Ghoulies (1984)

“Ghoulies” is one of the many 80s-based horror franchises I never bothered with at the time, but for some reason have decided to visit for a movie review site in 2018. And it was with sinking heart I noticed it was a Full Moon movie, produced by our old friend Charles Band. I wasn’t planning this (honest).

Let’s make a list of all the other different franchises and individual movies Charles Band has had a hand in in, that feature miniature creatures as the main villains:

I got bored of looking through his filmography at this point, so there are almost certainly more. No-one seems aware of why, but at some point even the most casual observer must think “why so many? Is there really that much of a desire, even among Full Moon’s hardcore fans (pity the poor souls) for tiny creature movies?” Even now, when the budgets are almost non-existent and the return on investment must be microscopic, he’s still knocking out “Puppet Master” sequels.

ASIDE: This movie predates “Gremlins”, so even though Band can be accused of many things, plagiarism (in this instance) isn’t one of them.

Anyway. We’ve got a movie to cover. We start off with a Satanic ritual where a baby is about to be sliced up by a guy with glowing green eyes. He’s got some followers that appear willing until the baby is brought out, and then one lady shouts “no! You said no babies!” and hands the tyke off to Jack Nance, who runs away to keep him safe.

Now, right away, you might think it’s curious to be into Satan but to draw the line at sacrifice, but what do I know? Well, I’d know to get better followers who didn’t immediately wuss out on me, but whatever. Sadly, we leave this little section and jump forward to the present day, where that baby, now an adult man called Jonathan, is taking over possession of his father’s old house, alongside his girlfriend Rebecca. Jack Nance, who for some reason stands mute when Rebecca questions him about why he’s wandered up behind them, is sort of vaguely around as well, although he pretty much disappears at this point up to the last five minutes of the movie.

All this felt a little lazy to me. How long has the Dad been dead? The state of the house would indicate decades, so why didn’t Jonathan take possession of it before now? Why didn’t he introduce his girlfriend to the man who’d brought him up, or at the very least show her a picture of him?

While cleaning the house, he notices a few of his Dad’s old demonic things, and while throwing perhaps the most 80s party ever (non-John Hughes division), decides on what seems like a whim to do a ritual which they think fails, but actually wakes up…the Ghoulies.

When I reviewed “Subspecies” (which is by far the best series Full Moon ever had a hand in), I commented that, considering they’re the titular creatures, they don’t have a lot to do with the movement of the plot. Much is the same here, as the Ghoulies don’t really show up til halfway, then just become the familiars of Jonathan til the final conflagration. Also, they’re a really naff special effect, little rubber creatures with absolutely no articulation at all.

Jonathan gradually gets taken over by the same desires his Dad did, and although you might think, at some point growing up, Jack Nance would have told him what happened, or warned him away from the dark arts, you would not think the same way as the person who wrote the script. He gets worse, eventually his Dad is resurrected, and much like “Hideous!”, it then becomes a Bad vs. Worse battle in which it’s impossible to give a damn about either side. Oh, and there’s a genuinely crappy non-ending which renders the already fairly slow second half completely irrelevant.

Full Moon, I know, used to sell movies to distributors based on a poster, or a title, or a synopsis, and once again I presume those same distributors were less than thrilled to receive something which didn’t deliver on that central promise at all. That Full Moon had a sweet deal with Paramount which they lost due to sleazy tricks like this, and led to a long slow reduction in budgets, talent and fun, should only be a positive for people who’ve never had to sit through any of their later stuff.

My main criticism is how little thought went into any of it. It’s full of holes when there’s no need for them, not funny or scary or gory. The acting is surprisingly great, with a lot of 80s stars in fun roles – Scott Thompson (whose character has a gay subtext which I’m guessing was done by the actors going into business for themselves), Ralph Seymour and Michael Des Barres all do the best with what they have. And it’s the screen debut for one Mariska Hargitay, long before her twenty-year run in the “Law and Order” family of shows.

The best thing about this movie, and they’re treated like an afterthought 😦

There are three more. I feel ill and I really am not looking forward to three more of these damn movies, but I hear part 2 is “Troll 2” levels of bad, so fingers crossed.

Rating: thumbs down

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Nudist Colony Of The Dead (1991)

In a sense, a title like this is critic-proof: you’ll see it and instantly decide whether you’ll want to watch it or not. So, this review isn’t really aimed at those people who’ve already stopped reading this and have headed to eBay (or to www.pirromount.com, where I’ll be spending some money in the upcoming weeks), it’s aimed at those who’d immediately dismiss such a weird title.

It has “nudist” in the title, but isn’t remotely titilating, and indeed features almost no nudity. It’s a musical comedy, for heavens’ sake! Made for a cost of around $35,000!

It starts off with an apology for the quality of the film stock used! Mr Pirro shot on super-8, but when he came to re-release it on DVD many years later, realised the picture quality of some shots was so poor that it was basically unusable – so he replaced some scenes with video-taped shots of the same scenes, made for a behind-the-scenes documentary, and tried his best to clean it up. While it’s safe to say it’s not DVD quality, it looks a lot better than some micro-budget super-8 movie has any right to look on a 2018 55” screen.

A group of nudists are in court, defending their right to be nude all the time in front of Judge Rhinehole (Forrest J Ackerman); on the other side are the sort of religious busybodies I hoped didn’t exist in real life when I lived in the UK, but have encountered several times since moving to the US. They’ve collected signatures and the Judge sides with them, ordering the nudists off their property.

