Youtube Film Club: Night Hunter (1996)

“Night Hunter” features one of the tiredest tropes of horror cinema, one which I hope never to see again – characters named after famous horror directors. There’s a Tourneur, a Romero, a Browning, an Argento…you know what, directors? We’ve all seen “Dawn of the Dead” and “Suspiria”, and the only thing references to them achieves is making us wish we were watching them again.

Saying that, “Night Hunter” is fine! It’s a welcome return for ISCFC favourite Don “The Dragon” Wilson, former world kickboxing champion turned actor – we’ve covered him in all 8 “Bloodfist” movies, both “CyberTracker” gems, “Future-Kick”, and “Terminal Rush”, and we’ll try and inform you about more of his work in the upcoming weeks.

 

It has one of those plots which you feel you’ve seen a dozen times before. There’s a family, and people wanting to kill them come to the door. The father – great “That Guy” actor James Lew – hides the kid, gives him a special item (in this case, a book with the names of all the vampires in it) and tells him under no circumstances to emerge from his hiding place, no matter what happens. Of course, the kid emerges and sees his family killed a gang of vampires, accompanied by one human who was originally a friend but was won to the dark side by regular doses of vampire blood which cured all his illnesses and gave him immortality. So, the kid escapes, and it’s…

…30 years later. The now-adult Jack Cutter (Wilson) is taking on a restaurant full of vampires, and does it pretty well. He’s crossing names out of his father’s book, which I’d probably make a spreadsheet out of, rather than carrying it round with me everywhere I go, in case it gets stolen or something, and kicking ass. This is standard Don “The Dragon” Wilson stuff, and it’s fun.

 

As he finishes his task, three strands of plot come together. There’s him, finishing his Dad’s task (he crosses the last name out of the book); there’s a reporter from a tabloid, Remy (Melanie Smith), come to town to investigate…no, don’t remember that bit, but you’re not going to go to your grave thinking “I wish Mark had told me what that reporter was doing in Night Hunter”; and there’s a whole bunch of vampires which apparently Cutter didn’t know about, including Bruno Fischer (Nicholas “brother of Christopher” Guest, doing a decent impression of said brother’s accent in “The Princess Bride”).

Remy believes Cutter immediately, but in coincidence news, she’s the spitting image of Fischer’s long-dead wife, so there’s a whole thing there. There’s a cop too, who tries to arrest Cutter before eventually believing him. And lots and lots of fights.

 

The action rips along, and while it’s not the greatest thing you’ll ever see, it’s fine. The camerawork is vaguely horrific, like the editor had “shaky-cam” mode on his equipment and accidentally dialled it up to 10 during the fight scenes (but only during the fight scenes) and the lighting seems a bit too dark, but it’s fine. You won’t be bored, is the important thing.

 

There’s some vampire weirdness. The family in the “cold open” don’t open their door after dark because of the vampire threat, but it turns out they can walk round in the daylight just fine too, and the only problem they have is a slight eye sensitivity, but as long as they wear sunglasses they’re fine. The way to kill them is not silver bullets, or a stake to the heart, but…breaking their back (well, Cutter says this, but he kills literally every vampire by breaking their neck, not their back).

There are a curious number of similarities between this and “Blade”, which didn’t come out for 2 years after this – I’m pretty sure they’re coincidental, but there are vampire council meetings, and a scene set in a nightclub full of vamps, and a more-powerful-than-human vampire killer. All this is likely to do is make you think “I wish I was watching Blade right now”.

 

It’s a good, solid bit of fun. You won’t be blown away by it, you won’t be adding this to your list of all-time great vampire movies, but you’ll have a decent time.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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Armageddon: The Final Challenge (1995)

Not a single thing in this image is in the movie

What the heck? The world makes a little less sense after watching “Armageddon: The Final Challenge”, which takes its place down there at the very bottom of the cinematic firmament, where movies like “Demon Cop”, “After Last Season” and “Monster A-Go-Go” live. It’s really weird and awful, and I’m going to try and tell you about it.

 

The only thing any sensible movie fan can cling to is the main actor, Todd Jensen. He’s been in “Cyborg Cop”, “Project Shadowchaser 2”, “Project Shadowchaser 4” (as different characters), and “Ninja”, among many SyFy Channel original movies. He’s a solid actor who wasn’t short of work at the time, which makes his presence here puzzling, at best. But he’s in it and he’s a real actor. This is a real project which someone paid money for.

A string holding up a spaceship, ladies and gentlemen

Let’s try and sum up what’s going on, from the mix of a long info-dump at the beginning (which scrolls by slightly too quickly to comfortably read) and an almost constant voiceover, which is occasionally being done by Jensen and occasionally by another unidentified man. There’s some really bad 90s CGI, which appears to be an advert for a space-car which transforms into a rat-monster. Not sure about that one, and it’s a weird way to start a movie. But anyway! The New World Order Bank has taken over the world, I think, and they’ve created clones called “Fear-Permutators” whose job is to maintain control in this post-nuclear world. The next screen I’m just going to quote for you verbatim, as…I’ve got no idea:

 

The nightmare squad of Clones were permitted to kill “undesirable” citizens within the rules of a legalised killing game called Multiple Murdering.

 

There’s a lot to break down here. We only ever see one Fear-Permutator, who looks an awful lot like my friend Ben (so, not really a squad). The only person we see them trying to kill is a government employee who’s simply questioning some unexpected charges on his bank account. So, not really undesirable, and I’ve got no idea why it’s called Multiple Murdering either. The rules are never given or even hinted at.

Jensen is Michael Ederlander (or, sometimes, Michael Throne), a government courier in the dystopian future. His first five minutes on screen are spent trying to resolve those aforementioned banking difficulties, and this upsets the people at the bank so much they decide to kill him. I think? He finds a strange woman, Vouyo (Joanna Rowlands), unconscious in his back yard, they sort of have a relationship, then her father Plato the Prophet (Graham Clarke) turns up and ropes Michael in to a rebel plan to broadcast a message of defiance to everyone in the galaxy. It turns out Vouyo is a clone, and the real one (who also seems quite attracted to Michael) is on her way to Earth. There’s a whole subplot about human-realistic robots being sold as servants / sex slaves, but all this really means is you’ll see someone stood stock still in the background of a scene every now and again.

 

I may have to stray slightly into spoiler territory, but honestly the only reason you’d want to watch this is to see how weird it is, and I can’t really reveal the weirdness without giving away the end. Ready?

 

Michael is responsible for the most famous radio broadcast in the history of the galaxy (a random transmission about his dead wife, and no, it’s never explained why it was so famous or why that famous man is some random document courier) so that’s why Plato wants him to help out. Even though it’s never been so much as hinted at to this point, the rebel broadcast he wants Michael to read is about the second coming of Jesus (!) and Jesus does indeed descend with his heavenly host, turning the world into a battlefield, in the movie’s final scene.

What? I saw the damn movie like an hour ago and I don’t really believe it either. In between scenes of the Fear-Permutator sort of vaguely trying to kill Michael, and him sleeping with clone-Vouyo, he has lots of very vivid dreams, which feel like scenes they shot for the actual story but then couldn’t figure out where to place. He also, at one point, gets into a “Dream-Pod” and plays a game of chess against the Fear-Permutator, for reasons which the movie feels it unimportant to give us.

 

Should you watch this, you’ll be left with a whole heap of questions. Like, why does this rebellion consist of three people? What is the motivation of the rebels? Why do we get this line of dialogue – “Gujiana City: Deformed offspring of quasi-religious quibblings, thermonuclear fireball design, achieved at ruinous cost” when all we see is a vague looking model for a few seconds then the inside of another room?

 

There are a bunch of very curious choices made on the technical side of things. Like, Michael’s living in what looks like the backstage area of a theatre, complete with gantries for him to fight the baddie on, a curtain which he steps through at one point, ropes everywhere – but then, when he goes outside to find Vouyo, it’s a normal suburban home. Perhaps the director had access to a theatre for a weekend and decided to make the best of what he had? Then there’s the music, which is both far too loud and far too awful. It’s the worst elevator muzak you’ve ever heard, played over every scene whether the scene warrants it or not.

