Youtube Film Club – Banzai Runner (1987)

maxresdefault

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.

pdvd_016

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).

banzairunner07_zps89e21434

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.

pdvd_013

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

i014279

Advertisements

Youtube Film Club: Tough And Deadly (1995)

0114706

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!

tough2

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)

mpw-59141-414x600

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.

hqdefault

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.

backinactionfrankeyesbillyduckface

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.

untitled

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

3afdcecf84c2

Eliminators (1986)

220px-Eliminatorsposter

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.

eliminators098

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.

eliminators-empirepictures

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

eliminators6

Youtube Film Club: Dreamaniac (1986)

dreamaniac-1986-movie-review6

After “I’ve Been Watching You”, because I’m a glutton for punishment and because I hope you – dear reader – enjoy reading about bad movies more than good ones, I decided to really get into the filmography of David DeCoteau. You might be flicking through the listings of your streaming service of choice one night, happen upon DeCoteau, and come to me for advice (metaphorically speaking, but if you know me, feel free to just give me a call and ask).

We’ve talked about him before, and mentioned his career arc – by the way, did you know he directed the recent meme-bait “A Talking Cat?!?” – so feel free to read our old reviews. Click these words right here to go to a list of our DeCoteau writing! Or carry on reading, right now, to find out about his first ever non-porn directing job. Yes, after “Boys Just Wanna Have Sex” and “Never Big Enough” (sorry, I do love a good porno title), he was offered his first directing job by Charles Band and his pre-Full Moon “Empire Pictures”.

 

From the opening credits on, this reminded me of a slightly sanitised version of early Donald Farmer – the B-movie horror legend who gave us “Demon Queen”, “Cannibal Hookers” and “Vampire Cop”, among many many others. Exhibit A is the opening credits, which go on for about 5 minutes (of an 80 minute movie), and just list the cast and crew, pausing for an excruciating length of time on each one. I love a good “get it to feature length by any means necessary!” trick.

 

Adam (Thomas Bern, in his only ever role) is a professional heavy metal lyric writer (huh?), although he has a poster for punk musician Jello Biafra on his wall, and the t-shirt he wears at the beginning is of Def Leppard, not exactly the most metal-y of bands (the soundtrack has nothing approaching metal on it, either, presumably the whole thing was due to some satanic music panic being in the news the week they made it). He’s having trouble sleeping, dreaming of a woman in a bathtub full of blood, but he does have a lovely and supportive girlfriend, Pat (Kim McKamy).

McKamy has the drill

McKamy has the drill

ASIDE: As every other review of this movie has mentioned, McKamy, under the name Ashlyn Gere, would go on to a long career in porn, winning a number of awards while still doing bits of mainstream acting (she’d appear in a few episodes of “The X Files”, for instance). Evidently, there are people who watch porn the same way I watch old horror movies, as there’s a lot of interest in this because it was filmed before McKamy had breast implants. I feel vaguely sleazy just from knowing that information, but there you go – in case you were wondering DeCoteau, even at the beginning of his career, was far more interested in the male form than the female.

 

Back to Adam! He summons a demon quite easily, needing nothing but a few candles and a book of incantations, and it’s the same woman he’s been dreaming about, named Lily (Sylvia Summers). I guess there’s a religious thing here, with Adam and Lily / Lilith (Lilith being the name of Adam’s first wife in some very early Jewish texts), but if it is, it’s completely undeveloped. Now this is where the extremely poor sound quality of the VHS rip on Youtube become annoying, because according to the promotional literature, Lilith gives him irresistibility to women, on the proviso she can kill them afterwards, but this doesn’t make the slightest sense when it comes to what actually happens. In fact, I’ve really got no idea why Adam summoned her at all – he seemed to have a decent life, with a big house and a beautiful girlfriend? He is a very very dull character, though, a wet blanket much like the star of “I’ve Been Watching You”, so I’m glad the movie doesn’t focus too much on him.

dream

What the movie does focus on is the party that is thrown in his house, because Pat’s sister Jodi needs to get into a sorority and decides a sparsely-attended party in the home of a virtual stranger is a good idea, and because this movie was shot in 10 days and it’s a lot easier to film entirely in one location. So we get an assortment of characters – the bitchy sorority leader Frances (Cynthia Crass); the gay guy; and the…undistinguished mass of humanity! I’m seriously struggling to remember any of them, and it was only on a few hours ago. The way it goes is, we see a bit of a party, then Lily murders someone in an escalatingly gruesome fashion; then we get either a view of a naked male ass, or a shot from the front of a chap in very tight white underwear. It’s good to know his interests were front-and-centre (so to speak) from the very beginning, and it makes a refreshing change from most horror cinema.

 

There’s sort of a subtext here, and it’s unhappiness. No-one is happy – the women are all unsatisfied with their men, Adam is just miserable, Jodi seems disgusted at the world she wants to be part of and just gets drunk all the time, in fact the only people who seem remotely satisfied with their lot are the camp guy whose name I don’t remember and Lily herself, and she gets to murder tons of people for no reason whatsoever.

dreamaniac-1986-movie-review-25

I almost forgot that a few people come back as zombies later on (another thing it has in common with early Donald Farmer), seemingly picked at random and easily dispatched back to death. And someone gets their head removed with a drill, which is pretty impressive when you think about it. Or stupid, I can’t decide which – okay, it’s stupid. It’s quite nice to see such an unvarnished set of slasher film responses to situations, with pre-marital sex all over the place and cast members having an almost pathological desire to wander off on their own and get killed.

 

There’s one good thread to “Dreamaniac”, the interaction between Jodi and Adam. They don’t spend a ton of time on screen together, but when they do there’s an easy rapport and the nugget of a half-decent film. But that’s literally it when it comes to stuff I enjoyed.

 

First up, it’s called “Dreamaniac”. The first and only dream sequence in the movie is done with by the five minute mark! Best I can guess is, the cover talks about “A Nightmare On Elm Street” and they knew they needed at least one dream sequence to not be sued for false advertising? Talking of the box, there’s the caption “too gory for the silver screen!” on there, indicating its proud straight-to-video status (back when that was pretty unusual), or perhaps they just misspelled “rubbish”. Then, finally, there’s Adam’s motivation. What does he get out of the deal with the demon? She has sex with him a few times, but after that all she does is murder a bunch of people in his house.

dreamaniac-1986-movie-4

SPOILERS AHOY! No excuse, really, the video is right there at the top of the page to watch. It turns out the entire movie was…a pulp novel that a guy played by the same actor as Adam had written! We see him finishing reading it out to someone over the phone. Screw you, movie! That this other Adam then gets killed by the same demon, the implication being he summoned it with the stuff in the book, is the garbage cherry on the dirt pie.

 

“Dreamaniac” is relentlessly awful. Made solely for the purpose of wringing a few $$$ out of video shop customers, with not a thought given for its quality (although I guess it’s sort of impressive that they made this for an estimated $60,000) or coherence, it’s to be avoided at all costs and I’m now regretting starting down this path. None of the bravura oddness of Donald Farmer, but all the flaws and then some.

dreamaniac-2

Rating: thumbs down

Prom Night 3: The Last Kiss (1990)

prom-night-iii-the-last-kiss-1990

Many years ago, my friend Dan worked in a 24-hour garage, on the night shift. Usually, it was very quiet, so we’d pop over and keep him company (we were all students or unemployed at the time), and part of the fun was grabbing a VHS tape from the bargain bucket and playing it over the store’s TV. We saw / fell asleep ten minutes into many a terrible B-movie, but the one I remembered with most fondness was “Prom Night 3” (having never watched parts 1 or 2 at the time). But now I have!

