Hard Target (1993)

This is perhaps a bit too big and polished for us to review here at the ISCFC – directed by John Woo before he became a Chinese government propagandist, hefty budget, people you’ve heard of in starring roles – but they made a “sequel” last year starring Scott Adkins, and we love Scott Adkins, so we decided to watch this again for fun. If you’re a reader of this site, I’d be genuinely surprised if you’d not already seen it, so let’s take a wander through a real B-movie classic.

The presence of the cajun subculture in the USA is a huge boon to Jean-Claude Van Damme, who’s played one in multiple movies so he doesn’t have to hide his accent. He’s played characters like “Luc Devereaux” (the Universal Soldier series), “Frenchy”, “Philip Sauvage”, “Kyle LeBlanc” and here he’s “Chance Boudreaux”, the former soldier and now semi-drifter who’s brought into the orbit of Natasha “Nat” Binder (Yancy Butler, whose struggles with alcoholism aged her rather significantly so looks weirdly young here) pretty much by accident.

Nat is in New Orleans looking for her father, who she lost touch with many years ago. He was a former soldier who found life after the service to be difficult and slipped into a subculture of homelessness and infrequent labour; I’d say the movie had something interesting to say about how countries treat their soldiers but it’s all over the place politically, being vehemently anti-union too (the cop who helps them out, eventually, is the only scab as the rest of the police department is on strike).

We saw, though, from the first scene, that her father was killed by a group of scumbag “hunters”, led by Lance Henriksen with support from Arnold Vosloo (two actors with many, many ISCFC credits between them). Yes, it’s “The Most Dangerous Game” once again, as reviewed by us in “Death Chase”, “The Condemned” and “The Condemned 2”, “The Eliminator”, “Turkey Shoot”, “Deadly Run”, “Deadly Prey”, “Immortal Combat”, and probably a few others I’ve forgotten (as well as literally hundreds of movies we’ve not got round to covering yet), where wealthy people with an inexplicable desire to literally murder the underclass they’ve already successfully exploited pay a group of villains to help them hunt a person.

The cold open is one of these scenes, and it immediately poses a question. How excited would you be if your heavily armed, rested, well-trained group shot a completely defenceless, exhausted man? Because they all seem way too pleased at what they’ve done. Perhaps actual hunters are like that when they shoot a deer or whatever. “Look at me! I can kill things!”

But this is John Woo, who knows how to make an exciting action movie without too much rubbish in it, so it’s packed with incident. One of the friendly homeless former servicemen is picked as the next victim of the hunt, the villains discuss how they wait for a place to have problems (like a police strike, or a war) to move in and ply their trade undisturbed by the authorities, and Chance, Kat and the cop work their way through the underbelly of New Orleans to find what happened to Kat’s dad.

You know, of course, it’s going to be JCVD as the subject of the hunt at some point, but they don’t give it to us immediately because they have a plot and actors who can act and a budget and all the other things that ISCFC movies are almost always lacking. You want to see him kick a bunch of ass, and he does. There’s a combination of JCVD’s brilliant fight scenes of the time and Woo’s gun-battle expertise (Woo didn’t usually have a lot of hand-to-hand in his classic movies, if memory serves), and there’s rarely a dull moment.

Ted “brother of Sam” Raimi pops up in a brief cameo as a douchebag, and I was all “huh?” Then I checked the credits and Sam Raimi is one of the producers, along with Robert Tapert (the two of them have produced pretty much all Sam’s movies). How the hell did that happen?

Okay, I know how it happened, but it’s still a bit of a “huh?” answer. Due to John Woo’s limited command of English, Raimi was hired to oversee the production and take over direction if Woo was unable to direct the English crew. Makes sense until you think, why Sam Raimi? A possible answer is that he and Van Damme were thinking of working on another movie together a few years previously, and had perhaps become friends; given Van Damme’s cosmic-sized ego, maybe they wanted a friend on set in case he tried to take things over? I’d like to see a Raimi commentary on “Hard Target”, definitely.

I’ve not even mentioned Wilford Brimley and his super-unconvincing cajun accent; the scene where JCVD punches out a snake; or even the plot of the second half of the movie. Van Damme gets upset over the killing of his old friend Roper, the saintly homeless soldier who supplies the main cast with most of their information, and goes after Henriksen; he then offers some former clients the chance to hunt the ultimate prey for $750,000. Although after he shoots the first hunter for not being violent enough, if I was one of the other three guys, I’d have packed my guns up and gone home. Perhaps why I’m not a psychopath, maybe?

It’s a glorious movie, I reckon. All Woo’s trademarks are there – the doves, the slow motion, the bullet ballet – but it’s filtered through our favourite lunatic Belgian action hero. Apparently, Woo’s original cut was almost two hours long and focused much more on Henriksen (he and Arnold Vosloo, as his assistant, are fantastic together and I wish they’d done a lot more as a team) so JCVD and his editor locked themselves in a room for two days and cut it to the length we see now. I would love to see that version!

Every day where I don’t find out that Van Damme was a massive sex-pest in his prime is a good day; so I can still enjoy his classic movies, when studios gave him a budget, great co-stars and high-end directors (see also: Timecop, which we’ll cover soon). A true blending of Woo’s sensibilities with his star’s abilities, one of the great action movies of the era.

Rating: thumbs up

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Night Of The Demons (2009)

The period of about 2005 to 2012 saw the great horror remaking, as studios, desperate for cash and bereft of original ideas as always, decided to raid their intellectual properties and hope a few fans of the originals wandered into the multiplex. A (probably incomplete) list – “Friday The 13th”, “Halloween”, “A Nightmare On Elm Street”, “My Bloody Valentine”, “April Fools Day”, “Children Of The Corn”, “The Hills Have Eyes”, “Day Of The Dead”, “Dawn Of The Dead”, “Fright Night”, “Silent Night, Deadly Night”, “Prom Night”, “Black Christmas” and “The Stepfather”; to that we can add this, when the originals were so obscure I completely forgot about them the last time I did this list, in November of last year. Of those, the only two worth the slightest bit of a damn are “Fright Night” and “Dawn Of The Dead”, although neither of them are close to as good as their originals; let’s see how this one does.

Actually, as the original “Night Of The Demons” was terrible, this is easily better than it, without still being all that fantastic. One trait it shares with another remake, “Prom Night”, is to be so completely different to its original that the choice to use its name must have been solely monetary – when they throw in a few random bits of continuity as the movie goes on, it’s sort of a surprise as you’ll forget quite quickly that the two are in any way related.

In a stylistic similarity with the original trilogy, we get a cold open of people getting murdered in demon-y ways, this time from 1926 (with the footage meant to look like it’s from that era). It’s the Broussard House, in New Orleans – neither the same name or town as the originals – and in the current day, it’s about to be rented out by a local entrepreneur, who needs this night to be a success in order to save herself and her cat from living on the streets.

There are people you’ll recognise in this movie! The entrepreneur, Angela (same name, same sort of character arc, I guess) is Shannon Elizabeth, of “American Pie” fame; one of the three beautiful young women who know Angela and are preparing to attend her event is Monica Keena (“Dawson’s Creek”, “Freddy vs. Jason”). The local drug dealer who needs some sales at the party to keep his supplier from killing him is Edward Furlong (“Terminator 2”). A brief aside: Furlong has had what sounds like a messed up life, chewed up by Hollywood as a young kid, but…anyway, he and Keena met on the set of this, and began a relationship which is still apparently dragging along today, despite his multiple arrests for domestic violence and substance abuse issues. Sad story.

