Youtube Film Club: Prototype (1992)

Thank you for sticking with us for a few weeks while we did a bit of “housekeeping” – in other words, reviewing series that have been added to since we stopped reviewing them, once-lost-now-found movies from our favourite directors, that sort of thing. You, dear reader, are likely much less obsessive about these things than I, but hopefully you’ve been entertained and informed.

We love covering post-apocalyptic movies here, too, and given there are approximately an infinite number of them, we’ll never run out of review material. 1992’s “Prototype” is a peculiar one, though, for several reasons. It’s a welcome return for one of our favourite directors, Philip Roth (“Interceptor Force” 1 and 2, “Total Reality”, “Digital Man”, “Velocity Trap”) and a slightly less welcome return for “the extremely confusing plot”, and its twin brother, “the info-scroll at the beginning that doesn’t really explain anything”.

 

So, it’s the future, and I guess there’s been an extinction-level event of some sort. The remnants of humanity are hanging on, then some boffin creates “Omegas”, who are genetically altered humans. I think. They figure out how to reprogram themselves, and this period of history is known as “the time of the mad minds”.  Why? I don’t have the foggiest idea, my friends, because the Omegas don’t appear to do anything bad, either before or after they re-program themselves.

Then, again for reasons that are never revealed to us, humanity invents the Prototypes to hunt down the Omegas. Whereas the Omegas are just people, the Prototypes are a sort of garish rip-off of Robocop; it appears they’re successful, as the last one powers down, its mission complete, after killing off what it believes is the last Omega. Sadly for it, the Omega thing, whatever that thing is, is implanted in a little blonde girl who manages to escape the carnage.

 

Fast forward 20 years. There’s the adult version of the blonde girl, a scientist working in what I presume is the last military base on Earth, someone who might be a soldier or she might just be his assistant, a guy in a wheelchair with a really sweet mullet, a kid who’s maybe related to the guy in the wheelchair, and a guy with that cornrow / mullet combination who is, a later info-scroll tells us, a genetically engineered protector for the Omega. Not an Omega, who are also genetically engineered, just a super-strong fighter who’s there to protect her. If you’re feeling a little lost, join the club.

One of the comments from my wife while watching this movie was “is this sponsored by Marlboro?” Everyone smokes, all the time, to the point where you have to wonder how cigarettes are still being made in the post-apocalyptic world of 2077. But such trifles distract from the central question relating to “Prototype”, viz:

 

What the hell is going on?

 

The info-scroll definitely indicates that the Omegas are the bad guys, and the Prototypes have restored peace in some way, yet later on the final Omega, Chandra Kerkorian (Lane Lenhart) is the hero, and the organization behind the Prototypes are the bad guys. Wheelchair-mullet guy, Hawkins Coselow (Robert Tossberg), we discover, was once in the Army, so scientist lady asks him to step up to be put in the Prototype armour, which will allow him to walk again (they had a body on ice for this purpose, but the bonding process didn’t take).  He’s definitely a good guy, and is in love with Chandra, who seems completely indifferent to him, and indeed every other person in the cast. But then there’s a virtual reality sex thing where Hawkins goes through his fantasies with Chandra, although she might be taking part in some of them?

The movie sort of ambles along for an hour or so before they decide to put Hawkins in the suit and get on with the plot. It bears some similarities in its meandering please-get-to-the-point nature, as well as a post-apocalyptic setting, with British sci-fi movie “Hardware” (not much of a compliment). But it also has a kind of film noir feel to it, like the filmmakers were aiming for something they weren’t quite talented enough to pull off, which goes to the editing as well, which is extremely curious in places (presumably on purpose).

 

Even though I tried to find entertainment in “Prototype”, as I love a good post-apocalypse movie, I just couldn’t quite manage it. Whose side was anyone on? Who are we supposed to want to win? Are there any normal humans in this movie? What was this war all about?

 

Unless you’re a completist, either of Roth movies or post-apocalyptic ones, might be best to steer clear of this one. But, it’s up there for free, so you’ve only got your time to lose.

 

Rating: thumbs down

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The Las Vegas Serial Killer (1986)

In 2019, the ISCFC is going to finish some of the things it started, as we’ve got a few filmographies with review holes, movies we couldn’t get hold of years ago, new releases to long-running series, that sort of thing. So there’ll be more Donald Farmer, Len Kabasinski, Phantasm, and Puppet Master reviews coming your way soon; but we’re starting with Ray Dennis Steckler.

Steckler is bad movie royalty, having been featured in the Medved brothers book “The Golden Turkey Awards” (the grandaddy of every bad movie blog on the internet); “Mystery Science Theater 3000”; and British TV’s “The Incredibly Strange Film Show” – the latter interviews him in the late 80s and finds him a funny, interesting, smart, self-deprecating man. This fame was mostly for his 60s movies, but he carried on, after a fashion.

