Ghoulies 4 (1994)

So we come to the end of another horror series, one which (due to its chequered ownership history) appears unlikely to come back in the form of a remake, soft reboot, part 5, anything like that. Thank you, complicated entertainment law!

I have complained, often, about horror movies which don’t really feature the titular creature or villain, which just use the name to sell a few extra copies. The later “Hellraiser” and “Witchcraft” entries are the best examples of this, but there are dozens of others, and to that long long list we must add “Ghoulies 4”. The ghoulies are 100% entirely irrelevant to the plot, show up maybe three times, and interact with the main cast once.

Kudos for this and other puzzling choices must go to the director, ISCFC’s old friend Jim Wynorski. I once won a $10 voucher at a trivia night for knowing about “Chopping Mall”, so for that and the excellent LP I bought with the voucher, thanks Mr Wynorski, but those of you with long memories may remember my less-than-kind words about him and the other more recent movies he’s made. Since the millennium, he’s given us “Cleavagefield”, “The Witches of Breastwick”, “The Hills Have Thighs”, numerous entries in the “Bare Wench Project” series, and “House On Hooter Hill”, among lots of family movies presumably destined to trick undiscerning grandparents on Netflix searches for their grandchildren; and sub-SyFy Channel efforts like “Dinocroc vs Supergator”.

I find him, David DeCouteau and Fred Olen Ray to be among the worst that B-movies have to offer, as their sole purpose in life – certainly since the fall of Blockbuster – appears to be to spit out “content” for late-night cable channels that are obliged by some obscure clause in their charter to make X hours of original programming a month. Two hours (with adverts) of a Wynorski movie is cheaper than sending a film crew to show topless women at mardi gras, one presumes – and while I don’t think they’re to blame for the state of low budget cinema, they certainly eagerly participate in its worst excesses.

But that’s a subject for another time. We’re here to talk the last Ghoulies movie, featuring a return from Peter Liapis as “Jonathan Graves”, star of part 1. He’s now a cop, because why not, and is the sort of loose cannon that we bad movie afficionados know and love, with the added wrinkle that his Captain is his ex-partner and ex-girlfriend, Kate (Barbara Alyn Woods). He gets a new partner, who’s a complete imbecile; and he’s also got a girlfriend who’s a prostitute, who he seems happy with her plying her trade while the two of them are an item.

Into this fun and games steps another ex-girlfriend, Alexandra (Stacie Randall), from way back in Jonathan’s life, back when he was still messing with the dark arts. Wait, says the viewer of part 1. His girlfriend back then wasn’t called Alexandra, and his entire life in the dark arts was documented in that movie – he wasn’t into it before, and as all his friends nearly died, one would assume he’d stop messing with if afterwards. So why has he got an ex who he clearly did black magic with? Shhh, dear viewer. Think not on such conundrums. Anyway, Alexandra is trying to find a special jewel with which she can summon a sexy male demonic entity called Faust – she loses the first jewel because she’s an idiot and Faust gives her poor instructions, but our old friend Jonathan has the second one, hung round his neck.

Jonathan investigates the theft of the first jewel, which is how he gets involved in the plot, and the aborted attempt to summon Faust causes an open door, through which come two ghoulies. Well, I call them ghoulies. Unlike the puppets of parts 1-3, Jim Wynorski just decided to hire two midgets and have them run around in largely identical outfits (save for a few shades of colour) that look absolutely nothing like the other ghoulies. They chat, crack “jokes” and seem, in a rather odd 180 from previous instalments, to be good guys.

What else to say? My notes include “anti-Bechdel test”, which is a conversation between two women so intently focused on one man that it was almost a joke. There are boxes in one scene labelled for delivery to Miskatonic University in Arkham, MA, aka the place where lots of HP Lovecraft stories are set. There’s a weirdly light-hearted scene where Kate gets a full condom thrown on her from another car, by accident.

