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

Guns And Lipstick (1995)

This might, just might, have the most ISCFC-level star-studded cast of all time. If you’re not at least intrigued after I list them, then…well, I’ve got no idea why you’re reading this.

 

Evan Lurie (Expect To Die; Hologram Man; Cyborg 3)

Sherrie Rose (Summer Job; Night Claws; No Retreat, No Surrender 3; Cy-Warrior)

Robert Forster (Maniac Cop 3; Scanner Cop 2; Supernova)

James Hong (Big Trouble In Little China; Epoch; Bloodsport 2; Operation Golden Phoenix)

Sonny Landham (Predator; Best of the Best 2; The Warriors)

Bobbie Phillips (the three Chameleon movies; TC-2000; Back In Action)

Wings Hauser (Rubber; Beastmaster 2; hundreds of B-level action movies)

Joe Estevez (The Roller Blade Seven; Karate Raider; Demolition Highway)

 

Add in a starring role for the great Sally Kirkland, whose oeuvre has sadly missed our critical eye, and you’ve got a hell of a cast. Which is nice because everything else about “Guns and Lipstick” is weird, or confusing, or both.

(Also, there are a few brief shots of full-frontal nudity in this, and tons of boobs. I thought Youtube was opposed to that sort of thing?)

 

With absolutely no preamble whatsoever, we’re right into the “action”, as private eye Danielle (Kirkland) gets a case from stripper Mary (Rose). She’s worried about a guy stalking her, and it turns out she’s entirely right to do so, as the moment Danielle calls it a night on her surveillance, Mary is murdered. Danielle is the prime suspect due to her being an ex-cop who was thrown off the force, and due to Detective Dimaggio (Forster) having it in for her. Well, kind-of, he seems like an okay-ish guy at the beginning.

 

The prime way “Guns and Lipstick” moves forward is the plot twist. Just when you think you understand something, a new wrinkle is introduced or everything suddenly lurches 90 degrees to the right, to the point where you just stop caring, knowing that the person you’re seeing will change motivation a couple more times before the movie ends.

 

There’s Mr Song (Hong), who wants Danielle to find the guy who’s suspected of murdering Mary. There’s Mary’s brother, Andy (Lurie), who is central to the plot for the flimsiest of reasons. There’s “The Albino” (the definitely non-albino Sonny Landham), who’s after the same thing as Mr Song. There are friendly strippers who keep turning up dead, like someone sort of wants to frame Danielle for all the murders but can’t be bothered to do a very good job of it – they leave no evidence behind or provide no plausible motivation. There’s Mr Song’s “daughter”, Felicia (Phillips) who’s brought in a little over halfway through and is just straight-up evil from the get-go. There’s Michael (Wings), who is living in a house that’s sort of guarded by Mr Song’s people, but no-one bothers telling us why he’s there.

The thing which motivates everyone is the MacGuffin Stone, which has a real name but I didn’t write it down and it appears none of this movie’s other reviewers did so either. Who cares? Song offers Danielle $2 million for it, and she seems like “hell yeah, let’s do this so I can get out of here” but never gets the chance to sell.

 

So, a private-eye plot (if a fairly bonkers one), with a couple of movies worth of stuff squeezed into 90 minutes. Let’s discuss details a little. The Albino has a couple of goons who came from “oddball central casting” – one of whom looks like a buff John Carpenter, the other a buff Cheech Marin. Song’s two goons are both English for no reason, and one of them has a magnificent mullet. Then, cars! Let’s talk cars. Whenever you see a fairly wealthy character driving a horrific-looking beat up old Volvo, you know the sole reason is they’re going to roll that car over, or set it on fire, or hurl it off a cliff (at least, to their credit, they didn’t just use stock footage and only match the colour of the car). They also do the terrible-looking trick of making a car chase look fast-paced by just speeding the footage up, a gimmick I thought had died with the legendary “Samurai Cop”.

But, my favourite detail is when Danielle goes to the library to find out more about the MacGuffin Stone. The librarian lists a couple of incredibly false-sounding book titles, but the final one is just wonderful – “Myths And False Beliefs Among The Prisoners Of San Quentin”. That’s the one she wants, because it was written by one of the people who died earlier on, and when she’s seen flicking through it, it’s very obviously the script of the movie with a new front page added. And then she doesn’t even bother reading it!