That’s the last moment “Nudist Colony Of The Dead” could be called sensible, in any way. The remaining nudists, led by Mrs Druple (a young lady by the name of Rachel Latt in a genuinely hideous body-suit), decide to commit suicide en masse, rather than, I don’t know, buying some other land somewhere else, and before they drink the poison, say they’ll be back to wreak their revenge on the town scumbags.

ISCFC FAVOURITE THING: the custom written theme song! I love a song which talks about the plot of the movie it’s the theme to, and this one is a doozy. Favourite line? “Exposing gonads, with no shame”. Beautiful.

If further evidence of writer / producer / director Mark Pirro’s view on religion was needed, the main body of the movie is the setting up of a…I think religious re-education?…camp on the site of the old nudist colony, and the group of “kids” who are sent there. The one parent we see just endlessly packs crucifixes into her daughter’s case while ignoring her repeated requests to not go; and the two people in charge of the trip were the two main women from the case against the nudist colony, years ago (I think the movie says it was two years, IMDB says five). The gang of “kids” goes there, along with the two old ladies and a couple of hillbillies who are, I guess, camp counsellors, and pretty much immediately all the nudists rise from their graves and get to killing, in a variety of interesting ways.

Let’s do the good stuff first. The songs are often hilarious, and while it’s not quite at the level of a Rocky Horror, they’re a great deal better than you’d expect from a no-budget zombie-horror-comedy. “Inky-Dinky-Doo-Dah Morning” is fabulous, for example (and does the classic thing of introducing a couple of characters to bulk out the chorus who are never seen before or since – a black guy and a red-headed woman, primarily).

The effects are hand-made in the best possible way, too, so kudos to Pirro for making a budget stretch a long way. It feels a little like “Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars” (mercifully, it looks like Pirro’s career went better than that one’s director). I particularly liked the set of legs still moving after their top half was sliced off.

And then the bad. The acting is a wash, because what do you expect from people prepared to work on a movie with zero budget? But the script is nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is, and so many of the jokes fall completely flat. Chief among these is Billy McRighteous, who has maybe 100 lines in the movie, and 95 of them are variations on this:

“The Bible says ‘he who turneth the other cheek, needeth more toilet paper’. Jeremiah Chapter 2, verse 5, Rocky 4.”

One of those, maybe, but after the tenth one you’re filled with a desire to sit the writer down and try to explain to him how jokes work. After the last one, you’re begging for some payoff – like, maybe the character isn’t reading the Bible at all, and is a lunatic who just wandered onto the bus before it set off for Camp Cutchaguzzout – but no.

I mean, it’s not all terrible. One exchange goes – “we’re Christians! We’re not supposed to think!” and the reply “or be rational!” and that’s nicely written and delivered. But it’s definitely the weak link, and I wish Pirro had gotten a little help with the script beforehand.

Also, it’s kinda racist? A few commenters have mentioned the black park ranger, but he not only saves the day, but his sweet 80s rap is a lot of fun too. He’s fine. It’s not the anti-religious stuff (my wife’s ears pricked up at a reference to Judaism, but neither of us really heard it) because I pretty much agree with it. It’s represented by the character Juan Too, who’s half Japanese, half Mexican. He’s a collection of wacky mispronunciations and, while he’s slightly better than the all-time most racist depiction of a person from that part of the world – Long Duk Dong from “Sixteen Candles” – the fact I can mention them both in the same sentence isn’t a good thing. I’m prepared to give Pirro the benefit of the doubt, like maybe it was a joke that just didn’t work, or fell flat in the edit, but it just looks bad today.

Anyway, should you watch it? Absolutely. It’s a lot of fun, and if you can forgive the occasional fallow patch, you’ll have a heck of a good time with it.

Rating: thumbs up

Timecop: The Berlin Decision (2003)

Credit where credit is due for trying their hardest to sound like an extremely generic spy thriller from the 1970s – “The Berlin Decision” ought to be a Len Deighton or Martin Cruz Smith novel, full of tough agents and femmes fatale and I’ve never read anything from either man so I have no idea what I’m talking about.

In between the original “Timecop” movie and this, there was a TV series, of which 13 episodes were originally broadcast but only 9 aired. A shame, as the pilot was directed by genre legend Allan Arkush (“Rock n Roll High School”, “Heartbeeps”, “Caddyshack 2”) and it had a decent-looking cast. I may do my second ever TV review and let you know if it was any good or not. I mean, “Timecop” is a solid idea for a show – cops trying to stop bad guys from changing history – and, if we’re being honest, tonight’s review feels like a little like a pilot too.

  • Lots of “irrelevant” world-building detail that gets left on the back burner
  • None of the main characters die
  • Supporting characters with skills the hero doesn’t possess

It’s 1940, and TEC agents have been sent back to prevent the assassination of Adolf Hitler. Our hero is Ryan Chan (Jason Scott Lee, who’s really quite good), then there’s Agent Jeffers (Tava Smiley, still a very busy woman in the business), and Travis (Josh Hammond). When they beat the crap out of some Nazis and pretend to be them in order to infiltrate the party – luckily, one of them is a visiting Japanese dignitary, and they handwave away Lee being of Chinese descent by reasoning it’s 1940 Germany and no-one will be able to tell the difference – they meet seemingly loads of other people who’ve travelled through time to help them out, including Brandon and Sasha Miller (Thomas Ian Griffith and Tricia Barry).

Anyway, it turns out that the Millers are a little more interested in killing Hitler than they are preventing the murder, and it’s this rapid-fire series of double-crosses at the beginning that give the movie its fuel. Chan has to stop them, shooting Sasha and arresting Brandon, and the meat of the movie kicks off with him having been in prison for a couple of years – the date is, I think, 2025.

It hinges on a debate that Miller had, as a long-haired student, with Chan’s father, a physicist who (I think?) had a hand in inventing the time machine used by the Time Enforcement Commission. Chan is all “time ripples, we have no idea what could happen” and so on, and Miller is all “let’s kill Hitler, he was a pretty bad guy”. Know what? I’m sort of on Miller’s side. With the absolute misery-hole the world has become, I’d take a bunch of enlightened liberals going back in time and stopping dictators before they ever got started, speeding up a few inventions so no-one thought “hey, let’s go and enslave that continent over there” and so on. I appreciate it’s not a simple question, but saying “your ancestors deserved to die because the world as it is today is the only possible way it could be” isn’t simple either.

So, the TEC defends the course of neo-liberal capitalism (joke, sort of) but there’s a riot at the jail housing Miller, he escapes and suddenly, people at the TEC start disappearing, as Miller is going back in time and killing their families. Well, I say “he escapes”, as how he manages this might have been fun to show. He just does it, and the movie hopes we don’t ask too many questions.

I think I said in my review of the first movie that I’d ignore the paradoxes, because it was fun. But this almost uses the paradoxes as a plot point! It goes like: Agent X disappears because Miller went back in time and shot her mother. So…why do the other agents remember her? She never existed, right? It would make more sense if she was suddenly replaced with a different actor (as, presumably, the TEC would have still been looking for agents).

And the other thing, as Miller zips through history and they hand-wave away some clever routine Chan has to do to be able to chase him. In the present, you need a huge machine, an injection, and a massive use of power in order to jump through time, but in the past all you need is to press a button on a watch. Really? It’s a cool-ish set-piece, but it crumbles under the least scrutiny. And I’m a pretty forgiving genre movie fan! Plus, Miller appears to know where Chan’s parents are going to be at every second, for instance appearing inside some nightclub where they’d gone dancing, back in the 1980s. Really?

There’s another group to the TEC, the Society For Historical Authenticity, and their role in proceedings is sort of vague, like they were waiting for a series in order to flesh them out. But they have agents too, and (one would assume) time-travel machines of their own. They appear to live in the past to make sure no-one changes things, although how they’d know is a subject, again, the movie chooses not to touch on.

At about the two-thirds mark, an idea popped into my head and once it was there, the rest of the movie was ruined. Why not just go back to the day that Miller applied for a job with the Society (or the TEC, it’s again vague which group he was a member of) and turn him down? Or give him an office with a six-figure salary and ask him to research something entirely different to time travel, if you’re worried he’ll invent his own machine?

Chan has the opportunity to save his father’s life but doesn’t take it, because that would prove Miller right, and it rumbles along to its inevitable conclusion. People who died don’t remember being dead, but Chan remembers, blah blah blah. They give Jason Scott Lee a few cool fight scenes, as he’s a fantastic martial artist, but the end fight with Miller is weirdly staged, as Thomas Ian Griffith may be many things but he’s not a fighter. The acting is fine, with most kudos going to the Doctor, Mary Page Keller, who gives life to a potential nothing character.

It’s a movie that doesn’t bother thinking about itself for more than a second, and throws in interesting ideas only to abandon them after a few seconds in favour of a dull, status-quo maintaining action plot.

Rating: thumbs down

Review 1,000!!! Timecop (1994)

Thank you, dear reader, for sticking with me through 1,000 reviews. I presume none of you have been foolish enough to read them all, but if I’ve provided some entertainment or given some recommendations while indulging in something I’d happily do for my own amusement (watch and think about old movies) then I’m satisfied.

I write this as the Oscar nominations have just been announced, and I had something of a revelation while looking at the list. Apart from “Get Out”, which is a work of genius, I don’t really have much interest in the sort of thing which gets nominated for Oscars, gets whatever serious column inches remain, and so on. While I’m sure they’re…fine? (apart from “Darkest Hour”, Churchill was a monster and any historical movie which does not say that isn’t worth engaging with), they’re just not for me. Or, one would assume, you – hypothetical reader of a thousand reviews of slasher movies, SyFy Channel originals, kung fu classics and baffling so-bad-they’re-good-uns.

I’ve tried to bring my personal political views (socialist, feminist, anti-war) to bear on most of the reviews I’ve written. It’s fine, I think, to enjoy works of entertainment while not subscribing to their occasionally neanderthal views, and in fact having an honest critical relationship with them – cast your mind back to the movies of Jackie Chan, which are disgusting in their treatment of women while at the same time being fun action-packed romps. Or, any movie from the 80s and their treatment of non-whites and non-straights. I try and fight for a world where we won’t even think of making stuff like the ISCFC reviews, ever again.

Which is a strange introduction to review 1000, a movie I’m certain I’ve seen before but didn’t remember anything about. Jean-Claude Van Damme is on my mind at the moment, with his superb (if unfortunately cancelled) show “Jean-Claude Van Johnson” currently on Netflix, and I recently showed “JCVD” to my wife. She was legitimately amazed, as was I (again), and it was a real disappointment he didn’t keep moving down that path into meatier roles in bigger-budget movies. Still, the mainstream’s loss is our gain…and that doesn’t really apply here as “Timecop” was made long before all that, while he was still in the middle of his first flush of almost-A-list fame.

There’s a really decent cold open, which also immediately lets us know it was filmed in Canada, with local talent. It’s 1863, and a solitary stranger holds up a Confederate transport carrying gold; when they refuse to hand over the money, he pulls out a future-pistol and kills em all. The stranger? Callum Keith Rennie (“Twitch City”, “Due South”, and the greatest one-season guest star of all time in “Californication”); and the soldier? Ian Allinson, whose credit list is every bit as long and varied. But we never see either of them again, as we’re taken to the present, where we see Senator McComb (Ron Silver, a superb villain) almost visibly get aroused when asked to be on a committee overseeing the Time Enforcement Commission, created to police the newly invented crime-opportunity that is time travel.

JCVD is Walker, happily married to Melissa (Mia Sara), and she’s murdered by a posse of people with the most ludicrous mullets imaginable, just as he’s ready to start his new job as a TEC Agent. Flash forward to 2004! I know you kind-of have to make the future fairly close to the present when you’re dealing with the same actors, but I can’t believe they expected us all to be driving round in weird white plastic car-looking things, firing sci-fi guns, in only ten years. Anyway, we get a flavour of the world of stories you could tell with this premise as Agent Walker goes back to the Depression to stop a guy from the future making a killing on the Stock Exchange.

The story starts quickly and flows really well from there, I think – as Senator McComb is very obviously the villain from the very beginning, but it’s all about trying to work out what his plan is and how he’s trying to do it. All the while, JCVD is fighting off assassination attempts in both present and past, trying to keep the world together.

There is, of course, no attempt made to deal with the mound of paradoxes inherent in time travel. First and foremost, the TEC has no interest, seemingly, when agents come back from the past and something has very obviously changed – or perhaps they did once but someone went back and changed it? Argh! But yes, an agency that dealt with time travel would care, a little bit, about what happened to their returning agents. They have a device that registers “time ripples”, and that’s good enough for them and me.

What’s perhaps most interesting to our 2018 eyes is how closely this movie predicted the rise of Donald Trump. While Senator McComb is a relatively normal human, and not a bag of garbage like the thing currently sat in the White House, he’s aware that the person with the most money to spend always wins elections, and is solely interested in power for its own sake, with no sense of what he wants to do when he gets there. One line goes “I just need money, not the truth” and it could almost have emerged from the mouth of 45.

The fights are excellent, JCVD does the splits (twice), the ending is pleasant and satisfying if a little odd (wouldn’t someone have made a note of the day he was due back from his last assignment and prepared more of a reception for him? Like, “here’s all the stuff you missed in the last decade, thanks for saving us even if we don’t really understand what went on” or something like that.

Did you know this was based on a comic, and the people who wrote the comic also had a hand in the script? Well, I presume JCVD also influenced a few things, as he never struck me as a man who was shy about putting his view forward. Seriously, how did he ever become a star, given how many people he pissed off on the way up? Oh, and direction was classier than normal for a JCVD movie of the era, being handled by Peter Hyams (“2010”, “Running Scared”, and “The Star Chamber”, among many others).

It’s a lot of fun, and that’s really what we’re interested in, I hope. There’s a superb villain, a modicum of chemistry between the two leads, interesting subplots, and not a single thing to trouble you 24 hours after watching it. Okay, there’s a rather gratuitous and unnecessary full-frontal shot of a porn actress (presumably) slapped in halfway through, but chop that three seconds out and you can even pretend it doesn’t exploit its female cast!

Thank you, again, for reading along with me. Please make time in your lives to do something you enjoy, even if the level of creativity just extends to mocking old movies. I love you, dear reader. Let’s do another thousand.

Rating: thumbs up

Pass Thru (2016)

Neil Breen is back! Well, he’s been back for a while, but for some reason I kept putting off reviewing his fourth movie, following on from “Double Down”, “I Am Here….Now” and “Fateful Findings”. I actually thought, when looking it up online, that IMDB had got it wrong and had just used an old description. Here’s the summary of “I Am Here….Now”:

Disappointed by its creation, the almighty being that created Man arrives on Earth in a human form and interacts with various troubled, wicked and sinful people on his journey to Vegas.

And here’s the summary for “Pass Thru”:

A.I. , Artificial Intelligence from the distant future visits Earth to eliminate all humans who have been harmful to all humans worldwide.

He’s got a bee in his bonnet about something, that’s for sure. I hope you, dear reader, are already a fan of this completely unique filmmaker; but if not, please feel free to read my previous reviews of his work, or check out the YourMovieSucks and RedLetterMedia videos about him. And then let’s journey through the Breeniverse together.

Actually, before we start, this is the first Breen movie to use crowdfunding. Here’s a video from the campaign (which I missed, as it had expired before I discovered his work, I think).

Check out how many times he calls it a “legitimate feature film” and emphasises it isn’t a “midnight movie”. So when you watch it and discover he’s actually devolved as a filmmaker, it’s a little more surprising.

Okay, the plot. There are several strands to it, which…well, to say they come together is a bit of an overstatement, but they all interact with Breen towards the end. Sort of. I mean, they definitely don’t interact with each other. Anyway, we have a group of refugees, fleeing a mysterious unnamed country towards freedom and a better life; they’re split into genders by the people helping them across the border and imprisoned in dingy rooms. You might wonder why I didn’t say Mexicans, going to the USA, and that’s because the refugees are a multi-ethnic bunch, with most of them being caucasian, and the country they’re fleeing to is never named. Oh, Breen!

We also have three teenagers who are super interested in astronomy, and inspired by their crazy professor, who spends almost the entire movie in bed hooked up to a breathing apparatus, are looking for some mysterious event in the sky. This appears to be a red dot which makes several largely random appearances, or perhaps it’s a mysterious shadow which occasionally drifts over proceedings, or perhaps it’s both. Who knows?

There’s also the two women, a Mediterranean-looking lady (Amanda, played by Kathy Corpus) and her black niece (whose character was unnamed and uncredited, but she’s played by Chaize Macklin). They’re escaping the older woman’s abusive husband, and run into the same patch of desert scrubland as the refugees, but never meet them, although they do meet a mysterious filthy stranger, played by your friend and mine, Neil Breen.

He’s a junkie, living in a beyond-dilapidated teardrop-shaped trailer in the desert, and performs some service for the refugee handlers, for which he’s paid in heroin (although the service is, obviously as this is a Breen movie, never specified). One day, he…passes out? Dies? In the dirt next to his trailer after injecting, and the red light moves over him and makes a duplicate version of him stand up!

The duplicate is the AI we mentioned at the beginning, a presence that’s beamed itself back from the far future and has, for some reason, picked a filthy junkie as the human it wants to take the appearance of. One would think, if you’re into saving the world from itself, you’d get on with it right away, but he spends most of the first two-thirds of the movie sat in his trailer with the two women, or wandering round the desert, or sat on a rock next to a tiger. The tiger, which definitely isn’t a pasted-in effect, oh no, even the scenes where you can see snow in the background of the tiger shot when it’s supposed to be in the desert, is second-billed in the credits! Thanks, actors (most of whom he didn’t even bother to give names to)!

I’m getting ahead of myself, a little. The refugees are also used as drug mules, and there’s a scene where you know you’re definitely in Breen country, where two important things happen. First up, they get an oxy-acetylene torch to cut through the border fence, but rather than just lighting it and filming that for a few seconds, I have to assume no-one on set could figure out how to work it, or it had run out of fuel, so Breen put in a CGI flame effect on the end of the torch in post. What? But that’s not the best bit. The bad guys get the drugs, and begin to divide up the bags. “This one’s for the politicians, this one’s for the CEOs, this is for the stockbrokers, this bag’s for the bankers”…he’s got a point to make, and by god he’s going to make it as loudly and simply as possible.

Oh, and when he’s with the two women, he calls himself “Til”, which is spelled “Thgil”, a name he saw on a yogurt pot when Amanda asked him and he wasn’t prepared.

At about the 55 minute mark, Thgil suddenly gets bored of all this milling about in the desert with the pretty lady and her niece and decides to wipe out 300 million people. It’s a brave movie-maker who’ll use the slaughter of 4% of the world’s population as a thing he just casually drops in with half an hour left to go, but Breen is nothing if not brave. Of course, you know the people he wipes out – politicians, bankers, CEOs, evil men and women, reality show contestants, all that lot. The villains who have locked up the refugees are just beamed out of existence, with my favourite being the extremely shouty lady who runs operations. Her interaction with Thgil is perhaps the greatest scene in the entire history of motion pictures. It goes a little something like this:

“YOU ARE DONE!”

“NO, YOU ARE DONE!”

“DONE?”

“DONE!”

It takes a unique mind to write dialogue like that, and to perform it. The extremely shouty lady is, like everyone else, doing a passable impression of someone who’s never read out human words in their lives before now – special credit to the three teens, who are so bad…I keep using the word “worst” to describe people and things in this movie, but the word will cease to make sense if I just keep bombarding you with it. They really have to be seen to be believed, though; as do the TV news crew we keep cutting to as the world’s evil population keeps disappearing – they’re merely bottom 10 all time in the acting stakes. The only person who looks like they could appear in normal movies is Kathy Corpus, but…well, perhaps she’s wildly overacting to keep everyone else on the set company.

I understand what Breen is trying to do – you’d have to be a moose-headed moron to not get it. The entire last third of the movie is him hammering the point home, over and over again – he beams himself into the homes of several different big business / banker types, listens to their “haha we hate poor people” speeches, and then says “isn’t that wrong?” or variations thereof, for like ten minutes. Then, he appears in the TV news studio, kills all the newsreaders, and tells us what awful people we all are and how he’s perfect and we should all hate bankers or whatever. I mean, I agree, but unfortunately we aren’t all super-powerful beings from the future who can kill anyone we want without feeling the slightest twinge of remorse! It’s at this point he also criticises “political correctness”, which I’d be annoyed about if I thought he understood what it meant.

Like all my Breen reviews, I just want to recap every bonkers thing that happens, but I also want to leave stuff for you, dear reader, to discover and enjoy for yourselves. It’s so weird! You’ll have doens of questions of your own, like: Is there two of him? Did junkie real Breen survive?

If I had to guess, I’d say there are some scenes where he got all the actors to repeat the same lines, with the theory being he was going to pick the best use of that line to leave in the finished movie; but then he realised he was ten minutes short and just left all the different people saying the same thing in the finished product. In the time since “Fateful Findings”, he’s bought himself a drone with an HD camera on it, and there’s at least one other person in the crew with him to fly it round while he sits and looks pensive on a rock. So, he has a friend! That’s nice.

The editing is genuinely insane, though, and I wonder if he watched it after producing a rough cut. Take, for instance, the kids. They walk out into the desert, pass by a sluggish Breen on the ground (the real person?), then go back into their homes, then go and drag their professor off his deathbed, then go back to the desert, then just the three kids meet Breen (who they recognise instantly as an alien, not the bum they walked past half an hour before), then the kids and the professor go back home. Oh, and their phones are sometimes working and sometimes not. Why do it that way? Arrgh!

“It’s All The Dream Of A Dying Man”

This will be the title of my Neil Breen book. Three of Breen’s four movies could be argued to the revenge fantasies of a dying brain, as the Breen character is seen to “die” early in “Double Down”, “Fateful Findings” and “Pass Thru”. Is this what he’s intending? Or is he so thoroughly incompetent that I’m clutching at straws? It’s probably the second one.

Like I said before, this manages to be even worse than his last movie – although “Fateful Findings” is probably his masterpiece, so it’s to be expected. The plotlines that never come together, and have no real resolution; the acting that manages to be terrible, even compared to other bargain-basement Z-movies; the incredibly crude political message; the pitiful special effects; the ending which is the main character walking through an ocean of the corpses he caused, that we’re supposed to cheer on…it’s magnificent. And we fans get to appreciate the vest from “Double Down” making its third appearance in the Breeniverse.

I’ve had more fun watching Breen’s movies than almost any other “bad” filmmaker I can think of. He just keeps on trucking, and long may he continue, without ever trying to be in on his own joke.

Rating: thumbs up

Witch Hunt (1994)

“Cast A Deadly Spell”, a made-for-HBO TV movie which starred HP Lovecraft as a private detective in a noir-ish 1940s LA where everyone uses magic, was a surprise thumbs-up from us; and it seems, from lots of other people, as they made a sequel to it a few years later.

Gone was director Martin Campbell (although writer Joseph Dougherty returned); he was replaced by Paul Schrader, who is more famous as a writer – he gave us “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull” and “The Last Temptation Of Christ”. Gone is the entire cast of the first movie, most prominently Fred Ward as HP Lovecraft – he’s replaced by Dennis Hopper, who was in the stage of his career when he seemed pretty happy to coast in lesser projects. The other main draws are Eric Bogosian as Senator Larson Crocket, Penelope Ann Miller as Kim Hudson, a movie star and wife of a murdered studio executive, and Julian Sands as the mysterious Finn Macha, for some reason trotting out a genuinely bizarre Irish accent.

So. This is more something that uses the same basic building blocks to tell a completely different story than it is a sequel. Gone is the noir look of “Cast A Deadly Spell”, to be replaced by a much more TV-movie looking bright LA, kind of Sunset Boulevard crossed with the paintings of David Hockney (although nowhere near as interesting as that would actually look). It’s set in 1953, although it’s very vague on the details, having tons of props that people who pay more attention than me have dated to 1958 at the earliest.

They’ve made it a red scare movie, but replaced communism with magic. I’m not entirely sure this works? Okay, both are easy to learn, simple to understand and very beneficial to life, but communism was never as widespread and as beloved as magic is here. Senator Crocket is trying to ban magic, organises rallies and Senate hearings against it; at the same time, the murder of the producer is pinned on his wife, who was being fazed out of his movies in place of a younger starlet. Lovecraft investigates and the two come together (obviously, or this would be a very strange movie indeed).

There are some fun touches, such as near the beginning when a group of execs summon Shakespeare from the 16th century, who looks horrified, only to be glimpsed in a later scene having completely transformed into a typical LA scumbag; and the running gag of Lovecraft never being able to produce the right business card, carried over from the first movie. And, in a curious bit of continuity, a main character being a transvestite. But it just doesn’t work.

I’ve been trying to ponder a way to describe this. Imagine a “Friday the 13th” sequel that’s a political thriller, where Jason just sort of idly wanders through a few scenes not really doing anything. Having HP Lovecraft as a character in a movie where there’s no mention of his mythos, and where magic is an extremely flimsy metaphor, just seems pointless? It’s also really not helped by Hopper, who’s indifferent to proceedings, and director Schrader, likewise. I wonder what persuaded either of them this was worth their time? Did HBO throw a lot of money at them, or were they both working cheap that week?

I’m sorry to report that nothing really works. It’s not a good detective, horror, or comedy movie, and everyone gives off a strong vibe of wishing they were somewhere else. The world only needs one HP-Lovecraft-is-a-private-eye movie, and this isn’t it.

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club: Cast A Deadly Spell (1991)

I love a good high-concept B-movie, or just one with a bizarre premise. If you’re going to make something in our world, why not try and have fun with it? Raw Force – “bunch of kung fu enthusiasts get shipwrecked on an island full of zombies”; Rome 2072: The New Gladiators – “a bike based murder TV show in the far future”; and Demon Cop – “about, er, a werewolf social worker”…among many many others. To that fine tradition we can add “Cast A Deadly Spell”.

Its premise? “HP Lovecraft is a detective in 1940s LA, and everyone uses magic apart from him. Literally everyone”.

