Operation Golden Phoenix (1994)

Jalal Merhi made a good movie!

I’ll give it a second to let that sink in. Yes, the charisma supermassive-black-hole, the man with no appreciable talents in front of or behind the camera, who started making movies because he liked martial arts and wanted to be a star and obviously he was never getting hired by mainstream productions, the man who managed once to be out-acted by Billy Blanks (!) and whose work is stuffed to the brim with sexism so rotten it’ll make your eyes water, made one good movie.

And the weird thing is, it’s by far his least well-known. Only available on VHS (I think), almost never shown on TV, my copy is recorded from obscure British cable channel “Movies 4 Men”. It co-stars ISCFC Hall of Famer Loren Avedon, James “David Lo Pan off of Big Trouble In Little China” Hong, and a delightfully wacky bunch of minor actors; has some great filming locations and a plot that just rips along. I mean, the last few things on this list are what you’d normally expect from any half-decent movie, but they’re far from being a given.

Merhi and Avedon are Mark Assante and Ivan Jones, agents for some government agency or other, and I think they’ve just rescued a bunch of artefacts from somewhere. If there’s anyone who reads this review and goes “I didn’t like it because he couldn’t remember where they rescued the stuff from at the beginning” then I will eat my hat.

Unfortunately, Avedon is bad to the bone, and has thrown in his lot with international bad guy Mr Chang (Hong). There’s a couple of amulets which, when re-united, are a map to a fabulous haul of treasure, and now the baddies have one of them. They blow up the rest of the stuff and blame it on Assante, so he’s on the run with the cops in hot-ish pursuit and the bad guys trying to engineer it so that he goes and steals the second amulet. His old buddy the Professor has a wife who’s cheating on him with Chang, too, so there’s plenty of people milling about Assante who want to do him ill.

That amulet is in Lebanon, so off we go to the actual Beirut to do some filming – presumably helped by Merhi’s Lebanese parentage. And it’s a fantastic spot to film, too, so kudos to them for getting permission. But Assante has to get a fake passport in order to fly, and it made me nostalgic for the olden days as he goes to a guy with papers and tweezers to put the photograph in place and all that. Damn you, terrorism, for spoiling our fun!

The beautiful Princess Tara has the other amulet, and Assante must try and infiltrate her household in order to steal it – but don’t worry, he picks the dumbest way possible (I’ll leave you to figure that out for yourself, should you choose to watch it). More twists and turns! Him going back to the Princess for help and getting a sidekick, the Princess’s ass-kicking sister Angelica! Fight scenes around ancient ruins! The vague idea that Jones is actually sort of a good guy! For about two scenes before the movie forgets and just makes him bad again!

What I enjoyed most about “Operation Golden Phoenix” (other than the fact there’s no golden phoenix in it) is how it never slows down enough to let you think about how daft it all is. He got permission to film in Beirut so knocked up a bit of script that gave him a reason to go there (well, the script was provided by long-time associate J Stephen Maunder, but you get the idea). Avedon probably improvised the “maybe he’s not that bad” stuff, because it makes zero sense in the wider context of things and he’s got form as an actor who likes to go into business for himself. The reveal of how they manage to match up the pendants to find the treasure has attracted some real anger from other reviewers, but…I guess my standards are lower, because it just washed over me. Like, I expect 1993 computers to be able to do wacky stuff like that to move the plot along.

The fight scenes are awful, because Merhi liked filming himself more than just about anything, and he’s in almost all of them. He often just flies through the air, visibly not making contact with anything, and we’re supposed to believe the person flying backwards in the next shot was affected by that “kick”. Avedon’s stuff is fine, but then he’s a professional.

I was very surprised at how much work he gave the women in this – he doesn’t give himself any love scenes, but both main Princesses are very strong characters. Okay, it’s not perfect, but we can’t have everything.

I don’t want to praise it too much. A lot of it is, admittedly, Merhi stood around delivering terrible lines in the worst way possible (he really is among the least able people to have ever called themselves “actor”), and it makes no sense if you think about it for more than a tenth of a second. But it’s rarely boring and has a great villainous turn from Avedon, so I’m happy to call this the best Merhi movie ever, and if you’re desperate to see one example of the man’s work, make it this one.

Rating: thumbs up

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Creepozoids (1987)

Wow, this was bad. And not just compared to normal, big-budget action-horror movies; even compared to the sort of garbage we normally cover at the ISCFC, this stinks. It’s yet another effort from Full Moon Pictures, who we’ve covered repeatedly over the last five-and-a-bit years, and their house director David DeCoteau, who achieved internet notoriety a few years ago when the trailer for “A Talking Cat?!” was noticed by a few big comedy websites.

Looking back over DeCoteau’s oeuvre, I…well, like most other people who write about this stuff, I’ve been accused of being a wannabe director. Not particularly, honestly, but if I was offered the career he’s had, I’d definitely have turned it down. Would I want to be known as the man who made “The Brotherhood”, the “1313” series, “The Great Halloween Puppy Adventure” and a bunch of movies with “Christmas” in the title that are so bad Hallmark Channel wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot barge pole?

I could go on (“please don’t”, I hear you cry) but let’s discuss “Creepozoids”. We’re in the post-apocalyptic situation of 1998, although the only evidence of this comes in the text info-dump right at the beginning. Humans most dodge gangs of mutants, apparently, and while it might have been fun to see some humans fighting some mutants, DeCoteau isn’t here to entertain! What we see is a few empty streets and a very small amount of the acid rain that’s a constant companion of the nuclear future. Five soldiers – among them “legendary” scream queen Linnea Quigley and Kim McCamy – desert from the army, although I thought society had fallen apart, and try and eke out a living.

ASIDE: As every other review of this movie has mentioned, McKamy, under the name Ashlyn Gere, would go on to a long career in porn, winning a number of awards while still doing bits of mainstream acting (she’d appear in a few episodes of “The X Files”, for instance). Evidently, there are people who watch porn the same way I watch old horror movies, as there’s a lot of interest in this because it was filmed before McKamy had breast implants. I feel vaguely sleazy just from knowing that information, but there you go. McKamy actually refused to go nude for this movie (good for her) but Quigley obliged, because you can’t have a B-movie without exploiting at least one woman.

The series of ideas they ripped off become apparent around now. There’s “Mad Max”, “Dawn Of The Dead”, a little “Day Of The Dead”, “It’s Alive” and “Alien”, and not a lot you could call original. But again, original isn’t that interesting to Full Moon; although, if you look at the computer diary one of the characters finds, it appears computer game “Fallout 3” might have lifted a little of their aesthetic.

The five of them find refuge in an oddly unguarded, well-stocked scientific base, and they discover that the experiments within related to…er…something to do with making it so humans don’t need to eat any more. Perhaps they ought to have aimed for nuclear weapons that don’t leave the planet an irradiated dump after you use them, but I’m no science-guy so what do I know? Anyway, the scientists inside all died, and there are some giant monsters, the creepozoids of the title (I presume, it’s never really mentioned. Plus, they don’t creep because they’re enormous).

For a movie which clocks in at 72 minutes with a lot of credits, it’s almost unbearably slow. If I wanted to see five unappealing actors stood around for an hour, I’d stop writing reviews of B-movies and see a doctor; and you can add to that the criticism that the women in “Creepozoids” do basically nothing. While the men go off and sacrifice themselves bravely, the women stay behind and wring their hands! This happens over and over again and is just stupid.

Talking of stupid, that’s the illness most of the cast dies of. At about minute 50, you discover they’ve had lazer pistols this entire time (!) and just haven’t bothered using them – add that to the “let’s keep going down this dark corridor no-one returns from” sort of behaviour and you’ll spend a good portion of the time, well, the time you’re not just sat bored and wishing you’d picked something else, shouting at the screen.

It’s just lazy and stupid, top to bottom. I’m mostly annoyed that this cobbled-together bit of z-grade garbage was considered worth making or releasing. There’s no development of the post-apocalyptic idea at all, there’s no drama, barely any action and some of the special effects (the giant rat, particularly) would be embarrassing if they were done by a group of broke school students. There are no supporting cast members, at all (the only person other than the main five in the entire thing is the base’s chief scientist, credited as “Woman” and on screen for two minutes at the beginning – she dies in a stupid way too) and nothing worth looking at.

I’m just looking at the VHS cover to this now. “Shake with terror – at the birth of the creepozoid baby!” I mean, if it had been released in the 1950s, that line would still have sounded cheesy, but even though it looks sort of gross for a minute, it’s just another monster that gets killed then mysteriously revives just before the credits roll (thank heavens they never made a sequel).