A few words about Jonathan, who’s now sort of an alcoholic. Imagine you have to go through the stuff he’s gone through, and being an alcoholic would be about the best case scenario – but I do wish he’d taken better care of that jewel round his neck. He fights an Asian dude near the end for absolutely no reason, and the reveal of who Faust actually is is pointlessly undercut by a few lines of dialogue about ten minutes before. Same old, same old.

It’s just not very good, even if it’s not particularly obvious that Wynorski was going cheap on the making of it. It’s just a bunch of stuff that happens, with no consistency in tone and no good jokes. Best that this series is now retired.

Rating: thumbs down


Smokey And The Hotwire Gang (1979)

Although you may not have heard of him, Tony Cardoza is bad movie royalty. His most famous series of credits is as producer and co-star of the entire filmography of Coleman Francis – “The Beast of Yucca Flats”, “The Skydivers” and “Red Zone Cuba”, three of the most miserable, dark-hearted, and just plain incompetent movies ever made (although they have a few defenders). You may have seen them covered on “Mystery Science Theater 3000” – to be fair, you’re unlikely to have seen them anywhere else – and those sleazy performances, along with whatever he did to secure money for Coleman Francis, means his place in the ISCFC Hall Of Fame is already set.

But there wasn’t just that. This one-time welder was bitten by the movie bug, so as well as helping Francis, he produced a few films for other people – the Ed Wood Jr movie “Night Of The Ghouls” is probably the most famous, but there’s also “The Hellcats” and a smattering of other biker movies. He also, which is the thing that interests us today, directed two movies of his own, twenty years apart. One is a genuinely puzzling-looking cop comedy from as late as 1998 (“Misfit Patrol”), and the other is this.

It might reasonably be said the super-success of “Smokey and the Bandit” in 1977, and lesser stuff like “Convoy” persuaded Mr Cardoza to put aside biker movies and move on to…whatever genre you’d say those gems inhabit. Easy-going Southern comedy? Whatever it was, he rustled up a few dollars and was able to give the world “Smokey and the Hotwire Gang”.

The first thing you see is a couple of good ol’ boys get tricked by a sheriff who’s using the CB to encourage drivers to speed down the stretch of road he’s looking after. Unfortunately, his car is garbage and theirs is a Porsche, so they blow past him and continue with their day. One of them is on leave from the Army, the other one is…blond. That’s about as much character as I got from them. They exist to get the audience up to speed on how amazing CB radio is and how dumb cops are, basically.

After that, all bets are off on what the movie is about. There’s a van, with some sweet paintings on the side, driven by “Billy The Kid”, and he picks up a hitch-hiker who’s also got their own portable CB radio which they use to ask for rides. Then there’s a couple of car thieves who spend some time at classy strip joint “Filthy McNasty’s” before heading off to an upscale party hosted by one “Hotwire”, aka Eleanor Brookhurst; she’s the crime boss of the city, stealing cars for her upscale clients (who ought to be able to afford their own), running prostitutes, and (in what passes for the central plot of the movie) arranging for an armored car full of a million dollars to get held up.

There’s a mobile brothel, run by two cheerful prostitutes, who announce their wares over the CB too; a guy who’s handle is “The Jewish Cowboy”; and a couple of idiot cops. The cops suck at driving so they release a guy in a weird sparkly costume from jail so he can drive them round – sparkly suit guy then really gets into being on the side of good. Oh, and a gang of Hotwire’s mafia-style goons, one of whom is Tony Sirico, who’d go on to huge fame as Paulie Walnuts in “The Sopranos” (despite him being listed in the credits, this doesn’t show up on his IMDB profile).

ASIDE: There’s also James “Son of Stacy” Keach, Alvy Moore (formerly of sitcom “Green Acres”) and Tony Lorea (who was in “What’s Up, Hideous Sun Demon?” and “Hot Shots”) rounding out the cast. So, Cardoza had a few dollars to throw around, at one point.

ASIDE 2: If you’d like an extremely detailed recap of “Smokey”, then feel free to visit because they must have watched it multiple times to get that amount of information from it. I’m more a broad strokes kind of guy.

My chief broad stroke is that Tony Cardoza perhaps bit off more than he could chew when it came to his directorial debut (I think he wrote it, as well, under the “pseudonym” T. Gary Cardoza). I’ve listed a bunch of different characters above, and I’d love to say one of them is the star, but they just sort of bounce of each other in random pairings, or are just featured in short scenes on their own. The CB radio is perhaps the star of the movie, as every character uses it, and we’re treated to tons of CB speak, which for the uninitiated is just sorta like the language that develops around large websites, only said by a bunch of people with mostly redneck accents.

I’ve tried, quite a lot, to figure out why this movie was put together the way it was – Cardoza seems to have had almost complete control over it, so the way it looks like it was edited mostly at random (apart from a few scenes near the beginning and a few near the end, the rest could be in almost any order) is weird. It amounts to a series of 2-minute scenes featuring whichever actors he had on set that day? I mean – the acting is tolerable, it’s lit so you can tell what’s going on, the camera remains in focus throughout – but it does have quite a few technical issues, like focusing on the wrong character in a scene, or the sound being weird, stuff like that.

Oh, my favourite is when you see a shot of two people talking in a supposedly moving car, and it’s very obviously standing still. I love that they try to give the impression it’s moving, by rocking it a little and running a light over it (to recreate street lights zooming past) but then don’t bother not shooting the background, which stays completely still.

It does have one of the most amazing pieces of product placement I’ve ever seen, too (more for the time it was made, when that really wasn’t a thing that movies did). Action basically stops for a minute while the entire screen is taken up with an ad for Dad’s Root Beer, with the impression being it’s on the TV that a couple of characters are watching. But it’s an advert, straight-up inserted in the middle. Well done, Mr Cardoza!

Perhaps the most curious thing about it all, though, is the complete lack of anything approaching progress. Take the Jewish Cowboy, who appears to just be some guy driving through town. The movie takes place over several days, but he’s still close enough to the action to be able to continually comment on it. Where was he going? He ought to be half a country away by the end of the movie. At least “Convoy” and “Smokey and the Bandit” ended up somewhere different to where they started.

So strap yourself in for some 70s slang, 70s sexual politics, and get ready for a good time. This is why I love bad movies so much – anyone can make a normal-ish drama, there are tons of perfectly competent actors and technical crew around for the hiring. But not everyone can make something that sort of looks normal but is in fact absolutely bonkers, seemingly without effort. Anthony Cardoza has been involved in the making of many such bonkers movies, and for that we must celebrate him. I see an old interview with him where he talks about writing an autobiography – he’s sadly no longer with us, but if anyone reading this knows his family, and that book is sat somewhere unpublished, I’d love to read it. I bet he’s got some fascinating stories of the Z-list.

Rating: thumbs up

Ghoulies 3: Ghoulies Go To College (1991)

The moment when Charles Band sold the rights to “Ghoulies” to Vestron Video, a company formed by an asset-stripping former HBO executive, was probably the best thing that ever happened to the franchise – not a terribly high bar to clear, admittedly. Although Vestron were no more committed to quality than Band, it turns out that just having someone else do it was it all it needed to turn the little rubber puppets into comedy stars.

This is given further credence by the choice of director being one of the Full Moon “stable”. John Carl Buechler was a special effects guy, who did a lot of the Full Moon movies (“Dungeonmaster”, “Trancers”, the “Ghoulies” themselves, “Terrorvision”, etc. etc.) and even real normal mainstream efforts (later sequels in the “Nightmare On Elm Street”, “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” series, making him perhaps the answer to an obscure trivia question). He’d previously directed a few things, including the original, not-famous-for-being-terrible “Troll” and “Friday the 13th Part VII”, too.

ASIDE: I’d be interested to know who the script was actually by – it’s credited to Brent Olson, and given it’s their only IMDB credit of any kind, I’m guessing it’s a pseudonym for a writer who was under contract to another studio, or who was either in or not in the union (depending on what sort of production this was).

So, we’re off to college! This time, the Ghoulies are literally born out of a toilet, completing the journey of that one particular prop from being on the poster but not in the movie in part 1, to being the scene of a death in part 2, to being their home in part 3. A drunk frat boy finds a comic hidden inside the wall of his toilet, starts to read the dialogue of it, the special carved toilet starts to bubble and shake, a green light emerges…then he’s called away and the ghoulies go back (this gag is repeated).

It’s a classic college raunch comedy, as we have a frat who’s on probation for doing too many pranks. Led by Skip, with support from Mookey and Kyle, they’re in competition for the Prank Week crown with the evil frat, led by Jeremy Heilman (a sort of Nazi joke, I guess). There’s the humanities teacher who’s obsessed with the occult, Professor Ragnar, the woman who wants Skip to be normal, Erin, the insanely slutty Veronica, Barcus the security guard, and so on.

The ghoulies are eventually summoned by Ragnar, although neither he or anyone else realise they’re there for a while. He demands they kill Skip, they sort of half think about doing that while killing a few other people and getting involved in the Prank Week spirit themselves. The body count is very low (four people, I think?), and while there’s the occasional bit of goo and rubbery special effects as body parts are pulled beyond normal length, there’s not a drop of blood.

There’s not a ton more to say, plot wise. I will say that the Ghoulies now talk, and are a constant Three-Stooges-esque wisecracking presence in their own scenes – this is absolutely a good thing, as their puns keep a few scenes from going flat. It’s really a comedy that uses the trappings of horror, without ever being all that gross or scary.

It’s the acting where “Ghoulies 3” really excels, though. Chief among them is movie legend Kevin McCarthy as Ragnar – he was in the late period of his career, where he was just having fun being a goofy over-actor, and he dials it up to 10 (even by his own standards) here. Evan McKenzie is a bit of a non-entity as Skip, looking like every hero of every 80s comedy combined; but the rest of the cast! Patrick Labyorteaux, soon to be a TV mainstay on a decade-plus of “JAG”, is Mookey, and Jason Scott Lee, recently seen by us in “Timecop 2”, plays completely against type as the nerd-ish Kyle. Griffin O’Neal, shortly before giving up on the movie business altogether, is excellent as one of the evil frat guys; and weirdly pleasing to the ISCFC, having a great time as Veronica is Hope Marie Carlton, who you may remember as “Taryn”, star of the early Andy Sidaris series (“Hard Ticket To Hawaii” and so on).

Much like part 2 had a famous screen debut – Mariska Hargitay – so does part 3, with a first-ever performance from Matthew Lillard, two years before his next role (he signed on as an extra, right out of high school, but someone must have liked him I guess).

I guess my main problem with “Ghoulies 3” is how the entire cast, minus the dead ones and Ragnar, doesn’t realise anything weird is going on until 74 minutes of the 93 minute running time. Not so much as “drunk guy who no-one believes” – so it goes comedy, comedy, comedy, comedy, wow there are dead people and the Professor summoned Ghoulies, end. I don’t think it works all that well, structurally. But, it is genuinely funny, the set dressing is superb and the effects (from Buechler himself) are great, it’s not boring, and is by a million miles the best Ghoulies movie so far. Well, I say so far, part 4 is directed by Jim Wynorski and all the Ghoulies are just midgets in rubber outfits, so I’m going to call it now and say part 3 is the best of the franchise.