Imagine, if you will, a mix of “Blade Runner” and a religious propaganda movie, with a very hefty dose of British sci-fi gem “Hardware”. But nowhere near as good as any of those things. It’s like being told, second-hand, about a dream someone had. It just kept on getting worse, too! Like, they didn’t get their weird ideas out of the way then settle down to make a normal movie. They went all out!

 

If you can track this down, then I heartily recommend it, not just because it’ll make you feel better about every other movie you’ve ever seen. I really think this could be one of the worst movies ever.

 

Rating: shrug

 

PS. One last thing. Why is it called the final challenge? Was the final challenge to send a radio message telling everyone God is on his way, which is the same thing those crazy evangelical radio stations have been doing for decades?

Deadlocked: Escape From Zone 14 (1995)

Long-term readers may remember our series of Rutger Hauer reviews, as his run of movies from the mid 80s to the early 90s features some video store classics like “Split Second”, “Salute of the Jugger”, “The Hitcher”, “Wanted: Dead Or Alive” and “Blade Runner”, to name but a few.

 

One of our favourites was “Wedlock”, where he and Mimi Rodgers were inmates in an unusual future-prison. No walls, just an explosive collar round the neck. Each inmate was paired with another, and if you got too far from that person the collar would go boom, but no-one knew who, the idea being that people would keep each other in check, foil any escape plans, and so on. A simple story, well told, and lots of fun.

Although this is a sequel to “Wedlock”, with the same writer even, it’s more a use of the same beats to tell a different story, which takes the collar / prison thing but pretty much nothing else. There’s a circle round the outside of the non-prison, same as before, but that’s just the boundary that no-one can cross, rather than being “you’re always within range of everyone else, inside this line”. The prison, a disused amusement park, is more reminiscent of “Escape From New York”, as there are no guards and the prisoners can do what they like.

 

Our protagonist is Tony (Esai Morales), who’s either a thief or a high-end corporate security analyst, depending on who’s paying him. He breaks into the offices of the extremely evil Jack Claremont (the excellent Steven McHattie), and almost gets away with some important documents! But sadly, one of the completely ordinary pieces of consumer tech he uses to break in was on like 10% charge, shuts down at a critical moment and he’s caught. Dear me! That’s the best idea you could come up with?

Turns out, Claremont refused to pay Tony $25,000 for a previous job, so he’d decided to rob some information from him and sell it on. Claremont, sensing an opportunity, murders one of his own guards, pins it on Tony and has him sent to jail. What he needs to do when he’s there is find Allie (Nia Peeples), who apparently embezzled $85,000,000 and hid it so well that no-one can find it; escape with her; get her to lead him to the cash; and tell Claremont where it is. He’ll let Tony live, and blah blah blah. You know the score.

 

The section of the movie set in the actual prison is fairly short, as once you’ve established the rules of the prison and demonstrated it by blowing a random extra’s head off, there’s not a lot else to hold the viewer’s interest. Tony helps Allie with some very insistent male prisoners, and she agrees to escape with him – it’s at this point that he reprograms the collars so his and hers are linked, Wedlock-style, making this the sole link to Rutger Hauer’s original classic.

The abiding memory of this section of the movie is a series of scenes where Tony and Allie are close to separating and blowing themselves up – on a train, on two separate moving trucks, skydiving – and while it’s not terribly original, it’s kind of fun. Like a highlight reel for a low-impact stunt performer, therefore perfect for a TV movie. Claremont’s people are chasing them, and you’re waiting for the moment when Allie discovers Tony’s interest in her isn’t just him being nice, and that’s all fine.

 

I’d suggest the main issue is that it’s not remotely futuristic enough. It’s just our normal modern society with weird prisons and a court where the judge appears via TV but everything else is exactly the same. I know, budgets and TV movies and all that, but we sci-fi fans like a little more sci in our fi.

But, it’s solidly entertaining, and that is far from a given, when you look at the movies we normally cover. Nia Peeples and Esai Morales have a really strong chemistry, and the villains are good too. So, if you saw Wedlock and really enjoyed it, but want a little more of people with bombs round their necks, then you could do a heck of a lot worse.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle