R E V I E W: In Search of Darkness: A Journey Into Iconic 80's Horror

by robotGEEK

Who would have thought that documentaries based solely on some of our favorite horror films, franchises and even that specific genre in general would be a thing? I surely didn't. If you would have told me that way back in the 80's when we were pre-teens devouring these films, I wouldn't have believed you. Yet here we are, and it's pretty fuckin' great. I can't give you a complete or thorough list, but some that come to mind would be Leviathan (about Hellraiser 1 & 2), You're So Cool Brewster! (about the Fright Night films), The Wolfman's Got Nards (About The Monster Squad), The 50 Best Horror Films You've Never Seen, and not to mention the excellent Crystal Lake Memories and Never Sleep Again. I mean, I can go on and on. It seems like documentaries are the way to go these days and the market has become pretty saturated with some really great ones. Still personally waiting for that Robo Doc coming soon.

Which brings us to In Search of Darkness. Here we are treated to a wonderful 4-Hour documentary on horror films. More specifically, horror films of the 80's, arguably the best decade for that genre. Clocking in at 4-Hours, this documentary moves along briskly. I mean, there's no way they can get to every horror film made in the 80's, even at 4 hours. Instead, they tackle the genre year by year, and hit some sweet spots both big budget commercial successes, and the low-budget indie circuit. And we all know that in the horror genre back then, there were some real gems that never got the big theatrical releases or in some cases, still haven't made it to DVD, even to this day.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this was how they not only tackle the genre by year, but also by sub-genre's like that short period in the early to mid 80's where 3D was trying to make a comeback. But we also see them take on The Final Girl, Body Horror and a few other sub-genre's, which I found really cool.

Along for the ride we have some really great interviews from a long list of iconic members of the horror community (over 45 total), both in front of and behind the camera. Keith David, Joe Dante, Tom Atkins, Barbara Crampton, Doug Bradley, Larry Cohen, Jeffrey Combs, Mick Garris, Stuart Gordon, John Carpenter, Joe Bob Briggs, Kane Hodder, Tom Holland, Elvira herself Cassandra Peterson, Lori Cardille and so many more. I have to say though, Tom Atkins is such a hoot and the highlight of this for me. I really hope I get to meet that guy someday.

You would think that after all these decades these writers, directors, stars, effects teams and producers would have nothing new to offer about any of these classic films, but I can truthfully say that despite all these years, and countless interviews given by all of them previously, they still offer some nice tidbits of behind the scenes info that I hadn't heard before. And that's one of the things that makes this documentary so good. You go in kind of expecting to have heard it all before, but nope. There was a lot of new information I hadn't heard before, which was great. Writer/Director/Producer David A. Weiner does a great job asking the right questions in the right context and pulling new, never before heard information out of them, and in some cases, some of them being quite candid and honest about their feelings in regards to other films. I loved every minute of it.

In Search of Darkness is a must have for any horror fan. It's a fun way to revisit some films that we remember fondly, going down memory lane and in some cases, learning about films we never got around to. Even at 4 hours, we were wanting more. And that my friends, is a sign of a good time.

Those of us who got our hands on this were able to because of their initial crowdfunding campaign. At this moment, it's not available to purchase anywhere on physical media or streaming. However, you can go over to their website 80sHorrorDoc.com and sign up for their newsletter for updates on any upcoming release dates because trust me, you're going to need to add this to your collection.

And there's more good news. There are also 2 new documentaries in the works that they're currently working on; one based on 80's Sci-Fi films called In Search of Tomorrow, and one on the great and legendary retro video games of 1989. You can follow In Search of Tomorrow's progress on their website HERE, or on their Instagram page HERE. You can follow the video game documentary, RetroGaming 1989's progress on their Instagram page HERE.

Like I mentioned earlier, they don't cover everything, because there's just no way they could. It would be impossible. But it's a very fun, nostalgic trip down memory lane made with an exceptional love for the genre.


90's Action Attack!: Mercenary (1996)

John Ritter as a Rich Businessman Tracking Down His Wife's Killers to the Middle East? I'm in

by robotGEEK

Randomly scrolling through Amazon's endless supply of low-budget 90's action flicks, I came across this one and was immediately intrigued by the idea of John Ritter, who we all fell in love with as Jack Tripper in Three's Company, costarring in an action film with Olivier Grunner (Nemesis, Angel Town). I mean, I didn't care who made it or how good or bad it was, I was sold simply on that idea alone. About a good 5 minutes in, I can honestly say I was not disappointed in the least bit.

Ritter stars as Jonas Ambler, a rich businessman who's wife is killed during a gala at their home by a band of terrorists. Hell bent on revenge, and with the finances to back it up, he enlists the help of a mercenary-for-hire named Karl "Hawk" May to help him track them down in the middle east and kill them. And the only way Hawk gets paid, is if he lets Ambler go with him. So begins some intense combat training of a very pampered tycoon, followed by a mission to kill these terrorists. 

I have to say, I really, really enjoyed this. You never know what to expect with these low budget offerings, because more times than not, they're not any good. And I consider this genre to be one of my absolute favorites, so I tend to overlook a lot of the issues plaguing these films in general and end up enjoying them for what they are. But seriously, this one was fucking great. Right in the opening sequence, we're treated to not only an excellent setup for the events to follow with some impressive action, but to my surprise, we're introduced to a much better than I expected list of actors that I had no idea were in this, including Martin Kove, Robert Culp and Ed Lauter, but also a healthy selection of bad guys you most certainly recognize from other films.

As far as the film itself, it's far more entertaining than I was expecting, with a quality to it that impressed me more than anything. It's shot surprisingly well (for a low budget action film), and the action sequences are rather impressive. It's only downside is that in the last act of the film there is some horrendous CGI used during a nighttime helicopter chase through the mountains. I mean, it's really awful and incredibly cringe-inducing. I'm not sure why they would have even written something like that if the budget didn't back it up. Thankfully it's the only sequence (that I can remember) that nearly derailed it, and it's moderately brief before things get back to practical reality.

This is directed by Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher, who's only other notable film would probably be 1991's Timebomb starring Michael Beihn, which I've heard is actually really good, but I still have yet to see. But simply based on this, he does a helluva job behind the camera giving the film a much larger look and feel on a small budget. That's something you rarely see in these. If it's a small budget, most of the time the director shoots fast and loose, with an insane amount of handheld camerawork, but not here. If it wasn't for the ridiculous helicopter sequence destroying any false notions of it's actual budget, I could easily see this being something of a limited theatrical release. I think it's time I finally tracked down Timebomb.

John Ritter does a surprisingly fine job as the arrogant and incredibly rich businessman, hell bent on exacting revenge. Sure he does a lot of scared screaming only the way Ritter can, but he was impressively dedicated to the role. Grunner, for his part, plays the character well and I have to admit, with each film I see him in, he gets better and better as an actor.

Mercenary isn't mind-blowing or anything, but its a helluva great time within this genre and much better overall than I was expecting going in. Mercenary is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.


90's Thriller Throwback: Dead Presidents (1995)

The Hughes Brothers 70's Crime Drama is a Masterpiece Waiting to be Rediscovered

by robotGEEK

Dead Presidents is The Hughes Brother's love letter to Scorsese and De Palma. It's a beautiful, epic, sprawling and meticulously detailed crime/drama/thriller that shares a lot in common with Goodfellas, with a dash of De Palma's Untouchables thrown in for good measure, and it's a damn shame more people don't talk about this.

Released in 1995, the same year as Martin Scorsese's classic Casino, Dead Presidents would be The Hughes Brothers (Allen and Albert) sophomore effort after the well-received Menace II Society two years earlier. This is the kind of film that you just know was a passion project, doing their homework in what makes these types of films so good in the first place, and infusing it with their own specific style. And it works. It works masterfully.

Dead Presidents tells the story of a Vietnam vet (Larenz Tate) who comes back home from the service, complete with nightmares and finding it difficult to adjust back to civilian life. He can't seem to find a decent job and provide for his family in a neighborhood full of pimps and drug dealers, so he enlists the help of fellow war buddies Skip (Chris Tucker in a rare dramatic role), Jose (Freddy Rodriguez), and Cleon (Bokeem Woodbine) to pull off an armored truck heist. With the help of his mentor Kirby (Keith David), they set the plan in motion. 

This has everything you'd want in a period crime drama and it's such a shame it's been largely forgotten. Of course, the Hughes Brother's have gone onto big things both together (The Book of Eli, From Hell), and separately as solo directors. It's got an incredibly authentic setting (mostly sticking to 1973), an amazing score by Danny Elfman in his prime, one of the best soundtracks I've ever heard in my life, full of mellow classic R & B jams that will having you hunting down that CD pronto, and a pace that keeps things moving along briskly, never slowing down enough to dwell on the drama too long. Here they reunite with their Menace II Society cinematographer Lisa Rinzler, and it's such a beautiful marriage of talents, producing some fantastic and epic visuals.

I remember going to the theater to see this back in '95, and just being completely floored by it. I hadn't yet seen their previous film, which is regarded as one of the best gang films out there, so going in cold I was just blown away. Everything comes together so perfectly. I immediately got the soundtrack on CD and it was in constant rotation in my car. I remember when it hit VHS, I played it over and over in my room. But life happens and I kind of forgot about it. So I can say it's been at least a good 20 years since I've seen it last. Having revisited it today, it hasn't lost an ounce of it's ability to impress me and I'd dare say it's only gotten better with age. It's a true crime masterpiece.

How to see it:
As far as I know, it still hasn't gotten a Blu Ray upgrade, so on physical media, DVD and VHS are the only options. But you're in luck! It's currently available to stream in HD for FREE on The Roku Channel. You just have to endure commercials.


90's Action Attack!: American Samurai (1992)

A Mix of Bloodsport with G.I. Joe's Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes' Tumultuous History, American Samurai Delivers The Goods in a Classic Way

by robotGEEK

Right smack in the middle of his run in the American Ninja franchise (which he'd taken over for Michael Dudikoff starting with Part 3), they decided to try and have him kickstart another martial arts franchise, this one centering on the samurai rather than the ninja. And while it failed to kickstart that new franchise, American Samurai is pretty much exactly what you'd expect, and that's not such a bad thing.

Released in 1992, they even went so far as to recruit regular ninja director Sam Firstenberg to helm. I mean, if you're going to hire anybody to take charge of this thing, who better than the guy who did American Ninja 1 & 2, Revenge of the Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination. For a guy who didn't initially have any interest in directing action films (bullshitting his way into it initially), he carved out a nice career path for himself for being one of the go-to guys to do these types of films in the 80's and 90's. With that being said, he has two types of films he makes; the unintentionally and hilariously awesome cheesy (American Ninja 2, Ninja III: The Domination), or the straightforward action flick (Avenging Force). This one falls into the latter, but just barely. While it's an entertaining film all around, it's never as cheesy as I was expecting. Which is fine honestly.

Something I was not expecting was a tournament movie, which was just one of several pleasant surprises I discovered. This is where it resembles a carbon copy of Bloodsport, right down to the white country, larger than life cowboy fighter he befriends. Here he's forced to fight an endless supply of fighters from all over the world in their own varying styles of combat. There's even a dude who looks like a smaller version of Conan, right down to that exact sword, who miraculously shows up in the following sequence after he just got killed in the tournament. Got to love low-budget editing!

Another aspect I was not expecting was Mark Dacascos being cast as the villain. Needless to say I knew nothing about this going in, so I was pleasantly surprised by a lot of what I found. Dacascos, one year before breaking out in the mainstream with Only The Strong, is so over the top as the incredibly angry brother to David Bradley's character; The Storm Shadow to Snake Eyes, that he literally makes this film as entertaining as it is. Having been brought up together and taught the way of the samurai since childhood, Dacascos is pure jealousy and rage towards his adoptive American brother that boils over to a tournament confrontation in the end to see who is in fact the best samurai. His constant angry faces and delivery is breathtakingly amusing, hilarious, awesome and a much needed dose of cheese that adds so much entertainment value to the mix. And I'm not teasing him. He genuinely makes this film as good as it is, because truthfully, David Bradley's character is so unlikable

A far better and entertaining film than I was expecting, American Samurai benefits from some impressive fight sequences and a villain played to perfection by Mark Dacascos, and in the capable hands of director Sam Firstenberg.  Another tournament film, yes, but a damn good one.


Documentary Spotlight: In Search of the Last Action Heroes

YouTube Film Critic and Podcaster Oliver Harper's Crowdfunded Love Letter to 80's Action Heroes is Every Bit as Entertaining as it is Ambitious. 

by robotGEEK

When film critic Oliver Harper spearheaded his campaign to produce a feature length documentary focusing on the legendary action heroes of the 80's both big and small, I was so damn excited. 80's action has and always will be one of my favorite genre's, and as I head into my mid 40's, I still find myself revisiting my favorites on a regular basis, as well as continue to dig through that decades immense output of gems that I never got around to checking out until now. And I'll probably never stop because so many were produced that I'll never get through them all in my lifetime.

With that crowdfunding campaign, I found the price for this release to be a bit too expensive for my taste (or at least my budget at the time). But I knew it was a done deal because it was reaching it's goal pretty quickly. And lucky for the rest of us, it was made a reality and even luckier for us, it's now available at a helluva price for a limited time on Amazon on DVD ($10), Blu-Ray ($13) and Streaming ($4). I personally grabbed the Blu Ray.

Now, is it any good? Hell yea it is. Of course, with something this ambitious, you're not going to please everyone. There's just so much to cover and so many different areas that there's just no way they could fit it all in. As it stands, it's more of a Love Letter than an informative Documentary because there's really nothing in here that we either didn't already know or hadn't heard before in other countless interviews. And sadly, you're not going to hear from the big boys who grace the cover of this thing like Sly, Arnold, Chuck or Dolph. Instead you're hearing from the filmmakers, stunt people, screenwriters, supporting actors and the B-Movie grade stars who made these films like Paul Verhoeven, Al Leong, Bill Duke, a seemingly grumpy Shane Black, an always excited Steven E. de Souza and so on. Which is great really, but I'm a bit shocked they couldn't even get Dolph on here, unless his schedule just didn't allow it. And honestly, I'm only touching on a very small amount of all the people interviewed in here because there are a LOT. Too many legends to name in here. Okay one more....Matthias Hues!

I especially loved listening to legends such as Cynthia Rothrock, Scott Atkins and even Best of the Best alum Phillip Rhee discuss the industry, their perceptions of it, where it was and where it's heading. I have to give it to Atkins for being bluntly honest about his feelings, even his spot-on criticism of current action stars and how he feels most people won't ever meet the commitment and dedication that someone like Keanu Reeves possesses. Vernon Wells was a hoot in describing his casting in The Road Warrior, which led to his casting as the villain in Commando, and there are plenty of moments such as this to appreciate.

A somewhat chronological look at the genre starting in the 70's, primarily focusing on the 80's, and then touching up on the current state of the genre, In Search of the Last Action Heroes isn't going to blow you away with new insight, but it's a really fun watch as it digs into my favorite genre that moves along briskly and never overstays it's welcome. With the fat trimmed, it sticks to the important aspects and if anything, is a fun nostalgic look at a decade that did it best.

In Search of the Last Action Heroes is currently available on Amazon for a great deal. Grab it while you can!