 

Evan Lurie is, once again, the best thing about a movie. He’s living in what looks like a college dorm, with a poster for “Gandhi” on the wall? I love a good weird detail. Anyway, he kicks a ton of ass in a bar-room brawl which starts for the flimsiest of reasons and is great and has the final, most-stupid-of-all, twist for himself. Kirkland is fun too, and even gets her own fighting move, doing what people in law enforcement refer to as the “pimp slap” (a chop to the neck, where a bunch of nerves are, that can drop a person apparently). The rest of the cast I listed above all give it their best, but I’m pretty sure no-one really knew what was going on.

My best guess is, this was pitched as a sequel to 1991’s “VI Warshawski”, the Kathleen Turner-starring story of a hot blonde cougar private eye who quips better than any man. Then they were turned down almost immediately so the writer, one Andras Totisz, wrote a book to pretend to base the script on, changed a few details about the main character, and away we go.

 

I mean, it’s available for free, so the only thing it’ll cost you is time. But even so, I’m not sure it’s worth it. It’s a mass of plot twists masquerading as a movie.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club: Krush The Serpent (2002)

Let’s make a deal, dear reader. Any movie that comes along looking like this, let’s just assume it’s terrible, stop watching it and move on with our lives. The warning signs:

1. The IMDB budget is listed at $10,000, and I’d suggest that’s being generous

2. There’s no lighting, but not in a Dogme 95 way, in a “we made this with one video camcorder and nothing else” way

3. Someone spectacularly blows a line in the first five minutes and no-one cares enough to re-shoot it

4. It’s back-door religious propaganda

 

Life is too short to watch something that I’m reasonably sure anyone with a weekend and a few friends could make something better than. This is barely a movie, so we’re not going to need to be here all that long. But if you want to check for yourself, here goes:

Jacqueline Lovell has had an interesting career. From a decade or so of soft-core late night cable-style thrillers and extra roles in mainstream TV (there’s a lot of “uncredited” next to her character name on IMDB), she made a fantastic performance in the Full Moon movie “Hideous!”, then…back to being an extra and doing soft-core stuff for a few more years. Plus, there’s a brief appearance in one of our bottom ten of all time, the painfully terrible “Dead Country” and quite a lot of her own projects (of which this is an early example).

She’s married to a fellow called Ed Nyahay, and together the two of them have decided to make a lot of movies and cable access shows with a heavily religious message. Take for example “Bug Boy Adventures” from 1999, about a bug who tries to find his place in the world as he seeks out God. If that was too subtle for you, here’s a segment from their own website, www.krushtheserpent.com :

God Bless Our New Pope Francis !!!

Our Lady of All Nations predicted a “final Marian dogma” proclaiming Our Lady “Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate”.   Pope Benedict XVI when he was head of the Propagation of the Faith of the Catholic Church prompted the re-investigation and release of information pertaining to this dogma.  He reportedly wrote the visionary Ida Perleman that there were no theological barriers to the possible proclamation of the dogma.

Our Lady of All Nations is the inspiration behind “Krush the Serpent”.

This is something the Nyahays feel strongly about, and good for them. But if you’re going to make a movie, might I suggest making something that other human beings might actually want to see? Lots of great movies wrestle with religious themes, but no great movies have dialogue in the first few scenes drowned out by a toddler unaware it was being filmed, or an aforementioned adult woman blowing a line so badly I was a little embarrassed for her.

 

There’s a plot. Lovell is sad over the death of her husband, and goes to Our Lady Of All Nations shrine in Amsterdam to get some closure, communicate with her husband, etc. And that’s pretty much it, for a way-too-long-for-a-movie-this-cheap 103 minutes. You’ll see unlit scenes, you’ll see Dutch angles, you’ll hear poorly recorded voiceovers, well you won’t see or hear any of this stuff because unlike me you won’t bother watching it, I hope.

Even Jacqueline Lovell is terrible in “Krush The Serpent”. I think she’s a talented actor and absolutely deserved a better career than being in tons of soft-core porn, a few Full Moon movies, and this. I’m reasonably sure, if she’s got a Google alert on her own name, she’ll read this review and go “someone bothered watching it?” On their website, the Nyahays have home video footage of a road trip they took in 2012, and that footage, which is nothing other than a loving family seeing the sights of the California coastline, is better than this – better shot, more interesting (they see seals! Yosemite is really beautiful!), actually audible dialogue, all that good stuff.

