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

Chameleon (1998)

“Pilots that crashed” is our wildly unpopular regular feature here at the ISCFC where we review a “TV movie” which is nothing more than the pilot for a TV show that failed for whatever reason; the reason we get to see it, is they spent enough money on it they feel obliged to try and recoup some of their losses by bunging it on TV, or selling it abroad. Our favourite of the ones we’ve covered so far is “Virtuality”, the Ronald D Moore effort from 2009 where inhabitants of a corporate-sponsored trip to deep space have their own virtual reality machines to stave off the boredom, but will this knock it off its perch?

Starring as cloned genetically engineered badass Kam is Bobbie Philips, who’s fast becoming a favourite here. We’ve covered her early career, where she had the great misfortune of co-starring with Billy Blanks twice (“TC 2000” and “Back In Action”); she went on to be great in “Murder One”, then bummed around in all sorts of trash for a few years before abruptly quitting acting in 2004 to go into the hotel business with her husband. Respect to people who don’t hang around when they aren’t enjoying it any more; but she decided to get back into acting a couple of years ago and is picking some really interesting-sounding projects.

We’re in a fairly standard dystopian future, where the IBI is the last line of crime-fighting defence. I guess most of the people who work there are standard humans, but one or two of them are grown in labs (I think, the movie is a little vague on the details) and have super-senses as well as being pretty strong. Kam calls herself a “sub”, although just what that means, aside from being prepared to have sex with anyone to progress a case, is never mentioned. Kam’s special ability that no-one else seems to have is the title of the movie – she can turn sort-of invisible by blending perfectly into the background, “Predator” style.

A kid is the driving force of the plot. Oh, how I loathe child actors! Even if you’re a parent with a kid of your own, surely you wouldn’t enjoy seeing someone else’s stupid kid on screen? Yet because writers can’t be bothered to figure out how to create tension properly, we get a kid who everyone knows won’t die.

Sorry, the kid. His parents are rebels against the corporate system, and create a computer chip which will destroy the world’s economy in a matter of days. The IBI wants it, so they send Kam and a team of armed police to sort them out – but the parents kill themselves rather than be caught, and the kid escapes with the last chip secreted on his person somewhere. Kam goes after him but immediately changes from being a cold-blooded killer to a warm mothering type, protecting the kid, getting kicked out of the IBI, getting chased herself, etc.

You may have noticed that only a few paragraphs in, I’ve complained several times about things not being explained, or being too vague. Well, part of it probably comes from being a pilot, because you’ll need some secrets to explore later in the season; but an equal amount could come from it just not being very good (perhaps the reason it was never picked up). The worst of all is Kam’s sudden conversion to the side of the good guys, with zero explanation, to the stage where I stopped the video and rewound to see if there was something I’d missed. When you’re supposed to be won over by her mothering instinct, you’re probably more likely to be going “she’s in her late 20s and he’s in his early teens, he doesn’t need that much looking after”.

Kam and the stupid kid are chased by a rogue former IBI agent (who was kicked out for being too violent) who chases them with a couple of rottweilers and a redheaded IBI lady, who was clearly being set up to be the workplace antagonist. They’re trying to get to Newton, the leader of the resistance (I think), who ends up being nothing more than a boring philosopher who talks in the thir person. But never mind him!

There are a couple of cool-ish fight scenes, as well as a scene in a huge empty warehouse that felt more like a stunt showcase than it did a logical piece of filmmaking. Phillips is great and looks like she can handle herself (the promotional blurb lists her as a martial arts expert, but she doesn’t really do much of that). And some of the visuals of the wasteland outside the cities are done well too, even if they’re sort of standard.

Ultimately, it’s very standard stuff. Super-powered hero, kid in peril, dystopian future. I like Phillips a lot but she’s not got a lot to work with here, and if you were thinking of watching it for purposes of titilation, the sex scenes are shot from some pretty bizarre angles, to make sure you see as little skin as possible. It appears there are two more “Chameleon” movies to go, as well – amazingly, they’re all pilots with the same star as the same character, and all three failed! If you do choose to watch this, though, you can ponder just how many shows that look and feel roughly the same were made around the time, and why some of them succeeded (“The Lost World”, “Relic Hunter”, etc.) and this failed.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Youtube Film Club – Banzai Runner (1987)

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The risk you take when watching cheap movies, or ones you’ve never heard of, is false advertising. Big-budget movies can’t really mess around too much, because if they billed something as a knockabout comedy and it had a load of murder and misery in it, they’d get mocked endlessly in the press and their investors might be unhappy. There are no such worries for our low-budget friends, and in fact making something rather dull and cheap to produce look as exciting as possible is pretty much their business model.

So we come to “Banzai Runner”. Look at the picture above. Pretty exciting looking, right? Super-powered sports cars, hot ladies, probably a few good fight scenes, men shouting at each other about honour and friendship. Right up my street! But the reality is, it’s a fairly low-key drama about a couple of broken-hearted men (Uncle and nephew) trying to come to terms with loss and move on with new relationships, with a distant b-story of the Uncle trying to break up an illegal street-racing ring.

Highway patrolman Billy Baxter (Dean Stockwell! Did he think this would be his post-Blue Velvet star-making role?) and his nephew Beck (John Shepherd, who was the main guy in “Friday 13th: A New Beginning”) are still haunted by the death of Beck’s parents in a drunk-driving accident a few years ago. Unless you’ve personally been affected by drunk-driving death in this world, you think it’s absolutely fine, as pretty much everyone drives hammered whenever they like. At the beginning, Billy rescues a baby from a burning drink-induced car wreck, although “baby” is putting it a bit strongly, the kid he wraps in a blanket is like three years old. Could they not find a real baby? Anyway, he spirals downwards a bit and is eventually fired.

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There are lots of curious supporting characters in “Banzai Runner”. There’s the Highway Patrol’s mechanic, Traven (Charles Dierkop) who’s apparently also a criminal, as he has a case about him due up before a judge very soon. Billy, upset that his patrol car can’t keep up with the illegal racers, asks Traven to help him illegally soup up the car, offering to get his case dropped. But he never really does, he just takes him for a few rides in his pickup truck which he’s modified so it can go above 150 mph. Sure, why not? Oh, the judge is a hipster who wears a t-shirt in his chambers and was almost busted once by Billy for smoking weed.

Talking of weed, there’s a really curious scene where Beck and Billy are driving back from somewhere, and Billy’s asleep in the passenger seat. Beck decides now is a good time to have a quick smoke, you know, next to your sleeping guardian who’s also a cop! I have literally no idea why anyone thought the jumble of scenes I’ve described in the last few paragraphs made any sense, but they’re all there (heck, you can check for yourself if you like).

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Instead of fun scenes with the street-racers, we get lots and lots of scenes of Dean Stockwell looking sad, or dealing with his on-again, off-again girlfriend. Perhaps the director wasn’t remotely interesting in telling the fast car story, but wanted to do a meaty drama? Then the producers said to him “we love you, seriously though, make this a fast car movie or you’re fired”. I sort of thought from the description that we were going to get a proto-”The Fast and the Furious” (the plot seems heavily reminiscent of part 2 of that wonderful franchise). If Paul Walker had sat around for most of the movie getting drunk and feeling bad about his life, well, we’d have never had a part 3. Actually, if Paul Walker had done those things, and had a nephew who was a complete asshole throughout the movie, then I’d call ripoff.

Eventually, Billy sort of goes undercover and gets involved in this street racing world, but it’s not really that either. There’s only two guys, and their business model is driving cocaine through the desert to Las Vegas at speeds so fast the cops can’t catch them. Although, as they appear to have paid off the cops, I’ve got no idea why they’d need to drive fast anyway? They also sort of dabble in bets on races, so Billy takes on a comedy German stereotype, then the main bad guy himself. I think, I’d honestly stopped paying attention by that point. If you were expecting actual fast cars actually racing fast, then be prepared to be disappointed – although your disappointment tank may well be tapped out by that point – as it’s just sped up footage of cars driving totally normally. They don’t even really make an attempt to not have it look like sped up footage either, and it’s terrible.

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I thought the description of the factory-modded Porsche as being able to go 200mph was stupid too, but it turns out 2017 models can do exactly that, so I’ll give them a pass. Driving that Porsche is one of the very few interesting actors in the movie, Billy Drago (who we’ve covered in such gems as “Cyborg 2” and “Tremors 4”). He’s the main goon but he’s really under-written, like they had to fit in a five minute scene where Stockwell wanders round his house trying to play a trumpet, but can’t be bothered to have a scene of Drago being awesome and evil.

Please don’t be like me, dear reader. And not in any of the normal, “oh my god he’s wasted his life” ways! Don’t be fooled by the blatant false advertising of “Banzai Runner” – and don’t ask what a banzai runner is, because this movie will not tell you – and watch something fun instead.

Rating: thumbs down

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Youtube Film Club: Tough And Deadly (1995)

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If you saw one half of “Tough and Deadly” and one of “Back In Action”, you could be forgiven for not realising you were watching two different movies. I mean, you’d have to not be paying very close attention, but when stars Billy Blanks and Roddy Piper, just after meeting in odd circumstances, start fighting each other, a fight which counts as character development (a virtually identical scene in both movies), it’s enough to make you wonder.

But the good thing is, they’re both loads of fun and definitely come recommended. Piper is a private eye by the name of Elmo Freech (ah, the 90s and their wackily named characters) and Billy Blanks is…well, for most of the movie he’s known as John Portland, a CIA agent who suffers amnesia after getting involved in a gun battle, being kidnapped then injected with some weird cocktail of drugs. Freech is ambulance chasing down at the hospital and sees Portland brought in, covered in blood – even though he was tied up and drugged, he was still badass enough to kick the ass of everyone in the car with him and crawl away from the wreckage.

 

ASIDE: The main difference between the two movies is the treatment of cars. You only had to look askew at a car in “Back In Action” and it would explode in comically over-the-top fashion, but in the intervening two years someone evidently learned cars don’t really do that. Thank you!

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Anyway, Freech rescues Portland from an assassination attempt at the hospital and the two of them start working together. We even get a training montage as Portland learns to use his muscles again, although way later in the movie he says angrily “I spent two years learning to use my body again!” Two years? There’s no way! If that’s not enough for you, let’s discuss the monstrous coincidence that powers this tale – Freech was a cop who was kicked off the force for trying to bust a drug dealer called Milan. Milan is working with the CIA to run drugs, including Trekkler (the great Phil Morris, “Seinfeld”, voice actor extraordinaire), who also worked with Portland and wants him dead! Really? You couldn’t have thought of a better way to weave these two tales together?

 

If you ignore all that nonsense, then “Tough And Deadly” delivers in spades. Fight after fight after fight…Freech does his good old fashioned bar-brawling style, and Portland does more spin-kicks than anyone in any movie ever. They even bust some front businesses of Milan’s, a similarity so close with “Back In Action” that I really hope they were made by the same company or someone should be suing.

vlcsnap-2015-05-23-20h14m11s421_grandeThird-billed is Richard Norton, the awesome Australian martial artist who we’ve enjoyed in “American Ninja”, “The Salute Of The Jugger”, both “China O’Brien” movies and “Mad Max: Fury Road”. He’s Milan’s main goon, and is sadly underused here, but he and Piper do have a similar haircut and shirt, so it’s only Piper’s stubble that tells them apart in long shots. James Karen, who you might remember from “Return Of The Living Dead”, is good guy CIA agent Winston Briggers. It’s a very male movie, with the only woman with more than a cameo being Lisa Stahl as Freech’s secretary (she’s 9th billed, indicating just how much of a sausage-fest it is). Talking of Stahl, when our heroes have to hide out at her place, she lives in a mansion, full of huge rooms and tasteful furnishings. All I can say is Freech must pay a little too well. Saying that…when we see Freech’s home, he’s got a tiny apartment with the only decoration being a poster on the wall that simply says “pasta sauce”. Huh?

 

I think this a slightly better movie than “Back In Action”, though. The two stars come together earlier, and seem much more comfortable with each other. Blanks even…dare I say it…acts a few times! Piper is really good, and I wish he’d lucked into something like a Shane Black movie back in the 90s and become the star he deserved to be. There’s not quite as much fighting, which is a good thing (you can only stand so much before your eyes start to glaze over), the acting is overall better and while the plot isn’t exactly taxing, it’s not like any of us would approach a movie with Billy chuffing Blanks in it called “Tough And Deadly” and expect more than what was given.

Is this necessary? Really?

Is this necessary? Really?

After complimenting the treatment of cars, we do get one of the biggest explosions in the history of B-movies, near the end, as a helicopter armed with a rail-gun blows the crap out of a drug-warehouse. No effect, either, they really blew up a massive warehouse. On that crescendo, I highly recommend this, it’s available for free and is plenty of fun.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Youtube Film Club: Back In Action (1993)

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Welcome, dear reader, to a mini-season of Rowdy Roddy Piper / Billy Blanks reviews. Okay, they only made two movies together, but the trailers looked so awesome I decided they deserved a bit of an introduction. Piper was a beloved former pro wrestler who moved into acting and made a pretty decent job of it, going back and forth between wrestling and acting for the rest of his life (he died in 2015). Blanks is a martial artist who got his break when, hired as a bodyguard for one of the actors in a movie shot in the Philippines in 1988, he impressed the producers so much they wrote him in. Despite being a shockingly bad actor, like malfunctioning robot bad, he had a pretty decent B-movie career until inventing the Tae-Bo fitness system turned him into a pop-culture phenomenon of sorts – we’ve already covered his performances in “TC-2000”, “No Retreat, No Surrender 4”, “Bloodfist” and “China O’Brien 2”. But what are they like…together?

Things kick off nicely, with a drug deal in a cemetery interrupted on multiple fronts – one, by Piper, as tough cop Frank Rossi, along with a van full of cops with shotguns; and the other, by Blanks, as the imaginatively named Billy, who’s the brother of the drug dealer’s lieutenant’s girlfriend Tara. That make sense? Blanks is, of course, a beast, but he’s also stealthy, managing to remove his sister from the crime scene without anyone realising he or she were there. Well, no-one on the good guys’ side, anyway. Piper witnesses the main drug dealer (or who we think is the main guy) gut his partner with a knife, just for good measure. Blanks takes Tara home and they have a big row cos she loves Gantry (the dealer’s lieutenant, played by Damon D’Olivera, who’s told to kill her but refuses) and their discussion on his background leads us to an aside…

 

…Special Forces soldiers in the movies! Low-budget cinema is lousy with guys who went through the super-tough Special Forces training and then quit the Armed Forces ten minutes later to become security guards or cab drivers or just drifters. I can’t help but think Special Forces needs better screening for its potential trainees, as they must lose so many guys who don’t seem like they’ve retired or even soldiered for that many years. Plus, they all suck at taking orders and playing by the rules, two things that’d be pretty important for a soldier. Anyway, Billy is one, which is the thing that explains how amazing he is at martial arts.

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Clearly, former SyFy Channel director Paul Ziller (“Metal Shifters”, “The Philadelphia Experiment”) and co-director Steve DiMarco (best known for TV) had seen “They Live” a few times, and wanted the kudos that classic got from its never-ending fight scene between the two stars. Frank and Billy go at it in a bar – Frank is there to see if he can get intel on the drug gang, Billy to retrieve his sister again – and it’s both not as long and nowhere near as good as its inspiration. Clash of styles, you see, even if it’s amazing to see Frank bust out some straight pro wrestling moves! But anyway, after holding guns on each other a few times and a bit more fighting, Piper comes round to Billy’s way of thinking, that way is murdering people rather than arresting them. When Tara disappears, Billy becomes a straight-up Punisher, slaughtering his way through the dealer’s front businesses.

 

Bobbie Phillips (“Murder One”, the “Chameleon” series of movies, and far too good for this trash) is the TV reporter who edits footage to help Frank out, and eventually becomes his love interest. She both causes and solves most of the problems – including doing an interview with Tara and Gantry, causing her to get kidnapped and tortured to give up their location. The dealers think they tipped off the cops, for some reason? If you’re wondering “why, in the middle of a gang war, would a TV station interview those two people?” then you’re on the same page as me.

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The crime-boss is an ISCFC favourite, Nigel Bennett (“Earth: Final Conflict”, “Forever Knight”) as Kasagian. He’s just your generic bad guy in this, no real character or interests, and he’s actually pretty divorced from the main plot as there’s a top drug dealer who does all the fighting. And boy oh boy, is there a lot of fighting! Every now and again, it looks like some plot is going to break out, but then they realise Blanks is definitely not an actor but he can kick ass so they just have him doing a load more of that. My notes just have “so, fighting, eh?” about ten times. One of the scenes, where Kasajian sends some badass dudes round to kill Billy, is almost perfect, as they appear to be twins with the same cheesy perm, moustache and Zubaz pants. Let’s see if I can find a screenshot of those fine gentlemen.

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Ultimately, it’s a solid B-movie, in the tradition of “Lethal Weapon” and “They Live” – if you’re going to borrow, might as well do it from the best. Piper is great, of course, Philips is excellent, Blanks is there, and while it’d have been cool to see Philips do more fighting (she’s an accomplished martial artist in her own right, not that you’d ever guess from watching this)  there’s not tons of complaining to do here. You know what you’re going to get, and you get plenty of it.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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Eliminators (1986)

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This never happens

If you spent any time in a VHS rental shops when they were still a thing, chances are you’ll have seen this video on the shelf. Chances are also that you wouldn’t have bothered renting it because it was a cheap looking knock-off of a hundred other, better movies, but now all you need to do is go to Youtube and there you are (well, you did, it appears Full Moon got wise and had it taken down).

You don’t get too many mad scientists any more, which I think is a shame. Much like “Cthulhu Mansion”, we’re treated to a turn from a great old English actor – this time, Roy Dotrice, star of stage and screen, as Abbott Reeves. Along with sidekick Dr Takada, he’s built something we come to know as Mandroid out of a crashed pilot and all sorts of high-tech bits and pieces, and he looks like the bargain-basement offspring of Robocop and Terminator (see below). Anyway, they’ve also figured out time travel, which really ought to be the headline of their endeavour, and send Mandroid back to the Roman era to grab some artifacts.

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Reeves wants Mandroid disassembled, but Takada isn’t down with that and helps Mandroid escape. Now, here’s where there’s a bit of a join visible in the script, like two imperfect rewrites welded together. He’s killing Reeves’ henchmen all over the place (a lot of henchmen for a reclusive scientist, but whatever) and decides to kill Reeves then and there – a good plan. Takada talks him out of it, dying in the process, and Mandroid just leaves. If you’ve ever seen a film before, you’ll know there’s another confrontation coming, and he’ll never be this unprotected again. So why leave him? Well, apart from “because that would make the film ten minutes long”.

The film feels an awful lot like a TV pilot, for an A-Team-esque show, just with robots. Mandroid goes to find the scientist who created some of his parts; then the two of them, on their way to find and confront Reeves, meet Han Solo-esque riverboat captain Harry Fontana; then with far too little time left in the film, they meet Takada’s son, a supernaturally gifted martial artist. And it’s these four who become the team…the main face you’ll recognise is scientist Nora Hunter, played by Denise Crosby. She’d go straight from this film to “Star Trek: The Next Generation” but the entire cast is pretty strong.

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The surprising thing about this film is it’s really quite good. Denise Crosby is a strong leading woman, and the plotline is well-done. It doesn’t mess about too much, Mandroid’s robot kit looks pretty good for a low-budget action film, and there’s some nice dialogue. One of Fontana’s riverboat rivals has him at gunpoint and says “I’ll give you til the count of five”, to which he replies “that could take all day”.

This is a perfect Sunday afternoon matinee type of film. Aside from a few seconds of Crosby side-boob, there’s nothing too violent or unpleasant about any of it (the IMDB-listed rating is PG). Just a good action adventure film, with a time-travelling robot in it. It feels like the producers went “what’s famous at the moment?” and came up with a list – Terminator (1984), Romancing The Stone (1984), Jackie Chan (Police Story and Meals On Wheels were big hits at the time), Back To The Future (1985), Commando (1985) and probably a few others, threw them in the blender and out came this. No bad thing, necessarily – if you’re going to steal, might as well do it from the best.

As the end credits rolled, I realised I’d been watching a Full Moon film, which explains the level of competence, the decent acting, and the relatively high budget (back when they had major-studio money behind them). Director Charles Manoogian also did “Demonic Toys”, and producer Charles Band is of course well known to us, being a first ballot ISCFC Hall of Famer. Well, he might have to explain why the fascination with miniature creatures before we let him in, but you know.

Rating: thumbs up

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