What’s interesting is how packed the house is with party-goers, making me think this was going to be a real bloodbath; but then for absolutely no reason, cops appear and break things up, leaving the seven main cast members. I have to assume cops in New Orleans have better things to do on Halloween than break up perfectly peaceful house parties, but then I could be wrong. When Furlong and Elizabeth find a hidden door which leads to a sub-basement with a group of very old dead bodies in it, and when she puts her finger in the mouth of one of them, she gets bit and we’re on for another demonism-is-passed-on-via-blood-or-saliva epic.

Because we’ve established kissing can pass on the curse, we’re treated to a number of girl-on-girl scenes, because of course – although one of them ends with a girl getting her face ripped off, which is a fresh take on it. Plus, something for the trailer! (I haven’t seen the trailer, but I’d bet every penny I’ve ever earned one of those scenes is in it).

90 SECONDS LATER EDIT: I was right 😦

It’s not bad, if we’re being honest. Elizabeth is vastly better than Amelia Kinkade as the Angela character, mixing sexy and scary in a much more interesting way. Keena is a genuinely brilliant Final Girl and I wish her career had gone better than it has, and the rest of the cast are all fine, with Furlong having the sunken eyes of an actual drug addict to go along with playing a sleazy drug dealer. The effects are decent, even if they’re a bit too heavy on the CGI and a bit too light on the practical stuff.

The story even makes sense, of a sort. They explain why the house is cursed, and why the seven people there are all doomed, and why Halloween is important (even if it’s a silly reason, they at least bother to give one). All things that improve on the original. And it’s got a light tone without being too wacky, with Keena getting some nicely comic moments.

I even liked the few little bits of continuity – like Linnea Quigley making a brief cameo showing her ass in the same outfit she wore in part 1, although the trick-or-treaters look pleased and not horrified as she’s about the same age as their grandparents. The bit where one of the women shoved a lipstick tube into her boob also makes an unwelcome return! The Angela character treating everyone else to a dance scene was fun too, but there was an even deeper cut. Parts 1-3 all used the same Evil Dead-inspired scene of an unseen force rushing up on the unsuspecting teens. This one ripped off a different part of the Evil Dead, where they trap a possessed person in the cellar and desperately try to hold the trapdoor closed.

There’s even a link to ISCFC legend Donald Farmer, as the woman who’s working the door for the party (and steals all the cash when the party is broken up) is Tiffany Shepis, the extremely busy actress who was in his “Chainsaw Cheerleaders”. And she was in “Sharknado 2”, and “Tromeo and Juliet”, I guess.

I could have lived without the extreme use of handheld cameras towards the end, as it achieved nothing but making me feel a bit sick. And there’s a weird return for one of our least favourite bad movie tropes, “haha all our friends are dead”. But this is fairly small potatoes.

It’s okay! Nice moments, nothing to get too excited about but fun nontheless. I prefer part 2 of the original trilogy, but it’s much better than the original part 1 and if you ever see it on a low-end cable channel one evening, you could do a lot worse.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

Night Of The Demons 3 (1997)

Night Of The Demons draws to a close with a puzzling entry, a movie whose sole likeable or relatable character is one of the all-time great cliches – a cop with a couple of hours to go before retirement. Everyone else is utterly repellent and you’re delighted when Angela gets going and starts killing them all off; not delighted enough to make it an enjoyable experience, but you take what you can get.

Much like part 2, this has a cold open where someone unrelated to the main plot is murdered by Angela, just in case there was any doubt about whether she was alive or not. At least they don’t pretend the “death” from the previous instalment is anything more than a mild inconvenience.

The fodder for this cannon is a group of people off to a Halloween party. Now, I presume you’ve been to a few parties in your time, dear reader, and have even shared a van with a group of merry-makers – but if you’re so hostile to your “friends” that you choke one, and then inspire one of the others to hold a knife to your throat, I’d think about getting a different group of friends. It’s been a couple of days and I’m struggling to remember any of them – there’s Hostile Curtainhead; Dopey Curtainhead (referring to their ultra-90s haircuts); Woman; Black Guy; and Jason Patric lookalike. Seriously, that’s about as much characterisation as any of them deserve, and their banter in these scenes is absolutely pitiful – blame part 1’s director Kevin Tenney, returning here as writer / editor / “creative consultant”.

After picking up a couple of girls whose car broke down, things go to hell really quickly when they’re in a 7-11 and Hostile Curtainhead annoys the shopkeeper so much he pulls a gun on him – HC then grabs the shotgun and starts blasting fools, including a cop who just happened to be at the scene. Caught in the crossfire is Black Guy, who I can’t keep calling that so I’ll find out his character name…Reggie. Reggie is shot, so the gang run from the scene and rather than helping out their friend, accepting punishment or anything sensible, find a place to hole up and wait for things to cool down. Guess which remote building, looking entirely unlike it did in parts 1 and 2, they choose?

There are a number of curious choices, and because I’ve had too many long paragraphs so far, time for a couple of bullet points:

  1. The cop in the 7-11 is wearing a flak jacket, so he doesn’t die, so there’s a chance of redemption for the main characters that’s nothing more than a red herring. Why on earth would a cop going to buy snacks be wearing a flak jacket?
  2. We see the same bit of footage from parts 1 and 2, an Evil Dead style shot of an unseen thing emerging from the crematorium furnace and moving into the building. But we’ve already seen Angela, and know she’s got her full complement of supernatural powers. What does this scene achieve?

The stuff in the house is just the same old, same old. The “kids” get gradually turned into demons, to hassle the two remaining people (Jason Patric lookalike and one of the women they picked up), and the cop – who’s surprisingly smart – closes in on them. You know how it goes, if you’ve ever seen a horror movie before, and nothing remotely interesting or unusual happens. Which is an extra shame because Kevin Tenney showed real promise for a while there, but after this it was stuff like “Endangered Species” and not much else – director Jimmy Kaufman is a TV guy through and through, and it shows.

Actually, the one interesting thing is the return of Amelia Kinkade, now better known as a choreographer and pet psychic (presumably not at the same time). She appears to have largely quit acting in 1990, only returning to play this role in the two sequels, so she must have liked the part I guess? Who knows.

The thing that annoys me about this trilogy is there’s no reason for any of it. Nothing drives the plot – no reason for the demon’s presence, no reason for Angela being the face it chooses to maintain, no point to trying to defeat it, nothing. It’s a hollow experience, and part 3 doesn’t even bother explaining who Angela is or why she’s there, as if we should all be on board or have done our homework beforehand.

Among the more pointless of the horror franchises, it was still remade in the great remaking frenzy of 2006-2010 (but more on that in a few days), because nature abhors a vacuum and Hollywood abhors an original idea. If you’re really really desperate for another series, I guess give it a go? There’s much worse out there.

Rating: thumbs down

Night Of The Demons 2: Angela’s Revenge (1994)

Although it doesn’t happen very often, it’s always a nice surprise when it does. Joining “No Retreat, No Surrender 2”, and very very few others, we’re in “almost completely forgotten sequel which is much better than its part 1” territory. “Night Of The Demons” was sort of alright, but it was terribly slow and didn’t even bother lampshading its unoriginal concept – even by 1988, I feel horror fans had probably had enough of teens-in-a-haunted-house.

Part 2, on the other hand, brings in ISCFC regular Brian Trenchard-Smith (Dead End Drive In, the Leprechaun sequels, etc.) but keeps scriptwriter Joe Augustyn, and together the two of them spin base metals into gold. You even get the benefit of a curious visual, as soon-to-be mainstream star Christine Taylor (who married Ben Stiller in 2000 and appeared in many of his movies) is the blonde who doesn’t make it to the end – she’s great, though, and is very obviously on her way up.

But enough vague discussions of future comedy stars! We have a movie to discuss. It turns out that the story of Angela and Hull House has become an urban legend of sorts, with people in the know informing us that the rest of the bodies from the conflagration six years ago have been recovered – Angela, though, despite not being the first possessee from part 1, was never recovered and, so the story goes, was taken bodily down to hell. Eh, whatever.

“Fun” fact: the villain in this series of movies shares her name with the villain from the “Sleepaway Camp” series, which shows a severe lack of effort on someone’s part. The only two recurring female villains in horror, and they both have the same damn name?

Anyway, Angela’s parents committed suicide after receiving a card signed by her, a year after her death, and the only remaining family member is Melissa, aka “Mouse”, who’s a resident at a Catholic school which is a conveniently short drive away from Hull House. Of course, a group of horny people in their mid-20s masquerading as teens want to go visit the scene; but this is where the similarities between this and other spam-in-a-can movies end.

One might expect the Nun in charge of the school to be almost as evil as Angela, but even though she’s very strict, there’s a side to her character that’s way more decent than you’d expect, as when we first see her on her own she’s using her kid-smacking ruler as a fencing stick; she kicks arse for the Lord, indeed. There’s a demonology-obsessed nerd (I guess Catholic schools get their fair share of that sort of person, what with their sort-of acceptance of exorcism) who tries and succeeds in summoning Angela, but as we’ve already seen her slaughtering the two dumbest evangelists in history in the cold open, we know she’s still around? He’d be the hero, or have the smart idea, in a normal movie, but here he’s the super-annoying guy you’re just waiting for him to die.

The “teens” are a decent bunch of actors, and not just because one of them is Christine Taylor. The lead jock gets in a great chatup line, “they call me King Snake”, and even with Mouse doing nothing other than looking a bit sad all the time, there’s plenty of people who realise the tone the director was going for and really run with it. There’s even a sweet couple who have happy consensual sex (with the guy putting on a condom and stopping, immediately, when she asks him to. Amazing!)

What I like about part 2 is it doesn’t just stick to the haunted house. About halfway in, the teens all decide this house sucks and go back to the school, only to realise one of them brought back a demon-possessed tube of lipstick, crossing the boundary of the underground river (if you remember that plot point from the first movie, kudos) and freeing Angela up to do some badness. The scary / sexy boundary is played with here, as Angela does a dance for the assembled Catholic teens, which very definitely does not impress the Sister. The plot of Angela possessing a small army is carried on here, and it works well with the multiple locations and variety of cast – as well as the horny teens and the Nun, there’s a handful of local hoodlums who, to be fair, looked pretty gross before they were possessed.

I do want to say one thing, though, and that’s that these movies – all of them – grossly overestimate the amount of time teens are willing to spend in a completely ramshackle old house. When you’ve finished exploring it and found nothing, which’ll take you say half an hour, and then had a beer or two, you’ll be ready to go home or go somewhere with lights and comfortable places to sit and rooms to have sex in that aren’t covered with dust and the random detritus of decades of disuse. But horror movies tell us that teens are desperate to go to these places and party. I went to a pub once that had been shuttered for about a year, my friends and I broke in and went for an explore. About ten minutes later we were bored out of our minds and went home.

If you factor in how much this group appears to hate each other and how little reason they have to organise a party in a stinking run-down murder house, you’ve got a smart winner on your hands. Trenchard-Smith (who apparently provides a hilarious blu-ray commentary which I’ll be watching soon) knows exactly what he’s doing and lays bare the inner workings of the cheesy horror genre for all to see, without making it too obvious and just making what you could view as a bizarre, but fairly straight, horror-comedy.

Credit to the special effects, again, which are fantastically gross and inventive. The room full of …stuff? (you’ll know it when you see it) is “Society” levels of insanity and there’s stuff getting torn open and with stuff getting pierced with stuff and stuff disintegrating and all sorts.

This is an excellent movie with a fine sense of humour and a plot that actually goes places. Well worth watching, even if you haven’t seen part 1.