 

So there you go. I may be the only person not related to them to have seen this movie all the way through, and…I’m not thrilled about it. I have a book I’m about halfway through and am really enjoying, I could have read some more of that. I could have been mowing the lawn. Pretty much anything else.

Rating: come on, you really don’t need a rating

 

PS. Digging further into Edward Nyahay’s work, he fancies himself a musician, a “Gotholic priest”, and I guess “gotholic” means “to do a terribly bad impression of Marilyn Manson with songs about religion”. He’s also written a book about a rock star trapped in a war between heaven and hell, and has made a video promo for it. Here’s a screenshot:

Would you trust the strengths of a novel if the guy who wrote it can’t spell “strengths”? Me neither. Ah, he’s married Jacqueline Lovell, he doesn’t care about my mockery.

Youtube Film Club: Expect To Die (1997)

We here at the ISCFC are long-time haters of Jalal Merhi. He’s perhaps the worst actor to ever headline multiple movies – he made his money from his family’s jewel business and plowed all that cash into making his own starring vehicles, always producing them, and often directing too. It’s really hard to over-emphasise just how bad an actor he is, though, seemingly unable to portray any emotion or deliver a line in anything other than a monotone.

But, he knows how to surround himself with actors we like, and he’s at least competent as a director, so here we are, on our…tenth?…Merhi review. Today’s movie features David “not the British character actor” Bradley and Evan Lurie, both high-quality B-movie veterans, and tells a story of virtual reality, managing to get the future weirdly right (there’s a VR game coming out this year for the Oculus, PS4 and Steam called “I Expect You To Die”, coincidentally enough). Apart from the thing about VR killing people, I guess? Also, it’s not to be confused with the previous year’s “Expect No Mercy”, also about virtual reality being too powerful, also with people fighting inside it, also starring Merhi.

 

Things kick off with a military test of virtual reality software, where a soldier dies because the VR was too real – a solid standard 90s plot device. The guy who invented the software is Dr Vincent MacIntyre (Bradley, completely bizarrely miscast) and he’s furious that the military want to cancel the research; and he’s even furiouser that his company kicks him out because he’s a loose cannon. This is tied into his dead father, who was a Colonel who was framed for murder by the military establishment? This completely undeveloped plot thread makes “Expect To Die” feel like the sequel to an unmade movie.

Luckily, both the Army and the software company are okay with MacIntyre selling the software to a criminal, I think?

 

Hold on, I need to try and establish how confusing this whole thing is. There’s an illegal arms sale in a warehouse, where all these wealthy bad guys have women on their arms as nothing more than set dressing (Merhi is among the most sexist of the 90s action crowd, no mean feat), but one of the bad guys wants to pay for the merch with computer disks, which has “Expect To Die” on it. This is the game created by MacIntyre’s old company, but is a normal “Mortal Kombat” style fighting game – we learn this thanks to Merhi’s girlfriend, a computer programmer / plot device (she gets kidnapped later on). The virtual reality “game”, with the same name, is being developed in secret for some criminals, but why is either never mentioned or I wasn’t paying attention for those five seconds. How much profit is there in a game which just straight-up kills you?

 

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. Merhi’s female partner gets shot (while in her underwear, for the flimsiest of reasons) so he needs a new partner. Evan Lurie! There’s a bunch of references to Lurie getting shot when they were partners before, which again leads me to believe this script is the sequel to something which never got made? Anyway, Lurie tries his best with the dead weight of his co-star but it’s tough at times.

What’s most important to note about this movie is it’s a complete ego trip for Jalal Merhi. He’s got a gorgeous female partner but he’s devoted to his wife; he’s also the best martial artist in the world. Want to know how I know this? Evan Lurie, a talented screen fighter, only has one fight scene, and David Bradley, who was the star of an entire action franchise, doesn’t fight at all. Can’t distract from the star! Merhi kicks ass all over the place, of course, and even shows off how buff he is in the VR bootcamp program he’s plugged into, but even then, there’s a weirdly small amount of martial arts in a movie with three martial arts stars as the top billed actors, especially as the plot seems designed to have fighting in it?

 

This is a really bad one. Even though it’s got two great action stars in it, it uses them terribly – Lurie really ought to have had a few starring roles, not second banana to a charisma-vacuum like Merhi; and it’s interesting seeing Bradley as the bad guy, even if he’s given a really weird character. But everything else just feels like it was thrown together at the last minute, mostly at random. The number of dropped plot threads might be, in the hands of anyone with a modicum of skill, a joke in and of themselves, but here you’re pretty certain they just didn’t consider why anyone would care about anything other than Merhi being the ultimate badass.

Definitely one of the more confusing 90s action B-movies. Worth watching for that purpose? I don’t know. Merhi’s previous directorial effort, “Operation Golden Phoenix”, was quite good, and “Expect No Mercy” was at least fun and didn’t take itself too seriously. This is po-faced, not very exciting and probably not worth your time (even if it is available for free).

Rating: thumbs down

Ninja: American Warrior (1987)

Someone set up as the hero who dies after a few minutes! People wearing masks so they can appear to be other characters! Two entirely different plotlines running simultaneously! Yes, dear reader, we’re in Godfrey Ho country!

 

Although I’ve given you a potted biography of him several times, I keep finding out new information or thinking of new ways to mock him. Anyway, for a time in the 1980s and early 1990s, Ho worked for a company called Filmark – sadly, their offices burned in 1996, resulting in the deaths of 40 people…and the destruction of the only known list of every movie Ho ever directed under his multiple pseudonyms. Filmark were particularly notorious for buying up movies produced elsewhere in the Far East, whether finished or unfinished, and either splicing in parts of other unfinished movies, or filming new scenes with white actors, with the perception that would make it easier to sell them overseas. As I’ve said before, I think if you were white, could stand upright, and wandered into the Filmark offices on any day in the 1980s, Godfrey Ho would give you work.

 

If you’ve read any of my reviews before, or know anything about Ho, you’ll also remember that the amount of effort put in to make the two halves of movie bear any relation to each other was minimal at best, and non-existent at worst. Often, this produced dull, confusing movies (see reviews passim) but every now and again, the gods shined down on them and some piece of bonkers outsider art was given to the world. I adore “Ninja Terminator” and a few others, and I’m very happy to say that “Ninja: American Warrior” is right up there with the weirdest, most confusing but gosh-darned entertaining of the lot.

(ASIDE: much like “Ninja Terminator”, this movie features at least one song that they 100% didn’t licence officially – that one had “Echoes” by Pink Floyd, this one has “In The City” by Joe Walsh, plus a song from the Warriors soundtrack whose name escapes me. Next time you want to complain about movie piracy, bear this in mind)

 

It starts with a nice normal-looking woman with 80s mom hair fighting a bunch of badass ninjas and pretty easily dispatching them all. She has a bit of trouble, though, with a guy who sets his gloves on fire and fights her with flaming gloves! I guess he treated himself and everything around him with flame-retardant gel before beginning the process, as the dry grass and the rest of his own clothing stays remarkably flame-free, but it’s a fun fight to watch. After beating the last of them, the nice lady says “well, I’m now the best ninja of them all, I just need to fight the Black Cougar Ninja” and, for reasons which any fan of Ho will guess immediately, puts on a rubber mask and a black wig.

 

Boom! Next scene, she’s now an Asian lady, wandering through a large house and again, dispatching everyone she meets. But the Black Cougar Ninja whups her ass with embarrassing ease, and then, which is weird because how did they know she was wearing a mask, they (well, an offscreen hand) pulls it off to reveal the nice lady from the beginning, whose story is over before it even began. The bad guys expect this to be someone by the name of Amazonia, so they’re upset she’s not dead yet, and the Black Cougar Ninja says he’s a master of time-travel ninjutsu (at least, that’s what I think he said) but, don’t worry, this never comes up again.

I did a bit of research about this one, which is weird for me, but I enjoyed it so much I wanted to find out about it. There are two movies called “Queen Bee” and “Queen Bee’s Revenge”, both from 1981, both of which were bought by Filmark and spliced in with fresh footage for re-sale. “Queen Bee” was turned into “Ninja And The Warriors Of Fire”, which has largely the same plot just with a few ninjas in it, and “Queen Bee’s Revenge” was turned into this, which I have been reliably informed bears almost no resemblance to the original’s plot at all.

 

There’s a drug deal which is almost stopped by the dumbest cops of all time, then the bad guys fight back, then the cops win, just letting one bad guy escape, a big blond guy who bears a passing resemblance to Frank Zagarino. Now, all this is new footage, as is a scene where Amazonia meets up with a CIA agent who’s also got some ninja training…seriously, weren’t these supposed to be secret arts? Literally everybody knows how to fight ninja-style in these movies! The CIA agent and Faux Zagarino were friends at one time, in Vietnam together, and there’s some amazing newly shot footage of the two of them rampaging through hordes of Vietcong, getting drunk and ranting about the soldier’s lot, all that.