Wow, Full Moon wasted a lot of good will in the 80s and 90s.

Rating: thumbs down

Christmas Slay (2015)

Merry Christmas, dear reader! To celebrate the season, I’m giving you a review of what is in the running for the most thoroughly incompetent, wrong-headed, downright boring Christmas slasher movie it’s been our displeasure to watch. I’m going spoiler-crazy in this one, so if you’re remotely interested in watching it spoiler-free…then you’re an idiot. Seriously.

What passes for the movie’s only joke comes in the first few minutes, as a couple of British coppers (for this is a British effort) are radioing back to base – “Sierra Lima Alpha Yankee”. Slay! Like the title! Hahahahaha! So anyway, a guy dressed in a sort of beat up Santa outfit breaks into a house to kill the couple inside, but the silent alarm they have also summons the police. The two normal officers get their asses kicked, but then the rough-and-tumble sweary boss turns up and easily defeats the killer (who, aside from one word, stays mute throughout).

Even in these first few minutes, weird decision after weird decision assaults us. First up, the dead couple are sleeping with lit Christmas lights all over the top of their bed. Who does that? Turn them off! Then, as the killer is about to leave, he encounters a girl who asks “have you got any presents for me, Santa?” Reasons this is wrong:

  • She looks 14 years old and wouldn’t believe in Santa
  • This Santa has no beard
  • This Santa is drenched in blood and carrying a knife, also covered in blood

But this is just the first five minutes. We’ve got so much more stupidity to get through! “One year later”, and three women who I guessed were soft-porn stars but all appear to be actual working actors, are off to the Scottish highlands for a Christmas break. I mean, it doesn’t look even a little bit like Scotland, and in fact looks exactly like Bulgaria (which is where it was filmed), but let’s try and suspend our disbelief for a few more moments.

So, these three women, who all look sort of alike (fake-tanned, dark straight hair) although one of them is easily ten years older than the other two, even though all three are in relationships and would presumably have other places to be, have decided to spend Christmas together in a cabin in the middle of nowhere – although, when the director forgets to frame his shots right, you can see they’re in a moderately busy village.

At the same time, there’s a breakout in a nearby mental hospital, and out go two people – a lunatic who wears his pyjamas with one leg rolled up, and Santa from earlier. He hasn’t been taking his medication (I have to assume that people locked up for multiple murders are given a little more oversight than “none”), and when a Santa sent in to…cheer the patients up?…insults our friend, he gets a felt tip pen driven through his skull, allowing our friend to get his outfit back. Now, felt tip pens are significantly less strong than bone and this would never, ever happen, but this isn’t even the stupidest thing to happen in this five minutes.

Time. We see pyjama-man stood at the side of the road threatening the van with our three heroines in it…but then in the next scene we see him in the hospital, pre-escape. Any indication it’s a flashback (which would be confusing anyway, coming just after a “one year later”)? Of course not!

Place. One can assume, from the accents on display from everyone in the first scene, that the initial murders took place in the London area. But, for narrative convenience / to mask the filming location, the killer was transported to a mental hospital in the Scotland area?

After some of the most abysmal banter it’s ever been my misfortune to witness, Emma (Jessica Ann Bonner) emerges as the probable final girl – her boyfriend perhaps cheated on her with her best friend, she seems to have the faintest flickering of a personality, etc. Then the aforementioned best friend turns up, then all their boyfriends start turning up…to this cabin in the extremely remote Scottish highlands, remember.

It’s also at this point that we discover that, no matter how cold it gets, these women were hired to look good in underwear, and it’s them in underwear we’re going to get. Even when they go outside in the snow (!) one of them puts a coat on, but other than that they don’t even seem aware they brought other clothes with them.

One of the boyfriends is a pothead, and we’re treated to a scene of him making a joint, and it’s very clear he’d never made a joint in his life before. This scene, where he sort of builds his joint while his girlfriend lolls on the bed next to him, is perhaps the most tedious scene in the history of cinema, where almost literally nothing happens, for a solid five minutes.

Let’s talk about the killer. One might wonder if there’s some trauma in his past, some Christmas-based upset (much like “Silent Night, Deadly Night”) that causes the Santa outfit to bring out some homcidal tendencies in him. Nope. Well, there might be, it’s just that the movie never bothers telling us that, or indeed anything else, about his character. That he wanders through the woods til he finds some people to kill indicates he’s not got any geographical issues, either. Although more on that later.

Okay, now let’s talk about how horror movies are structured. At about the halfway point, we’ve established that the killer is on the loose and that some girls are in trouble. Two people could get involved – the cop from the beginning, who was set up like a leading man, or the chief doctor at the asylum, who’s upset that the murderers he was looking after have gotten loose. Do you think either of these people show up? Of course not! Well, the cop does, but again, more on him later.

Eventually, in the fashion we’ve come to expect, killer meets final girl, and final girl is victorious. Then it’s Christmas morning! As she sits there, surrounded by the corpses of her friends (not literally, that would be odd), the door to the lodge (complete with Bulgarian translation on it) opens and in walks her boyfriend! To say he’s not got much screen presence is a vast understatement, but that’s not really the issue. He swoops in to take charge of the situation, and they drive to the nearest police station to report all this murder – their phones didn’t work at any point of course, although you’d think a tourist spot with no cell service would at least have a landline. Wait, did I say they’d do something sensible? Of course they don’t! He drives her all the way back to London where she finally has a bath to wash the blood off her. From Scotland. Sat in a car, covered in blood. WHAT THE HELL

And finally, we come to the end. For absolutely no reason whatsoever, Emma is arrested for all the murders, and in a scene of such brain-buggering stupidity it’s hard for me to even believe I watched it, the last we see of her, she’s in that same Scottish asylum we saw people break out of at the beginning, angrily protesting her innocence. I would like to provide you with a little dialogue, courtesy of the same cool cop we saw at the beginning and his skinny female constable, both dressed exactly the same as they were a year ago.

Constable: “They picked up that escaped patient from Moorview a few hours ago. The one that killed all those students up in the highlands.”
Sergeant: “That is good news. Where’d they find him?”
Constable: “It wasn’t a him, it was a her.”
Sergeant: “A her? You sure about that?”
Constable: “Yeah, positive. They found her prints everywhere.”

Now, one would think that at least a few people would be able to vouch for the fact that Emma wasn’t a mental patient, just a young woman with a lot of make-up on; and equally that at least someone would be interested in the mass-murderer who actually did escape, at least as far as knowing what his gender was. But no. The final final scene, where the killer turns up in cool cop’s office, soaked in blood, having healed himself from the multiple axe blows to the head and the knife to the throat he got from Emma, and kills him (despite cool cop having dealt with him in hand-to-hand combat with embarrassing ease at the beginning) , is just another gem.

Now, I hope my words have gotten across just how utterly appalling this movie is. Dull, ugly, stupid, with terrible dialogue, awful special effects and crappy acting, with zero evidence that anyone involved in its making had the slightest idea what they were doing, it’s evidence that too many people have access to enough money and camera equipment to make movies. Or that there are too many outlets – I have Amazon Prime to thank for this (thank the heavens I didn’t pay any actual cash for it).

The one even slight smile comes from the name of the director, one Steve Davis. The Steve Davis that most British people know and love is the former snooker world champion and current snooker TV presenter / obscure music DJ; this Davis appears to be a former nightclub bouncer whose path to the movie business is a puzzler to me.

Please, please, please, avoid this movie, and merry Christmas!

Rating: all the thumbs down

Hard Target 2 (2016)

A mere 23 years later, with none of the original cast or crew returning, Universal decided to give us a sequel to the Jean-Claude Van Damme gem “Hard Target”, one of the dozens and dozens of cinematic riffs on 1926 short story “The Most Dangerous Game”. I suppose the name recognition of the original being directed by John Woo was just enough to get them to not just make an entirely new film. Or someone offered them a job lot of doves and they had that thing where a lightbulb appears above their heads?

Anyway, replacing JCVD is the guy who he must have been grooming as his replacement, as they appeared in a heck of a lot of movies together, Scott Adkins. Adkins is superb, although he doesn’t have that unusual charisma, he’s JCVD’s equal as a screen fighter and clearly superior as an actor. We’ve covered him in “Eliminators”, the last “Universal Soldier” instalment, and “Ninja”, and will review more of his movies soon. Well, when we’ve completed all the other half-done review series, probably.

Adkins is MMA star Wes “The Jailor” Baylor (I was irritated a little straight off the bat, as it’s “jailer”, but I guess it’s to match his surname, even though it’s stupid), and as we first meet him he’s about to have a fight with Jonny Sutherland, who he appears to be hated enemies with. Later on, we learn that the two of them are best friends who are only fighting because the money is so good, but there’s no love lost between the two in the ring, as Jonny fights dirty and Wes really seems to dislike his wife. I kept expecting some sort of explanation as to why the two of them had fallen out, but no. Maybe left on the cutting room floor? (It is quite long, unacceptably so for an action B-movie like this).

Okay, at this point, halfway through the fight, if you’ve watched any movies before, you’ll be able to tell exactly where the plot is going. Wes will kill his friend and leave the world of MMA behind, and then a few months later, living in some dingy hovel somewhere, he’ll be offered the chance to be the prey in a human-hunting expedition led by some rich assholes. That all this happens and I’m relating this to you after watching it might make you think I’m making it up, but it’s not exactly my finest moment of future-prediction. He actually doesn’t leave fighting behind, just moving to Thailand and kicking ass in a variety of colourful yet low-rent locales; before he fights at a wealthy person’s party on a rooftop terrace and is noticed by Aldrich (Robert Knepper).

Ah, Robert Knepper. For when you want an even sleazier version of Lance Henriksen, he’s your man. He’s an extremely busy actor, and as well as the stuff that pays the rent (big TV roles, character work in A-list movies) he also loves doing cheesy stuff like this, chewing scenery in a variety of villainous roles. Thank you, Robert, for elevating a bad guy like Aldrich. His business model is bribing a general in the Myanmar army to let him use a patch of the jungle there as his hunting ground, and apparently tricking the occasional Western idiot into thinking he’s going there for a million dollar payday in a real fight.

Wes is thus tricked, and is forced to run with a colourful group of hunters in hot pursuit. As well as Aldrich and his sidekick Madden (the great Temuera Morrison), there’s Sofia, the daughter of a super-rich oil tycoon (Rhona Mitra, who was once within a hair’s breadth of proper movie fame but is now stuck in stuff like this), Esparto the bullfighter, a redneck father and son, and a video-game designer.

From then on, until the last five minutes, it becomes a people-walking-through-the-jungle movie, which we here at the ISCFC have reviewed many of. So many. Wes escapes, occasionally kills someone (although he seems legitimately upset at having to do it) and his pursuers get angrier and angrier. He meets a beautiful local in the wilderness, who’s trying to save her village, so gets involved in her story, which gives us the opportunity to have one of those scenes where the beautiful local woman tends to the hero’s wounds. No romance in this one, though.

Because it’s a sequel to a John Woo film, they make an effort to make it look like one. There’s doves all over the shop, and the slow-mo arrow thing he used in the original makes a reappearance. The gun that the villain uses at the end is the same as the gun Lance Henriksen used; and the boat chase that Woo planned but never used (because JCVD wanted a horseback chase) is used here too. So, while director Roel Reine (the WWE wrestling-movie house guy) is no Woo, he at least uses the building blocks reasonably well.

There’s some odd little bits of humour here and there, like Wes being about to hit an elephant which has smacked him one, getting told off by his new lady friend, and saying “he threw the first punch!” Aldrich has some cracking one-liners too – nothing too much, but like a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

You know how these things are going to go. There is nothing new under the sun, and that’s doubly true for Most Dangerous Game-inspired B-movies. But the stars are fun, the action is decent, and although it mostly ditches the wealthy-hunting-the-poor text of part 1 (the two rednecks don’t seem particularly rich, just assholes) and therefore doesn’t quite have the engine to power the action, it’s still perfectly fine.

There’s something I want to get into, though, and that’s the scene that plays along with the credits, after the ending has the bad guys all dead and the good guys happy. There’s no drama left, no possibility of a twist or anything, so watching Wes go about a day of travelling through Thailand is quite curious. He gets on a bus, eats a little, walks around, enters a house…and that’s it! It feels like a filler scene that was cut, with good reason, but someone somewhere insisted it was included. It’s one of the most curious choices in modern cinema (I say this without fear of hyperbole) and leaves you sort of puzzled and annoyed when you just want to be satisfied with a good slab of action cinema.

Rating: thumbs up

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

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