Hideous! (1997)

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Long-term readers of our site may remember the time we tackled Full Moon. Charles Band and friends worked in conjunction with Paramount for many years, to give the big company a steady stream of low-budget but good-looking horror and sci-fi films for the home video market – then in the mid 90s, they branched out on their own, and have been independent since. They’re perhaps best known at the ISCFC for their rather cavalier attitude towards continuity, as well as many crossovers between their franchises.

“Hideous!” is being reviewed here due to that crossover tendency. Let’s see if I can remember it all…”Dollman vs. Demonic Toys” is the sequel to three different films, “Demonic Toys”, “Bad Channels” and “Dollman”. However, after the later “Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys”, Full Moon decided to ignore the continuity of those films and made a direct sequel to “Demonic Toys” called “Demonic Toys 2”. But, according to Wikipedia, that film features characters from “Hideous!” which is why we’re reviewing this before that. All make sense?

We get an extra layer of oddness, right off the bat too. Both IMDB and Wikipedia list a synopsis for this film which isn’t true.

“A group of rival collectors of severely deformed freakish human beings and the FBI agents that are investigating them must battle against some of their collections which aren’t as dead as they seem…”

Unless I completely wasn’t paying attention, there are no FBI agents in this movie. Given that IMDB has been going since before 1997, maybe the synopsis is based on pre-release publicity from Full Moon, that no-one bothered to change after the film was released? Anyway. The film starts with three sewage workers having a conversation about the weird things they’ve fished out of the filter, which starts off with money and jewellery but ends up with a discussion of foetuses and them fishing out something mysterious and mostly unseen that the head guy takes away with him.

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The film then meanders to the main section, which is the thing they fished out of the sewage reviving while in a collector’s room of biological oddities, reviving the other oddities and trapping a group of people in the castle they all congregated in. Fans of Full Moon and ponderers of Charles Band’s psyche will have already guessed that the creatures will be small, stop-motion animated, horrible-looking, and they also won’t be entirely evil; the main creature, what looks like a head with another head sort of poorly photocopied on top, is suitably grotesque though.

I believe I’ve raised this criticism of Full Moon before, but wow do their films take a long time to get to the point. It’s an hour into the 78 minutes of film before the humans and oddities meet up, and I’m really not sure that the conflict between collectors Napoleon Lazar (evil) and Dr Lorca (also evil) is enough to keep the film afloat. The sole bright spark of proceedings is Jacqueline Lovell, as Lorca’s assistant Sheila. Her outfit through most of the film is leather hot-pants and a leather waistcoat, nothing else, and in the film’s best scene she robs Lazar of his oddity wearing nothing but hot-pants and a gorilla mask. She’s both really beautiful and a decent actress, so it’s a shame she seems to have spent most of her career in soft-core pornography. Well, unless you like soft-core pornography, I suppose.

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This certainly feels like a “standard” Full Moon movie – the way it’s shot, the music (from Charles Band’s brother), the mini-creatures. And much like other Full Moon features, the problems come when you start thinking about it for more than a few seconds. The central conflict in this film comes from oddity-broker Belinda Yost selling to Lazar instead of Lorca, her normal regular customer, but the problem is the reason for this change is never explained. You’ve also not really got anyone to cheer on in this film – it’s evil collector 1, evil collector 2, and evil creatures, all fighting each other. You could certainly cheer on Sheila, I suppose.

There is fun to be had in this film, though. It plays knowingly with some of the mad scientist and haunted house tropes, and both collectors can chew scenery with the best of them. And Lovell’s performance means we’ll probably be reviewing more of her mainstream performances (she’s in a few other Full Moon films, I think, so two birds with one stone and all that). If only it had been a bit funnier or a bit faster-paced.

Rating: thumbs down

Class of Nuke ‘Em High Part II: Subhumanoid Meltdown (1991)

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This DVD has a short video which plays before the main feature, a sketch about Troma head Lloyd Kaufman doing a “film school” in front of a bunch of fans. As well as seeing full frontal male nudity in the first minute, it also gives you a little flavour of the sort of studio Troma is – the questions are about the huge number of plot holes at the end of part 1, the fact that part 2 isn’t really a sequel, sharing no cast and having a different director, that the director sucked, and so on. Have I mentioned that I love Troma?

Parts 2 and 3 star Brick Bronsky. He’s perhaps very slightly better known as a pro wrestler, working for a number of independent promotions and even running his own for a number of years – but his innocent-looking face is perfect for a lunatic film like this. And after a rather sarcastic recap of the events of the first film, he’s front and centre, as Roger Smith, the one normal student in a community college full of…well, the Cretins from part 1 would have been slightly conservative in a place like this.