Rating: thumbs up

Ghoulies 2 (1988)

I was really struggling with the thought of watching three more Ghoulies movies. But then I discovered two important things – one , that this actually featured the ghoulies more, making them part of the plot and not just window dressing; and two, that this is the last entry to have any involvement from Charles Band, as he sold the rights to the “franchise” to another company in order to try and save Empire Pictures, which was going through financial difficulties at the time. Whether those financial difficulties were anything to do with Band basically making the same movie over and over, doing it cheaply and never ever delivering on the promises put out in pre-release publicity is unknown.

I discover there’s a couple of books written about Mr Band, both of which seem to share my opinion of his work and attitude. The thought of spending that much time thinking about Full Moon makes me sad, but good work to Dave Jay for writing them both. One’s called “It Came From The Video Aisle” and the other is “Empire Of The B’s”, both perfect stocking stuffers for someone you don’t like very much.

Let’s get on to Ghoulies 2, though, which features a full moon prominently at the beginning, so much so that I wondered if this was where they got the idea for the company name from. But possibly not? Anyway, we establish immediately that the little critters laugh off being thrown in a vat of acid, by an unknown saviour of humanity; they stroll off and find the next passing truck to stow away in, which is one of the set trucks for a carnival (funfair?), on its way to its next small-town engagement.

Now, carnivals are rubbish. Always have been, always will be. Watching them set up is a profoundly depressing experience, with their spray-painted sidings always reflecting pop culture references a good decade out of date and their games which are designed to not be won, or to award pathetic prizes…although the carnival here appears more modelled on that in “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombies”, the all-time most miserable-looking carnival ever. There’s a few “freaks” (bearded lady, etc.), a bunch of scantily clad dancing ladies, and – the thing we saw the Ghoulies hitch a ride with – a chamber of horrors.

That attraction is run by old drunk Uncle Ned (Royal Dano), his nephew Larry (Damon Martin) and the midget who dresses up as a weird goblin thing to scare kids, Sir Nigel Penneyweight (Phil Fondacaro). They’re in danger of being closed down by the new evil corporate owner of the carnival, but “luckily” the Ghoulies start frightening asshole teenagers, who go and tell everyone, and then the haunted house becomes the no.1 attraction.

You’ll definitely side with the Ghoulies in this one. Divorced of any particular reason for their existence, they’re just little plastic puppets trying to live their best life, and are having a good time. Everyone else is just a money-grubbing carny. I guess there’s the love interest of Larry, one of the dancers, who rejects the advances of the owner and immediately helps out when Larry needs it, although she’s perhaps the homeliest-looking exotic dancer in the history of the movies. Nothing wrong with that, but I do wonder why she attracts the attention of so many different men.

It’s perhaps best to think of it as a cheap Gremlins ripoff. Although the first one predates the first Gremlins, it’s clear that Band and co learned their lesson – that lesson is “be as similar as possible to something which made a ton of money”. This just happened to be part of that sweet spot of time where one of Band’s obsessions coincided with a popular movie franchise.

I’m not sure what to say about this, really. It reminds one of the aforementioned “The Incredibly Strange Creatures…” and that is never, ever a good thing. It’s a bit more interesting than the first instalment, but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement. The ghoulies still look absolutely terrible, like they were knocked up in someone’s shed in the weekend before filming began, and the gore is still rubbish.

I’m really, finally bored of Charles Band movies. I wonder why anyone would be a fan of this sort of thing, really, enough to keep him going for over 30 years. There must be people in the world who look forward to new Full Moon movies? There’s not a single one of them that wouldn’t benefit from being 20 minutes shorter, and…treating them as a bit of a laugh, or cheesy fun, distracts from how mercenary and soulless it all is.

Or maybe I’m being too harsh. I don’t know. But I do know that when Ghoulies is done, I’m going to move on to something more fun.

Rating: thumbs down

PS. Oh yes, the toilet. The cover of the first movie has a ghoulie coming out of the toilet, but there’s no such scene – they sold the movie based on the poster, no doubt, and they suffered criticism for not carrying through on their promise (one of many lies they’d tell). So they put one in this, and it allowed them to mostly re-use the previous cover.

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

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, 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