Stone Cold (1991)

Looking back over “Stone Cold” and the amount of stuff that happens in it, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was three hours long; but it’s a trim and super action-packed 90 minutes, and not only that, it’s really good! While no-one would mistake Brian Bosworth for an actor, neither would they for Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal or many other of the action stars Bosworth was competing with at the time, and if this film hadn’t been such a flop, meaning he wouldn’t make another movie for five years, missing the end of the straight-to-video action movie boom, then who knows where his career might have gone?

There was some debate among my viewing companions about whether this “badass stops criminals in a supermarket” scene was better than a very similar one in “Cobra”, and while opinions were split, it’s safe to say they’re both great. The star being super-cool, an incredibly good fighter and a nice guy (also, Bosworth respects the property around him a little more than Stallone did), is what’s established here, as we meet Joe Huff, a cop who just can’t play by the rules (!), on suspension but taking any opportunity to bust some bad guys’ heads.

 

Huff, due to his love of bikes and magnificent, A+ grade mullet, is tasked by the FBI with the job of going undercover in The Brotherhood, a biker gang, and doing a number of things, really. Firstly, they’re interested in killing the District Attorney because he’s got one of their senior members locked up on a murder charge, but there’s also stopping their drug dealing (there’s some weird new drug on the streets) – it seems biker gangs are worse than Satan in this particular world, given the number of newspaper headlines there are about them. His undercover name is John Stone, which is a fine name for an action hero.

The introductory scenes for the Brotherhood are just amazing, and although you’ll have seen something similar a hundred times before (a ton of beefy dudes with big beards, wearing leather, and women gyrating around, mostly undressed) the way they do it here is a good indication as to the level of crazy you’re going to get. One of the gang’s main lieutenants, Ice (the great William Forsythe) and another guy are playing William Tell, with beer cans and guns. After a few rounds, one of them whips out a submachine gun and sprays it liberally around – hits the beer can but nothing else! There are hundreds of people stood around!

 

“Stone Cold” really looks after the cast, all the way down. Huff’s FBI handler is Lance, played by Sam McMurray, who’s better known for comedy and voice acting but is excellent here. Chains, the boss of the gang, is Lance Henriksen, who loves playing badass villains and does a great job again. Richard Gant, a fine “That Guy” actor, is the FBI boss, and Paolo Tocha (“Bloodfist 7”, “Bloodsport”, “Predator 2”) is “The Bolivian”, who Huff has to kill in order to be accepted into the gang (he just puts him on a plane to Mexico and borrows an ear from a corpse and pretends it’s his).

I could just recap all the stuff that happens in this movie and this review would be 5000 words long, and no-one needs to read 5000 words about this, as you should just watch it instead. Heck, I could spend a few thousand waxing lyrical about Bosworth’s mullet, so magnificent is it. So I won’t, but get ready for the final scene, a shootout of such over the top nonsense that you can’t help but be entertained. It’s set in Alabama but filmed in Arkansas, and when the producers asked if they could borrow the state capital for the day, flying a helicopter down the street and having bikers drive all over the courthouse, Arkansas was all “please do!”, meaning the ending definitely has a visual style that some other movies can’t match.

 

I mean, it’s very definitely not original. You’ll recognise the beats from dozens of other “undercover cop” movies – the gang guy who doesn’t trust the cop and warns everyone, the boss’s girlfriend who falls in love with our hero, the wacky comedy relief cop sidekick, they’re all there. But few of them are as absolutely relentless with almost no slack time as this one is.

 

I did kind of want to discuss a problem that the movie never really brings up, and that’s how good Huff’s police work is. He certainly inflitrates the gang, but does he stop them from doing…anything? Their plan, to bust their friend out of court when he’s on trial for murder, works pretty much perfectly, and Huff’s involvement comes right at the very end, with a couple of sweet fight scenes and some shooting. Imagine “Die Hard”, but instead of working to save the hostages and stop Alan Rickman from doing his thing, Bruce Willis just hopped out of the building at about the two-thirds mark, joined the cops stationed outside and just fired at the baddies on their way out? Okay, it’s not quite that bad, but when you start thinking about it, it’s a little curious – Huff doesn’t even save the woman who agreed to give evidence against her own gang!

