What’s Up, Hideous Sun Demon? (1983)

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Comedy redubbing! MGM did it with their “Goofy Movies” in the mid 1930s; 50s US comedian Ernie Kovacs did it in a few TV sketches;  the TV show “Fractured Flickers” did it in the early 60s. But as far as I can tell, the first movie entirely dubbed for comic effect was Woody Allen’s “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” in 1966. A work of genius, the idea was so odd that the movie had Allen appear at the beginning to explain what was going to happen; a Japanese spy thriller was transformed into a story about finding the perfect recipe for egg salad.

 

The internet has turned this sort of thing into a cottage industry, and there are many weak imitators too. But the most notable “joke dub” movies are probably “Ferocious Female Freedom Fighters”; “Hercules Returns” (probably my favourite); “Can Dialectics Break Bricks?”; and “Kung Pow: Enter The Fist”, which goes one step further and digitally inserts writer / star Steve Oedekerk into an old martial arts movie.

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“What’s Up, Hideous Sun Demon?” is a fairly obscure addition to this tiny sub-genre, from 1983. Information is a bit thin on the ground about it – future horror movie writer Craig Mitchell got the complete blessing of Robert Clarke, writer / director / producer / star of a low-budget independent horror movie from 1959 called “Hideous Sun Demon” (aka “Blood On His Lips”), to re-edit, re-dub and generally mess with his movie, to his heart’s content. Mitchell gathered together a group of LA comedians, most notably future TV host Jay Leno, and they made…well, a movie with a surprisingly similar plot to the original.

 

“Call me Ishmael. Ishmael Pivnik” is a fantastic opening line, and I was in stitches through most of the movie. Lord knows why this sense of humour just chimed perfectly with me, but if you’ve agreed with my views on comedy up to now, I feel confident you’ll love this one. Pivnik is a scientist developing a tanning solution that tans you from the inside (weirdly, a plotline ripped off by is-it-racist? Comedy “Soul Man” a few years later), and messes up the formula, using too much plutonium  – he thinks, he’s a pretty poor scientist. Anyway, this turns him into a fairly hideous creature (more Black Lagoon than Sun Demon, but whatever) whenever he’s exposed to the sunlight. He falls in love with a lounge singer, and has a lot of interaction with his…neighbour?…Professor Essor, and the professor’s wife. A bit of action between Mr and Mrs Essor where they do some roleplay to spice up their love life is absolutely hilarious.

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There’s little bits of extra footage here and there when they needed an extra gag – a little old lady’s magazine is replaced with a bondage / S&M publication, and when Ishmael is trying to entice the lounge singer he first puts down a bunch of flowers, then chocolates, then an 18-inch rubber dildo. Stupid, but it works. And they’ll occasionally mess with the footage in other ways, such as running all the driving footage backwards and having Pivnik claim it’s easier.

 

“Sun Demon” sort of gets bored with its own premise towards the end and turns a little girl into a pot-smoking “jive” talker, and her mother into a cyborg killer. It’s this “go anywhere for a joke” idea that’s one of my favourite things about it – the density of gags is truly fantastic. The only slow bit, really, is the open, which was shot specially in 1983 and features a group of college guys slowly gathering round a TV to watch “Hideous Sun Demon” (presumably done to boost the movie to feature length, as it barely scrapes 70 minutes even with this “prologue”).

THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON, Robert Clarke (in doorway), Patricia Manning (second from right), 1959

An interesting thing about “Hideous Sun Demon” is that the original movie is rather well-regarded by some people. It’s claustrophobic, well-acted, and deals with the nuclear panic of the day in an interesting way (okay, the ending is bonkers, but that’s by the by). All the other movies that have been dubbed in this way were rotten; but this was likely picked because it was effectively a home movie – made from whatever money he could scrape together by a studio actor, filmed with his friends on weekends. In the pre-VHS days, it had probably lapsed into obscurity (I’m guessing, like I said, there’s really barely any information about this out there).

 

If you can find it – easier nowadays, there’s a bare-bones DVD available – and you have any love for dubbed movies, I highly recommend watching this. A hidden gem.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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The Circuit (2002)

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I think we’ve reached the ultimate ISCFC movie. In terms of our martial arts reviews, this represents a coming together of elements of almost everything. Let’s list the main names:

Directed by:

Jalal Merhi (“Tiger Claws”, plus he has a cameo and is as terrible as ever)

Starring:

Olivier Gruner (“Nemesis”)

Bryan Genesse (“Screwballs 2: Loose Screws”, “Project Shadowchaser 2”, “Live Wire: Human Timebomb”)

Loren Avedon (“No Retreat: No Surrender 2”, many others)

Billy Drago (“Cyborg 2”, “Karate Cop”)

When I saw the opening credits, I was so excited! What I assumed would be just another “guy avenges dead brother in illicit martial arts tournament” movie would be so much more. What would Merhi do with the director’s chair, and would it be just as crazily incompetent as the acting and producing he did in the “Tiger Claws” trilogy?

Oh, you know he doesn’t disappoint! Olivier Gruner is Dirk Longstreet, a college athletics teacher. His younger brother Jeremy is a student there, and Jeremy’s girlfriend Denise is becoming increasingly unhappy with Jeremy’s disappearances. Dirk has to go and rescue her from a bunch of drunk assholes in a bar, and that’s when he’s seen by Kwan, the undefeated champion of The Circuit (Denise’s friend, even drunker than her, is either Ali Larter or an extremely good lookalike, but I can’t see why an already famous Larter would do an uncredited cameo for Jalal Merhi, so I’m probably wrong).

Genesse is Kwan’s sidekick Vixton Hack, the public face of the Circuit; and Avedon is Detective Sykes, a cop who’s interested in bringing them down. Sykes does absolutely nothing and could comfortably be removed from the movie and cause no problems at all – plus, it’d be a slightly shorter experience. Rounding out the cast is Merhi as the editor of a newspaper (who gets one of his scoops from just watching the TV news, a wonderful moment) and Gail Harris as Nicole Kent, ace investigative reporter and Dirk’s love interest. She’s from Batley, just up the road from where I’m writing this, and her local (to me) accent shines through quite a lot.

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Turns out Dirk is a former champion of The Circuit, undefeated and completely uninjured during his reign, and he’s the only person who’s ever managed to “escape”. Kwan wants to prove his superiority but, knowing Dirk won’t return by being asked politely, sets an oddly complicated plan in motion, which involves Vixton loaning Jeremy money to bet on a fight, then fixing the fight so Jeremy loses, then when Jeremy can’t pay him back forcing him to fight in the Circuit. This plan relies on Jeremy betting against the undefeated Kwan, by the way. It must be said that their plan trails off around here, and the only reason Dirk fights is down to the death of Billy Drago – the crippled trainer who’s secretly a good guy and helps him get ready.

Okay, if you’re reading this site, chances are you’ve seen at least one movie of this sort. Brother dies, hero has to train in order to defeat the villain. Simple, effective, and relatively tough to mess up. “The Circuit”, on the other hand, throws every bit of logic related to this archetype out of the window. Let’s have a go at breaking it down:

Act 1 – introducing the characters, and killing off the “brother”

Act 2 – hero trains in new martial arts style

Act 3 – revenge!

“The Circuit” keeps Jeremy alive, though, and has Drago be the sacrifice, way too close to the end, which leads to the odd image of Dirk training at a point in the movie when he has no real reason to do so. In fact, Dirk could just call the police as soon as he knows where the Circuit is, as his actions past that point have no real impact on how it ends. Also, they spend a decent amount of time at the beginning telling us that Dirk is a basically invincible fighter, so the whole training thing seems a bit on the pointless side, especially given he doesn’t use any of the “new” techniques he’s been taught in the big battle at the end. In case you think I’m being a bit facetious, Drago tells him “you’re using too many punches, we need to train you to do one punch, one knockout”. How many one-punch knockouts do you think feature in the rest of the action? Are you feeling the confusion of watching this movie yet? Act 1 sort of sloppily carries on til past the hour mark, act 2 is pointless and act 3 lasts about five minutes.

We could also talk weird tonal shifts and how they grate with the overall flow of the movie (such as it is). Nicole invites herself over for a “picnic” with Dirk, which inspires a whole scene where Dirk hurriedly cleans his house, set to comedy-style music. Okay, he’s horny, but…he’s in training for a fight to the death to save his brother! Then there’s Kwan, who after every victory…can’t quite believe I’m writing this…does a little Michael Jackson dance. He just killed someone! I get the feeling Merhi was all “yes, this is what normal Americans do”.

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Let’s go deeper. If you get a sport where one team or individual dominates, you run the risk of people getting bored and stopping spending their money on tickets or betting. Observe the Schumacher-dominated years of Formula 1 or any long undefeated period in boxing for an example of this. But not the Circuit, apparently! Kwan dominates (via cheating, which the opening credits handily gives us a clue about) and if I was going to a show, I’d just bet on him. I wouldn’t win a lot, but I’d definitely win, and if everyone did the same, the Circuit would be out of business immediately. Kwan’s fights also seem crazily one-sided, to the point I wrote down “who’s paying money and risking arrest to go and see this?”

I haven’t even talked about the fighting yet! It’s a relatively early example of MMA being used instead of just straight kung-fu or kickboxing, so Gruner does grapples and submission moves…it’s not terrible, and Gruner is decent. But the fights are all shot identically and don’t advance the story (most of the fights don’t even feature cast members, oddly); and they don’t even have Avedon or Genesse (both excellent screen fighters) kick any ass! But they did hire Bruce Buffer, the UFC announcer, to do the same job for the Circuit, which was a fun idea (even if Buffer’s introductions sounded like they were written by a crazy person and his phrasing was bizarre).

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Mix up some bad action, terrible acting, and a plot that makes less than no sense, and you’ve got yourself a winner. And we’ve got two sequels to look forward to!

Rating: thumbs up

Split Second (1992)

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This is another “video shop classic”, one of those movies that always seemed to be on the shelves of little video shops, a guaranteed good time if you couldn’t find anything else to rent. From the mid 80s to the early 00s, we lucky people got to pick from the finest the world had to offer – which usually meant a couple of shelves of new releases and loads of cheap, ugly looking guff. One of the signs that you might be on to a winner is the presence of Rutger Hauer, and with the decent-sized budgets you could get for B-movies back then, all signs were positive.

 

What we have here is the very height of the global warming panic. While we’re still determined to kill our planet off, it would seem, no-one’s panicking about it any more, but back then we gave a damn and there were lots of movies and TV shows that dealt with the potential environmental devastation. Set in 2008, it must have seemed horribly believable, as 40 days of torrential rain have left huge areas of London under a few feet of water; plus, the smog has caused a permanent twilight (handy when you can only film at night but need to do stuff that’s happening in the daytime). Unfortunately, a serial killer who tears out hearts is operating in London, and only one man can stop the killings.

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Hauer is Harley Stone, perhaps the most amazing amalgam of hard-bitten cop clichés ever assembled on film. He’s a recovering alcoholic, and exists, according to the captain, on “anxiety, coffee and chocolate”. He never cleans his apartment, to the extent it would be pretty difficult to have that filthy a home and never do anything about it, and has a lovely complicated backstory. He had an affair with his partner’s wife Michelle, then his partner was killed by that same serial killer who Stone was unable to catch, then he dumped Michelle soon after! He’s got a gigantic gun that’s not regulation, of course, and is the bane of his captain’s existence. There are so many ludicrous elements to his character that it has to be a joke, a parody of how these things normally go, and it’s handled marvellously by Hauer. My favourite bit is him storming down a corridor at the police station, and shouting “outta my way, you fucks!”…at his co-workers.

 

The rest of the cast are a combination of British character actors and a few American imports. Playing his new partner, the super-smart Dick Durkin, is Neil Duncan; the captain is Alun Armstrong and the duty sergeant and main Stone-hater is Pete Postlethwaite. Michelle shows up halfway through and even though I saw her name on the opening credits, it’s still a surprise to see Kim Cattrall in something like this. A couple of small roles for Ian Dury and Michael J Pollard, and you’ve got yourself (by relative standards) an extremely strong cast.

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It’s a serial killer thriller set in the near future, basically, with – I guess – a small intimation that it’s some sort of modern incarnation of Jack The Ripper. When they get sent a heart in the mail and discover that the bite marks look like nothing more than a gigantic rat, though, things start to get very curious indeed. Stone, thanks to a series of scars inflicted by the creature while trying to save his partner, has some sort of psychic link, and there’s a whole thing about the creature stealing DNA from its victims and never leaving a job undone, which is why he’s slowly chasing down Stone. But a lot of the movie is just the fun of setting a fairly standard cops-chase-the-killer thriller in a strange environment.

 

Of course, no-one’s ever going to mistake this for a classic. But an awful lot of the reviews seem to think the over-the-top-ness of it all is an accident and should be mocked; and discount the surprisingly decent comedy between Stone, Durkin and Michelle (one scene between Hauer and Duncan had Duncan corpsing, but Hauer held it together so well they decided to keep it in the movie). The arc of Durkin, from super straight-laced partner to Stone mk 2, is both completely obvious and very well-done. Plus, Kim Cattrall is really good in this – it’s sort of easy to forget with her more famous roles that she has some decent range, and does really well here.

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“Well, Satan is in deep shit”. If he’s got Rutger Hauer with a grenade powerful enough to destroy a city block to contend with, then you’d better believe it.  A film packed with ridiculous one-liners, aware of how silly it is at every juncture and absolutely tons of fun. Always nice to see a science-fiction action movie set in London, too (and really filmed there, at least in part). A surprising amount of movie in this movie, too – at the point most B-movies would be wrapping things up, there’s still half an hour to go. Plus, if you can tell me why the movie’s called “Split Second”, I’ll give you a prize. Honestly.

 

It was directed by the same bloke who made the very early Miramax movie “The Burning”, this and very little else, Tony Maylam; however, writer Gary Scott Thompson is a more interesting fella. He was producer and writer on TV show “Las Vegas”, showrunner on the new “Knight Rider”, and wrote “The Fast And The Furious”, which means depending on the contract he signed, he’s a very rich man indeed.

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Rating: thumbs up

Return Fire – Jungle Wolf 2 (1988)

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This movie features two of our favourite things – Ron Marchini and confusing numbering. Ron is the un-actor behind “Omega Cop” and “Ninja Warriors”, a real tournament martial artist who saw the success of his old opponent Chuck Norris, went “I could do that”, and did so for ten years. It’s labelled “Jungle Wolf 2” despite being the third movie where Marchini plays Steve Parrish, after “Forgotten Warrior” and “Jungle Wolf”. As precisely none of this movie is set in the jungle, “Forgotten Warrior 3” might have been a better title; although maybe “Jungle Wolf” was a success which is why they were exploiting the name? Oh, and for extra confusion there’s a “Jungle Wolf 3” from several years after this, where Marchini plays a different character entirely.

 

We are helpfully reminded of the end of “Jungle Wolf”, where Steve is hired by the Government to rescue the American ambassador and did so, only to be abandoned at the end (the rescue helicopter flies off with the ambassador and leaves him there) for absolutely no reason whatsoever. We’re told that apparently Steve messed up the mission, even though…how? Did he kill too many bad guys? Was he too awesome? The last shot of the last movie was Steve drawing his sword to face a few remaining bad guys, and the first shot of this movie is…Steve arriving on a boat into San Fransisco! Who cares about finding out how he escaped?

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Now, right from the beginning we’re aware that Steve is under surveillance from his old boss Carruthers (Adam West in his wilderness years – he must have liked Marchini as he also showed up in “Omega Cop”). Steve is attacked in a mall, which is not the only similarity this movie shares with “Commando”, and sees as he leaves the beautiful Teri, obviously there to spy on him. Anyway, persons unknown kidnap Steve’s son Zak, kill the guy who’s been looking after him while Steve’s been away – he couldn’t use a long distance phone call to let them know he was alright, for some reason – and then Carruthers tells Steve that Central American drug kingpin Petroli has kidnapped Zak due to all the killing he did down there in the last movie. What relationship a group of freedom fighters would have to a drug smuggler is a plot point sadly never resolved.

 

But I don’t want to just recap every bit of “Return Fire”. Basically, the only person who doesn’t want Steve dead is Teri (played by Lynn O’Brien, whose entire acting career is this and an episode of “Knot’s Landing”. She was good too, well, better than anyone else in this, which isn’t exactly the same thing), so she helps him rescue his son and fight back against both the evil people inside the CIA and the drug smugglers. It’s all a little confusing to tell the truth, and it’s not helped by way too much of things being action scenes that aren’t all that exciting and don’t move the plot along – yes, it’s another group of overweight, ugly goons tracking Steve down to yet another abandoned warehouse!

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It’s a good old pile of action movie clichés with an unusually wooden performance at its core, though. There’s the beautiful agent who realises she’s on the wrong side; the former boss turned villain; the “I just want to see my son”; the one last job; and so on. You know the drill, and this movie will not disappoint you if you’re playing some weird game of cliché bingo with your friends. And much like the rest of Marchini’s output, it’s pretty entertaining too, being almost the definition of “action packed”, and Adam West realises just how silly this all is and has a good time with his role.

 

But, there’s too much action and not enough plot. There are so many fight scenes that mean nothing, because we’ve not really established who the characters are or why they’re fighting. The subplot with Teri is seemingly abandoned at the end, and from a line of dialogue from Carruthers I must have missed her getting killed? I think a much more accurate name for this series would be “Dead Love Interest”, if that’s the case, as Ron is 3-for-3 so far. There are other ways to generate sympathy for your character, Ron!

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Add a sprinkle of some truly rotten acting (Steve’s old friend at the CIA is spectacular) and the dumbest goons in the history of goon-dom, and you’ve got yourself a movie. Perhaps a few stiff drinks and a group of friends would help this go down smoother, as it was a little rough for me on my own. Let’s get together again for the last Jungle Wolf movie soon, yes?

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Black Forest (2012)

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This could, I think, be the most average SyFy Channel original movie ever. It’s certainly got an interesting central idea, even if it was probably kicked into action by the then-upcoming “Grimm” TV series; but everything else about it is the personification of a shrug. But you, dear reader, rely on me to give you more than just a few lines, so let’s discuss “Black Forest”.

 

A group of tourists are in Germany, and thanks to Cazmar (Ben Cross, “Star Trek”), a rather silver-tongued tour guide, get on a bus and go for a tour of locations mentioned in the stories of the Brothers Grimm, who were really in tune with blah blah blah. There’s a stone circle, real fairies, and babies getting stolen; instead of calling the cavalry, they decide to go for a sleep in a big house nearby, and the au pair for the couple that just lost their kid is eaten by…seven odd looking fat “children”? I know basically nothing about the Grimm Fairy Tales, so apologies if I mention one of their famous stories by accident without realising what I’m doing.

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So we get a variety of responses to the world of magic – from “these stones are ley lines” to “they’re just stones” to “look at the fairy magic” to “well, it’s a nice view from up there”. A little on the obvious side, but it’s a very simple and effective way to generate a bit of conflict. Then the magic started happening thick and fast, with our characters having to behave with a very fairy-tale-esque mindset, and I lost my interest a bit. There’s a very obviously gay couple, but for some reason the less camp of the two goes out of his way to state that they’re just friends (very few gay characters in SyFy Channel movies, now I think about it); a banker and his family; their au pair; and…I’m not sure what the last guy was all about, now I try to remember across the enormous gulf of 24 hours.

 

I find my skills, such as they are, are best when used against very good or very bad movies. Films like this, which appear to have been made by a computer whose sole parameter was to not offend anyone at all, is impossible to review. They didn’t care about it, so why should I? Once again, I roll out the ISCFC’s Theory Of Indifference – SyFy need material cheap enough to allow them to make a profit from selling advertising. They absolutely don’t care what it is or if it’s any good or not, and nor do the advertisers. The producers have a set amount of time and money, and know that if the film’s good, bad or indifferent, it makes no difference. People watching it are either like me (hipster scumbag film reviewers) or people who thought it would be marginally better than staring at a wall for 2 hours, thus the Indifference Theory creates another film enjoyed by no-one (not the people who made it, paid for it or watched it). I will hopefully have forgotten it in a few days, and this review will drift into the ether, to the delight of no-one, in much the same way as the movie did.

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And that’s about all I can say on “Black Forest”. I couldn’t even summon up the energy to mock the academically bereft idea of tracking ancient megalithic structures to astronomical constellations, something that’s been debunked so often and so loudly that to trot it out again is…see, I can summon up some emotion about this movie, shame it’s negative.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Body Shop (aka Deadly Memories) (2002)

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As you may have read a few days ago, I’m pretty excited about the release of “Shark Exorcist” in June from the wonderful people at Wild Eye Releasing. I am a little frightened for those people who’ve never seen any Donald Farmer movies, though, getting caught up in some post-Sharknado hype and picking it up, only to discover it’s…well, a Donald Farmer movie, with all the wonderful highs and insane lows that name brings to mind. His movies aren’t for the faint of heart!

 

This is the last commercially available Farmer movie we could find, though, until “Shark Exorcist” comes out, so we’ll take what we can get. But…it throws you off from the very beginning, by billing itself in big letters as “a Phillip Newman film”. What? Well, Mr. Newman is the star, but on top of that is the co-writer and producer; I’m going to take a wild guess and say that he either funded or secured the funding for it himself, perhaps alongside co-star and co-producer LP Brown III – their less-than-stellar careers give credence to this theory. If Newman produced, co-wrote and starred in it, then I’m sure he saw it as “his” movie. One quite extraordinary thing, for Farmer-holics at least, is 35mm! Yes, it’s shot on real film, and everything is lit appropriately – almost unheard of. It’s strange how much easier it is to watch something when it’s not fuzzy and washed-out looking. Perhaps it’s something we ought to thank Newman for?

 

Much like almost every Donald Farmer movie, though, the plot is a rich stew of oddity and will hopefully be as entertaining to read about as it was frustrating to watch. Art (Newman) runs a body shop, and one day is a little late to drive his wife and daughter to church. At the same time as he’s getting ready to go, a group of three ne’er do wells (one of whom is Tina Krause, last seen by us in Farmer’s “An Erotic Vampire In Paris” and actually appears able to act here) beat the crap out of a store owner (B-movie legend Robert Z’Dar, “Samurai Cop”, the “Maniac Cop” series) before driving off at speed.

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Well, they cause Art’s car to have to swerve to avoid them, and what looks to the viewer like a minor incident on a mild incline becomes a huge catastrophe (referred to as driving off a cliff later in the movie). The car blows up, the wife is killed, and the daughter is left in a coma; Art, severely injured, sees the villains as they stop to see the carnage they’ve caused, before running away.

 

It’s about now that the main issue with the movie becomes horribly apparent. Farmer’s movies usually clock in around 70 minutes, and pack enough lunacy into those minutes to fill two normal movies. This, on the other hand, is 108 minutes long and feels like 208 – it’s not so much that nothing happens, just nothing particularly interesting. Anyway, flash to two years later, and Art is still running the shop, and thanks to his Christian faith has remained a decent, caring man – this stretches to him giving a job to an old friend, Billy Ray (Brown III) who has a job lined up at a glass plant, but it doesn’t start for a few months.

 

I was convinced with the number of pipe shots to the head he took, Z’Dar was dead, but it appears not, and we get re-introduced to him as he drives past a familiar-looking woman by the side of the road. He remembers what happens and goes to tell Art (who he’s never met before, but knows about) just where one of his wife’s killers is. You get revenge or I will, is the message. Art picks her up and offers her a place for the night, as he can’t fix her car til the morning; then, after a really long and completely gratuitous shower scene – you don’t hire Tina Krause for one of your movies and ask her to keep her clothes on, it would seem – she’s killed by a chap wearing a welder’s mask. But not just killed – she’s tied down and spray-painted to death! That is a first, I must admit.

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Can you tolerate the subplot with the woman from Human Services who wants to take his daughter into a proper medical environment? What about the loud and obnoxious customer who comes in and has a conversation that goes on for ever, purely to set up his violent murder about an hour of screen time later? What about Billy Ray and his utterly implausible relationship with the much younger, beautiful Amy (Rachael Robbins)? The thing about good subplots is they give you a greater sense of character depth…guess where I’m going with this…but these do nothing. You could take all of them out of the movie and the end result would be positive. Hell, turn the Human Services lady into a potential love interest for Art, she can serve the same role as Amy does at the end, and you’ve just saved yourself 10 minutes. If I had to guess, I’d say Amy was in the movie because Brown III wanted to have a sex scene with her, and for no other reason.

 

The killer wears a mask, so you know right away he’s not the most obvious candidate (Art). But, Newman clearly heard about red herrings before starting the writing process, so he drops them all over the place, just not skilfully enough to fool anyone. Is it William Smith, the local sheriff who wants to capture the people who committed that horrible crime in his town? Is it Z’Dar? Could it be a double-bluff and really be Art? All this does is just waste more time. What would have been nice is if they’d shown us people getting murdered! You might remember the instruction the producer of “Friday The 13th: A New Beginning” gave to the director, that he should ensure there was a shock, scare, or kill every 7 or 8 minutes – somewhat prescriptive, but it’s good to have something to aim for. This 108 minute movie has a body count of six (including the wife at the beginning and the killer at the end), and no shocks or scares whatsoever; and they have the temerity to do a “what happened next” thing after the end, where they tell you “this guy retired, and this other guy became sheriff”. Huh?

 

Trust good ol’ Donald Farmer to find yet another new way to baffle his viewing public. It’s slow, thoroughly confusing, incompetently acted (even if I came to a grudging admiration for Newman by the end) and features a few scenes which feel so specifically odd that they must have been fever dreams – take, for instance, the death of the other two car-killers. They’re in the middle of an otherwise empty canyon, the guy watching the girl on a trampoline, before our killer takes them out with a bazooka! It’s handy he’s got plenty of ammo for it, as he’s a lousy shot. Not one thing about the scene makes a lick of sense, and I love it.

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It’s just too long, though. It could have been easily wrapped up in 75 minutes, maybe 80, so when all three of the killers are dead, and you see there’s still nearly half an hour to go, the only possible response is “why?” Still, I do love a good redneck revenge movie, and it’s nice to see Farmer trying his hand at something completely different, this late in his career.

 

Rating: thumbs down

 

PS – I tried, rather carefully I think, to avoid spoiling the big reveal of who the villain is, but watching the trailer in order to get some screenshots, they not only give the twist away completely, but show the last scene of the movie! Should you wish to have the ending ruined for you too, here it is:

 

Tales Of Halloween (2015)

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Nothing says late March like a Halloween movie! We have the enormous good will built up by Mike Mendez with “Big Ass Spider!” and “Lavalantula” to thank for us watching this movie – he directed one of the segments in this, which is our first proper portmanteau / horror anthology movie. I mean, we suffered through “Red Lips: Eat The Living”, but that doesn’t count because it was so terrible it made me want to invent a time machine so I could go back and stop all movies from being made, ever.

 

Anyway, producer Axelle Carolyn had the idea, so she assembled a decent crew of actors and directors – most prominently Neil Marshall, but he is married to her so it was probably an easy “get”. Ten different stories, billed as “interlocking” but not really (it’s not much more than the star of one segment being in the background of another), are they any good?

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I’m not going to list the ten stories, because you could just go to Wikipedia for that stuff. Also, I’ve just looked at it myself, 24 hours later, and I can’t remember one of the segments. It must have really been no good! Anyway, the first is “Sweet Tooth”, about a neighbourhood legend of a kid who had his candy stolen by his parents, so killed them and turned into a monster, who must be appeased every Halloween with the gift of candy outside your door. This is the segment which features the return of Greg Grunberg and Clare Kramer as their characters from “Big Ass Spider!”, and…I wish they’d not bothered, for their 20 seconds on screen and the exceedingly miserable “end” to their story.

 

The only good segments were the ones that had a beginning, middle and end, non-coincidentally enough: “Ding Dong” (about a man discovering the evil witch spirit that lives in his wife); “The Ransom Of Rusty Rex” (a couple of criminals kidnap a millionaire’s son, only to discover he’s a bit different); and the last, Marshall-directed segment, “Bad Seed”, about a killer pumpkin. The others were little more than fragments, really.

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Think of the classic horror anthology movies – “Creepshow”, “Dead Of Night”, “Tales From The Crypt” and “Cat’s Eye”, for instance. What did they all have in common? Well, they didn’t have ten segments, for one thing. Five stories seems like a limit (and most of them have only three or four), because when you’re getting into the single figures of minutes for your story, something serious is going to have to be jettisoned, and with most of the stories from “Tales Of Halloween”, that something is the endings. And the “why is this happening?” parts.

 

I feel bad being down on this. It looks great with strong special effects, and I like the cast (as well as Grunberg and Kramer, there’s Barry Bostwick as the devil, standup Dana Gould, Lin Shaye, Joe Dante and John Landis). It just seems like a pointless experiment, and answers that critical question “can you make an effective horror short film that lasts five minutes?” with a definitive “no”. One of the more positive reviews talks about the “EC Comics” attitude, but with their stories, you always knew why the characters were getting the punishment they got, but this asks you to fill in too many blanks. Oh, and the one movie based explicitly on EC stories – “Tales From The Crypt” – had five segments and gave them all chance to breathe.

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Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

Police Academy (1984)

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Now, this is a little outside our normal wheelhouse here at the ISCFC. “Police Academy” was hugely successful, spawning 6 sequels, an animated series and a live-action series; plus, it’s a comedy, with no monsters in it. But, there’s quite a lot to talk about – well, for the first movie, anyway. I think I’ll just do one long review for all the sequels, as…there’s not an enormous amount of difference. The characters and their comedy tics are the same, the plots are largely the same (an hour of academy-based hijinks, half an hour of saving the day), and it’s definitely diminishing returns as the series goes on. But we don’t need to talk about how miserable “Mission To Moscow” was just yet!

 

It’s a beautifully simple premise for a movie. The Mayor decides that the stringent entrance criteria for the police force are to be removed, and a whole lot of people decide to sign up – most prominently for our tale are George Martin, a Hispanic fella who has five girlfriends; Eugene Tackleberry, a gun-obsessive who presumably failed the mental exam for the Army; Leslie Barbara, the fat loser (a character type I’m glad the movies don’t have quite as much any more); Moses Hightower, the 6’7” monster with super-strength but a heart of gold;  Laverne Hooks, the extremely timid one; and Douglas Fackler, the extremely accident-prone sort-of-douchebag who drives to the academy with his wife hanging on to the hood of the car, demanding he stop.

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I’m spending a lot of time on the characters, because this will come in useful later, and they’re all rather lovely little comedy archetypes. On the police side of things, we’ve got bumbling Commandant Lassard; extremely evil Lieutenant Harris; and the inscrutable and beautiful Sergeant Callahan. Plus, of course, our star Carey Mahoney and his best mate Larvell Jones. Mahoney has been arrested (again) for parking a rich asshole’s car on its side, and is given a choice by a friendly captain of prison or the Police Academy. As he’s sat waiting in the lockup, he meets Jones, and the two of them get on immediately and Mahoney decides to help his new buddy out by getting him off his charge and into the academy too.

 

Mahoney is told he can’t quit, but he can be thrown out; the Chief of Police tells Commandant Lassard that he can’t throw anyone out (as it would be bad for publicity), but needs to make them quit. From this central conflict has sprouted the Police Academy franchise! In this first movie, where the family-friendly groove the series got into was not yet in effect, there’s boobs and swearing, perhaps even a smidgeon of mild drug use; but there’s a couple of extra threads that conspire to show that 1984 was not quite as modern and forward-thinking as you might have assumed.

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Is racism bad when the villain is doing it? One of the two evil recruits says, on arrival at the academy, “there’s a lot of spades here”; then later on, when Timid Recruit runs over his toes during a driving test, he screams “you dumb fat jigaboo!” Now, he’s immediately punished by Hightower, but it really shouldn’t just be the gigantic black guy who’s upset by this sort of talk. I know, light comedy and all, but I can’t imagine black people who didn’t have freakishly strong and violent friends were all that thrilled about watching the “decent” white cast just let this happen around them. And the words themselves! Straight out of some 70s thriller, not a mainstream broad comedy.

 

But the most famous, the image that will pop into your head if you ask them about “Police Academy” being dodgy, is homophobia and the “Blue Oyster” bar. When the evil recruits are trying to find out where the others are having a party, Mahoney directs them to the Blue Oyster, where they’re immediately trapped / surrounded by a room full of stereotypical leather daddies. Forced to dance with the gents all night – with the “dancing” clearly standing for something a little more earthy – they’re seen the next morning, clearly badly shaken and insisting nothing happened. How to even process it? Okay, the gay guys aren’t effete pushovers, so at the very least I guess there’s that…but it’s the implication that they live entirely apart from the rest of society (no matter what time of day or night, the Blue Oyster is full to capacity) and are solely interested in raping whoever comes through the door – none of them have a word of dialogue, of course.

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There’s a reference to the Blue Oyster in the recent “Lavalantula”, as Guttenberg says “I liked that place” upon hearing news it’d closed down. It feels like a very subtle apology, but…I don’t know. You can still enjoy the movie by ignoring that section, I suppose. But these two things – racist and homophobic elements when there’s no need for either – make it feel a lot older than 1984, like bizarre relics of the 60s and 70s, and are so old-fashioned that I imagine most kids watching this for the first time would have no idea what they were meant.

 

Even as annoyed as I was with those segments, they’re small parts of what is still a great film (bear in mind I’ve loved this since I was a kid, other opinions are definitely acceptable). There’s a reason it spawned so many sequels and is still beloved today, to the extent that, for example, “Tackleberry” is now a standard word in the private security industry for a gun nut); the jokes come thick and fast and are of a pretty high quality. They lucked into a great leading man with Steve Guttenberg, and while none of the other cast members are anything like as strong as him, they fill their mostly one-dimensional roles with gusto. All, that is, except Michael Winslow as Jones, the human sound-effect device. His part was written specifically for him after the producers saw his stage act, and they did a pretty poor job of integrating him into the movie – think of the number of times he’s just doing sounds for the benefit of nobody. There’s one scene where he’s doing all the sound effects for a video game, holding a pretend controller…and there’s no-one there. He comes across as a lunatic who’s followed Mahoney to police academy because he’s got nothing better to do.

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So far, the series stopped in 1994, with a TV series in the late 90s. Plans to reboot it have been going on for over a decade, but I’m sort of glad they never came to fruition. Firstly, there’s a police comedy on TV right now which, while excellent, is doing poorly in the ratings (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”); and secondly, police comedies are a tough sell with the many many stories of police brutality and even murder by police officers. A knockabout comedy in this style would probably not go down all that well.

 

Rating: thumbs up