Mary Lou Maloney is in hell, after the events of part 2. Her hell is a Prom, a sort of hideous mashup of her 50s past and the disco of part 1, with shuffling zombies her only companions; but she’s resourceful, so with nothing more than a nail-file and a can-do attitude, she’s off and back to Hamilton High school! A quick couple of murders later (the janitor and an old boyfriend) and she’s ready to get involved with the main story.

img_0019

Our human “hero” is Alex (Tim Conlon, making his debut), an average student in every way – height, weight, shoe size, grades, everything. He has a beautiful, smart girlfriend, though, Sarah (Cynthia Preston); but she wants him to go work on a farm with her , post-graduation and pre-college, whereas his best friend Shane (David Stratton) wants the two of them to get motorbikes and hit the open road. I mean, a summer on a farm does sound like sort of a crappy way to spend your last free time, but what do I know? In school late one night, Alex hits his head and while he’s lying completely dazed on the floor, wrapped in the American flag which fell off on top of him, Mary Lou, flying through the school’s corridors looking for fresh victims, sees him and falls in love.

Now, here’s where my carefully constructed feminist persona may crumble slightly. This is the first time in the movie we see the face of the new Mary Lou, Courtney Taylor (for whom this was her debut too). Now, we all have our favourite genders, sizes, shapes, and hair colours, but to say I developed a little crush on Ms Taylor is to understate things considerably. She was so beautiful that the film could have been a massive pile of crap and I’d still love it to this day – luckily, it’s great so I don’t have to pretend. Thank heavens the internet wasn’t a thing back then, I’d have made a horrible embarrassment out of myself – anyway, she’s also a lot of fun in the role too, playing someone who is so pleased to be out of Hell that she falls deeply in love with the first nice guy she sees.

MONOCLE DROP

MONOCLE DROP

Unfortunately for those around her, Mary Lou’s way of showing love is somewhat influenced by her past. A science teacher with a sweet tooth is about to give Alex an F, so she tears his chest open and replaces his guts with chocolate and ice cream. The guidance counsellor thinks Alex is only good for menial labour, so Mary Lou melts her face off with battery acid. Then, because she may be an utter psychopath but she’s not stupid, she forces Alex to dispose of the bodies, which he chooses to bury in the middle of the “football” field for some reason, making sure he’s bribed well with sex. This bonds the two of them together quite well.

Alex turns into a cool kid sort of by accident, as the confidence he gets from Mary Lou (along with the murder of his enemies), and a bike / leather jacket from his parents (as a reward for acing a test that Mary Lou actually filled in for him), elevates him in the school’s eyes. He and Sarah have some serious problems, and Shane struggles with the new Alex too.

prom-night-iii-the-last-kiss-mary-lou-football-death-scene-courtney-taylor-tim-conlon-dylan-neal

As I always say, if you want a poorly worded recap you can just go to Wikipedia, so let’s talk character. Sarah is interestingly-played, as she’s pretty boring, wanting Alex to do a really dull thing with her, and having no obvious interests (that she’s not into sex, it would seem, is the icing on the cake for a teenage boy). She’s the archetype for many of that sort of character in teen comedy cinema, but rarely would they give her so few redeeming qualities. Mary Lou represents destroying small town tedium, and as well as being staggeringly beautiful, it’s very obvious to see how a guy obsessed with his own average-at-everything nature would fall hard for that. Alex is the everyman, and I’m pretty sure I identified with him quite a lot when I first saw it.

Then there’s the comedy element, as “Prom Night 3” is most definitely a comedy first and a horror second. The brutal murder of people around him is played with a sort of off-hand, casual indifference by Alex, but his nightmarish rise to the top of the school’s social pyramid is funny as well. It’s not jokes or wackiness, but laughs that come from the characters and the situations; okay, there are some great lines too, such as Alex’s “What am I talking about? I just stuffed my dead biology teacher into the cupboard. Things are not alright”, but then, that’s all in the delivery too. There are also some weird / brilliant visual touches, like the cactus shaped like a penis that keeps blocking the shot as Alex talks to the guidance counsellor; but, of course, some of it is terrible, like the PA announcer, whose lines feel like they were rejected from the worst, lamest “Airplane!” ripoff.

pn3-1

The entire “Prom Night” series qualifies as “unquels” – sequels that bear no relation to what came before. The first one is a largely serious slasher movie; part 2 is a wicked black joke of a horror, which introduces a new central character; part 3 keeps the main character but completely alters everything about them; and part 4 isn’t even set at a prom! The curious-ish thing is that parts 2 and 3 were written by the same person, Ron Oliver, who now does kids’ TV and romance movies. He also got to direct part 3, which is perhaps why its odder comedic elements get dialled way up.

Is this movie any good? It’s almost impossible for me to separate my enjoyment of it from the time I originally saw it, but its dark, almost post-modern take on the wronged-girlfriend-slasher movie seems refreshing, even today. As comedy fans are unlikely to stumble upon it, most of its press has come from horror sites, who seem upset that something which looks like a horror movie actually isn’t- the same treatment that the (far superior) “April Fools Day” also got. Very few horror-comedies get reviewed well, because I don’t think fans of either genre understand much about the other, and while I’m not saying I hold any unique perspective, as a fan of both I can appreciate the movies that get it right. Whether that’s a comedy with a horror setting, or a gory horror with a few dark laughs in it, or something in the middle.

pn3-6

Okay. It’s a long way from perfect, with an ending which smacks of “we ran out of money, will this do?” and a lack of normal human response to any crisis leaving things curiously hollow at times, but the the good outweighs the bad to a huge degree. Funny, a couple of great debut performances, a black heart at the centre of a light movie – it’s absolutely worth tracking down. Not for you if you like movies that take themselves seriously, but otherwise you’ll have a fine time.

Rating: thumbs up

prom_night_3_01

Youtube Film Club: Hell Night (1981)

hell-night-1981

The ISCFC’s tour through the early years of slasher movies continues with a perhaps slightly forgotten Linda Blair effort from 1981. Some less kind commentators have suggested the only reason for its existence was to raise more money for “Halloween 2”, this being produced by the same people, but we’ll give anything a fair crack of the whip here.

We start at a rather fun-looking party, where they bothered to hire enough extras to make it look busy. It’s “Hell Night”, which I believe is the final night of fraternity / sorority initiation ceremonies, so called because the police are bombarded with fake reports and the town goes to hell. Or something like that, please don’t expect too much from me, I’m English and approaching middle age. There are four pledges – Marti (Linda Blair), Seth (Vincent Van Patten), Peter (Kevin Brophy) and Denise (Suki Goodwin); all they need to do is spend the night in the spooky old Grant Mansion.

 

On the way, in a rather well-shot scene with a large group walking up a country road with flaming torches, we’re given the history of the Garth family, which ends after the usual twists and turns with the father killing the rest of the family as their sons were all deformed. One son allegedly survived, and is rumoured to live in the place still. So, there’s plenty of pranking going on at first, as the fraternity and sorority folks outside try and freak out the pledges. But then, refreshingly quickly, someone starts bumping off the people outside, unbeknownst to the people inside, and we’ve got ourselves a movie.

A decent, sensible group of heroes?

A decent, sensible group of heroes?

A quick word about the characters, as they make the movie. Denise, who’s English, has brought Quaaludes and Jack Daniels (and would have brought cocaine if she’d not been frisked on the way in), and is a lot of fun. This and an appearance in a TV show the following year represent her entire movie career, and it’s a damn shame as she was both beautiful and a totally decent actress, although perhaps too naturalistic in an era that didn’t like that. Peter and Marti are every dull final couple you’ve ever seen in a horror movie, but inhabit the characters well, actually making you care about them (Peter’s reaction when finding out Marti is a skilled mechanic isn’t to laugh or sneer, but to ask her to fix his car, which I liked). And then there’s Seth, the wonderful Seth.

 

Seth and Denise have some fun together, but when he leaves to use the bathroom, he comes back to find her gone and a different severed head in his bed. Now, right here is where the legend of Seth kicks in. Rather than sit around and freak out, or go looking for the rest of this woman, he gets the hell out of there and warns everyone else. Then, with the movie barely half over, he gets the hell out of the locked mansion (climbing over the fence) and goes to get help. When the police refuse, presumably sick of pranks, he takes a shotgun from the station, hijacks a car and goes back to the house to help out his friends. Good work Seth! But his awesomeness is not over – he fights off and kills the deformed murderer, and walking back into the house, shouts “score one for the good guys!” before… getting killed by a previously unknown second deformed brother! Seth takes no shit, is totally respectful towards Denise when she says she wants to talk rather than have sex (while still being a partly typical bro-type guy, and feels like a more fully formed, human character airlifted in from a different movie. We love Seth, and he’s in the top tier of awesome horror characters.

1d2jnx

A word about the police. Can you imagine the families of the dead kids not suing the pants off the cops for refusing to investigate someone coming in screaming about murder?  I would have that guy’s job in an instant, and this represents the second movie we’ve seen this week where the police refuse to come and help murder victims (along with “Final Exam”). What’s the worst that happens if you investigate and nothing’s there? Arrest the kids for wasting police time, maybe? How many kids actually run into a police station reporting murder, for a laugh? It can’t be that many.

 

Things are shot well, and the pace is very different to recent slashers we’ve watched. The cast realise there’s a monster after them really early on, compared to such snoozers (relatively speaking) as “Graduation Day”, where the discovery is barely in time for the end credits. It’s interesting to know who the killer is for most of the runtime, which makes it a little more like a monster movie and a little less like a slasher. This is fine by me. And congrats to them for making a little go a long way, with the sets, tunnels, and so on, which all look great. The gore, too, which is minimal but really effective, plus a couple of jump scares which are actually scary and not just annoying.

pdvd_049

It could have been ten minutes shorter, maybe, and it’s not the most original idea in the world, but with a decent sense of humour, some great characters, and fine sets, they made a solidly above-average movie, which is no given in the murky waters we’re currently paddling in. It seems weirdly less sexist than the swathe of slashers that emerged later in the decade too, with no T&A and the women giving as good as they got.

 

Rating: thumbs up

pdvd_010

Youtube Film Club: Graduation Day (1981)

graduation_day_dvd_cover

While the ISCFC has covered many of the big slasher series, there’s some gaps for classics and one-offs. Dear reader, we know you’re sat there, paralysed, wondering “which old horror movie should I watch? The ISCFC won’t tell me!” so consider this a public service.

“Graduation Day” is from the first wave of slashers, riding high on “Friday 13th”, “Prom Night” and “Halloween” money. It’s got a good ol’ simple plot too – Laura is the star of the track team, but collapses after over-exerting herself in a 200 metre race and dies, apparently due to a blood clot on her brain.

 

Just so’s you know this is Troma country we’re in, the movie tests if you’re paying attention quite early on. Laura’s older sister is Anne (Patch McKenzie) and she’s in the Navy, and she comes back several weeks later for the graduation ceremony. Why not the funeral? She said she was stationed in Guam which is, admittedly, most of the way across the Pacific, but I’m sure the military would let you go home for your own sister’s funeral, right? After being unapologetically mauled by a guy giving her a lift, she turns up in town and the red herrings start. She establishes a little connection to Laura’s boyfriend Kevin (E. Danny Murphy, who looks old enough to have a kid in high school), although it seems fairly obvious to our 2016 eyes that Anne is a lesbian.

gradday_4-620x348

We may be the only Linda Shayne fan site in the world. She was in “Screwballs” as the excellently named Bootsie Goodhead, and was also the credited co-writer on that movie – she worked a lot with Jim Wynorski in the early 80s. She later moved into directing but her career faltered in the early 2000s (she directed a teenage Neil Patrick Harris in her last movie, who says how much he hated her, so maybe she wasn’t that nice a person). Anyway, she’s the first member of the track team to get theirs, a few minutes after Anne arrives in town, and has such a small role that she’s uncredited. Sorry Linda!

 

The movie progresses in classic slasher movie fashion. There’s a picture of the track team which is gradually getting all the faces Xed out as they die. There’s red herrings aplenty, like the Xs being done in lipstick, yet when we see the killer’s bare arm, it’s thick and hairy and clearly a man’s. There’s the (clearly gay) music teacher who has sex with one of the female students for a passing grade. There’s the biggest one of all, the track teacher who’s almost psychotically angry. There’s the way that several people have the same grey tracksuit and stopwatch that the killer is seen holding. There’s the way that every single person at the school is absolute scum. The usual.

1

This is all very standard, if we’re being honest, but “Graduation Day” emerges from the pack by keeping a decent pace up; sticking to the “shock, scare or kill every seven or eight minutes” mantra; and having a strong cast. “That Guy” par excellence Michael Pataki is the Principal, there are no really bad weak links in the rest of the cast, and there’s a couple of future “stars” in very tiny roles. Linnea Quigley, who’d go on through the late 80s and 90s to be the premier B-movie scream queen, is the girl who takes her top off to get an A, and was in fact hired because the movie’s first choice (who you can see in the opening shots wearing a no. 46 jersey) refused to take her clothes off for the role. Ah, never change, low-budget scumbag movie producers! Then there’s Vanna White (“Looker”) as one of the background girls. She would soon go on to huge fame as a host on US game show “Wheel Of Fortune”, which she still does to this day, and this represents one of the very few acting appearances where she’s not just playing herself.

 

It’s not all fun and games, though! The killer holds a stopwatch which he stops at 30 seconds, because that’s all the time it took Laura to die. Now, one of the kills takes way longer than that, like 2 or 3 minutes, but still that stopwatch gets stopped at 30 seconds because reasons. Come on, movie! Then there’s the rollerskating pre-graduation party. Very slightly successful new-wave-ish band Felony are playing one of their songs, and kids are skating round while Linnea Quigley and her boyfriend appear to walk several miles into the nearby forest to have some sex and get murdered (seriously, she runs back to the party for ages and still doesn’t make it). This song goes on, according to someone who timed it, over seven minutes, and if you haven’t reached for the fast-forward button long before then, you’re a better man than I.

grad

The bit of the slasher film template I don’t care for is how long it takes someone who’s still alive to find a dead body and for the authorities to be alerted. In a 96 minute movie, the first body isn’t found til 73:00, and with the last five minutes being a nightmarish coda, there’s really not a lot of time for the inevitable Final Girl shenanigans. Talking of which, Anne is a trained combatant, and the best she can manage is to just about almost hold her own against the killer, rather than – I don’t know – kill him immediately? I was a bit unsure if she was even going to be the final girl, because she flat-out disappears for the entirety of act 2, pretty much.

 

The ending is great when you think the killer is going to get away with it scot-free, but then goes a bit OTT when Anne discovers the real killer’s identity and what he has in his attic. The real horror, though, is Anne and Laura’s mother and step-father. He’s an angry, miserable drunk who openly hates Anne, doesn’t care at all that Laura is dead, and only tolerates her in the house because he wants some of the insurance money which would normally go straight to Anne (not sure how that works out). The mother is constantly downplaying what a piece of garbage he is, and one can only imagine the sheer misery that goes on in that home when Laura leaves at the end. Sorry, that should be “Laura leaves, not waiting for the second funeral of her sister or to talk to the cops about the mass-murder that just happened”.

10492975_899157926767484_7056851598465899148_o

It’s not terrible, by any stretch, even if it has some weird lulls. And, if you think about it, the reason for the killer doing killing makes no sense, if you go with the “blood clot” explanation. But, if you’re at all interested in the history of slasher films, then you definitely ought to put this on your viewing list (plus, it’s on Youtube, so it won’t cost you anything).

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle