Sharktopus (2010)

We’ve covered the latter two Sharktopus movies here at the ISCFC, and splendid fun they both were too – the second one had Conan O’Brien in it and a genuinely funny script. The first one I watched just a few months before I started writing for this fine site so I’ve never written a review of that one – oh no, I hear you cry! How will I know what to think about it? Don’t worry, dear reader, I have you covered (finally).

Probably starting with 2004’s “Dinocroc”, Corman realised he could make a nice chunk of change from portmanteau-word-based monster movies – thus, “Supergator”, “Dinocroc vs. Supergator”, and “Dinoshark”, before this opened the floodgates (and almost certainly inspired the SyFy Channel to try “Sharknado”). Right from the beginning, it’s nice to see Corman realised just how dumb this entire concept was and had fun with it, making sure director Declan O’Brien and writer Mike MacLean kept it light and silly (we’ve met O’Brien before, with “Joy Ride 3”, not remotely funny, or good either).

After plenty of illicit Santa Monica footage, we see a shark get eaten by a creature which is far bigger, tearing it apart before going after the beach-goers. It’s got a radio-control kit on its head! Chief scientist is Eric Roberts, who looks legit drunk throughout, like he was ashamed at where his career had ended up – although, to be fair, it’s got even worse since.

His daughter, scientist and sort of in charge of the whole sharktopus project, is Sara Malakul Lane, a great actor who’s sort of half-stuck in low-budget scream queen hell, as well as being in stuff like the new “Kickboxer” movies. In “women who deserved much better” news, also featured in “Sharktopus” is Shandi Finnessey, who did this, “Piranhaconda” and then pretty much quit the business. Although we’ve always known this, women are treated exceptionally poorly by Hollywood, so I hope Finnessey quit on her own terms and not because of some disgusting producer.

Anyway, we’re wandering away from the “plot”. Genetic experiment to create a sharktopus, a freak accident breaks the control gear, meaning it starts killing everything in its path. It goes to Mexico so Eric Roberts re-hires his old…tracker?…Andy Flynn (Kerem Bursin, an actor more famous in his native Turkey), who’s living down there. There’s an investigative reporter and the drunk sea captain she hires; plus a pirate radio DJ and his glamorous assistant (Finnessey). And, you know, a giant Sharktopus.

I wonder if Roger Corman ever thought, while doing this sort of stuff in the 50s and 60s, he’d still be knocking out cheap monster movies in 2010? I hope he wanted more, but…eh, 99.99% of all people in Hollywood ever would be happy with his career. He can do tightly made, reasonably entertaining with the best of them.

Unfortunately, “Sharktopus” is a title with not a lot else behind it. It’s sort of okay, and has a few laughs in it; plus, if you like model-type beautiful women, then there’s plenty of that for you too. But…it doesn’t really go anywhere? Perhaps it would have been better if Eric Roberts had stayed off the sauce for a few days of filming, or they’d had a bit more plot to go along with the central creature, or something of that sort. I don’t know. There’s just no real development. Plus, there’s one of those central bro-lationships, and I don’t buy for a second that those two men had ever met before, much less were old friends.

I feel like this particular cinematic trend has ebbed considerably in recent years, which is why maybe this feels like a curio. It’s fine, I guess, but I am beyond tired of cheap wacky-ish monster movies, and if someone demands you watch one, just pick part 2, a genuinely funny movie.

Rating: thumbs down

 

PS – I almost forgot, this is a SyFy movie! Pretty good for them, I guess, even if it did teach them all the wrong lessons.

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Living Hell (2008)

While we’re waiting for the next instalment of the “Made In STL” series, and summoning up the mental fortitude to watch another David A Prior jungle-set war epic, we always have our long-running mission to review every SyFy Channel movie ever made, and that brings us to the nicely bleak “Living Hell” (aka “Organizm”, a rather peculiar title).

A military base is being closed down so the land can be given back to the Native American people who originally lived there. No, this isn’t a comedy! This is totally a thing that the US military might do! Anyway, a team of army scientists is gradually clearing out all the old experiments and thoroughly disinfecting everything when a strange guy turns up at the front gate, asking to see the Colonel in charge. When he was a kid, his mother (who apparently worked there, although no record of her employment can be found) lost her mind, carving a message into the palms of his hands before killing her husband and then turning the gun on herself.

Having just read 80s speculative fiction classic “Blood Music” by Greg Bear, I had high hopes for this movie, but it takes a similar idea and spins it in a more traditional SyFy Channel way. Buried inside the wall of a remote sub-basement is a tank, and inside the tank is a corpse. One touch of the corpse is all we need for a super-virulent…plague?…organism?…to break out, and for all hell to break loose. It almost immediately takes over the entire base, then starts spreading out to the nearby town, where the native peoples are waiting patiently to take back their land.

It’s down to the strange guy, who it turns out is a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher called Frank (Jonathan Schaech), and one of the army’s top decontamination people, Carrie Freeborn (Erica Leehrsen), to save the world. And it’s the world, too, because this stuff spreads quickly and feeds off energy, so bombs are no good, and when dawn hits and the sun starts shining down, it’s all over for humanity. Luckily, there’s a bizarre bit of good fortune that allows them to fight back, a friendly Army guy, and so on.

There’s two ways these movies can go, as I’ve hinted at. First is, the world ends, but a few lucky survivors make it through to start the world afresh. This is about 20% of potential apocalypse movies; the other 80% is either a last-minute scientific breakthrough, or some chosen-one style nonsense (this is the latter, I guess). I like the bleak nature of it, though, as one character is prepared to sacrifice himself and even, based on his rather sad upbringing, seems okay with doing it; there’s an “Aliens” style ending as he walks back through the origin of the mega-organism to find its source and end both their existences. It aims a little higher than your average SyFy movie, is what I’m badly getting at.

It’s fairly “blah”, in all other respects, though. Effects are really cheap, and although the main two characters are strong actors, everyone else seems a little embarrassed to be there, or a little too pleased. There’s no romance element, as Carrie’s husband is one of the other army guys, and he dies quite quickly into proceedings, so there’s a slight hollowness at the centre of things too. They have a curious moment where she gets entirely naked to “protect” herself against the encroaching organism, like it was a scene left over from a previous version of the script (put the protective substance in a jar and let her apply it herself, maybe?)

Anyway, I complain when the nudity is gratuitous and when it isn’t, so perhaps I’m just bored of nudity (even in SyFy Channel movies, which leads me to believe this is a special DVD edit). But if I ever get bored of cheap special effects, bizarre plots and interesting denouements, then I’ll stop writing for the ISCFC, and I hope that day never comes. “Living Hell” is definitely in the top half of all SyFy movies, and should be enjoyed if you ever happen upon it one evening.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

The Skid Kid (1991)

“The Skid Kid” is a masterpiece. Although I don’t often do this, here’s a trailer for it, produced for a 2015 showing at Cinefamily in LA (undoubtedly, the original release never had a trailer), and if you don’t immediately fall in love with it, I’m not sure we can be friends any more.

https://vimeo.com/119506070

This is part of our “Made In STL” season, which is really the “Made In STL” season of the St Louis Video Society, the fortnightly event where cult movie connoisseurs get together and watch some locally-produced gem. We’ve had “Justice: Ninja Style”, two early movies from Eric Stanze, and “Fatal Exam” (well, they can’t all be winners). There’s plenty more to come, so if you’re reading this and want to come along, get in touch with the Society on Facebook.

This movie features two actors who’d go on to real, serious careers. One much more than the other, I’ll admit, but impressive nontheless. Starring as the Skid Kid himself is one Gary Wolf, who’s been in “The Nice Guys” and has lots of bit-part work; and as his romantic rival for the beautiful Stephanie, Scott Wolf. Yes, the Scott Wolf from “Party of Five”, “Perception” and “The Night Shift”, one of the more dependable TV actors of the last 20 years, right at the very beginning of his career. They’re brothers, and in case you were wondering why Stephanie had zero chemistry with either of them, she’s played by their sister Jessica.

One might also wonder why the Wolf kids found themselves in Union, Missouri. Trying to think of something polite to say about it, it looks quite clean, but it’s a small town in the middle of nowhere and given the Wolf kids appear to have grown up in Boston, with Scott going to high school in New Jersey and college in Washington DC, it’s a puzzler. We do know a little about the origin of the movie, though, thanks to an interview with director Glen Gruner done by the great people at www.trashnite.com – he shot a short film on super-8 film as a college project in the early 80s, and in 1989 someone suggested he turn it into a feature, so he took his super-8 camera and did it (the reason there are no interior shots is because super-8 works much better in natural light, take it inside and it gets really grainy). Every frame of the original student film is in the finished product, too, which I like.

So, one day high school everyman Scooter (who’s apparently a distant relative of the famous director, having the surname Spielberg) is walking home from school when he finds a pair of black boots in the middle of a country road – we saw the original owner of them die after being hit by a car – and realises they’re effectively magic boots. So he puts them on and becomes the Skid Kid! This mostly involves sitting down and, via the magic of stop-motion, speeding along the ground. That his boots get worn out but the ass of his jeans doesn’t is one of the many magical things about this wonderful movie. Oh yes, and they’re powered with RC Cola!

Union is a crime-ridden hell-hole so the Skid Kid wants to clean it up, and the cops want to stop him. He doesn’t tell his girlfriend about his alter ego, but the cops figure it out remarkably quickly and are just waiting to catch him wearing his outfit before they pounce.

Apart from the clearly bonkers premise, this could be any one of a hundred ultra-low-budget, vaguely genre related movies produced in the early days of home video. But what sets it apart is its sense of humour (and, you know, having a couple of decent actors in main roles certainly helped too). Because continuity was almost impossible in a movie made over the course of two years with zero budget, and because he knew the kids who were its main audience wouldn’t care, Gruner had a laugh with it, as Skid Kid’s outfit changes, sometimes subtly and sometimes not, in the middle of scenes. Ten different Skid Kids were hired (hence the rather odd credit list for the character) but Gary Wolf was the only one who stuck with it – plus, if your main actor isn’t around but you get the chance to shoot some footage, just put the outfit on anyone who’s roughly the same size!

There’s some classic “Shoot the Parade”, the low budget film trick where they film some small town’s big event and subtly insert themselves into it. Here, it’s a biking carnival, featuring kids on Big Wheels and then teenagers on mountain bikes – the number of limbs that get run over in the free-for-all is horrifying to my 2017 eyes, though. Health and safety, people! Talking of bicycles, while at the carnival, Gruner decided he wanted a scene of a kid doing a really long wheelie to insert in a few scenes. One local volunteered, they went on a back road, shot a really long wheelie, and while Gruner got his name at the time, he’s no idea who the kid was (a kid who almost certainly never watched, or perhaps even knew about, the finished movie).

It’s just delightfully home made, though, with Gruner doing almost all the work (about three-quarters of the credits are fake, to make it look higher-budget than it was – Gruner contacted his friends and asked them if they’d mind their names being used as make-up supervisor, or whatever) and his family acting in a bunch of scenes. His mother is the TV news reporter, for instance. Gary Wolf brought Scott to the set, and got him his one scene, so it might even be “The Skid Kid” that persuaded Scott to give the whole acting thing a try – Gruner says that while the Wolf kids were great to work with, he’d no idea the stars they’d become. There’s a guy in a Halloween mask as an apparently real character, a local fraternity appearing as thugs who just happened to be the nearest frat to where they were filming…there are dozens of little stories like this that contribute to making it the gem it is.

I normally finish these segments off with “good luck with finding a copy, though”, but I don’t have to in this instance, as it’s available on Youtube. The sole distribution it ever got was through Gruner himself, who’d mail out VHS tapes to anyone who asked for $20 a pop, and made a nice profit from it; no special edition blu-ray yet, sadly. But now we can all see it and revel in what is a hidden classic of the video-shop era, made with love and dedication.

Rating: thumbs up

Fatal Exam (1990)

No matter where you live you’ll have some filmmakers who live and toil in relative obscurity, and St Louis is no different (in fact, almost all our filmmakers do so). Thanks to the St Louis Video Society, we local fans of genre cinema have been treated to some gems in recent months, and their first showing was this – which I had to track down later as I missed it.

Jack Snyder is living the dream in LA, making actual movies with real money and real actors in them – okay, none of them sound like my cup of tea, and he’s fallen into a partnership of sorts with Asylum mainstay Griff Furst, but he’s giving it his best shot. “Fatal Exam” was his first movie, made in 1985 but with post-production not actually finished due to budgetary constraints until 1990 – he didn’t make another full-length til 2007’s “Ghost Image”.

One thing you’ll notice, should you ever choose to watch it, is how long it is. Your average B-movie should, I feel, not go much longer than 75 minutes, because you don’t need to spend quite as much, don’t have to have too much of an act 2, can get straight to the good stuff, but “Fatal Exam” clocks in at a numbing 112 minutes. 112! And it feels it, too.

There’s actually a pretty cool cold open, with an interesting dream sequence and a story about a bad local who’s conspiring to run for President (with Governor Eric Greitens attempting to out-Trump the current President, this feels eerily prescient to our 2017 eyes); but, the vast majority of the movie isn’t anything to do with that, it’s that old standard, the scientific trip to a haunted house. A group of students, who all look at least 30 years old, are tasked by their parapsychology professor to go to a famous mansion and do experiments on the things there.

Back to that 112 minutes, you might think they’d at least fill that time with plot, but they just prove that they ought to have hired an editor. We see the “star” of the movie make breakfast in excruciating detail, and there are multiple scenes which just go on…and on. If there was a reason for it, any reason at all, I’d have given them some leeway, but he waited 5 years to finish off this stuff! Did he think “well, I need every minute of the breakfast scene, screw the length”?

Sorry. It’s just…nothing happens til about 1:15 of this 1:52 movie! There’s one fun guy, the guy who loses his cool really quickly and just starts angrily swearing, but there’s so little else. Watching bad actors who are pretty difficult to look at, wander round a poorly lit, ugly house is really really boring after a while, but there’s really nothing else to do here. There’s a demon in it, and some sacrifice subplot, but it’s way too little, way too late. The “final girl” is a guy here, and he’s as doughy and plain a leading man as we’ve seen in a long time – but as the entire cast have this as their sole credit of any kind in the biz, he’s hard to tell apart from the other doughy and plain cast.4

I’m sorry, dear reader, for having so little to entertain you with in this review. I can only work with the material I’ve been given, and there’s really not much here. Let’s cut our losses and move on to the next one – this weekend’s “Skid Kid” sounds absolutely amazing.

Rating: thumbs down

Demon Lover Diary (1980)

A few months ago, we reviewed “Demon Lover”, the first work in the “career” of Donald Jackson, a man who went on to make “Roller Blade Seven” and then managed, if such a thing is even possible, to get even worse. But those gems are far in our future, if we can find copies of them, as we’re right back at the beginning.

We’re not just at the beginning of Jackson’s career, but that of Joel DeMott, who went on to make a documentary (“Seventeen”) that won the Grand Prize at the Sundance Festival in 1985 – a few articles claim multiple documentaries were made by DeMott and her partner Joel Kreines, but information on her is pretty thin on the ground.

So, it goes that Donald Jackson and his friend Jerry Younkins worked in a factory, and due to an industrial accident where Younkins lost several fingers, received enough money to fund their dream, making a movie. Jackson saw some of Kreines’ work in a film festival, befriended him and asked him to come to Adrian, Michigan to help him realise his vision. Kreines agreed, on the proviso DeMott could accompany him to shoot a documentary, and that their friend could come and do the sound.

But that’s a dry description of what happens. Kreines and DeMott are a week late getting from New York to Michigan, and blow this off as…well, they’re doing it for free? Jackson almost immediately reveals he’s not got much of a clue what he’s doing, including a sort of vague division of labour between himself and Younkins (one directs the actors, the other the crew), hiring their girlfriends in fairly major roles, putting up Kreines and DeMott at his mother’s house but telling them to not mention the subject matter or title of the movie he was making to her, and so on. It’s chaos from beginning to end, and the fact they managed to make a movie at all is sort of impressive.

It’s shot handheld on not-great equipment, and quite a few of the scenes are just underlit masses of hippie hair with voices coming from all corners. But what’s most interesting about it are the stories that are told – Jackson basically admits at one moment that the industrial accident was no accident; and one of the women hired to act delights the crew with a jaw-droppingly racist series of jokes. Jackson begs to use Kreines’ equipment to shoot the movie himself, even agreeing to pay him $1,000 (from his initial budget of $8,000) for the privilege. There’s the way both “directors” talk about how this is just their initial commercial movie, and they’ll go on to more interesting projects when this makes its money back. Oh, and I guess there’s a culmination of sorts of Ted Nugent’s house, I’m still not sure how they got to know him but they do, and they hang at his place and borrow some guns and explosives.

A crew member is shot, and taken away in an ambulance; the crew demand that Jackson sign a contract to stop with the chaos, or they all walk immediately. There’s a genuinely crazy ending where the documentarians worry that Jackson wants to kill them and believe him entirely capable of it, so run away, and the movie ends with them sat at a gas station, nervously checking each car that pulls up isn’t Jackson with some of Nugent’s guns.

What’s most interesting about this isn’t “Demon Lover” itself, as that’s terrible. It’s watching Donald Jackson, and knowing the future he’d have in movies that avoided having scripts because he didn’t like explaining himself to his cast and crew; it’s the documentarians themselves, DeMott with her voiceover and Kreines suffering from a lack of sleep and a lack of any sort of direction from any of the people around him. It’s the ridiculous boastfulness of Younkins, who’d never do anything else in the movie business. It’s the time when Jackson, who’d taken off work sick to make “Demon Lover”, does an interview with a local newspaper and then acts surprised that his work wants to fire him for obviously not being sick.

While it’s not all that great a documentary – it’s almost impossible to watch in places due to the terrible lighting and fuzzy picture – if you’re one of the foolish few who watched “Demon Lover”, then it’s a lot of fun to see the circumstances it was made in. It’s also good to know that, to the end of his life, Jackson hated “Demon Lover Diary”, seemingly unaware that his hatred spoke volumes.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Hell On The Battleground (1988)

I feel like it’s appropriate to do one of those “Brain / Big Brain / Cosmic Brain” memes to describe this movie and its evolution of the work of our old friend David A. Prior.

BRAIN: It’s another Vietnam movie

BIG BRAIN: He’s got Russians in this, at least he’s expanding his palette.

COSMIC BRAIN: He’s using the artificiality of the concept – a Vietnam movie with no Vietnamese people in it, Russians as the villains and a hero who looks and acts exactly like Rambo – to protest the 1980s military-industrial-complex and the Cold War!

UNIVERSE BRAIN: Don’t be an idiot

Ted Prior, after taking a few movies away from the acting side of things, is back in a significant role as the rough-and-ready Lance, and he’s joined by regulars Fritz Matthews (as Casey, the Rambo lookalike) and David Campbell (the evil Colonel from “Deadly Prey”, as a friendly member of their regiment). As the military authority figure, who in a shocking turn of events is not a closet villain, there’s B-movie legend William Smith, and there’s also Alyson Davis and Ingrid Vold as Casey and Lance’s girlfriends, who appeared together in another movie the same year, David Heavener’s “Deadly Reactor”, indicating they had the same agent who booked them as a double-act, or something.

I feel like a digression before we get going – the two ladies are at least a step up from the last few Prior movies, which feature no/few women and virtually no romance of any kind; but they’re absolutely useless, appearing to do no other job than look concerned when their men go off to battle. I feel like both they, and the black actor who gets multiple lines and even a tiny arc (!) are there as a result of criticism from the late 80s equivalent of me.

After a good old fashioned shootout in the “jungle” (actually a paintball park just outside LA), we see what amounts, sort of, to an anti-war message. Casey and Lance don’t enjoy what they have to do, and when they see a group of enthusiastic young recruits being brought to the front line, they’re obviously upset – it’s a quietly powerful moment. There’s a sense of ennui we don’t often get from production company AIP or from the Prior brothers, and I appreciated it.

All this is window-dressing compared to the single greatest moment in any movie we’ve seen all year, one of those moments that’s so far out of left field that all you can do is stare in slack-jawed amazement while it’s going on. That moment, dear reader, is a poem about Casey and Lance, over footage of them on a helicopter trip, performed by the extremely gravelly-voiced William Smith. The question must be asked – is this an in-character thing? Like, is their CO writing dramatic poetry about them? What do they think about this? It’s at 24:30 of the movie, or thereabouts, if you’d like to witness it for yourself.

There is a plot, of sorts – it’s not all people shooting at each other in the woods (although, to be fair, it is mostly that). The guys are sent, along with a bunch of rookies, on a pointless mission to do nothing in the middle of nowhere, and are pinned down by Russian troops. There’s a lot of fist-fighting, a lot of soul-searching, until eventually the mega-generic dialogue breaks down and they decide to fight their way out, and the veterans try and save the youngsters. Factor in a nihilistic ending which perfectly fits what’s gone before, and you’ve got a moderately unusual war movie.

It’s got a terribly dull act 2, and it’s got way too many firefights that don’t so much add to the action as provide a sort of background noise. But it’s got a lot of decent B-movie performances from a main cast that knows how to work together, and it’s evidence that, while Prior was still telling the same sort of story, he was at least trying to do something different. Occasionally. A little.

At least the next one is set somewhere different (South America)? I’ll see you in a few days.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Operation Warzone (1988)

I’m beginning to run out of things to say about David A. Prior, dear reader. He served in Vietnam and clearly it had a serious effect on his psyche, as he’s used the same rough set of themes in over half the movies he’s made to date – but I’m not sure he’s…developing? I also appreciate that I’m going a little bit too far down this rabbit hole, but while it would be easy to mock him for being a bit cheap and cheesy (and, to be fair, we’ll do some of that) there’s an honesty and intensity to him that I have to admire.

“Operation Warzone” might as well be called “Double Cross: The Movie”. Pretty much everyone is either a villain and a good guy at one point, then the idea of what a good guy is gets flipped, and…well, it’s certainly never boring. We start off in media res (see, I know some smart-guy things!) with a gun battle between a few US soldiers and some Vietcong. Well, I say Vietcong, I mean everyone who looked vaguely non-white who Prior could afford for the day, and both sides shoot meaninglessly at each other for a few minutes. There’s a problem in that a large building is clearly visible behind the American troops, so you’re left thinking “why don’t they just use that as cover rather than one branch and a few bushes?” This group of Americans features two of Prior’s regulars, William Zipp and Fritz Matthews, and the banter flows freely and easily.

Sorry, we shouldn’t dwell on minutiae. The plot is, there’s a fellow called the General out in the Vietnam wilderness somewhere who has some very crucial information, and the first group rescue another group of soldiers who are trying to find him. So they all decide to team up, but then there’s a solo soldier with a fine moustache who’s dispatched by the obviously shady Colonel to rescue the other guys and find the General himself; and yet another group, this time Australian mercenaries, who are also after the General, or there to capture the second group, or something. The main Aussie mercenary is a casual badass who does a fine job with the rather…er…inconsistently written part he’s given. Oh, there’s a really silly subplot with some high-up Army guy or Senator or something back in the USA that was there because Prior had access to very slightly famous actor (Joe Spinnell, from “Maniac”).

We can’t go any further without mentioning the elephant in the room, the thing that’s so strange it would be the sole thing I’d mention about this movie, were I in some situation where I could only mention one thing – the music. I’m going to share a fight scene, but there’s another scene which isn’t available on Youtube where they’re trekking through the jungle to the strains of some generic bouncy 80s pop which wouldn’t be out of place in a college frat party scene. Here you go, anyway.

There’s even, among the walking and the pathetic gunfights and the double-crosses, some interesting ideas. As they’re talking about the Vietnam war, and wanting to stop it, one of the soldiers mentions, quite casually, that the top brass wants war, that if there were peace they’d get less money. Keep that under your hat, Prior! Powerful people might be listening!

The final fight is actually pretty decent, as the good guys and bad guys are finally resolved, and we get the ass-kicking, squib-exploding fun we’ve come to know and love from this director, plus a healthy amount of grenades, long the director’s favourite weapon. Ted Prior, also credited co-writer, pops up as “goon no.3” in one scene but despite being a much better actor than almost all the cast and obviously being available, is blink-and-you’ll-miss-him. I like the way Prior writes male friendship, honestly, as he has that sort of easy camaraderie down, and a good group of actors to do it with – I just wish he’d tried to do something else with it than yet another movie where a bunch of white guys treks through the jungle and kills a bunch of Asian guys (plus a few evil white guys).

While we’re on the subject of race, there are two black people in “Operation Warzone”, both of whom get killed without uttering a line or having more than thirty seconds of screen time. I have no evidence that Prior was a racist, and he perhaps never even considered it, but it stands out to our 2017 eyes and really shows its age.

What else, what else…there’s a really terrible song over the ending credits called “Is This The Love?”, which is so far out of place in a Vietnam war movie with no love interest in it that I sort of admired the sheer lack of effort which resulted in its placement; and then there’s an extra with the fantastic name of Mace Bacon, which is the name of the hardcore band I intend to form one day. Other than that, it’s very literally nothing you’ve not seen before.

We’ll press on with Prior and “Hell On The Battleground”, which might actually just be this movie under a different title (I joke, but only a little). Stay with us, please?

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Roller Blade (1986)

If you know me, chances are at some point in the past I made you watch “The Roller Blade Seven”, which is in the conversation for worst movie ever, not only because it’s mind-bogglingly terrible but because it seems to have been made that way on purpose. That is some ways in our future, though, as we’re still back in 1986 and director Donald Jackson’s second movie, made almost a decade after his first, “Demon Lover”.

Let’s pause before we get into things, as I think there’s an interesting story behind Mr Jackson. From information in “Demon Lover Diary”, the documentary made about his 1977 debut, there’s a strong possibility that his producing partner in that movie deliberately severed his own fingers to get an insurance payout from the place both he and Jackson worked, which is pretty sleazy, even for people in the sort of business we talk about.

But this leads to other questions. Why wait almost ten years to make another film, and what brought on the fixation with roller skates? He did an intereview with a French magazine which I’ve read in English translation, which he claims is the most indepth interview with him ever, and it explains nothing. He just saw hot women on rollerskates in LA and decided to make them the centerpiece of his life’s work?