There’s an unusually large amount of new footage here, so the plot of the original is reduced to a bunch of really cool fights and scenes featuring primary villain, “The Shrew”. She’s the sort of boss who’ll stick a cigarette holder through your throat if you even slightly annoy her, and she inspires this exchange between two good guys.

 

“She’s a mean old cow!”

“I’m not afraid of cows, I’m a real man!”

 

Something get lost in translation, or were there a spate of frightening cows in the 80s? Amazonia is trying to track down the Shrew because not only is she an international drug dealing lunatic, but she also killed her friend, a pretty nice normal guy called Charlie (I think). You’ll forgive me for getting the finer plot details of this insane classic a little confused, I hope?

I don’t want to just recap this movie, as it’s right there at the top of this page, available for all to see on Youtube (and wow, do I recommend you do so). I’ve given you a flavor of the main plot threads, but I want to mention a little about how it ends. If you’ve seen any of the Ho / Filmark movies before, you’ll know they almost always end with an incomprehensible battle in the woods, between multiple ninjas in brightly coloured outfits, ninja being known for their love of colours which don’t blend into the scenery at all. This, of course, happens, but it’s what comes before that that made me laugh – a final showdown between the good guys on one side, and the Shrew along with her goons on the other. I love a good abrupt ending, and going from gunfire to the Shrew being sheepishly marched off in handcuffs in the space of seconds is a doozie.

 

There are so many movies from Godfrey Ho and his cohorts, and almost all of them are weird and terrible and force you to pay extremely close attention to try and figure out what’s going on only to reveal to you that they didn’t care about making things make sense at all. Just casting an eye over his IMDB page a few minutes ago reveals dozens I’d never heard of, and I’m a fairly big fan of the guy.

But “Ninja: American Warrior” is different. It packs in enough plot for two movies, and the new footage shot by Ho is actually pretty good – the Vietnam war stuff, the fights between the CIA guy and the other ninjas…The violent scenes in the “Queen Bee’s Revenge” original are decent too, so there’s a heck of a lot to enjoy here.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Misfit Patrol (1996)

There’s a story to tell here, so let’s start off with “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. One of their more beloved directors was a fellow by the name of Coleman Francis, who made “The Beast of Yucca Flats”, “The Skydivers” and “Red Zone Cuba”, incompetent and weird but made with a genuine black heart. Francis’ producer for those movies was Anthony Cardoza, who’d made a little bit of money as a welder but had also produced an Ed Wood movie by the time they met.

 

Anyway, Francis died in 1973 but Cardoza’s dreams didn’t, so he hung around the movie business. He produced a few things (most famously and profitably, 1968’s “Hellcats”), but it’s his directing work we’re interested in at the moment. We already covered 1979’s “Smokey and the Hotwire Gang”, one of the more confusing / rubbish “Smokey and the Bandit” ripoffs, and then almost 20 years later came this. I’ve been racking my brain and can’t think of any trend they were capitalising on, unless it was made when “Police Academy” but was never “released” until the mid 90s?

 

For those curious movie buffs among you, the first question might be “why?” Why did Mr Cardoza, seven years after his last job in the movies (line producer on “Crime Of Crimes”), and so long removed from his last directing job, want to make another one? I’m going to go out on a limb here and give you one of my patented unfounded movie theories!

 

Dave Fuentes, writer / star (and, if we’re being honest, probably financial backer), was a big fan of Ed Wood. He wanted to make a movie and approached the star of “Plan Nine From Outer Space”, Conrad Brooks, then in his early 60s and still working in the same sort of bargain-basement entertainment that had made him “famous” almost 40 years previously.  Brooks had met Cardoza while working on “The Beast Of Yucca Flats” in 1961, his last movie before taking a twenty year break from the movies, and as Fuentes needed a director called his old friend, who accepted. Or the original director pulled out at the last moment and Cardoza stepped in to protect his own investment, as he was also listed as producer. Or something else. Like I’ve said, I’ve really got no idea how any of this works but I like to speculate. This was Fuentes’ only movie, though, which at least hints at it being a vanity project of some kind. Oh, and there’s the fact he wears heels in a bunch of scenes so he can appear taller than his female co-star.

This is the best screenshot of his heels I could find

“Misfit Patrol” was never released, anywhere. I contacted the writer, Baltimore journalist “Buzz” Beeler, still working and generous with his time. Sadly, he didn’t even have a copy (or didn’t want me to watch it) so I gave up, mentioning my fruitless search to a friend who used to run a site like this, only better, back in the very early days of the internet. He also helped distribute micro-budget movies back then, and casually mentioned that he had a copy, obtained from Conrad Brooks himself at a convention many years ago! A little while later, and a package arrived in the mail, more anticipated by me than any hot new Marvel epic.

 

The tape itself is unusual (to me, anyway) – a finished product, sent to potential investors to secure investment and distribution. As well as playing the trailer, which I’ll include a link to below, it features a little segment with all the positive words people said about it at the time and a “hey, you could make money with this great movie” bit.

 

I may be the first person to watch this movie in 20 years, and I appreciate it’s not exactly going to drive traffic to this site as it’s almost impossible that you’d be able to track it down based on my recommendation, or lack thereof. So I’ll have to try and paint a word-picture of this absolutely 100% forgotten, zero reviews on the internet, buddy cop comedy, and hopefully it’ll be entertaining. Let’s journey through “Misfit Patrol” together!

 

There are two cops, Dave (Fuentes) and Murphy (Brooks) and they suck. No particular reason is given why they’re so dumb, they just are – answering a grenade like a telephone, sticking a shotgun in their own face to see why it’s jammed, etc.  – and are hated by both their co-workers and boss, Captain Cook (Vernon Wells, who must have owed someone a favour). But all the other cops look like old bums who got pulled off the street and given uniforms, like you can see one person in white sneakers trousers that are 6 inches too short for him in the background of one scene.

 

There’s so much miserable comedy misfiring on display here. Like getting “gynecologist” and “geologist” mixed up, which might be the best joke they have. Or when they mock a midget by talking to her like she’s a child. Or a bit where Dave is busted down to crossing guard and uses his Stop sign like he’s riding a horse. Or the way they seem incompetent at being human beings. There’s a courtroom scene where the judge just accepts a bribe in full view of everyone, then lets the murderer off.

There’s a plot, kind of, which leads me to the most curious thing about “Misfit Patrol”. Dave and Murphy stumble upon a turf war between rival gangs of drug dealers, and find, pretty much by accident, a witness prepared to testify against them. She happily comes down to the station, and you assume a romance is on the cards – she’s a nice, normal looking woman of around 35. Then, it turns out she’s a high school student? What? Then they still sort of get together? But if you read the IMDB profile of the movie, you’ll know that she’s actually (SPOILER, BUT YOU’RE NEVER EVER GOING TO WATCH THIS MOVIE) an undercover DEA agent, and might actually be age-appropriate – in movie terms – for Dave. But then why was she so willing to help the cops against the people she’s undercover with? Why go undercover as a student when there’s no indication those particular drug dealers are operating in schools?

 

I appreciate this will be curious to you, dear reader, as you’ve never seen it. I’m really trying to get across how wrong-headed “Misfit Patrol” is, how devoid of anything approaching laughs, or dramatic tension, or sense.

 

Conrad Brooks gives it his all, but he’s not a natural comedy actor, so his mugging comes across as vaguely offensive, only I can’t figure out to who. Jeff Celentano, who’s been featured by us before in “American Ninja 2”, “Puppet Master 2” and “Demonic Toys”, tries his best but is subject to maybe the worst gag in this or any other movie, as the Captain keeps getting his name wrong. It has no pay-off and isn’t remotely funny the first time, let alone the twentieth. Another ISCFC regular, Jimmy Williams (“Samurai Cop”, “Cybernator”, “Silent Night Zombie Night”, among others) shows up as the villain, should you be a completist of his.

 

There’s perhaps a good reason why some movies never got official releases. Made cheaply as vanity projects or misguided investment attempts, they have nothing going for them at all and every distributor, mercifully, leaves them well alone. Perhaps even some of them are comedies, like this, with nothing approaching a joke in them. But I feel even the lousiest self-produced never-released effort would struggle to approach the dismal beyond-failure of “Misfit Patrol”. But it’s so bad that it becomes fascinating, not the sort of fascinating I’d ever want to watch again, but fascinating anyway.

 

One last thing – go back to the top of the screen and check out the poster. That indicates it’s some sort of Police Academy-style everyone’s-crazy cop comedy; only it’s not, at all. I’d be annoyed at the false advertising, if it had ever actually been released.