Unlike some of the odder concept movies we’ve covered here at the ISCFC, the people behind this have got the chops to pull it off. There’s director Martin Campbell, who also directed all-time great TV show “Edge Of Darkness”, the Hollywood remake with Mel Gibson, and two James Bond movies (“GoldenEye” and “Casino Royale”). Writer Joseph Dougherty has been responsible for both “ThirtySomething” and “Pretty Little Liars”. And it stars Fred Ward (“Tremors”) as Lovecraft, David Warner (“Final Equinox”, “Beastmaster 3”) as the guy who hires him, Clancy Brown (“Highlander”) as Lovecraft’s former partner / villain, and a very early role for Julianne Moore as the femme fatale.

Much like its spiritual counterpart “The Maltese Falcon”, there’s a MacGuffin which drives the plot along – the Necronomicon! I mean, someone does want it to open up a portal to whichever dimension Yog Sothoth lives in and revive him, but it’s not important to the plot. They just want that damn book! Lovecraft, after some unspecified earlier incident, refuses to use magic, but everyone else does – every scene, there’ll be something floating along in the background, or a guy shaking a cocktail without using his hands. While it could have become annoying in the wrong hands, it’s just subtle enough to still be entertaining.

The Necronomicon is stolen from Amos Hackshaw (Warner), there’s a subplot with Lee Tergesen (“Wayne’s World”) playing two parts, one of whom is Lilly Sirwar, the love interest of the thief – he’s a convincing woman, it wasn’t until about two-thirds of the way through that my wife went “is that a guy?” – and Lovecraft is trying to find it and keep it out of the hands of Harry Bordon (Brown).

They really make an effort to make the world they’re in feel normal and lived in, along with recreating the classic film noir flavour. Unlike films noir, there’s substantial roles for people of colour though, which is great, such as HP’s landlord / dance teacher Hipolyte Kropotkin (Arnetia Walker). There’s also a huge zombie familiar, who I thought might have been pro wrestler Viscera but was actually a fella by the name of Jaime Cardriche, and Bordon makes an off-hand remark about buying them in packs of six from Haiti.

Those of you with long memories may remember our coverage of movies based on HP Lovecraft stories, or in one case “inspired by the stories of” (which meant a few character names and not much more). This would go right to the top of the list of those movies, and I think it counts as much as “Cthulhu Mansion” ever did, as his mythos is a prominent part of the plot (summoning Yog-Sothoth, etc.) I just asked my friends back in the UK about “Cast A Deadly Spell” and they all acted amazed I’d never heard of it, considering how much they’d enjoyed it. Heck, there’s even a sequel of sorts! Same writer, diferent director (Hollywood legend Paul Schrader!) and different star (playing Lovecraft is Dennis Hopper!)

For a made-for-HBO TV movie, this is infinitely better than it has any right to be. The mood of the era is captured beautifully, the cast is absolute dynamite, the plot is interesting, the wild concept doesn’t dominate proceedings, and I was interested from beginning to end. If you’d like to watch it, it’s available for free too, so knock yourselves out.

One last thing – there’s lots of comparisons made by other reviewers to “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, and…I guess? I don’t really see it myself, although admittedly there’s a private eye, the period setting and the wild world that everyone accepts as reality. Okay, so I may have just convinced myself, although this is perhaps a little darker than that was. It has more in common with something like “The Rocketeer”, an underrated gem from the same sort of era and about the same sort of era.

Rating: thumbs up

An evening with Mark Hamill

The Moolah Theatre in St Louis is a wonderful place, with a big screen, a bowling alley, and (more interesting for people such as you and I) regular Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays showing some of the oddest, stupidest or most obscure entries that cinema has to offer. I’m only annoyed it’s taken me this long to discover them – I missed a double feature of “Eating Raoul” and “Death Race 2000” in December – so I was delighted to go along for the latest “Weirdo Wednesday” showing, entitled “Off Brand Mark Hamill”.

Sadly for him, Hamill had a long fallow period in between “Return Of The Jedi” and getting the gig as the voice of the Joker in the animated “Batman” series in 1994, a role which is almost as beloved among us nerds as Mr Skywalker. He did a Jess Franco movie, for heavens’ sake! We quite liked his 1989 movie “Slipstream” though; tonight’s double-review features, from the comfort of the excellent sofas in the lounge of the Moolah, 1993’s “Time Runner” and 1991’s “Black Magic Woman”.

 

TIME RUNNER

I imagine, if I was Mark Hamill, I’d have turned up for the premiere of this (or, more likely, been sent a VHS tape of it when it was released) and gone “seriously, could you not have slipped those Star Wars references in there?” While it’s much more like “Terminator”, with a dash of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, there are some scenes which are straight-up lifted from Hamill’s most famous work, such as the opening scene where a small space ship is chased by a much much larger one.

It’s 2022, and Earth is under attack from aliens. It’s not looking good for humanity, their large space-station-defence-thing is destroyed and laser fire is raining down upon their cities. A group of scientists (whose impact on the plot is zero, in case you were wondering whether to pay attention to them or not) is trying to launch Earth’s last remaining weapons at the alien ships, and one vessel manages to escape the station and, while it’s running away, slip through a wormhole.