Roger is a journalist for the school paper, and is unlucky in love, until he volunteers for a sex experiment and meets Victoria. Now, here’s where things get a bit weird. We’ve seen the future (the entire film is a flashback) so we know there’s giant mutated squirrels and wholesale murder to come…but there’s also a science teacher who’s creating a whole new race of people to be our slaves, the Subhumanoids, and Victoria is one of those. The Principal of the college is funding the Subhumanoids for his Japanese corporate masters, and of course the subhumanoids start going wrong in traditional Troma fashion – Roger uses his journalistic skills to track down what’s really going wrong.

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Ah, if you wanted a poorly written recap you could go to Wikipedia. The main difference between this and part 1 is that this is a comedy, first and foremost. Part 1 was a strange mix of a pretty straightly done radioactive horror movie with teen raunch welded on – this is “let’s throw every joke we have at the wall and see what sticks”; with a subplot which is clearly supposed to be about the working class. The jokes extend to numerous examples of winking at the audience – Roger’s dorm room is covered with posters for other Troma movies, including the original “Class of Nuke Em High”; and the Toxic Avenger himself shows up and starts beating up the cast until the director wanders into shot and tells him his movie is shooting on the far side of the lot. Roger’s exposition device, a portable voice recorder, is a clear reference to the previous year’s “Twin Peaks” too.

Sadly, quite a lot of this movie is a lame sex comedy. Lloyd Kaufman’s earliest films as director were such titles as “The First Turn-On!” and even though Troma only really got going when they turned their hands to horror, those origins show through from time to time. There’s so much bikini-clad and topless female flesh on display that it stops being titilating and just becomes white noise, which isn’t an excuse I guess, but means you’d be really unlikely to watch this film if your interests were T&A.

Add on a fantastic non-ending, much like part 1, one of the greatest theme songs of all time, then a whole bunch of crazy credits, and you’ve got another great Troma film. What gore they have is surprisingly creepy, there’s a ton of jokes, some of which are even good, and everyone plays it way over the top.

Rating: thumbs up

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Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986)

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The original remit for this site was the “Poundland DVD Review”, where we’d get super-cheap DVDs from the aforementioned shop and review them. Well, this morning I walked past my workplace’s “leave your old books here, leave a donation to charity if you take one” shelf, and some astonishingly kind soul had left three Troma DVDs! One pound later, and they were mine. Our worlds come together.

 

If you’re about my age, and read this site, then you’ll know Troma. They were unavoidable in the 80s and 90s in non-mainstream cinema circles, both making their own deranged films and buying in films from all over the world, repackaging them with grossly misleading titles. This is one of their in-house productions, and is one of their two or three most famous films (along with “The Toxic Avenger” and “Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD”). So chances are people a great deal smarter and better at writing than me have had a crack at reviewing this, but here goes anyway.

 

Tromaville is the setting for a lot of Troma’s films, which appears to be just across the way from Manhattan (the camera pans across the New York skyline, passing the World Trade Centre, before stopping on Tromaville). The nuclear power plant is handily right next door to the school, and…that ought to tell you the majority of the plot right there, only Troma decide to spin things in a different way. The plant is leaking radioactive waste all over the place, but it’s really only there to be the thing that upsets the equilibrium and gets the story moving.

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By the time the film starts, two of the main events have already happened – the Honor Society (all the smart kids, I think?) have transformed overnight into the Cretins, a violent street gang. There’s a guy who dresses like a preppie, apart from black eye make up and breasts; a variety of hideously made up and dressed folks; and one, who’s in blackface (only his face), with two rings through his nose, an almost permanent mouthguard and who carries a large bone around with him. Offensive? Given that’s what the gang was trying to achieve, I’ll say yes in the context of the film, no to the viewer. Also, the film is gleefully offensive as often as possible, so it would be weird to single that out.

 

The other “event” is the growing of marijuana in the grounds of the power plant. It grows mysteriously quickly, for some reason, and it brings in the other main group of cast members, the normal high school kids. This is one of the reasons the film succeeds – it blends in a grotesque, gore filled horror with a “normal” high school sex comedy, at times bouncing them off each other, at times leaving them separate, like two entirely different films that happen to be taking place at the same time. When the clean-cut young couple smoke a nuclear joint, things start going a little odd for them…

 

The thing that’s both surprising and refreshing about this film, nearly 30 years on, is how over the top it is. The jokes come thick and fast, and are almost deliberately stupid and cheesy, like they’re paying lip service to the teen raunch comedy tropes before blowing them up with mutant babies and tons of gore. A lot of criticism at the time focused on them making light of a serious subject – nuclear waste – which must have delighted Troma, as it’s not like the film was on the side of the unregulated nuclear power industry. Some people just aren’t ready for Troma, I guess.

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This film feels like “Repo Man” in a weird way, like it has that energy and “punk” attitude to it – this might just be me projecting, as both films feature actual punks, but I think not. It just doesn’t let up. Also like that film, it’s got a surprisingly high budget compared to what similar movies made today would get. There’s “Tromaville High School” props all over the place, and several crowd scenes. When was the last time you saw a low-budget horror movie with a crowd scene?