There are a couple of interesting credits, too. First is the writer, Walter Doniger. He was born in 1917 (putting him in his early 70s when this movie was made) and is best known for being a writer and director of TV shows in the 50s and 60s (“Peyton Place” and dozens of western shows). He’d effectively retired by the mid 70s, with one credit in 1983 and then nothing until this (which was his last movie). It had, perhaps, been sat on a shelf for 20 years and was pressed into service by a studio looking for a quick starring vehicle for that former NFL guy they had? It bears a passing resemblance to 1968’s “Hellcats”, for example.

 

Then there’s director Craig R Baxley. He worked as a stunt coordinator on “The Warriors”, “Predator” and TV shows like “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “The A-Team”, and he’s still working as a director now, mostly in TV. But he gave us some gems before doing that – “Action Jackson”, “Dark Angel”, and “Chameleon 2”, to name a few. This was his last big-budget movie, sadly.

 

I hope I’ve persuaded you to give “Stone Cold” a go, although I assume you’re smarter than me and saw it years ago. From the good old days when an unknown star and a properly violent script could get major studio backing!

Rating: thumbs up

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The Terror Within 2 (1991)

I imagine the sequel to “The Terror Within” was born thus. Star Andrew Stevens and producer Roger Corman are sat having lunch, discussing the boffo box office that their “Alien” rip-off did; Corman would naturally like a sequel. Stevens says yes, but only if he can direct; Corman agrees, but also wants him to write it. Stevens thinks about it for a second, and goes “can I just re-use the script from the first movie?” to which Corman laughs and goes “go ahead! It’s not like it was original in the first place!”

 

My wife asked me this morning what I thought of “The Terror Within 2”, to which I replied it was a cheaper, stupider cover version of part 1; although it felt a little strange even having an opinion about it, as the plot and setting are, essentially, the same, but we’ve got a few interesting things to talk about, plot holes to drive through and a few weak jokes to crack, so let’s begin.

Actually, before we begin, there’s a “huh?” credit, and that is the cinematographer, one Janusz Kaminski. He’s won two Oscars (“Saving Private Ryan” and “Schindler’s List”), been nominated a few more times, and also worked on “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”, “Jerry Maguire” and many many others. Of course, we here at the ISCFC remember him most fondly for his work on the Vanilla Ice vehicle “Cool As Ice”, but if you wondered why this otherwise bargain-basement movie looked way better than it had any right to, you have this guy to thank.

 

Okay! Dr David Pennington (Stevens) is travelling through the desert-y mountain-y region between the Mojave and the Rocky Mountains – at least, that’s what the movie claims – once again with his brave dog Butch by his side. Butch was our favourite in part 1 and he’s similarly excellent here, just happy to be walking along with his friend – there’s a nice scene where the actors stop but Butch carries on walking, clearly because his bowl of water is behind the camera and he’s thirsty. His female companion from part 1 is no longer with us but he soon picks up a new lady friend, Ariel (Claire Hoak) after happening upon her and her brother getting attacked by gargoyles. They’re in love and getting naked incredibly quickly, then what seems to be the next morning (but could be a month?) she announces she’s pregnant, that she “just knows”.

For those of you who saw the issues with gargoyles impregnating humans in the first movie, you may be wondering “surely they’re not going to go the same route?” to which the answer is…well, you can guess. Anyway, while they’re on their way to the Rocky Mountain CDC base, we see the people up there, trying to make a vaccine for the virus that killed so many people. There’s “That Guy” actors par excellence Chick Vennera, Burton Gilliam and Renee Jones, and Andrew Stevens’ mother Stella is there too. The great R Lee Ermey, presumably enjoying the opportunity to play a non-drill sergeant role, is in charge of the base.