Between 1971’s “Blood Shack” and 1986’s “Las Vegas Serial Killer”, he made dozens of movies, but only one of them is what you could call “legitimate”, and that’s 1979’s extremely sleazy “The Hollywood Strangler Meets The Skid Row Slasher”. He got into the “jizz biz” in a big way, making such entertainments as “Sex Rink”, “Debbie Does Las Vegas” and “Weekend Cowgirls”. After uncredited directorial work on legend Ted V Mikels’ “Angel of Vengeance” in 1987, he seems to have retired (“The Incredibly Strange Film Show” was around 1988, and whatever he was shown filming at the time of that documentary remains unreleased). We’ve already covered his last movie, 2009’s “One More Time”, which is little more than a home movie made for his friends and family, but we’re here to talk about his last “real” directorial work.

“Las Vegas Serial Killer” is a sequel to “The Hollywood Strangler…”, featuring Pierre Agostino returning as Johnathan Klick, who loves killing prostitutes (helpfully illustrated by liberal use of old footage). Even though he died at the end of that movie, he was apparently revived and admitted to the murders, spending 6 years in a Las Vegas jail before…this is pretty stupid to write out, but they never found most of his other victims, apparently, and the helpful radio guy who acts as a narrator for proceedings informs us was probably just lying in order to be famous. The one victim they can pin to him only results in a 2nd degree murder charge, so he’s back out on the streets and ready for more fun.

There’s another plot, running entirely separately (apart from a very brief coming together at the end), which involves two unappealing-looking fellows, sat in a hotel room listening to the radio guy give us the details of Klick’s crimes. This piece of audio is repeated, as are several others, which indicates Steckler ran out of anything approaching a script and hoped we wouldn’t notice. Anyway, they hear about the newly released serial killer and decide that a trip to Vegas is a good idea. Are they people who kill killers? Assassins paid by the families of his victims? Or are the two events entirely unrelated? Those of you who guessed unrelated, give yourselves a pat on the back. There’s even a scene early on where both Klick and the two guys are sat at adjoining tables in a strip club and don’t look at each other, in case you were confused.

When you’ve got over the trauma of the fakest of the fake 80s boobs at the strip club, there’s a scene which was probably just intended to be a party backdrop for Klick’s next murder, but is inadvertently perhaps the sleaziest scene in the entire movie. It’s sad looking topless women and old men in speedos leching on the women, presumably some sort of fake industry party where the women were enticed with the prospect of meeting producers but actually just met ugly old men. That Klick is able to abduct a woman from this party and kill her in full view of everyone (although the voiceover in the next scene tells us he took her to a nearby field, as if he realised how confusing the editing of the scene was) passes as completely normal in this world.

ASIDE: the one good thing about that scene is that it was a birthday for Hollywood superstar Cash Flagg, aka Ray Dennis Steckler himself (it’s his acting pseudonym). I mean, it’s not worth sitting through the scene for, but it’s there.

Steckler realised at some point in the mid 70s that filming sound along with his pictures was unnecessarily expensive, so he just stopped, and got round this by trying as much as possible to not have someone’s mouth in shot when they were speaking. Obviously, it’s weird, but you sort of get used to it after a while.

Things drift along, for a while. Klick keeps murdering women with shocking ease, firstly as a pizza delivery guy, in one case sneaking into a house where a photo shoot is taking place, killing a woman who’d gone to get a soda, then stealing a camera in the confusion – the garden where the shoot is taking place is gross and ugly, but I guess they weren’t expecting people to check the amount of grass on the ground.

Okay, not fun

Seeing the camera gives him an idea, so at about 58 minutes of this 75 minute film, Klick goes back to his old plan from the first movie, calling “photo models” (aka prostitutes) and then killing them, having been unable at any point to just buy a camera. Heck, why do you even need a camera? You’re only going to kill them! He also loves whispering “die, garbage, die” as he’s doing his thing, but I’m not sure I’m buying his plan to just be cleaning up the streets. I think he might be deranged, you guys. The two guys, who keep running into Klick but paying no attention to him, just keep robbing people and hanging round street corners; and the radio news voice keeps repeating the same set of information for both sets of people. It’s odd. The two guys, by the way, wear the same clothes at all times, despite the movie taking place over, at least, a week.

There’s a couple of wider points about this grubby movie that I wanted to share. Firstly, is that none of it is titilating in the slightest. For a man who’d spent the best part of 20 years shooting porn, you’d think he’d have an idea of what turned people on, but this parade of hollow-eyed misery with an occasional bare breast isn’t anyone’s idea of pleasant, surely?

My favourite, though, is the way this serial killer is all over the media, presumably with photos everywhere, as the radio guy mentions both he and the robber pair are suspects in this spate of strangling murders that started as soon as he got out of prison. But, he’s able to walk the streets, get a job in a pizza place, and stand around photographing people without anyone recognising him. He’s pretty distinctive looking!

The last thing, though, is how this movie seems out of time, as by 1986 (the date of this movie’s release) serial killer movies had moved on quite a lot. When you’ve got multiplexes drenched in gore, it seems like a curious choice to make a movie this way, like Steckler wasn’t really paying attention to the wider world. Perhaps some of it was shot in the late 70s and he had to match to the footage he had available?

Klick never seems happy with his work, the murders bringing him no pleasure, or sexual gratification, or anything like that. It’s just something he has to do, like an itch he has to scratch every few days. Nor do they bring we viewers any pleasure, I suppose.

The ending is genuinely pathetic, like he remembered he had two plot threads and brought them together in the clumsiest, most half-assed way possible. Then the credits list a “psychiatric consultant”, and I’d be interested to know what they did on set.

Steckler seemed like a decent guy. He enjoyed meeting his fans, he enjoyed his work and the interview with him shows him to have a good sense of humour about his place in the world (and that his ex-wife continued to work with him after the divorce and has nothing but good to say about him in the more recent interview footage speaks well of him). But he got worse as a filmmaker! I understand budgets were tight, but that doesn’t excuse the layout of this movie, which repeats the same few beats over and over again to avoid coming in at a running time of about 45 minutes (which is all this story needed, honestly). It doesn’t excuse the dialogue or the fact he couldn’t be bothered to record live sound (which even micro-budget filmmakers like Donald Farmer managed, with largely similar equipment). It doesn’t excuse that back in the 60s, he could make a roughly coherent movie with a beginning, middle and end, and now that’s beyond him.

Its main redeeming feature is showing a side of Las Vegas we don’t get to. Not the flashy casinos and high rollers, but the grime and dirt and people living on the fringes and the exploiters and exploited. You may feel like you’ll need a bath after it, and I’m not sure it’s worth the time investment, but there’s something there. There’s an extra layer of sleaze in knowing that all the people he films on the streets of Vegas 100% did not give permission.

Expect more (non-porno) Steckler reviews, although, honestly, I assume most of them are going to be pretty much like this.

Rating: thumbs down

2019: Barbarians of the Future (1983)

I try not to be over-dramatic when writing these reviews. But this…wow, this film is bad.

You may have discovered this film under one of its alternate titles – “Warriors of the Wasteland” is its proper English language title, but that doesn’t fit in with our current review series. Later-in-the-movie dialogue reveals to us 2019 is 10 years after a nuclear holocaust which finished off most life on Earth. Small groups of people survive, and we’re greeted by one of those groups of people, shortly before they’re attacked by the Templars.

The Templars are all dressed in white, and seem to favour the beach-buggy as a mode of transport. This isn’t the first post-apocalyptic film to heavily feature buggies, so I was wondering if these films are all made by the same company, the head of which has a brother who owns a buggy hire firm? Perhaps we’re supposed to believe that in the 10 years since the apocalypse, tastes have shifted dramatically from cars that protect you, and have space to store things in, and have drifted towards flimsy death traps.

As well as the Templars, we meet Scorpion, played by an Italian guy who’s been given an English name on the credits, because an American leading man is important to the people who’d be likely to stump up cash for this baffling film. He slaughters a different group of scavengers, mercy kills the last person left over from the Templar’s massacre, and then heads off to mess with the Templars themselves.

Oh, there’s a sideplot with a cute kid, who fixes Scorpion’s car and helps him out at the end, but we can safely ignore him. He doesn’t die, can’t act and serves no purpose other than presumably to be a relative of one of the financial backers of this film. But Scorpion’s car is worth mentioning, the sweetest ride in the film, full of unnecessary features and a giant plastic dome on top that makes it look like some hot-rod version of the Popemobile.

One of the occupants of the van who get rescued by Scorpion in a dull fight scene is Alma, who’s…the love interest? Sort of? Played by Anna Kanakis, who judging by her photos on IMDB is still a strikingly beautiful woman and has aged a great deal better than this film has, she’s…well, I’m trying to think of a way to describe her, but I give up. She doesn’t drive the plot, or do much of anything else (but more on that later). Scorpion does sort-of pressure her into having sex with him inside a see-through luminous green tent, though.

There’s trouble in the Templar camp, as the boss (named One) and his lieutenant argue over the best way to dispatch Scorpion. There’s something a bit fishy about these fellas, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the moment. Was it the fancy matching uniforms, all pristine in the middle of a no-more-washing-powder apocalypse? Or something else? Well, it’s something else, but you’ve got a paragraph more of my garbage before we get to that.

Scorpion needs a hand with a band of baddies, and luckily gets it from Fred Williamson, who plays another mercenary just wandering the wasteland. Fred Williamson is a badass. He’s almost more than 100% man, just a force of nature who dominates this film (despite not being, let’s face it, the world’s greatest actor). To prove my point, here’s a photo of him from the 70s in a sweet suit. Have you ever been a tenth as awesome as this man? Of course not.

I doff my cap to his magnificence

I doff my cap to his magnificence

Scorpion, Williamson and Alma disover a whole other group of wanderers, who’ve found a signal which indicates civilisation is alive, well, and only ten miles away. Ten miles? They’re waiting for their vehicles to get fixed before making the last drive, rather than, I don’t know, sending one guy on a bike to make the 20 minute journey and get help. While they’re walking into the camp, we get another gem of dialogue explaining why this group are being nice to them – “they believe in something called God”. Now, it’s been ten years since the bombs dropped, and in that ten years we’re supposed to believe that adults have completely forgotten about religion to the point where “something called God” is a thing that a person might say. Dear me.

In the camp Williamson has shockingly easy sex (luckily this is one of those free love Christian groups) with the only other black person in the film, and Scorpion heads off, leaving everyone else behind. He’s captured almost immediately, and…I really can’t quite believe this. The Templars are a gay doomsday cult, who are trying to kill everyone off so humanity is no more, hate religion, and initiate Scorpion by raping him. Yes, that happened.

There’s a lot of violence in this film. There’s no real need for it, and judging by the poor quality mannequins they couldn’t really afford it – several heads explode, one or two people get thrown under cars, people fall of cliffs, that sort of thing. But the greatest death of all is saved for One, who is on the run after having all his henchmen killed off in increasingly brutal fashion by our male heroes. How does One get his, I hear you ask? Well, Scorpio has a drill attached to the front of his car, which he uses to anally penetrate and kill One. Hurrah!

It’s hard to say who ought to be more offended by this film. Women are seen as barely objects, and despite both our brave heroes having sexual partners who’d presumably like to see them remain in one piece, they do nothing – the kid with a slingshot does more than them. But really, it’s gay people who should be hating on this film. They’re referred to as “queers”, they all hate God, rape honest straight men and are trying to kill humanity. It’s not even subtext, it’s just right out there, front and centre. Whoever made this film was either the world’s dumbest person or a misogynist homophobe (or more likely both).

It’s certainly never boring, and provided you can laugh at its appalling gender / sexual politics, you’ll have a decent time. And it’ll cost you nothing other than bringing you 86 minutes closer to your own death, so enjoy!

Warriors of the Wasteland on IMDB

 

Rating: thumbs down?

Youtube Film Club – The Helix…Loaded (2005)

The era of the parody movie seems to be behind us, thank heavens. The last Friedberg / Seltzer movie with any sort of money behind it was 2010’s “Vampires Suck!” (which I sort of half-liked), and while they made a Fast and Furious parody as recently as 2015 – “Superfast” – it was straight-to-Netflix and barely anyone watched it. Their “Taken” parody, “Who The F*** Took My Daughter?” has been abandoned, so it would seem, and while they have a Star Wars parody in the works, there’s a decent chance that never makes it either.

Even though they’re justifiably mocked as terrible and not funny, they’re far from the worst operating in this particular cesspool. That honour must go to David Murphy, writer / director of “Not Another Not Another Movie”, which paid Burt Reynolds, Chevy Chase and Vinnie Jones to wander through the set for half an hour with a camera on them, and is among the more miserable experiences of my life. Honourable mentions go to such people as Marlon Wayans, who continues to churn out parody movies, such as “A Haunted House” and “Fifty Shades Of Black”; Josh Stolberg gave us “The Hungover Games”, not to be confused with Friedberg and Seltzer’s own “The Starving Games”; and a monster by the name of Craig Moss has made “The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It”, “Breaking Wind Part 1”, and “30 Nights Of Paranormal Activity With The Devil Inside The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”.

I’m a believer in us getting the sort of entertainment we deserve, and this catalogue of misery was foisted on us because we kept giving them money. Luckily, we all woke up from this national nightmare, and aside from the occasional accident, like a budget that was decided ten years ago and no-one had the heart to cancel, we are free.

All this is sort of irrelevant when talking about a movie from 2005, though, even one that I was completely unaware of until earlier this morning. What’s perhaps surprising is that, in this torrent of parody movies, “The Matrix” survived relatively un-mocked (the billion comedy sketches about its two or three most famous scenes notwithstanding, of course). Then, this fine new year’s morning, as I sat shivering on the sofa, trying to beat the cold I picked up a few days ago, I discover this, and find it’s available in its entirety on Youtube!

There’s even a plot. A group of party-goers are looking for a mysterious substance called “The Helix”, which is like the ultimate high or something, but Orpheum and his sidekick Infiniti know that it’s got some mystical enlightenment powers and they need “The Other One” (“The One” having died in a boating accident) to combat some super-powered agents and the mega-corporation that employs Nuvo and his friends.

Anyway, that’s all you’re getting of that. Aside from the majority Matrix stylings, there’s a bit of “Fight Club” mixed in there, as they were really aiming hard for that late 90s audience…in 2005. The jokes are unbearably lame, as like so many others, it seems to think that having a character dressed like someone from a famous movie, or say a line from one, is enough for the joke.

But there’s a section roughly in the middle that feels like it was written by a funnier person. There’s a joke about Sha-Na-Na in there, which would have flown over the heads of 99% of the people watching it, Sha-Na-Na having ceased to be a thing 30 years before the movie came out. Then there’s a segment which gently parodies “Koyaanisqatsi”, the Godfrey Reggio experimental documentary (with the legendary Philip Glass soundtrack), which made me smile but must have been done purely for the filmmakers’ own amusement.

The final battle is just terrible, though, as the movie grinds to a halt when it should be going full-tilt for the end. It felt like every actor demanded their own mini-scene when they didn’t need it – the lack of anything approaching a central character was a bit of a bummer throughout (the Keanu Reeves avatar, who was more interesting in doing a “Bill And Ted” impression anyway, kept disappearing from the movie for entire scenes, like he was busy doing something else during filming).

When your big acting name is Vanilla Ice, and it’s 2005, there are some serious questions you need to ask yourself. Well, one, and that is “should I be releasing this damn thing? Is this not just a vanity project to show my friends anyway?” Poor ol’ Vanilla doesn’t even get all that much screen time! The one acting name I had heard of – Jennifer Sky, star of the Robert Tapert / Sam Raimi produced series “Cleopatra 2525” – is in one scene, for about 5 seconds; and the weird thing is, she’d have been totally decent in the one central role that cast an actor who looked a lot like her, much better than the woman who ended up being cast, and I can’t imagine she was too busy or charged too much then either.

It’s cheap-looking, certainly, and is filmed in a variety of ugly interiors, but some of the special effects are good – the ones that most directly parody similar scenes from its more famous parent are pretty well done, and honestly not that much worse than the original. Kudos to the special effect guys!

Movies like this are almost enough to convince me the Matrix is real – think you’ve got it figured out and they’ll just tweak reality on you. How did this movie make it all the way to 2019 without me ever having heard of it? Plus, it’s got Vanilla Ice in it! I’m pretty sure it never existed until this morning, and I fully expect this review to disappear, along with my memory of it, Youtube and IMDB links, and so on, when the Matrix’s programmers figure out the mistake.

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club: Cast A Deadly Spell (1991)

I love a good high-concept B-movie, or just one with a bizarre premise. If you’re going to make something in our world, why not try and have fun with it? Raw Force – “bunch of kung fu enthusiasts get shipwrecked on an island full of zombies”; Rome 2072: The New Gladiators – “a bike based murder TV show in the far future”; and Demon Cop – “about, er, a werewolf social worker”…among many many others. To that fine tradition we can add “Cast A Deadly Spell”.

Its premise? “HP Lovecraft is a detective in 1940s LA, and everyone uses magic apart from him. Literally everyone”.

Unlike some of the odder concept movies we’ve covered here at the ISCFC, the people behind this have got the chops to pull it off. There’s director Martin Campbell, who also directed all-time great TV show “Edge Of Darkness”, the Hollywood remake with Mel Gibson, and two James Bond movies (“GoldenEye” and “Casino Royale”). Writer Joseph Dougherty has been responsible for both “ThirtySomething” and “Pretty Little Liars”. And it stars Fred Ward (“Tremors”) as Lovecraft, David Warner (“Final Equinox”, “Beastmaster 3”) as the guy who hires him, Clancy Brown (“Highlander”) as Lovecraft’s former partner / villain, and a very early role for Julianne Moore as the femme fatale.

Much like its spiritual counterpart “The Maltese Falcon”, there’s a MacGuffin which drives the plot along – the Necronomicon! I mean, someone does want it to open up a portal to whichever dimension Yog Sothoth lives in and revive him, but it’s not important to the plot. They just want that damn book! Lovecraft, after some unspecified earlier incident, refuses to use magic, but everyone else does – every scene, there’ll be something floating along in the background, or a guy shaking a cocktail without using his hands. While it could have become annoying in the wrong hands, it’s just subtle enough to still be entertaining.

The Necronomicon is stolen from Amos Hackshaw (Warner), there’s a subplot with Lee Tergesen (“Wayne’s World”) playing two parts, one of whom is Lilly Sirwar, the love interest of the thief – he’s a convincing woman, it wasn’t until about two-thirds of the way through that my wife went “is that a guy?” – and Lovecraft is trying to find it and keep it out of the hands of Harry Bordon (Brown).

They really make an effort to make the world they’re in feel normal and lived in, along with recreating the classic film noir flavour. Unlike films noir, there’s substantial roles for people of colour though, which is great, such as HP’s landlord / dance teacher Hipolyte Kropotkin (Arnetia Walker). There’s also a huge zombie familiar, who I thought might have been pro wrestler Viscera but was actually a fella by the name of Jaime Cardriche, and Bordon makes an off-hand remark about buying them in packs of six from Haiti.

Those of you with long memories may remember our coverage of movies based on HP Lovecraft stories, or in one case “inspired by the stories of” (which meant a few character names and not much more). This would go right to the top of the list of those movies, and I think it counts as much as “Cthulhu Mansion” ever did, as his mythos is a prominent part of the plot (summoning Yog-Sothoth, etc.) I just asked my friends back in the UK about “Cast A Deadly Spell” and they all acted amazed I’d never heard of it, considering how much they’d enjoyed it. Heck, there’s even a sequel of sorts! Same writer, diferent director (Hollywood legend Paul Schrader!) and different star (playing Lovecraft is Dennis Hopper!)

For a made-for-HBO TV movie, this is infinitely better than it has any right to be. The mood of the era is captured beautifully, the cast is absolute dynamite, the plot is interesting, the wild concept doesn’t dominate proceedings, and I was interested from beginning to end. If you’d like to watch it, it’s available for free too, so knock yourselves out.

One last thing – there’s lots of comparisons made by other reviewers to “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, and…I guess? I don’t really see it myself, although admittedly there’s a private eye, the period setting and the wild world that everyone accepts as reality. Okay, so I may have just convinced myself, although this is perhaps a little darker than that was. It has more in common with something like “The Rocketeer”, an underrated gem from the same sort of era and about the same sort of era.

Rating: thumbs up

Sledgehammer (1983)

After the Prior brothers’ “The Final Sanction”, reviewed the other day, I thought it’d be fun to go watch the entirety of their ouevre. But you probably don’t think that, or you may just not want to watch every single movie from a director you sort of half-liked, so you come here to find out if it’s worth bothering with. Well, yes and no. But read on, please!

Back in 1983, people just didn’t make shot-on-video slasher movies. “Boardinghouse” had come out the year before, widely regarded as the first full-length movie to take advantage of the new technology, but “Sledgehammer” was hot on its heels – and if you’d like to be pedantic, as “Boardinghouse” actually played in a few cinemas, this could be said to be the first to ever be made specifically for the home video market.

From the little information I can gather, Ted Prior moved from New Jersey to LA sometime in 1979 to become an actor, and ended up bodybuilding, becoming a fairly popular model for “Playgirl” magazine well into the 80s. Presumably, David followed him out there, and rather than shlupping himself round the studios trying to get work, he just made one himself, shot almost entirely inside his own apartment, in 7 days, for under $50,000 (probably significantly under, if we’re being honest). Apparently, the cameras were borrowed from a training-video company, so while they’re not just average normal ones bought from a shop, they’re still significantly fuzzier than even 16mm was at the time. The opening credits are surprisingly creepy / great, with some chilling synth score playing over the sort of credit font that I imagine the cameras came pre-loaded with. I’m a sucker for a good bit of synthy music.

If you’ve seen “Halloween”, you’ll recognise the opening scene, where a kid is locked in his room by his scumbag mother, who wants to have sex with her new boyfriend, only for the kid to emerge from the locked room, grab a sledgehammer (not just a clever title!) and beat them both to death. This scene has the best gore effect (the lover’s extremely fragile skull being split open) and also, I suppose, gives the kid motivation – which our old friend Michael Myers never really had. But, the scene might just be shot weird, or it might have been some indication that the kid didn’t really do it – how on earth did he swing a large hammer that hard? How did he escape from the room?

I was about to write “we don’t really have time to ponder that” but we do. We have a lot of spare time, as Prior, possibly to pad his movie out to feature length, has a quite staggering number of slow-mo scenes, including such non-essentials as a door handle being turned, a couple walking down a path, and so on. It’s ten years later, I think, and a group of hard-partying guys and gals in their late 20s turn up with one cooler of drinks between 6 of them – it’s not even all beer! – and they make sure to insert a scene where a mechanic takes their van away to be serviced, just so we know there’s no getting out of this mountain retreat. Yes, they say it’s up a mountain, 50 miles from anywhere, and no, we aren’t ever told why the family from the beginning would choose to live in such a remote location. In fact, the family at the beginning worry about what the townspeople would think of their union! Anyway, can’t get bogged down in minutiae that none of you care about.

Ted Prior, as Chuck, is the commitment-phobic boyfriend to final girl Joni (Linda McGill, although I have no idea why I’m listing any of these actor names as apart from Ted, none of them did much of anything in the industry). There’s also other people, who I’ll call Cannon Fodder 1-4. Because that’s what people do, apparently, they have a food fight in a room which might comfortably seat three; there’s one moment where an off-screen character tells them to stop, and I honestly thought for a moment it was the director and they’d just forgotten to edit that bit out. Then they have a séance, after a not-exactly-eventful first half-hour, and as Chuck relates to them what happened in the house long ago, things begin to happen, developing into a traditional “spam in a can” movie with a bunch of weird trimmings.

I love watching first-time directors doing low-budget genre movies, as they’re always unique in their own weird ways. The “this isn’t the way you do things” people hadn’t gotten to Prior by this point, so we get all sorts of weird stuff happening. The killer ghosts his way through closed doors, and sends other people through them too, but later on is seen messing with handles like he can’t get through. He’s the same kid from the beginning, impervious to damage, at one point, then he transforms into a man and suddenly becomes vulnerable. There’s a pentagram drawn on the wall in blood, but if it’s got a Satanic theme to it then it’s extremely under-developed. Chuck ignores slasher movie law and tells everyone to stay together, in the one room, and wait til morning (it doesn’t do any good, but it’s still sound advice).

All this is hidden under a layer of slow motion, and weird periods of silence like he ran out of incidental music, making everything seem slightly surreal, otherworldly. It actually reminds me a little of all-time worst movie “Things”, but not in terms of quality, acting, or plot, just that enclosed location and the washed out tones of a video camera. The lighting and the blankness of the walls begins to get to you after a while, and it’s creepy almost despite itself.

I think the Final Girl wasn’t given enough character, as it feels all the way up to the penultimate fight that it’s going to be mostly about Chuck; but they stick to that one bit of slasher law, almost set in stone even by this early point. Prior, by the way, was a canny guy, and even though he knew the slasher movie was on its way out (although it’d be revived by Freddy Krueger a couple of years later) he figured if he made it cheaply enough he’d still turn a profit. And he was right – he parlayed this into bigger budgets, peaking around 1990 with his movies for AIP, before slowly tailing off (he took a decade off, coming back with Ted for a bunch of movies starting again in 2007).

I felt quite clever during the final credits, thinking to myself “some of these names sound fake. Is it union guys working under a pseudonym?” I think it’s more likely to just be the same three or four people doing all the jobs, but eventually the names become so ridiculous anyone could spot it – right at the end we’re treated to “Jac Meough” and “I.P. Phreilee”. Well done, Mr Prior!

It’s boring, slow, and ugly, with a ton of basically amateur actors – but all truly bad movies fail in their own weird and wonderful ways, and “Sledgehammer” is worth watching to see how it fails.

Rating: thumbs down

Night Of The Kickfighters (1988)

This feels broken. Like, the people who made it didn’t really understand how movies worked, but went ahead and made one anyway. None of the subplots make any sense, the main plot is missing hefty chunks, the acting is – to put it exceptionally politely – amateurish, the crew may have been drunk, some of the effects would be embarrassing if a ten-year-old kid made a film with them in it…but boy oh boy was it a lot of fun to watch.

We have new members of

THE ISCFC ONE-TIMERS CLUB

This is the highly sought-after prize for someone whose entire career is represented by just one movie. Director Buddy Reyes and writer / producer / star Andy Bauman, welcome!

Expectations are important. After the first scene, in which a wonderfully overacting Euro-hottie Kedesha (Marcia Karr, who’s already been in two ISCFC movies, “Death Blow: A Cry For Justice” and “Maniac Cop”) seduces a rather unprepossessing balding fellow then has Carel Struycken (the tall gaunt fellow from such movies as “Men In Black”) throw him out of a window, you’re expecting a hero to show up soon. When Adam West shows up as a scientist who’s invented a laser smart enough to ignore friendly people on the battlefield, you’re expecting him to sell it to some villains – joke’s on us, as they clearly only hired him for a day or two and he shares no scenes with the main cast. When his daughters and wife are attacked by the actual villains who figure kidnap / ransom is the best way to get the laser (I think, they don’t really tell us their plan at any point), surely, you think to yourself, the hero is going to show up soon? We’re nearly a third of the way into the movie and there’s not been a single star-looking guy show up yet.

What I wasn’t expecting was that middle-aged balding guy from the beginning to be the hero. He’s CIA agent Brett Cady, and is played by Andy Bauman, who was apparently a kickboxing world champion (although I can find no evidence of this other than the VHS box, which also claims he’s the star of three other movies – he isn’t) and now sells a cross-fit style exercise regime with his wife. He looks like a mid-level manager at a failing insurance sales company, not an action movie star, and this is probably the heftiest blow dealt to “Night Of The Kickfighter”. He’s not even that good an on-screen martial artist!

We’re also treated to one of the weirdest “getting the team together” segments of all time. There’s a computer expert who you might expect to be the love interest, but no; a generic brawler whose special skill seems to be that he owns a bar, then a sort of gutter version of Q from the James Bond movies, then a magician. A straight up stage magician! Aldo is his name, and I kept expecting him to drop the accent and delivery he’d gone with, but no – he speaks like a crazy person from beginning to end. Follow this weirdness with one of those team-training segments that manages to be even weirder, and you’re just strapping yourself in getting ready for a crash-bang-wallop last half-hour.

But, of course, that’s what a normal movie would do! What we actually get here is half the team go off to do the fighting, and half the team just sort of hang back for no reason, only getting involved when everyone else is tied up with a brain-frying lazer pointed at them (not the same lazer that Adam West was inventing, though). I’m not sure what the hacker gets up to, because she was so bland she started blending into the background. The magician guy does full-on disappearing tricks, inside the enemy compound, indicating he either went in there before and set all his tricks up while no-one was watching or he’s actually got magical powers. You know, the usual.

On top of all this, there’s the technical “shortcomings” too. The most obvious miniature I can remember seeing in years is blown up at the end – it’s only a few steps up from the “MRI machine made of paper” classic “After Last Season”. There’s the way the lazer effect moves with the camera, so a beam of purple light is sometimes beaming into someone’s head and then wanders over a few feet to the left or right. Tons of post-sync dubbing, like they kept forgetting to record sound too…then there’s the sets – the strip club is amazing, like a redneck version of a 1920s honky-tonk bar with a solitary stripper gyrating in the corner. Nothing fits!

This genuine puzzlement carries over to the acting too, with Bauman an utter non-presence in the movie he’s supposed to be starring in. Aldo and Kedesha are both overacting like their lives depended on it, and everyone else seems like they’re a little unsure that what they’re doing is a real movie, like maybe it’s just some rich weirdo’s vanity project that would never see the light of day.

One last acting comment – Carel Struycken. You’ll recognise him immediately, but what you won’t ever think while looking at him is “I bet he’s a good fighter”. Despite him having a powerful look, and being very tall, he just doesn’t look threatening at all. He looks like a slightly frail old man, but there he is, standing toe-to-toe with an apparent world kickboxing champion. Bauman has to wait for incoming punches and kicks so often, it almost becomes a joke after a while.

I feel like just how down-to-its-bones odd this movie is hasn’t been fully gotten across. It’s a thing that looks like a movie but isn’t – it doesn’t start or finish in a logical or fun place, it picks up and abandons plot threads like they’re going out of fashion, and, for a movie starring a martial artist and having the name it does, has not one single fight that’s interesting or exciting to watch.

It’s available for free, though, so you’d be a fool to not check it out. Ease yourself into this world, though, as it’s like an expert-level crazy 80s kung-fu movie. Also, there’s another movie with “Kickfighter” in the title, “Revenge Of The Kickfighter” (aka “Mission Terminate”, “The Kick Fighter”) which of course bears no relation to this movie at all. But it’s got Richard Norton in it and he’s amazing, so we’ll be watching it soon and reporting back.

Rating: negative thumbs up

PS – this is a production of AIP, Action International Pictures, which has a reputation apparently for producing movies of this sort of quality. Anyone interested in reading about a few more?

Cyberjack (1995)

It’s “Die Hard” in the near future.

Still reading? Well, now we’ve got the review out of the way, we can relax a little. This movie manages the rare-ish feat of being known by two titles that don’t describe it at all – first is the title you see above, which is a reference to a sort of hacker in the movie’s universe that’s about to be made redundant thanks to new technology, and of whom we meet none. It’s also known as “Virtual Assassin”, subtitled “death on the internet”, and, of course, there are no virtual assassins and no-one dies on the internet.

The first few seconds of the movie might have you believing it’s a little similar to “Ghost In The Shell”, with its monstrously large advertising hoardings general dystopian air to things – but it’s important to remember that after this brief scene, the era the movie is taking place in is never referenced again. But, you know, perhaps someone involved had some interesting ideas.

It’s a welcome return to the ISCFC for Michael Dudikoff, from “American Ninja”. In the intervening years, he’s apparently learned to act quite a bit, and here he’s Nick James, a cop with a cheeky grin and a hot partner. While discussing baseball, the two of them are called to a disturbance which ends up being ISCFC Hall Of Famer Brion James! He’s called Nassim, and has an amazing shock of bright white hair and a pencil-thin white beard; his motivation at this moment seems cloudy – he’s just interested in cackling maniacally and murdering.

Thanks to being unable to take a shot at Nassim, his partner is killed, and we cut to several years later, where Nick is now the janitor for a large office building, where some scientists have created…come on Mark, you can do this…a sentient computer virus that apparently bonds with human DNA! Really?

Guess which villain shows up, along with a large multi-ethnic gang of thugs, to steal the virus? Although after the ludicrous opening, I was ready to accept pretty much anything. So, we’ve got a gang holding a bunch of scientists hostage, and one man who wasn’t supposed to be there (he’d decided to not bother going home after the end of his shift, but stay at work and watch holographic pornography). They establish a little flirting relationship with Nick and Dr Alex Royce (Suki Kaiser) right away – she also has a firm opinion on the outfield of the “Neptunes” baseball team – so he’s got a reason to stay and help and not just try and escape.

If you were thinking “it’s just the idea of the movie they ripped off”, then I have four scenes / lines, all of which happen within five minutes of each other, to convince you otherwise.

  • The first good cop on the scene to help Nick says “hell of a week to quit drinking” (AIRPLANE)

  • Nassim says “I used to fuck a guy called Nick in prison” (ROADHOUSE)

  • Lift falls to bottom of lift shaft and explodes (DIE HARD)

  • Bullet is stopped by metal flask in breast pocket (A MILLION MOVIES)

This is by no means an exhaustive list. But I feel like I’ve given you a rather negative view of this fine piece of 90s action. Brion James is superb as the super-OTT villain, and his crew of baddies are all trying their hardest too, especially Garvin Cross as “Numb” and Topaz Hasfal-Schou as Megan, sporting amazing be-nippled steel armour. Although it’s very very standard (the first sentence of this review will have accurately placed about 80% of the movie in your mind) it’s pretty good fun, because it’s an entertaining template and it’s pretty hard to mess it up.

There’s clever touches, too. This is the first time in movie history anyone has hidden inside a hologram of someone else (I think); and the sheer volume of odd ideas at the end (including the “hovering” robot and wild computer stuff) is to be commended. But don’t worry about the quote from Stephen Hawking used at the beginning of the movie, as it has zero to tell us about what will happen, and is never so much as referenced again. Perhaps this is due to it being director Robert Lee’s first movie, or perhaps, judging from his future output, it’s just the sort of director he is.

And then there’s Dudikoff himself, who’s come on in leaps and bounds from his “American Ninja” days. He’s relaxed, able to do comedy, and doesn’t feel the need to be the most bad-ass fighter on the planet – in fact, he’s sort of a sucky fighter in this and gets his ass almost kicked on several occasions. His burning desire to know the score of the ongoing baseball game between the unnamed Chicago team and the “Neptunes” is a fine running gag; as is how much of a baseball nerd Alex is too.

It’s cheesy trash, without a doubt. But entertaining cheesy trash, and it’s free too.

Rating: thumbs up