 

I hope this review has persuaded a few of you older fans to revisit this great film, and a few younger fans to check it out. As I linked to a while ago, a few journalists are comparing Troma to The Asylum, and they couldn’t be more wrong. While Troma may not always make good films, they’re at least trying – to offend, to shock, to make people laugh. The Asylum was created to sell out, making rotten films for cheap cable channels, and even starting a sub-company to make religious themed films for fundamentalist Christians who can’t tolerate normal entertainment. Could you imagine Troma doing anything like that? Their most recent publicity says “30 years of reel independence”, and while it’s unlikely to last past creator Lloyd Kaufman, long may it continue.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

PS -Review site The Horror Addiction did a brilliant and insightful review of this, years ago, so if you’re in the mood for actual insight and so on, definitely read them.

Demon Hunter (2012)

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Also known as “Obsidian Hearts” and “Darkstalkers”, which presumably was an attempt to aid the confused few people who were trying to find Sean Patrick Flanery’s 2005 “Demon Hunter”, this is the first starring role for Jenny Allford, who we’re big fans of at the ISCFC. Well, okay, she was top billed in “Lizzie Borden’s Revenge” but was like fifth when it came to onscreen time. But I digress.

 

Fans of comic “Hack / Slash” will recognise the plot of this fairly quickly. A young, beautiful, but tortured woman hunts demons, and accompanying her is a large, uncommunicative, German behemoth who does most of the fighting. She’s Cosette, and is cursed – demons and people with plain evil souls are drawn to her; he’s Klaus, a former enforcer for a crime family, who died briefly, saw hell and now wants to kill all the demons to correct the evil he used to do and get a ticket “upstairs”. They have a symbiotic relationship – she attracts the demons, he kills them.

 

Matt Hannon, star of “Samurai Cop”, tells a story about working with Iranian director Amir Shervan. He would read the dialogue and ask Shervan “can I change the wording so it sounds more like an American said this?” to which Shervan would always reply “no”. I assumed the same was true here, or that Allford and crew were being given words from people who’d maybe written the script in a foreign language and used bad translation software to turn it to English. But it turns out this might just be me wanting to salvage something.

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I think it was during the dramatically necessary pole-dancing scene that I started to check out of this movie. An evil fella (we know this because he’s compelled to approach Cosette) is sat in a pole dancing club, and we get perhaps a little more footage than is strictly necessary of Raven Lexy. She is, as far as I can tell, something to do with Playboy, and has the oddest breasts I think I’ve ever seen. They’re very obviously the work of a surgeon, and are far higher up and tighter than you might expect from a normal human. I feel bad even mentioning them, or speculating about why she would have such manifestly awful surgical work done, but…I’m sorry. Her entire arc through the film is filler of the worst kind, too.

 

Allford has a lot to do in this film – as well as starring (and a brief bit of nudity), she does a voiceover, as if she’s writing in her diary. I’ve gone on the record before as thinking she’s talented and could well be a bigger part of a bigger film, but this one does her no favours whatsoever. Her voiceover is absolutely awful, even if a fair chunk of the blame must go to the rotten script, and she goes through the entire film as if she’s on some strong sedatives. She also smokes in several scenes, and I’d lay good money on her having never smoked before as it looks hilariously unnatural every time she tries.

 

What annoys most about watching films like this is that with a few tweaks (and a new director and writer) it could have been a great film. There are some nice touches – the mysterious Gonk-like ghost that pops up in a normal suburban garden is a surprisingly creepy visual; and if they’d injected a bit of humour, or made the “demons” either much camper or much creepier, it would have helped a great deal. But I’m not an armchair director, sorry.

 

It’s almost unbearably slow for long periods and the acting is so wooden I was beginning to suspect it was a deliberate directorial choice. I think there’s a perfect example of how little the filmmakers care about making a film, as opposed to spending $30,000 to spend time with a couple of attractive women they can get to be naked. Cosette goes to visit the Vicar who’s been feeding her information, and we get to spend a little time with him. The problem is, they couldn’t be bothered to buy or rent a proper vicar’s shirt, with the white collar, so they just got a normal black shirt and stuck what looks like white masking tape over the front. It’s so ugly, such a bad choice, that I’d be embarrassed to put my name to it.

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I really wanted to like this, but the clever choices and good moments are so few, and so far between, that I just couldn’t. I keep hope, though, that more filmmakers will come along who can use today’s micro-budgets and do something interesting with them. And I will keep reporting back to you, dear reader.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Dark Rising: Bring Your Battle-Axe (2007)

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I feel like I’ve stumbled down a dark alley into an alternate universe, one where a sci-fi/comedy franchise can get to three films, one TV series with another in the pipeline…and it can fly completely under the radar of a hardcore fan of both those genres like me. Maybe Canada wanted to keep it to themselves?