Now, I may not have been paying attention, but the wormhole just seems to appear at a convenient moment, not be summoned by pilot Michael Raynor (Hamill). Anyway, he slips back to 1992 and gets involved in a government conspiracy plot involving scientist Karen Donaldson (Rae Dawn Chong) on one side, and government intelligence agent Freeman (Mark Baur) on the other. Baur, whose career went nowhere, looks a bit like a pudgy middle-aged insurance salesman doing cosplay as Frank Zagarino’s character from “Project Shadowchaser”; and for some reason, Rae Dawn Chong has been given a weird thick bob haircut, a bit like Velma from “Scooby Doo”.

After Raynor’s escape craft is found by Donaldson and confiscated by Freeman, she finds him and the two of them bond for no good reason other than they’re both nice people. Anyway, Raynor and Donaldson run away from the agents, while every now and again he gets a vision of the wormhole and sees a potential future which he can then change (like, he sees a woman getting shot, so when that event starts to play out, he can alter it by pushing her out of the way). Also, he’s due to be born the next day, and as soon as the bad guys figure this out too, there’s another race on to save his mother.

When we discover that a few, some, or more of the people Raynor meets are actual aliens, hiding sleeper-cell like to wait for the big invasion of Earth, all bets are off. By the way, it’s never explained who the aliens are, where they’re from, what they look like (it’s possible they’re all exactly the same as us, I guess?) or why they’re invading. Oh, and Brion James, as the Planetary President from the future and just a lowly Senator in the present, is named “Neila”. Read that word backwards, and know that no matter how dumb you feel, you’re smarter than at least one Hollywood scriptwriter.

There’s a really curious gimmick to this movie – that Neila is in favour of social spending and against military spending…because that makes it easier for the aliens to invade! Do you see, we should be ignoring the poor, the homeless and the ill, on the off chance another war breaks out! But, if you can ignore that rather bad-taste coda, and enjoy the colourful characters and action-packed plot, there are many worse ways to spend an evening. Just don’t think about it too much, or the many many joins caused by the 5 credited writers (!) will become apparent.

BLACK MAGIC WOMAN

Imagine if “Fatal Attraction” were even more sexist than it already is.

Okay, that’s about 90% of the movie right there, but I guess I ought to give you a little more detail than that. This one starts off with a bunch of normal-looking women congregating on a house and doing some black magic – but for what purpose? All will be revealed (possibly not by me, as you might want to check it out).

ASIDE: That purpose definitely isn’t eroticism, as there’s zero nudity or any other shenanigans here. Now, that might be the edited VHS version I saw, as there’s some occasionally crude edits and all the swears are bleeped out, so I can’t comment on that. Possibly not worth bothering with if your interests are more earthy than the average viewer’s, though. There is a brilliant scene where Hamill is wearing a pair of briefs and he appears to be…well, let’s just say he looks bigger than average in one certain location.

Apologies. Hamill is Brad Travis, the owner of Stratus Gallery, the sort of hideous place that sold awful looking art to people with more money than sense; his partner / girlfriend is Diane Abbott (Amanda Wyss), and the two of them are doing okay, apart from him being a little too much of a flirt for her tastes – he’s just doing it to make sales, although to our 2018 eyes, he comes across as a complete sexual predator.

One day, into the gallery walks Cassandra (Apollonia, former protege of Prince and a surprisingly natural actor), and sparks fly. They’re hot for each other, despite Hamill not being, let’s say, a classically handsome or muscular fellow; and after another argument about his womanising with Diane, he happily hops into bed with Cassandra.

Diane goes off to New York to wrap up a deal – set up with one of the more jarring cameos I can remember, Larry Hankin (aka Mr Heckles from “Friends”) playing a rich fool’s brother – and Cassandra and Brad act like a couple for a few days. Here’s the curious layer to things: the two of them make a great couple, they seem natural and happy round each other in a way he never is with Diane. But Hollywood morality means the plot can only go one way, and when Diane gets back from NY and sees the two of them together, she gets really angry and then supernaturally bad things start happening to him, including impotence and leukemia.

There’s a twist, and it’s surprisingly clever and well-laid out, if you ignore the couple of gigantic red herrings the movie lays in our path. There are some good characters, too, such as Brad’s housekeeper Carlita, the voodoo doctor who helps Brad, the doctor’s assistant, and so on.

Quite surprisingly, the director of this oddity was a woman, Deryn Warren. Brad’s desire to sleep with whoever he wants being treated as normal and good, the shrewish nature of Diane, the wild bitterness of Cassandra, the fact that not once does Brad ever consider just apologising, the meaning of the twist…these feel like they came from a fairly sexist guy. But maybe I’m missing something? Or maybe she just wasn’t very good? (this was her third movie as director, and her last for almost 20 years – she returned in 2008). The writer, responsible for all Warren’s other movies too, is Jerry Daly, who we’ve met once before, as he also wrote “Witchcraft 3”, which I didn’t like (the last word of my review of that was “avoid”).

I’m trying to think of something worthwhile to say about “Black Magic Woman”. Perhaps that half the budget was clearly spent on the rights to the titular song? It wasn’t boring, which I was surprised by, but it definitely wasn’t good. I think Apollonia was hired mostly for her looks and ended up blowing the other two main cast members out of the water in the acting stakes, which leaves it feeling a little lop-sided. Why did a selfish dullard inspire such obsession in two different women?

All questions we’re never going to get the answers to. But, I had a great night and if you’re in the area, you really ought to come along to one of the Moolah’s next movie evenings.

Rating for the evening: thumbs up

Rating for the movies: thumbs down