 

It’s right around here where you can tell an inexperienced director is in charge. They just kept adding storylines! We have – David and Ariel walking through the wilderness; a finger chopped off a gargoyle still being alive, but no-one pays it the slightest attention as it grows and mutates and kills a mouse and eventually breaks out; Ariel getting raped by a gargoyle; one of the science ladies betraying everyone else; there’s a cave with a whole group of people surviving in it; and then there’s the inevitable battle against Ariel’s mutant baby, and the thing that the severed finger turned into. Oh, and the cave-people kill Butch, which does sort of trigger a John Wick-style response from David (spoiler because I know some people don’t like watching movies where dogs die).

If I don’t focus, this review could be as long as the movie. Let’s give you a few of the wilder plot holes, though. The cave-people seem pretty friendly, although they’re obviously not – they let David and Ariel sleep there, then offer to take David to pick some peyote (for the vaccine). While he’s gone, they take Ariel to another cave to be an offering to the local gargoyle, and the two people accompanying David try to kill him. Er, why not just kill him in his sleep and chain her up?

 

My favourite, though, and the thing that must have had Corman scratching his head when watching the finished product, is why David lets the same thing happen in this movie as happened in part 1. She gets pregnant from the gargoyle, her belly grows in hours, the last time this happened the baby killed everyone he knew, so…he’d be all for aborting that foetus or killing it as soon as it came out, right? Nope! He just sort of vaguely hopes it all works out, like neither he (the character) or he (the writer / director) had ever seen the first movie.

 

The monsters, when we see them, go so far beyond bad as to be laughable. I mean, they could have just borrowed the rubber suits from part 1, but no! They, instead, chose to just cover a normal guy in red goo, tape half a horn to his head and just leave it at that. Seriously! Is this worse or better than the gun effect? The gun effect is, basically…nothing. You see a gun, and hear the sound of it firing, but no-one either had an actual prop gun that looked like it was being fired, or bothered adding the effect in post (or hiding the barrel of the gun from actually being on camera). It’s so weird and so distracting, and I’ve got no idea why no-one noticed it or cared.

It’s a curious mess of a movie. The acting is fine, the direction is okay for a first-timer, and the cinematography is, of course, excellent. It’s just got too many subplots that don’t add anything, and really needed a few more script drafts, or someone to read it and go “hey, Andrew, why is this happening?” at some of the odder choices. Also, they really should have cut down on scenes that were identical to scenes in the first movie – like the camera getting shredded outside the base, which actually (I think) used the same footage from part 1.

 

If you really want to see another movie where a weird mutant (that feels the need to sneak everywhere, despite being largely indestructible) chases a group of scientists round an underground base, then go ahead and watch this. But if you’re just a person who likes cheesy movies AND ALREADY SAW PART 1 WHICH IS IDENTICAL, then maybe give something else a try.

 

Rating: thumbs down

The Terror Within (1989)

We here at the ISCFC are experts in movies that borrow liberally from other, more famous movies, but even we, cynical as we are, were a little taken aback by just how many plot points this borrows from two famous entries in the same franchise.

 

In 1981, the great Roger Corman produced “Galaxy Of Terror” which is famous for two things – being the first movie to rip off “Alien”, and for being the first job in Hollywood for James Cameron, who’d go on to give us “Aliens”. Corman clearly felt he’d not gone far enough, so in 1990 he gave us a movie which heavily borrows from both “Alien” and “Aliens”, but sadly doesn’t feature anyone who’d go on to greater fame and fortune (unless your definition of either term is very generous).