It really doesn’t start well, which might be a reason it didn’t travel too far. After a “whoops my Dad opened a portal to Hell” opening featuring a young girl, we meet Jason, a sort of bland everyman and Ricky, his sleazy friend who films adverts for sex phone lines. They’re organising a camping trip along with their friend Renee so Jason can try to reconcile with his ex-fiancee Jasmine – only problem is, she decided she was a lesbian three weeks ago and brings along her new girlfriend Marlene. The three women are also witches, but Jasmine and Marlene are more bothered about sort-of kissing than they are witchcraft.

That sounds stupid, doesn’t it? The acting is really, really bad here, with Jason and Jasmine by far the worst. It’s not remotely believable or funny, with the only bright spot being non-actor Jay Reso, best known to wrestling fans as WWE superstar Christian, as Ricky. The problem is, the film thinks all this is hilarious, and tells us so by using that stereotypical “comedy” music – hard to describe, but it’s a light plinky-plonky thing which you’ll recognise as soon as you hear it. Handy of the film to tell us when the comedy sections are happening, even if it’s not 100% accurate.

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In between this, Renee “dreams” of Summer Vale, who disappeared 10 years ago. Hey, didn’t we see a kid disappear at the beginning of this movie? Anyway, she buys an old book full of demon incantations from a mysterious book-seller (which once belonged to Summer’s dad, implausibly enough) for $15. What? A huge old interesting-looking book and he’s only charging $15 for it? Sorry. She buys a book, reads an incantation, portal is opened, demon comes out, so does Summer (who we realise is the warrior-woman we’ve been seeing in demon-world training to become the best fighter ever, throughout the film).

So we have a forest, some young people, and a mysterious demon bad guy. The first half of the film is so plodding that I could forgive you for abandoning it, but towards the end it starts to warm up. When they don’t have time for stupid “comedy” scenes, the humour flows more naturally from the situation…and the monster at least gives the film a reason to exist, operating like your traditional slasher movie villain.

I would imagine the people who made this film either wouldn’t care or would try and spin it the other way, but the treatment of women is pretty laughable in this. Summer Vale, who’s been fighting supernatural evil for a decade or so, luckily could only afford an armoured bikini to wear, and the lesbian scene was so unerotic, unfunny and un-entertaining that it ought to be used to correct the psyche of lesbian porn addicts. I’d normally say at this point “no-one’s watching a sci-fi comedy film about demon portals to see lesbians”, but literally every review on the IMDB says “and it’s got a lesbian scene too! What more could you want?” I’m fighting a losing battle, readers, and I’m sorry for that. But it does get boring watching a film like this just recreate the worst stereotypes of women, coat them in a sheen of wink-wink knowingness and pretend like they’re not being sexist. That the director is married to the woman playing Summer is even more baffling.

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But I did mention it sort of being okay, didn’t I? As the annoying characters are killed off, and Jason finally is told that his fiancée is now a lesbian (well, and possessed by a demon), the stupidity lessens enough to allow enjoyment. I mean, it’s a long way from being great, or even good, but it’s probably worth continuing with the series to see what pops up. Colin Mochrie, legendary Canadian improv comedian, pops up in a later instalment, as do several moderately more famous / decent actors.

Don’t spend more than a few seconds pondering any of the variety of plot holes and weird errors this film commits, as that would ruin the film. Just try and squint through the garbage, and let’s all keep our fingers crossed that the later TV series and films at least give Summer (installed as co-hero of the franchise, come film’s end) a little more to do.

Rating: thumbs down

TRIPLE FEATURE HORROR EXTRAVAGANZA from the prolific Jessica Cameron

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Jessica Cameron and Jonathan Scott Higgins (Truth or Dare) are preparing for their
triple feature cross-country horror project with the feature film MANIA and the
documentary Kill the Production Assistant. They are pleased to announce their
collaboration with filmmaker Ryan M. Andrews (Save Yourself, S.I.C.K) with his
feature film, Desolation.

MANIA was written by Higgins and will be Cameron’s 2nd directing vehicle. Kill the
Production Assistant will be the feature-length documentary that catalogues the
entire experience so that YOU can get a glimpse into the independent world of
filmmaking. Cameron and Higgins will produce all three projects. Desolation will
replace The Exiled (dir. Brandon Slagle, starring Devanny Pinn) on this film slate.
The Exiled has been pushed to a later date. ”

This November, Cameron, Higgins, and Andrews will load into an RV with other
cast/crew and depart from Los Angeles to make back-to-back feature films while
traveling cross-country. Read below for more information.

Filming will take place all over the United States, but the filming locations will be
decided upon by fan participation. The top 6 cities and states with the most
interaction and financial contributions through the project’s website
(killtheproductionassistant.com) will determine the route the filmmakers will take. The
more people contribute, the more pins will be dropped onto a digital map on the
project’s website for the home city/state of the contributor. Thus far, the top states
are Arizona, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and California.

By visiting www.KillTheProductionAssistant.com fans can contribute to the project
and get cool merchandise. Fans can contribute to the project until October 6th at
which point the route will be finalized.

ABOUT THE FILMS BEING MADE DURING THE CROSS COUNTRY TRIP:
MANIA
Directed by: Jessica Cameron
Written by: Jonathan Scott Higgins
Starring: Heather Dorff
Tagline: A f@cked up lesbian love story
Synopsis: A manic lesbian goes on a killing-spree cross-country with her lover.
Social Media:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ManiaTheMovie
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ManiaTheMovie

Desolation
Directed by: Ryan M. Andrews
Written by: Ryan M. Andrews
Starring: Jessica Cameron & Heather Dorff
Tagline: Hell hath no fury
Synopsis: Along the back roads of America, a hitchhiker is waiting. Gorgeous,
mysterious, and full of sadistic rage, what chances do an unsuspecting couple have
against her?
Social Media:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DesolationtheMovie
Twitter: https://twitter.com/DesolationMovie

Kill the PA
Directed by: Aaron Lane
Synopsis: A feature-length making-of documentary, chronicling the travels and
filming of MANIA and Desolation. This is a chance for audiences to see a grassroots
approach to independent filmmaking.
Social Media:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KillThePA
Twitter: https://twitter.com/KillThePAdoc

Lizzie Borden’s Revenge (2013)

She never dresses like that, and doesn't go into the woods

She never dresses like that, and doesn’t go into the woods

A quick experiment: go and turn on all the lights in your house. I would lay good money on the fact that, as you walk round, everything is pretty brightly lit. Sadly, if you lived in the sorority house in “Lizzie Borden’s Revenge”, everywhere in the house that’s not your living room would be engulfed in murk, with most of the corridors being in complete darkness. Why do films like this insist on spending so little on lighting? Or just refusing to turn on all the normal lights in the places they’re filming?

For those of you who would watch a film with a title like this and know nothing about it, we get a swift recap of the Borden story – took an axe, gave her mother 40 whacks, gave her father 41, financial woes, etc. Playing Lizzie is Jenny Allford, fast becoming an ISCFC favourite despite being in maybe the worst film we’ve ever reviewed, “Captain Battle: Legacy War”. She does a pretty good job of expressing how rotten a woman’s lot was back then, but everything around her works against the good work she does – a house which looks zero like a late-Victorian home and comically bad axe-and-blood special effects being just two. In case you’re wondering, from this limited information, if this is going to be some feminist tract, it absolutely definitely isn’t.

The same two or three  scenes are flashed back to throughout the movie, but the majority of the film is the present day, set in a sorority house. It’s…probably…Lizzie’s old house, as one of the sisters is obsessed with the story, but it’s honestly not that important. Caught drinking (the horror!) they’re given house arrest while the rest of their sorority goes on Spring Break. And I mean house arrest – locked doors, barred windows, the lot. Unfortunately, their jailers (the University? A weird local judge? Their sorority sisters?) didn’t think of clearing out all the booze – one of them has a couple of bottles hidden in her laundry, and there’s a room they go into regularly which has a fully-stocked wine rack in it (presumably not meant to be part of the film).

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Writer / director Dennis Devine has made a lot of films with very similar plots – group of women, often of college age, trapped in a building, soft-core nudity, supernatural villain. Seriously, check his IMDB page out – from 1990’s “Dead Girls” to 1999’s “Vampires of Sorority Row” to 2008’s “Don’t Look In The Cellar” to 2010’s “Alice In Murderland” to the upcoming “Nazi Dawn”. Good on him for keeping making money, I suppose?

The women in this film are the most interesting thing, though – they can act! Aside from Allford (who keeps popping up, after being summoned via a séance, to kill the ladies), the strongest are Marlene Mc’Cohen, Tiffany Mualem and Ginny You. Okay, they’re not all great, but in a film which is set inside a series of ugly rooms, with no lighting, they’re a great deal better than they have any right to be. The script ought to be given credit, too, as the characters are well-defined, and there’s a lot of funny stuff in it (and not so-bad-it’s-funny, either).

So, strong cast, decent dialogue. The problem, sadly, is everything else. Best guess, the film was shot in a bunch of different buildings – all the different rooms don’t look like they belong together, and doorways are always shot so you can’t see what’s on the other side(at least they bother trying to mask it, I suppose). For what appears from the outside relatively small, it’s got endless corridors and a cellar which a medium sized shipping business appears to be using for storage.

The women, while being strong actors, are treated very poorly by the movie. As they decide to have a “slumber party”, they’re clad in their nighties / underwear throughout – one of the women, Mindy Robinson (an exceptionally busy actress, going by her IMDB page) enters the movie topless, as “that’s how I sleep”. There’s a completely unerotic lesbian scene too, featuring Robinson and former porno actress Veronica Ricci…The women complain a great deal about how there’s no men there to help them too, which just sounds stupid in 2014. Well, it always sounded stupid, but it’s pretty indefensible now.

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If you’ve seen literally any slasher film, you’ve seen this one. But, the truly frustrating thing about this film is there’s the kernel of a genuinely good film in there. Ditch the creepy stalker guy who is like the C story, spend a little more time and effort finding sets that look like they belong in the same house (and then light them properly), treat the characters like human beings and this could have been a sleeper success. The script and acting are usually the things films like this fail miserably at, so to have one which succeeds but then throws it away on stupid stuff is no good.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

  1. Saint James Films! Makers of Captain Battle and Agent Beetle! How did I end up watching another of their films? Still, it looks like this was their last, and it’s from 2013, so maybe they’ve gone out of business! Oh happy day!

Revised rating: thumbs up for killing Saint James Films

Renegade: Opening credits, in appreciation of

Opening credits are special. The art of the opening credits has expanded exponentially since the standard of simple title cards with an orchestral accompaniment in the formative days of cinema. A major change with the advent of developing technologies and heightened creativity was the addition of imagery behind or interspersed with the text to give a contextual idea of the programme it precedes. Jean Cocteau would prove ahead of his time with his technically smart credits to La Belle et la Bête in 1946 and by the 60s major studios and directors would develop these techniques further as The Pink Panther (1963) did with such ingenuity by featuring a cartoon pink panther (rather than the precious stone in the film) comically evading the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. Television shows would also follow this loud new format too, think I Dream of Jeannie or Bewitched. This style would be known as the ‘title sequence’.

 Directors would also play with having the credits over an opening scene or a prologue. Sergio Corbucci’s Django (1966) follows a mysterious man dragging a coffin along a dirt track while blood red fonts appear, lingering fiendishly over the solemn imagery giving the nihilistic impression of the death to come. More recently Jason Reitman would utilise a minimalist, retro sequence of beautifully measured aerial shots in-between clouds and of roaming American landscapes that wipe and sweep from one image to the next for his 2009 film, Up in the Air.

I love a good opening credits or title sequence, obviously I can’t list every single one here that’s given me a tingle or I’d bore you to tears but the cold simplicity of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s title cards throughout his canon to David Fincher’s brash cut-ups in Se7en (1995) to the epic nostalgia of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and the haunting and actually quite distressing credits for The Innocents (1961) are just a few examples of how opening credits have been utilised to increase the holistic impact of the feature.

This leads me nicely into my personal favourite introduction for any moving image, and the whole reason for this article, Renegade. For the uninformed, Renegade was a television show created by the tireless Stephen J. Cannell that ran for 5 seasons from 1992 to 1997.

Reno

Despite being dyslexic, Cannell was an exceptionally prolific writer creating (or co-creating) nearly 40 shows including The Greatest American Hero (which is rumoured to be getting the reboot treatment), Silk Stalkings and The Commish but is perhaps most famous for The A-Team and 21 Jump Street which both now have big screen adaptations. Sadly he passed away in 2010 so hasn’t been able to witness the success of these. If you don’t recognise his name but have seen any of these shows you’ll recognise him as the guy at the typewriter, post-credits, who throws the sheet of paper into the air, an iconic image from many an 80s childhood, that.

Renegade was Cannell’s modern update of the Lone Ranger and Tonto stories and starred Lorenzo Lamas (now Lorenzo Lamas-Craig after taking his fifth wife’s surname, who incidentally is younger than his eldest daughter) as Reno Raines, the eponymous renegade, and Branscombe Richmond as his friend & Native American sidekick, the wonderfully named, Bobby Sixkiller. Cannell himself would play series antagonist and all-round bad egg, Lt. Donald ‘Dutch’ Dixon, one of the best, most ruthless and nastiest small screen baddies you’ll ever encounter and Cannell pulled it off, the guy had acting chops.

Dutch-gun

The set-up sees a police officer, Reno, and his girlfriend, Val, disturbed by Hog Adams (Donald Gibb), a known felon whose intent is to murder Reno but he misses and shoots Val instead, putting her in a coma. The instigator of the would-be murder, crooked cop, Lt. ‘Buzzy’ Barrell (Art La Fleur) arrives on the scene only to be shot and killed by Dixon who seizes the opportunity to frame Reno for the murder and therefore sets into motion the multi-talented Mr. Raines’ new life on the road as a renegade.

The show spanned 110 episodes across those 5 seasons so there was plenty of opportunity to explore Reno’s life on the road in either canonical or random one-off stories. The continuity stuff usually involved Dutch and his lackey, Sgt. Woody Bickford (played by real-life detective Ron Johnson) going to extreme lengths to incarcerate Reno. In episode 1.1 ‘Renegade’ they hire Sixkiller Enterprises, Bobby’s bounty hunting firm, to make the capture but after he does, Bobby hears the true story, believes his bounty and they conspire to turn the tables on the unscrupulous Dixon. Incidentally, Reno takes a position as a bounty hunter at Bobby’s firm under the alias of Vince Black. Then there’s the labyrinthine 3 parter to open season 3 in which Dixon & Bickford lay a series of intricate traps which bear fruit but ultimately Reno rides off into the sunset again after a successful prison break in episode 3.3 ‘Escape’.

6killer-ent

Some of the earlier non-canonical episodes were real show highlights usually always resulting in Reno learning a new skill or the audience learning that he already worked in whatever trade features in the particular episode in his younger years. For instance episode 1.8 ‘Payback’ sees Reno’s friend Phil Fondacaro (Land of the Dead) murdered by Jesse Ventura (The Running Man) so Reno goes undercover as a ranch hand to flush Ventura out and claim revenge. Episode 3.8 ‘Black Wind’ sees Reno help out his former sensei track down a dangerous pupil who has gone rogue so he trains and becomes a black belt in a new discipline and in episode 1.11 ‘Lyon’s Roar’ we discover Reno was once a Ranger when he is challenged to a game of survival by an ex-colleague who is now a drug-addled psychotic and has tied Bobby to an exploding toilet to ensure our hero’s participation.

These examples give you an idea how the show would take itself seriously, especially when dealing with the main narrative, but couldn’t help be tongue in cheek. The casting of Lamas, a B-movie action lead, and of Richmond, a television actor who has had small roles in Commando, Batman Returns and The Scorpion King, was perfect in setting the contrasting tone as they strike up a great partnership and have a distinct chemistry that fizzes as the crux of the show.

B6K

Lamas himself I find fascinating as he’s not a natural at the acting game and his delivery is slower than my brain after a night on the gin, and he walks around in fluorescent 90s shirts or bare-chested underneath a leather waistcoat, not to mention riding his Harley without a helmet on but I can’t help but like him. He has an inane charisma, you want him to succeed and I find myself yearning for him to clear his name but he keeps getting sidetracked by small town criminals and by many a damsel in distress who often challenge his love for Val. He gets really wholesome lines which he says through his teeth like ‘Being a cop is in my DNA, like dark hair and green eyes’ and (talking about his mother to his long lost brother and brainwashed cage-fighter, Mitch (Martin Kove from The Karate Kid)) ‘She had a shock of red hair and a knockout smile. She loved ya, Mitch’. He just seems to be a really likeable guy or maybe it’s just the hair. Oh the incredible hair.

Talking of incredible hair, no matter how good Lamas’s mullet is, he’s got nothing on Branscombe Richmond. In fact Richmond’s barnet is more of a mane and I’m sure it has its own trailer and wardrobe department, it’s seriously one of the highlights of the whole show. Anyway, hair aside, Sixkiller provides the perfect foil to Reno’s often inwardly philosophical ramblings by acting as the comic relief or the shoulder to burden his many woes on. His cheerful demeanour hides a strong man and true friend to our man-on-the-lam and his other concern is his sister, Cheyenne, played by then Mrs. Lamas, Kathleen Kinmont. Lamas would eventually divorce Kinmont during the show which saw her part heavily reduced then cut altogether.

Reno-tat

As with many hit television shows, Renegade was a draw to a plethora of guest stars including, amongst others, Jackie Earle Haley, James Cromwell, L. Q. Jones, Tiny Lister, Kano and Shang Tsung from the Mortal Kombat movie, Don Swayze, Charles Napier and Johnny Cash, who guest starred in a bizarre Renegade re-telling of It’s a Wonderful Life where Cash showed Reno what the world would be like if he hadn’t been born. Terrible of course.

Like Deadwood, Renegade was another behemoth of a show to be axed before its conclusion but unlike Deadwood the lead actor returned for shooting after the post-season break with a freshly shorn head, so, what with Reno’s hair being a major part of his character, he donned a hairpiece for what would be the show’s final season as it wasn’t soon after this that everyone involved noticed that the shark was mid-jump and they quietly decided to call it a day.

Anyway, I hope that’s all gone some way to setting the tone of the show as now we’ll look at the opening credits and then I’ll break it down and explain why it’s brilliant.

First we hear the rumble of the approaching Harley, silhouetted and driving toward the camera ahead of the gorgeous red orb in the sky, then the greatest introduction ever growls the premise in broad strokes-

‘He was a good and good at his job but he committed the ultimate sin and testified against other cops, gone bad. Cops that tried to kill him but got the woman he loved instead. Framed for murder, now he prowls the badlands, an outlaw hunting outlaws. A bounty hunter. A Renegade.’

With the last two words the backdrop changes to smoke with the Renegade logo flashing through bold as brass, reminiscent of the deep south USA with its metallic eagle snarling at its prey and Mike Post’s energetic theme song kicks in. Reno then bursts through the smoke on his wheels and we’re taken straight to the open road giving the impression that that’s where he’ll be spending a lot of his time. The action doesn’t let up there though, thanks to some quick editing we see Reno wield a huge rifle and pop off a round before cutting to an image of him kicking a door open. More impressions given here, this time that the show is going to be action packed and I’ll talk about the significance of the kick later because right now we’ve already cut to a helicopter chasing Reno, clad in his leather waistcoat as he runs to his next adventure.

This next shot is interesting as it juxtaposes officer Reno Raines with his alter-ego, Vince Black before more quick cutting from a close-up of his smouldering eyes to a metal embossed imprint of the word ‘framed’, because that’s what he’s been, to his mugshot from the wanted poster, which he hides in a saddlebag on his bike. He’s then chased by police dogs and another wanted note goes up in flames to signify he’ll fight like an angry inferno to prove his innocence. There’s more running and a slow motion jump, then a beautiful woman, as the show often turns these up, then there’s a break for a couple of seconds as Reno kicks a man coming up behind on a flight of stairs. I touched upon the kick earlier and it’s important as his signature, and strongest, move is his kick, affectionately dubbed ‘The Reno Kick’ (by me anyway). He uses this to kick down a prison wall early in season one.

After another quick shot of the beautiful woman we return to the stairs where Reno takes down a felon in front of him with an impressive right hook to the jaw, he will often take down more than one opponent at a time in the show. No letting up though as a pistol chamber spins, much like Reno’s wheel of fate then he’s back on his motorcycle, hair flowing in the wind. A look to the camera and another quick fight later brings us to Reno cooling himself down by pouring a tub of water over his exposed torso while leaning against his treasured Harley, incidentally the bike does actually belong to Lorenzo Lamas and is one of his most prized possessions. After another nifty cut from a fight and a dog barking we arrive at his credit and what a shot this is. The camera lingers on our man as he takes an extended glance toward it while wearing a subtle blue shirt on his back and a pout on his face. Then he’s off again, this time down ‘Z’ road and up some stairs to wield a sidearm and check his reflection on a broken shard of glass, then he enjoys another bare-chested refreshment break before a lady poses on a window ledge.

From all this we gather Reno’s a complicated man. Okay he’s strong, 90s good looking and he likes gun play and beautiful women but he’s oppressed, his freedom has been snatched away from him thus making him the underdog and a sympathetic character for us to believe in and boy does he fight the good fight.

Okay, now things get interesting as you’ll notice the music changes key and almost genres as we’re introduced with a bang to Bobby Sixkiller. He evades a baseball bat swung at his temple and delivers a counter punch to his attacker’s midriff then he shows us his lighter side by pretending to shake a man’s hand but pulling away and chuckling at the gag. Oh Bobby you joker. Similar to Reno’s earlier juxtaposition we get one here for Bobby too when we see him as a cool guy with shades on (the best pair of sunglasses he wore were some chunky, colourful Nikes in episode 2.9 ‘Wheel Man’ where Reno becomes a race car driver) compared to his spiritual side which is explored more in episode 1.7 ‘Eye of the Storm’ where he helps Reno take down some prison escapees by getting more attuned to his ancestor’s beliefs. By the way, if you were wondering, Bobby’s special move is the clothesline.

After Bobby comes Kathleen Kinmont but she doesn’t really do much other than look at the camera and stand near some flowers which is a pretty fair representation of her input to the show. Okay, she did some sleuthing early on when she was still on speaking terms with Lamas but in the later seasons she was all but sidelined. Interestingly after season one this was changed slightly as Bobby’s Hummer (which was introduced in season 2, he would drive a huge Winnebago in season 1) was added but Kinmont would come first and Richmond’s title card was changed from ‘Branscombe Richmond’ to ‘and Branscombe Richmond as Bobby Sixkiller’.

Then we’re back to some quick cuts of Reno running, fighting, training, jumping from a great height, doing a roundhouse kick and swinging on a rope while firing another rifle. Then there’s a rattlesnake which is symbolic of the show’s unpredictability as its tongue hisses and its tail rattles angrily and intently ready to strike at anyone or anything in range. The sequence then draws to a close as it started with Reno riding off into the sunset ready to fight off all that comes his way tomorrow. Most episodes end like this too.

Well there it is, a magnificent specimen I’m sure you’ll agree and also a wonderful, and even wistful, look back at 90s television programming, it was loud, proud, brash, colourful, silly, romantic, action-packed, carefree and many other things in excess just like the decade it came from. Then with the 2000s more serious and downright brilliant shows courtesy of HBO were developed and from there the quality of television has snowballed to such an extent that a show such as Renegade is now consigned to a bygone era but no matter how cinematic modern TV is these new shows will never have the spine-tingling impact of that rumbling engine prowling those California roads.

– Greg Foster