 

Rating: thumbs down

 

 

 

Drones (2010)

One of the drums I used to beat regularly was “if you have cash, why spend it on some low-budget monster movie?” My theory, such as it was, follows thus – if you’re a producer with $200,000, the chances of you making a great monster movie with that are almost nil – it will look cheap, the actors will be bad, and no-one will like it. So why not give it to some comedians or an improv troupe? There’s a vastly better chance of a weird little comedy being a sleeper box office hit, you might get a big name to pop in for a brief cameo, and at the very least it will be different.

 

(ASIDE: Okay, I may be completely misunderstanding how movie financing works. But who cares? This is my damn site, I’ll write whatever I like. And I’m bored to death of cheap horror!)

 

But, we live in a world where there are almost literally endless amounts of zombie / vampire / shark / post-apocalypse movies, and precious few weird little comedy concepts. Which is why it’s so nice to find one like this, a genuinely odd but hilarious and quite sweet little movie, which could have easily been a stage play but uses its cameras in an interesting way, where a core cast of talented comedy actors nail their parts and a microscopic budget is used to its fullest.

OmniLink is a mega-corporation that seems quite nice, that gives us a training video where staff are compared to bees, but bees are super-good and do important work so that’s fine. We never find out what OmniLink does, unless I really wasn’t paying attention, but that’s definitely not important. Working there is Bryan Dilks (Jonathan M Woodward), who seems happy in his monotony; his best friend is Clark (Samm Levine), and there’s a handful of other, similarly happy, office folk – Amy, who he flirts with a little (Angela Bettis), Cooperman, the hippie who’s wood-panelled his cubicle (Dave Gruber Allen), Powerpoint-loving boss Pete (James Urbaniak), and the seemingly happy couple Miryam and Ian (Tangi Miller and Marc Evan Jackson).

 

Bryan’s world is turned upside down by two things – one, is finally getting up the courage to ask Amy out on a proper date, and two is walking into the office supplies room to witness Clark…I really don’t want to spoil anything, because this is a damned delight and I want you all to watch it. But it is in the trailer, I guess? Anyway, he discovers that his office has an unusually high number of aliens in it, and it turns out that they have designs on our planet. But are also cool with working for OmniLink and being nice and friendly and having relationships and stuff. The filmmakers described it as “The Office meets Close Encounters”, which renders most of my lame description moot?

 

Using aliens to comment on human activity is old hat, so it’s impressive that this feels so fresh and original – few aliens, admittedly, are that interested in alphabetical vs. chronological when it comes to file storage. It reminds me a little of Ford Prefect (the TV version, never seen the movie) from “The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy”, and his odd but totally believable friendship with Arthur Dent.

Bettis and Woodward work very well together, and the central relationship is completely believable as well as having that sparking high-end comic dialogue that you’d normally get in a classic screwball comedy. This is down to writers Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, who are best known for being the creators / writers of “The Thrilling Adventure Hour”, the monthly live show / podcast which occasionally uses those classic screwball comedy tropes to great effect. The plot is fun too, there’s a ton of really funny jokes and brilliant comic business, and because they only have one set, really (a floor of an office, with a few cubicles and a conference room) they use it cleverly, making it almost cinematic. Well, okay, but it’s certainly never boring to watch.

 

The co-directors are two people better known as supporting actors on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – Amber Benson and Adam Busch; Busch dealing with the actors, Benson the technical stuff. They also made a short film a couple of years after this called “Singlewood” but I wish this entire creative team had made a bunch more movies together. Perhaps I’m just annoyed at having seen more than my fair share of comedy from the Apatow / McKay / Feig stable and wishing there were more options out there that received the same level of publicity.

 

ASIDE: from reading about “Drones” appearing at festivals, I discover that the script was written in 2 weeks, and Acker and Blacker had never written a movie before; Busch and Benson had never directed before either, and worked out an unusual division of labour that worked well. Some of the actors improvised a lot, others stuck rigidly to the script, yet all those things which would normally spell disaster contributed to make this a winner.

Directors and cast

I won’t go on, because you need to go spend money on this movie. Maybe a sudden rush of purchases in mid-2019 will persuade some bean-counter somewhere to give them money to make another movie. It’s charming and funny and deadpan and sweet and even a little romantic and absolutely should be better known than it is. And I’m now determined to find one of those OmniLink mugs featured in the office and make it my very own.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

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