouldn't be surprised if this role for her goes down in film history the same way that the character of Danny from The Shining did.

Personally speaking, this is the that rare occasion where the hype machine is justified here. I would definitely take advantage of seeing this in a dark theater. It makes a huge difference. Go see it! Support it so we can help more films like this get made.


90's Action Attack: Trespass (1992)

The Team Behind 'Tales From the Crypt' Deliver an Urban/Action/Caper That's Surprisingly Good in a Very 90's Way

by robotGEEK

My one and only memory of this Walter Hill classic was that I remember going to the theater to see this on Christmas Day back in 1992 by myself. This was a time when I made a habit of doing that, and while I'm sure I enjoyed it, for some reason I never took the time to revisit it. But I always had the idea to in the back of my mind, and when a friend was selling a bunch of VHS recently, I took the opportunity to grab this one.

When 2 city firefighters go searching for a hidden treasure in an abandoned building, they soon discover that they're caught in the middle of an urban turf war, and must figure out how to escape and stay alive.

Though it's been nearly 30 years since I've last seen it, I can honestly say I had great time with this one. It was also a reminder of a time when big name rappers began turning into actors in big budget films that hit theaters, regardless if they were good or not. That trend continued all throughout the 90's, most notably in a bunch of Seagal flicks and some low-budget horror films. It didn't last though. The few that actually did turn out to be decent actors continue to thrive today, like Ice-T and Ice Cube for example, who continue to work in film and TV as actors, even filmmakers themselves in Ice Cube's case. But that idea is nowhere near as prominent as it was in the 90's, where it seemed like every popular rapper tried their hands at acting. If anything, Trespass is a fun reminder of that very specific time when gangster rappers tried branching out into acting. But moving on.

Outside of this stellar cast, I was stoked mainly because of my man Walter Hill behind the directors chair. Ultimately, while it's a bit of a detour from his usual style and type of film, he did a pretty decent job. It's not on the same level of say, Red Heat, Extreme Prejudice or Another 38 Hrs., because he mixes that very gritty style up with a whole lot of handheld freestyle camerawork here, which I'm just not a fan of in general. Still, it retained enough of that very special Walter Hill flavor to keep me invested. And truth be told, this was around the time when Hill wasn't really displaying any specific style like he had all throughout the 80's. The 90's saw him experiment with varying different visual aesthetics, and straying more and more from what we had come to expect from him in the previous decade. For example, with Trespass, he mixes up his usual slick direction with some handheld camerawork. Some of it works alright, and some of it just looks and feels lazy. But the following year he went all out in epic form with Geronimo, giving the film a slick epic widescreen sheen that easily comes off as one of his best looking films to date. 2 years later he would go a little weirder with some experimental camerawork and tricks with Wild Bill (personally wasn't a fan). 1996 saw Hill return to form with the gritty, violent, bloody Last Man Standing with Bruce Willis, which also marked the last time we would get a film like that from him.

Directing issues aside, Trespass is really as strong as it is because of the excellent cast. Bill Paxton and William Sadler knock it out of the park in their respective roles, and the impressively large ensemble cast of character actors and rappers-turned-actors are just icing on the cake.

I think one of the things that surprises me the most about this is how nearly everyone involved with this is also responsible for HBO's Tales From the Crypt series. Trespass is written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, who also wrote and directed the Back to the Future trilogy. It's directed by Walter Hill, who along with Zemeckis and Gale, produced and created the series for HBO, as well as directed a number of classic episodes. Sadler starred in Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight, as well as 2 key episodes in the series. Bill Paxton starred in an episode titled "People Who Live in Brass Hearses". See? It's like the the whole TFtC family decided to get together and make an urban action film for the fun of it, and the result is a film that defied my expectations and ultimately ended up being a pretty fun urban/crime/action/thriller/caper, despite the urban angle, which I'm generally not much of a fan of in films.

While nothing groundbreaking, it's a serviceable and highly enjoyable caper that brings together a colorful band of actors and filmmakers in a very un-typical way, delivering a solid standout in the urban action genre.


90's Essentials: Mallrats (1994)

Kevin Smith's Sophomore Effort Was a Lot Better Than I Remember, and Reminds us of Why Malls Were Awesome

by robotGEEK

Much like most of you I'm sure, when Kevin Smith's Clerks was first released in 1994, I was an immediate fan. And I know I wasn't the only one as Smith immediately skyrocketed to fame as one of the most sought-after filmmakers on the planet, thanks to his witty clever dialogue and his almost guerrilla-style indie approach. I can't even tell you how many times I saw that film on good ol' VHS back in the day. So it's safe to say, Smith was a hot property, and we were all waiting impatiently for his next film, which would ultimately be Mallrats.

Personally speaking, Mallrats was a bit of a letdown for me when I first saw it in theaters. To me, it didn't feel like the type of film I was expecting from the guy who made Clerks. It felt too mainstream, too safe, and really......it was. Smith had the backing of a major studio for the first time, and the money to spend, which also meant he had to make the studio and their studio heads happy and like most filmmakers making a big budget film, he had to work within their perimeters of what type of film they wanted released under their brand. While there were some funny moments and a really great 90's soundtrack, I felt that the clever dialogue wasn't nearly as strong as it was in Clerks, or any other Kevin Smith film for that matter. So I just sort of forgot about it and moved on. But none of this soured my love or appreciation for Smith as a filmmaker, because I still saw all of his films when they were released, and oftentimes found myself revisiting most of them throughout the following years. But I never came back to Mallrats....until now.

When I saw that it had been added to Crackle's streaming site, I took it as an opportunity to revisit it, thinking maybe it would be better for me this time around. And boy am I glad I did, because that's exactly what happened. I loved it. I loved it so much that I saw it twice in the same week, which never happens to me. I had to introduce it to my wife, who also loved it and I now find myself wondering just what the hell was wrong with me in the first place. Why didn't I connect with it way back in 1994 when I was 24 years old? I wish I could say, but in any case, I'm glad I took the chance to revisit it because it's now become my favorite Kevin Smith film, and a true 90's essential.

Mallrats is pretty much every comic geek's dream. The constant comic book references, as well as Stan "The Man" Lee's legendary cameo make for some true nostalgic geekery. It's also fun watching a very young Ben Affleck be an asshole,which I'm sure some would argue probably wasn't that far from the truth during that time. There's also the small bit with Three's Company's Priscilla Barnes as a topless fortune teller. I mean, the film is loaded with a plethora of fun bits that oftentimes lead nowhere, but really make for a fun experience overall.

Then there's the whole "mall" angle. I think we can all agree that malls are becoming a thing of the past these days, with malls closing left and right as they just can't beat online shopping. What we get now are the outdoor storefront stripmalls, both small and large in it's place. And it's just not the same. But back in 1994, malls were the place to hang out with your friends, even if you didn't have any money to spend. You just went and spent literally the entire day just wandering around because without money, you had nothing better to do. And it got you out of the house, which I'm sure our parents really enjoyed. But one of this film's most endearing aspects is how it shows us what malls looked like back in the early 90's, all pastel colors and bright neon lights. Malls are becoming relics, and just speaking from personal experience, our crappy mall is about done and ready to close it's doors forever in my hometown. But this film was such a pleasant reminder of how awesome and fun malls used to be.

Watching Mallrats after 24 years was one of the most fun experiences I've had revisiting a film. Never a dull moment, filled to the brim with pop culture references, a killer 90's soundtrack, and a young, hip, fun cast make for a very fun time indeed. It's time I picked this up on a physical medium because it needs to be in my collection permanently.


Blu-Ray Review: Revenge of the Ninja (Kino Lorber)

Next to Sho Kosugi's 'Pray For Death', This May Very Well Be The Ultimate Ninja Film

by robotGEEK

As I enjoy my current love for 80's ninja flicks (which I've ignored for far too long), I took this opportunity to finally grab the Blu-Ray courtesy of Kino Lorber of one of my favorite ninja flicks of all time. Though it has been a good 3-4 years since I've last seen it, I remember it being cheesy as hell (always a good thing), and just very fun. Plus, you can never have enough Sho Kosugi. Being that he didn't really make that many films to begin with before retiring, it's always a good idea to revisit his classics, which honestly only get better and better with age. So let's dig in.

Written by James R. Silke (Ninja III, The Barbarians), and directed with gusto by the legendary, and Cannon regular, Sam Firstenberg (Breakin' 2, Ninja III, Avenging Force, American Ninja), Revenge of the Ninja may actually be my favorite ninja film. I know, I know. I just said that recently about Sho Kosugi's Pray for Death in that film's Blu-Ray review, but after having revisited this one, I'm hard pressed to pick a favorite now, as they both tap into that very niche "cheesy" angle that some of these ninja films seemed to miss. Of course all of that is completely unintentional, but captured so gloriously by Sam Firstenberg.

There's just so much to enjoy here. Sho Kosugi displays such an intense amount of showmanship, always going above and beyond to put on a show. His facial expressions alone make it enjoyable, but the film is littered with a fun cast of characters that leave you both dumbfounded and entertained. The weird Village People style "gang" Sho encounters in a playground is a perfect example of that. But it's everyone's fierce commitment and steadfast approach that drives the film forward in the most entertaining way. Everyone is 100% serious, yet the material is amateurish and oftentimes laughably silly, which makes for such a fun experience.

Just The Disc:
Presented in it's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, there's nothing really special about this release, other than how awesome the movie is in general. While the new 1080p HD transfer is nice, it's not mind-bogglingly impressive or anything. Still, to date, it's the best looking transfer we have of a pretty legendary film. Slight graininess (it was made in 1983 after all) can be found throughout, but only adds to it's charm. It's a pleasant reminder of a time when movies were actually shot on film. Most importantly though, the colors pop, and it's vivid early 80's color scheme add yet another layer of retro cool atmosphere to an already fantastic film.

The new DTS-HD master audio 2.0 is nice, but the lack of subtitles was a bit surprising to be honest. I did find myself having to really focus on the audio because of this, which depending on your audio setup, could actually be a bit of a bother, which is why subtitles are always nice to fall back on, which are lacking here.

Much like most of Kino's releases, there are virtually no extras, save for a trailer, commentary by director Sam Firstenberg and stunt coordinator Steven Lambert, and an intro by Firstenberg that lasts a total of 3 minutes and 16 seconds. A new interview with Sho Kosugi (who's always down for things like that) would have been nice, or even a short "Making Of". Kino really needs to start stepping up their game in the extras department.

It may not be everyone's cup of tea since it's unintentionally cheesy in the most epic way, but if you just give it a chance, you'll see that it's quite possibly one of the best ninja films ever made, in a way that makes you feel like a kid again. It's absurd in the most delightful way. When the insane fight sequences take center stage, it's astonishing how they literally just throw anything they can think of into them, with no attention or care taken to logic and common sense. But that's why it's such a blast!

Personally speaking, if you love 80's films, Bad Movie Night films, ninja films, Cannon Films, Sho Kosugi films, or just cheesy films, this is a Must-Own. No question. It deserves to be in your collection along with the best of them and if time is any indication, there's a very good reason why we're still discussing this film 35 years later. It's just fucking awesome.

Kino Lorber's Revenge of the Ninja Blu-Ray is available from any of your favorite online retailers.