 

It doesn’t borrow every bit of story from those two, though, as it starts off, on Earth, in a definitely post-apocalyptic situation, caused by a virus, or germ warfare (it’s never really made clear) that wipes out 99% of the population and turns some of the survivors into “gargoyles”, huge rubber-suited monstrosities. Our heroes work for the CDC, and are in a base deep underneath the Mojave Desert (and one of the most famous locations in movie history, the Vasquez Rocks in California, are featured prominently in a few scenes); they’re in occasional contact with another base, but other than that, humanity appears to be pretty much done for. Every now and again, a small team heads out to try and find survivors, or maybe a dead gargoyle to do experiments on; no idea how long it’s been since the apocalypse.

In charge of the base is Hal – George Kennedy, who must have owed someone a favour; Andrew Stevens (more famous these days as a producer) as his second-in-command David, and Star Andreeff as Sue, who’s having a secret-ish relationship with David. Andreeff is a beloved regular here at the ISCFC, having appeared in “The Vampire Journals”, “Scanner Cop” and “Ghoulies 2”; but so is the “obviously the Sigourney Weaver replacement”, actor, Terri Treas as Linda. We’ve enjoyed her work in “Deathstalker 3”, “House 4” and the TV version of “Alien Nation”, and it’s definitely the ladies that get all the interesting stuff to do, too.

 

They find a survivor out in the wilderness! But she’s pregnant! And the foetus is developing at an insanely fast rate! Before we get much time to even take this in, we’ve had a moment of pure “Alien”, where the creature pops out of the woman’s stomach and escapes, growing to 6’6” remarkably quickly. The effect is pretty good, honestly, even a little gross.

The monster just seems to be mad, not hungry (which is weird, given how quickly he grew). Even though we establish very quickly that normal weapons do basically no damage to the creature and it could just walk up to everyone and kill them, we get a whole movie of it skulking in air vents and killing almost everyone in the base slowly. Oh, it kidnaps Sue at one point, and there’s a whole discussion after her rescue about whether her pregnancy is thanks to David or the monster.

 

Like so many B-movies of the era, the budgetary restraints show everywhere, from the use of the same three locations for almost all the running time, to the rubber alien suit (shown way too much in the back half), to the relative lack of action. It’s not slow, particularly, it could have just been a bit more action-packed? It would have been nice to have more of a sense of their predicament, how long they’d been down there, stuff like that.

I almost forgot the best actor! That would be Butch, an American bulldog who – in the credits – shares a last name with Andrew Stevens (so I assume it’s his dog), and he’s obviously delighted to be hanging out with his best friend. But he knows what to do, and falls down when the monster “hits” him, lays there covered in bandages for most of act 2, that sort of thing. He’s a good boy!

 

There’s not a ton more to tell you about “The Terror Within”, honestly. It’s a ripoff of “Alien”, with a healthy amount of “Aliens” too, set in an underground base, with an okay cast and a low budget. There is a sequel, which Andrew Stevens also wrote and directed, so I’ll guess we’ll give that a go?

But before we leave, I regret to inform you that despite the low levels of originality on display here, “The Terror Within” is but a silver medallist to the all-time great ripoff movie, 1989’s “Shocking Dark” (aka Terminator 2)”. Don’t let that title fool you! Here’s how I summed up the plot of that one:

 

A group of marines is forced to take a non-soldier along on a mission – a woman with curly auburn hair. They encounter a creature which doesn’t kill them immediately, but takes them away and stores them in a gooey webbing, where they beg to be killed. They rescue a small girl who’s survived in the hostile environment for some time. The soldiers have radar trackers, and at one point they’re detecting signals from monsters who should be in the room with them, they’re so close. The corporation representative tries to trap the female and the kid in a room with the monster, and turns the camera off so no-one knows what he’s doing. While setting off the base’s self-destruct mechanism, the woman gives the girl a wristband that will allow her to be tracked, seconds before she falls down a long slide and out of sight.

 

So it’s not even the most unoriginal. Sorry movie! Unless you’re jaded and have seen all the other VHS tapes ever released, don’t make too much of an effort to get hold of a copy of this.

 

Rating: thumbs down