He moved to LA after “Demon Lover” and got work at the bottom of the film industry, meeting and working with James Cameron on “Galaxy of Terror” and also befriending Randall Frakes, who co-wrote a bunch of his early scripts (including this one). He claims that Sam Raimi called him an inspiration, and to have shot a few small scenes in “The Terminator” when James Cameron was briefly unavailable, and did uncredited work on the movie apparently – whether you believe that or not is up to you, but I can certainly believe him hassling his old friend for a trip to the set and begging him for a job during shooting. For the record, he hates “Demon Lover Diary” and claims they tried their hardest to make him look bad, were so dirty Jackson’s mother kicked them out of the house, he’s made 50 movies and they’ve hardly made any, so he wins, etc. When I get to the movies he made with Scott Shaw, someone remind of the comments he made about that guy in the French interview, as it’ll give you a laugh.

Anyway, this movie was made for the surprisingly low amount of $5,000, and was picked up by New World Pictures (Roger Corman’s old company) and made them a decent amount of money, which led to his run of relatively big budget pictures for them, including “Hell Comes To Frogtown”. I’ve been sorely tempted to call it incomprehensible, or mock it as so-bad-it’s-good, but it’s neither of those things. It’s just really really bad.

We’re in a post-apocalyptic / dystopian future, in “The City of Lost Angels”, only the millionth time that’s been used as if it’s a brand new idea. The Cosmic Order Of The Roller Blade (by the way, there are no roller-blades in this movie, as they hadn’t been invented yet. Jackson claims his movies gave them the idea for the name) protects a magic gem, or crystal, or whatever the hell it is, that protects the Earth, possibly. What it does is really quite vague, but it’s a vague MacGuffin for the action to circle round. Sharon Cross (Suzanne Solari) kills a cop and delivers something to the evil Doctor Saticoy, a masked fellow with a weird creature attached to his arm – I thought he just chose to talk through a plastic toy he had taped to his fist, but it turns out to be a “real” creature in the world of the movie. She wants payment, but he insists on her doing another job for him – infiltrate the Sisterhood and steal the gem, so he can power his rocket car across a chasm to Mecca Co and get all the old world’s weapons so he can run the new one.

There’s also the friendly Marshall Goodman, who protects the Sisterhood, and their leader Mother Speed, as main characters. Showing up as Goodman’s 8-year old son is Christopher Olen Ray, son of “legendary” director Fred, and who we met before as director of “Mercenaries” and “Three Headed Shark Attack”. He’s about as good an actor as he is a director, in case you were wondering.

But let’s wrap up the “plot”, I suppose. Sharon infiltrates but grows to admire the Sisterhood and what they do; Saticoy kidnaps the son, to stop Goodman from killing all his guys; and everyone goes round on roller-skates for absolutely no reason whatsoever. If I was being chased by a killer on roller-skates, as indeed someone is during the course of this movie, all I’d need to do to get away would be to run on slightly uneven ground, or even grass. But no.

There’s a three-woman bath where they all cleanse each other’s souls (one of the women is scream queen Michelle Bauer, presumably doing a favour for someone), and heal all their injuries (lot of magic injury healing in “Roller Blade”, and half the characters talk in what they imagine Biblical language was like, all thees and thous.

Struggling to find a way to describe it, the best I can manage is that it’s like an enthusiastic but slightly stupid teenager telling you about a role-playing game he played with his friends, in intense detail. Reading about Jackson’s career, he seems to have a view of his own abilities that is definitely, 100%, not borne out by the facts. The thing is…I feel like it’s a whisker away from being a parody of itself, a few tweaks and it could have been bizarre and hilarious – why does everyone wear roller-skates, all the damn time? – but it’s so cloth-eared that it just becomes boring. Technically, it’s sort of okay, as everything’s in focus, the colours match and the busy city of LA is hidden in the choice of shots used, but wow is it boring. Yes, a movie about post-apocalyptic Nuns taking on a weird mutant for control of a magic crystal is nothing more than deathly boring.

Rating: thumbs down