90's Thriller Throwback: Payback (1995)

From The Director of Waxwork and Full Eclipse Comes a Sexy Thriller That Delivers The Goods

by robotGEEK

Having always been a big fan of writer/director Anthony Hickox's (Waxwork, Full Eclipse, Warlock II) early work, I've always wanted to see this one, but always found it hard to track down a tape at a decent price. Much like a lot of films I adore from this period, this is another one that never got an official DVD release in the U.S., having only been released on VHS as far as I know. If a Laserdisc release was also done, I've never come across it. So I would randomly scour eBay for years until I finally found a VHS for a decent price, and that day finally came so here we are.

Released in 1995, after a string of successes that included Warlock II, Hellraiser III and the insanely awesome Full Eclipse, Payback see's him sticking to his strong visual palate that I love so much. He's a director that takes just as much care in the visual camerawork as he does with the material. In some cases, his impressive camerawork elevates mediocre material and that's exactly what's going on here. A pretty standard by the numbers revenge tale is brought to life with some impressive visuals that reminded me why I love his particular style of directing.

C. Thomas Howell (The Hitcher) plays Oscar, a convict who decides to exact revenge on the sadistic prison guard (Marshal Bell) who killed his friend behind bars once he's released. Before his death, his friend tells him of a secret stash of money hidden in a cemetery. It just so happens that this secret stash is also close to where this sadistic prison guard has retired to, now blind after an accident and running a cafe in a small town with his gorgeous wife Rose (Joan Severance). Oscar decides to use the opportunity that he's blind to acquire work at the cafe and ultimately falls for Rose. But there is more at play here than meets the eye, and soon enough the layers of deceit begin to unravel.

For a film this small, it's impressively shot. I mean, it's a really great looking film all around and I really hope someday I can see it in widescreen. The cast is pretty topnotch, with Marshal Bell again delivering another memorable bad guy in the form of a sadistic prison guard who's now blind. Joan Severance has never looked sexier and the constant teases until the eventual sex scenes will drive you crazy in a good way. The sex scenes do not disappoint either.

Payback is a film that plays it pretty straightforward for the most part, a tale of revenge, but things aren't always as they seem in this one, which was a nice surprise. Kudos to them for taking an unconventional route to spice things up. While there's nothing shockingly special about this one, it's pretty damn good in the low-budget thriller genre with some impressive camera work, exceptional performances and a plot that takes things to the next level make this a highly enjoyable experience overall. Too bad it's kind of hard to track down for a decent price.


90's Action Attack!: Street Knight (1993)

The Last Official Film Released by Cannon is a 90's Action Classic Waiting to be Discovered

by robotGEEK

From the director of Purple Rain comes this Jeff Speakman follow up to his highly impressive debut The Perfect Weapon (1991). That might sound like a strange matchup, but after being thoroughly impressed with Albert Magnoli's slick direction in this, I decided to do some digging and discovered he actually came in and finished Tango & Cash when the original director was fired. While Magnoli ultimately didn't receive a director or co-director's credit for his work on that, his stamp is all over that classic film, especially if you've seen Street Knight. He's a far better action director that anyone gives him credit for and it's a damn shame he didn't stick to that genre. But back to Street Knight.

While these films are typically right up my alley, I never took the time to actually watch this, even though I am a huge fan of The Perfect Weapon. My good movie buddy The Cinema Drunkie did an impressive write-up on this recently and it was just the motivation I needed to finally check it out. I was sad to learn that it never got an official DVD release here in the states, having only been released on VHS and Laserdisc. Since they're both roughly going for the same dollar amount these days, I opted to go with the LD and the result was one of the best 90's martial arts/action films I've seen in ages. Seriously, this film kicks ass and when you take into account that it's an impressively looking film, one that could have easily rivaled any big budget action film at the local theater at that time, then you have to wonder why it never got the recognition it deserved. Part of it could be Cannon's demise, and since this was their last release, maybe they just didn't have the money to push and promote it? I can't say for sure.

Speakman plays a retired cop who gets sucked into a local gang war after he agrees to help the sister of a gang member who's gone missing after witnessing a murder at the hands of a crime lord (Christopher Neame) who's pitting 2 rival gangs against each other so he can create chaos on the streets. By doing this, he hopes to become the ultimate crime lord of an ungovernable city. 

I've always thought Speakman was a much better actor than others in this genre, like say Seagal and Van Damme. He's also got some charisma, so it's surprising to me that he never achieved the level of breakout success that his counterparts achieved. There have been some rumblings online about his behavior as a human being in general behind the scenes, but shit, Seagal and JCVD are no angels either.

One of the more surprising elements of this film is that the acting is pretty ace across the board. While no one is going to win an Oscar here, for a film like this, it's much better than you expect, and I think that is a testament to Magnoli's solid work as a director. The main villain here is played by the always reliable bad guy Christopher Neame (Hellbound), who chews up the scenery effortlessly, making for a fun villain. The action scenes are exceptional, if a bit too infrequent for my taste. But they are highly impressive when they do show up.

Overall it's a great entry in the 90's Martial Arts/Action genre and one that definitely needs more love and attention. The fights and action sequences are great, and Christopher Neame is always a splendidly hammy villain. It's a travesty that this doesn't even have a DVD release, and the only way to see it is in full frame. Albert Magnoli's visuals demand widescreen, so hopefully someone like MVD might snag the rights to this classic. In the meantime, VHS and Laserdisc are our only options here in the U.S., unless someone's uploaded it to YouTube.


80's Action Attack!: Black Eagle (1988)

Part Espionage Thriller, Part Martial Arts Flick, it Surprisingly Fails in Both Departments

by robotGEEK

Sometime last year I went on this huge Sho Kosugi kick. Being 43 years old now, I was but a pre-teen when he was known as the ultimate ninja in a string of ninja flicks in the 80's during the huge ninja craze at that time. I don't think I actually watched any of his flicks back then (I was big into Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan), but a recent review of Pray For Death by my good bud The Cinema Drunkie convinced me to finally check out that particular film and holy shit, I loved, loved, loved that one. In fact, after diving into a bunch of random ninja flicks, including Sho's Pray for Death, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III and Rage of Honor, I came to the conclusion that Pray for Death, despite it's amateurish sensibilities and cheesiness, is quite frankly the ultimate ninja film ever made, plain and simple. Revenge of the Ninja almost ties it for that spot for me, but Pray for Death just barely edges it out.

But somehow I hadn't gotten to this one until now, and really only because the excellent company MVD released this on Blu with some fun extras to dig into. So I figured what better time to finally check out one of Sho's 80's classics? t also helps that it was a Van Damme flick I hadn't actually seen yet, which I'm still discovering even though I've been a die hard fan of his since I was a teenager when he first hit it big.

For all intents and purposes, Black Eagle is a competently made film, but one that is shockingly bland with virtually zero excitement. Directed by Eric Karson (The Octagon, Angel Town), this film can best be described as an espionage thriller with very little fighting and action. It might have been an attempt to transition Sho Kosugi from the ninja persona that made him famous all over the world to a more legitimate actor, which ultimately didn't turn out so well. And that's actually something he's stated several times in recent interviews when asked why he stopped making ninja movies, but even he can admit today that he's not an actor. He's a martial artist first and foremost and expresses regret having left the ninja genre. And that's something painfully evident here. While he will always be a badass in my eyes, no matter what he's in, it's incredibly hard to make out most of what he says, and the fact that this release doesn't offer subtitles makes it even harder to understand anything he's saying.

Van Damme fairs much better here. He doesn't talk a lot (which is good because his English really isn't that much better than Sho's here), which helps a lot in that it ultimately makes him much more menacing. And that's something he does incredibly well here. While Sho is technically a few inches taller, JCVD comes across the bigger and tougher guy here, no doubt due to his impressively confident gaze. Seriously. He barely utters a word but speaks so much with his eyes, body language and stare, and it elevates his character to something more than simply a bodyguard, which is kind of all he is in here, despite the fact that he's billed alongside Kosugi on the cover and marketing materials. The fact that he's not even the main villain and maybe appears onscreen for about a quarter of the film says a lot about his onscreen presence and the fact that the filmmakers saw something special in him that they felt the need to throw him all over the cover.

Black Eagle is a film that marked the end of Sho Kosugi's theatrical career, while simultaneously marking the beginning of JCVD's as a legitimate action star. Bloodsport, his breakout role, hadn't come out yet. Van Damme's character wasn't even written in the original script. His character and scenes were added in after the fact, which also says a lot about how much he impressed the producers. The film is okay. It never quite reaches the level of awesome it so desperately could. The espionage elements become tedious more than anything, and there's never enough action to satisfy fans of both Sho Kosugi and JCVD. I'm glad I finally saw it though, but I probably won't have a need to ever revisit it again. I'd have to say the best thing about this movie, or this release to be exact, is the extra's where we get new interviews with most of the principal players, including Sho Kosugi himself, who give insight into their experiences making this film. I have to say, it's almost worth purchasing just for those new interviews where they all unanimously discuss what it was like working with a then unknown JCVD, who walked and talked a big game, often acting like he was the star of the film. Good stuff!


Bolo Yeung Documentary Coming Soon!

by robotGEEK

You read that right! And I have to say, it's long overdue. I don't think a lot of people realize just how important this living legend is to the martial arts community and just how many classic films he costarred in that we all hold dear to our hearts.

There doesn't seem to be any info on a legitimate release date, other than it's "coming soon", but you'll be sure to hear from me when they do announce one. You can also follow their official Facebook page HERE. Until then, check out this trailer below.


I Finally Watched 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze'

A Sequel That's Surprisingly Damn Near 
Just As Great As The First One

by robotGEEK

As many times as I've seen the original first film, somehow I never got around to actually finishing this one. And I have no idea how or why. I know I've seen scenes here and there, but never the entire film from start to finish. And that's taking into consideration the fact that I easily saw the first film at the theater at least 6 times. No joke. I loved the shit out of that film and me being 14 years old in 1990 when it hit, I was the prime age and target for that film. Still, the fact that I never bothered to actually watch either of the 2 sequels still blows my mind.

One Saturday night I decided to fix that thanks to Amazon Prime and I gotta tell you, while I did go in with some reservations because we all know how sequels can be for the most part, I loved this one. In fact, I loved it just as much as I love the first one and that's saying a lot!

Released less than a year after the original (mega Hong Kong producer Raymond Chow was worried that the demand for more TMNT films would quickly diminish), they replaced original TMNT director Steve Barron (Electric Dreams, The Coneheads) with TV director Michael Pressman, who's only other notable gig was the 1983 Dan Aykroyd comedy Doctor Detroit.

Another noticeable change this time around is that this is a lot more family friendly, no doubt due to parents complaining about the excessive violence in the fist one, yet it doesn't lose any of it's impact and in no way affects the fact that just like the first film, it's dark, gritty and bleak. And that's one thing I love about this. That even though they switched directors, Pressman was still able to give the film the exact same gritty quality that Barron was able to produce the first time out. It's really only noticeable in the sense that when they fight, they barely ever use their weapons, and a fight usually consists of knocking out a foot clan soldier with a single punch or kick, rarely ever busing out their weapons to do so. But there are so many fights that you hardly even notice. Seriously, TMNT 2 is chock full of action at almost every turn and it's awesome.

Other notable changes include Corey Feldman not returning to voice Donatello, April O'Neil being recast (I think this one's a much better fit), and Ernie Reyes, Jr. who played one of the turtles in the suit in the first film is featured as a regular actor this time around, though he doesn't really seem to offer much in terms of plot.

Instead of using the most recognizable oversized characters as villains, they instead decided to create 2 new ones that for the most part, work well enough. I still love that it's all done practically, so in that regard, it's refreshing to see. One of the coolest sequences involves them destroying a city block in the middle of the night. Speaking of villains, despite his ultimate demise in the first film, Shredder returns, still looking as cool as ever. He even becomes "supersized" Shredder in the end, but as badass as he looks in that short sequence, it's sadly fleeting because it's so brief and he doesn't even do anything other than......well you get the idea.

All in all TMNT was so much better than I anticipated and I can't believe it took me so long to finally get to it. It was a blast. I can imagine I would have watched this repeatedly like I did the first film. Oh well. Even today as a 43 year old man, I loved the shit out of it and it's quite shockingly, just as good as the first one. To me anyway. Now on to Part 3, which will also be a first time watch.


The Cult Corner: Something Wild (1986)

by robotGEEK

Directed by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs), this quirky 80's gem is just the kind of film experience we crave. Much like cult classics such as Martin Scorsese's After Hours, John Landis's Into the Night, Miami Blues and even Joe Versus the Volcano, it was sold and billed as a comedy, but it is absolutely NOT a comedy. Like all the films I just mentioned, Something Wild is it's own thing - a dark, surreal and nightmarish odyssey, with only slight hints of comedy, but more often than not, a dark fantasy where you never know where it's going to take you and that's the kind of thing that only the 80's could produce. Jeff Daniels was fantastic, Melanie Griffith impossibly cute, and Ray Liotta was scary as fuck.

Something Wild delivers in a way that few films ever do, by making you guess which fucked up direction it will lead you, and what the hell kind of film you're actually watching. We loved every minute of this under-the-radar gem and if you've never seen it, and enjoy a dark, quirky mismatched love story, definitely give this one a go. Part thriller, part road movie and part quirky love story, Something Wild is a true gem in every sense of the word.

Last I checked, it was available to stream on Amazon Prime, but it's also available on Blu Ray via Criterion for a good price. Give it a shot and enjoy the ride.

The Cult Corner: Virtuosity (1995)

Leaps and Bounds Better Than Most in This Genre, Virtuosity is a True Gem Waiting to be Discovered or Revisited

by robotGEEK

Released in the crux of the 90's Virtual Reality explosion along films like Strange Days and Johnny Mnemonic, Virtuosity is easily the best film in the bunch, and for good reason. Directed by Brett Leonard (The Lawnmower Man), Virtuosity manages to do something that none of those other films was able to accomplish, and that's make a slick, violent and fun film experience. Honestly, I wasn't expecting to love this as much as I did, because I probably haven't seen it since the good ol' VHS days, but holy shit does this film pack a punch of awesome.

Denzel Washington is looking lean, cut and mean here, while Russell Crowe is basically just an unhinged firecracker, delivering easily his most over the top performance to date. The rest of the cast, including the always badass William Forsythe, is fairly impressive with some notable character actors that all deliver solid work.

But for me, the one thing that kept me invested and the thing that surprised me the most above all else is how damn good the film looked. Personally speaking, a film has to be visually stimulating if I'm going to enjoy it. I know that's not everyone's forte, but I really need to enjoy the visuals just as much as anything else. So you can imagine my shock when I discover that this is by far the most impressive film in Leonard's career as a director. I had just recently revisited his very first film The Dead Pit, and honestly couldn't finish it. It was awful, amateurish and I was bored to tears. But I know directors grow so when I remembered that he had done this sci-fi/action/thriller from the 90's, I took the leap and snagged the blu ray for cheap. And I'm so glad I did. I can guarantee that this will be a film I will revisit often throughout the years.

You're probably guessing that since it is a virtual reality flick, that the effects work is laughably dated. It is. Yet thankfully the VR scenes are few and far between as the film mainly takes place in the real world as our VR killer is transported here where he is let loose to wreck havoc on an unsuspecting city. Sure it's a neverending list of cliche's and truly odd moments (like the nightclub sequence?) that are never explained, but that's part of the fun!

The 90's seem to have been director Brett Leonard's strongest period with films like The Lawnmower Man (1992), Hideaway (1995) and this, all hitting theaters, while everything else he's done has gone straight to video or TV. And I've seen some of these other films and they're pretty terrible. It's so strange to me that he can start in the low-budget world, deliver some strong theatrical gems, and then go right back to the DTV market and deliver some fairly forgettable films. As I was blown away by Virtuosity, I'm sitting there thinking "I can't believe this is the same guy who made The Dead Pit and Highlander: The Source.

I feel like Virtuosity has become a forgotten gem today, which is really sad because it's a very entertaining and well made flick all around. While it was a bomb upon it's theatrical release, it's only gotten better with time. The film is hilariously dated, but that only adds to it's charm and makes it a hoot to watch. You can pick up the blu ray with an awful cover for cheap. I can tell you the transfer is crisp and clean, but there are no extras.


80's Thriller Throwback: Pulse (1988)

Pulse is a film that I always remember seeing the cover of pretty much throughout my entire life, but never gave a second thought to actually watching it. Not really sure why either. It just never really seemed like anything I'd be into, but boy was I so wrong on that one.

Released in 1988, Pulse (not to be confused with the 3 other films with the same name) is a horror/thriller about an electrical entity that moves from house to house and causes havoc and murder. When the young son of a businessman arrives to spend time with his dad, who's divorced from his mom and now living with a new wife, the son starts to experience strange things inside the house, and begins to plan a way to make all of the adults in his life, namely his busy father, believe him.

I have to say, I honestly wasn't expecting much from this one. Probably just because nobody "ever" discusses it. But ultimately I ended up loving it. So much in fact that I immediately purchased the recently released Blu Ray for a cheap price, because I know it's going to be one of those films I will revisit frequently in the next few years. Yes, it's that good.

I think for me, while the story is a bit silly, it's got so much going for it in general that makes it stand out among the countless horror/thrillers of the 80's. For starters, writer/director Paul Golding, marking his one and only directing effort here, makes it all fun. There's an energy here that is hard to describe. On the surface, it's a fairly simple story, but he somehow manages to do it in a way that keeps you glued to the tv screen. And for a guy who hadn't directed a feature film before, he infuses the film with so much great visual eye candy that even if you don't find the story all that plausible or even scary, there's no denying the film is a treat to look at. There are even moments when he uses some really impressive micro camera work that takes the viewer inside electrical appliances as the "pulse" surge of electricity is wrecking havoc on the house and anything electrical. I mean, these sequences were really damn impressive and it blows my mind how effectively he was able to accomplish them.

All in all Pulse is a great and highly underrated 80's gem. Having finally seen it, I'm shocked it doesn't get more love. It manages to effectively display a sort of retro feel and charm throughout that is so hard to get right, while also making it a legitimately effective little horror/thriller with standout performances and some great visual effects work.

Pulse is currently streaming free on Amazon Prime, but you can also pick up the Blu Ray for roughly $5-$8 from any number of online retailers.

robotGEEK is back

I'm back! I just wanted to take this moment to thank you all for allowing me the opportunity to take a break from here while I focused on my photography. I feel I'm at a place where I can now manage both, because while I was focusing most of my free time outside of work on photography, I still watched a shit ton of films, which is the reason I felt the need to return here so I can share my experiences. Anywho, if you stuck around in my absence, I thank you. 

Here's a pic of cult film legends Bernie Casey and Al Leong from the 80's Action Bad Movie Night masterpiece Steele Justice, starring Martin Kove just for fun.