Rating: thumbs up

Night Of The Demons (1988)

Our Kevin Tenney (Witchboard 1 and 2, Witchtrap) season continues with a movie you probably think you’ve seen, but almost certainly haven’t. It’s because the title sounds like a dozen other horrors from around the same time, and the plot – teens visit haunted house – is so generic that I’m going to struggle to do much recapping in a few paragraphs time; even I was pretty sure I’d seen it.

There is a problem, though. While Tenney and writer Joe Augustyn (more on him later) had some cool set piece ideas, and a decent story, they couldn’t figure out how to start it. I’m wracking my brain and still don’t have any idea why…anyway, let’s just gloss over that bit (much as they did).

Angela (Mimi Kinkaid) decides to stage a Halloween party in Hull House, which is a former mortuary. Even though she’s seen as a little kooky by her classmates, a few of them turn up, expecting the goth girl to throw a good party. Perhaps she just wanted to throw a party and make some new friends? Who knows. Everyone seems happy enough to attend and there’s some fun archetypes too – horny slob Stooge, party girl Suzanne (Linnea Quigley, who looks a long way removed from high school – to be fair, she initially didn’t go to audition, believing she looked too old herself), prudish final girl Judy (Cathy Podewell), hoodlum Sal, a jock, a hot cheerleader-type, and Rodger (Alvin Alexis), who appears to be absolutely useless at the beginning, as Stooge’s sidekick, but comes into his own.

Hull House has all sorts of creepy history, so when the party starts flagging (the stereo breaks, the lights start going out), Angela decides to hold a séance, and this releases a demon – obviously – which manifests first as a grotesque disembodied head before possessing Suzanne. Also, the demonic spirit can be passed along through kissing, or murder, and passed along it is! You know how it goes.

Aside: the movie was originally going to be called “Halloween Party” before the more famous “Halloween” franchise threatened to sue them; but the introductory demon scene, as we get a POV shot of it emerging from the depths of the basement to possess some teens, and indeed the possession itself, is straight out of “The Evil Dead”. I guess Raimi couldn’t be bothered to sue.

What’s “interesting” about this is how leisurely it is about getting to the reason people would watch an 80s B-horror – death and mayhem. The first actual on-screen death doesn’t happen til 58 minutes, and the demon doesn’t even show up til the halfway point. So, do you really like people wandering around an extremely dark house and arguing? If so, there’s about two-thirds of this movie catering to you – everyone else might have a tougher time.

Tenney has been known to have some relatively weak actors in central roles, but that’s not the case here, and I enjoyed his ensemble. Hal Havins as Stooge is a fun character, William Gallo as Sal gives a potential one-dimensional character some real depth, and…okay, Judy and Rodger are pretty bland, but the rest of the cannon-fodder are excellent. They’re not always given the greatest dialogue, but they try.

We’ve also compliments Tenney’s death effects in the past, and they’re also in full effect here. Eyes get gouged out, people get burned alive, limbs get hacked off, and for the relatively low budget, there’s some superb work going on. The effect I liked the most, though, was relatively simple, and involved the characters switching from their demon-possessed form to their “normal” one, done off-camera – so they’ll turn and attack someone, but when they escape, turn to look after them running away as their old selves. It’s simple but very effective, for me.

It’s quite difficult to summon up much energy for such an incredibly hackneyed plot, though – I could have started this review site in 2012 and written the same number of reviews, just of “teens go to a haunted house” spam-in-a-can movies, and I’d still be going strong today (962 reviews and counting!) Tenney has some flair, and shows it here, but you’re still just waiting round for the deaths and the reveals and so on, and with a first half where so little happens, it’s difficult to recommend it too highly.

Still, we have a couple of sequels, one of which was directed by ISCFC veteran Brian Trenchard-Smith (Dead End Drive In, the Leprechaun sequels, Drive Hard), so I’m cautiously optimistic.

One final word, about writer Joe Augustyn. He was evidently a very good guy, and did not like the racism of Hollywood, so made a point of casting POC in lead roles in his movies. Good on you, Joe! If only you’d given Rodger a bit more personality!

Rating: thumbs in the middle