Scanners 2: The New Order (1991)

While I’d have quite liked to see long, gory franchises based on “Rabid” or “Shivers”, if you held a gun to my head I’d have probably suggested “Scanners” had the most sequel potential of all David Cronenberg’s early movies. I’m not sure why you’d have done that, of course, but then I’m not sure why they chose to make sequels to Cronenberg movies and then make the director some guy who’d only ever made a few episodes of TV, either.

Starring in this is David Hewlett, best known for “Stargate Atlantis” but a genre TV regular these days. He’s David Kellum, and he’s a scanner, one of the very small number of people born with ESP / telekinetic powers. He seems able to control it, by and large, and is even able to start a relationship with fellow veterinary student Alice (ISCFC favourite Isabelle Mejias – “Meatballs 3”, “Heavy Metal Summer”). A fellow by the name of Drak is slightly less able to control himself, and eventually finds himself in the orbit of Dr Morse (“that guy” Tom Butler), who’s got a whole lab full of scanners, none of whom use their powers as they’re all numbed by / addicted to a drug called EPH-2 (the next stage of the first movie’s Ephemerol), originally developed to help dampen scanner powers but also a super-powerful narcotic.

There’s a few creepy images, early on – Morse employs a couple of scanners as drug dealers, to continue funding his experiments, and EPH-2 had a pretty horrific effect on both of them, leaving them looking like zombies. The movie doesn’t play it up, and it’s a nice effective bit of business. There’s also a head, not exploding as such, but a section at the back coming open and blood and brains gushing out, which is pretty well done (criminals, don’t try and hold up a convenience store when there’s a powerful psychic in there trying to do his shopping).

It’s sort of the same thing as part 1, though. Good scanner gets training; evil scanner tries to recruit, then kill him (although the evil scanner is just a goon for the Big Bad here). But it really struggles to make sense. The principle villain is cop Commander John Forrester, and he – for reasons which I’m still not sure about – persuades David to take over the Mayor’s mind and have him made Chief of Police, the day after he arranged the death of the old chief of police. He doesn’t threaten David (not at this point, anyway) so…no, I still got nothing. He immediately realises he did the wrong thing, but surely he ought to have twigged to it before? Like, at the beginning, Forrester kills a criminal as part of an operation and then loudly screams at the TV reporters that he’s delighted the criminal is dead and a “New Order” of concerned citizens should rise up and take over. What?

There’s a weird join, as he leaves Alice with a cute puppy and goes off to find the truth. But before we get to that, spoilers. If you’re the sort of person who’s worried about spoilers for a 25 year old straight-to-video horror movie, that is. Anyway, he goes off to meet his parents to get some answers about his birth, and discovers that he’s the son of Cameron Vale, aka the star of the first movie; oh, and he has a sister who also wants to take down the Forrester / Morse group. Now, bear in mind there’s 10 years between the two movies and his sister, Julie, was played by a woman who was 38 at the time of filming…I’d say “maybe it was set in the future” but there’s a newspaper prominently displayed in one scene with the date on it.

So, Alice sort of drops out for most of the movie and Julie takes her place. But when it occasionally cuts back to Alice looking sad for her boyfriend, check out her apartment, an insanely luxurious, gigantic place, which is apparently well within the reach of a first year veterinary student in whatever city this is set in.

There’s a couple of head explosions which aren’t quite as good as part 1’s, but the special effects seem focused on the ability of scanners to twist other peoples’ bodies, and make them end up looking like the Elephant Man. They’re pretty good, and it’s obvious some decent money was spent here, but it’s still a bit…silly.

If you think about it, this is “Aggressive Staring: The Movie”. Because it has to have a crescendo like the original, you get a good scanner and a bad scanner facing off against each other, and they just stare as the camera spins about and some special effects are shown. But it’s still just staring.

Moving on the conclusion, which is again spoilers. Do you think the authorities would just let two ridiculously powerful psychics stroll away at the end without questioning them? Their activities were filmed by the assembled media, and the Chief of Police turning into a hideously deformed man right in front of their eyes while David is off in the corner staring really hard must have raised a few eyebrows. He has a “we just want to be left alone” speech, but is he directing it at Forrester or the cameras? The angle makes it difficult to tell.

Given the difficult circumstances in which Cronenberg made part 1, this feels much more unfinished, with a script that cries out for a rewrite. I watched it pretty closely, and I’ve got no idea why certain scenes played out the way they did – they certainly don’t make any sense as they’re presented. Ah well.

It’s technically fine, the effects are okay, it’s not boring, it’s just pointless and a little empty. Barely worth thinking about, certainly not worth tracking down. Let’s see if the remake of part 1, due out this year (apparently) gives us a good modern version of the story.

Rating: thumbs down

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Youtube Film Club: Lethal Panther 2 (1993)

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At the end of the second “Lethal Panther” movie, I counted zero panthers, zero people with the nickname “Panther”, zero central characters to whom the soubriquet “Lethal Panther” could be appended, and zero links between the two movies. Not even director, as Godfrey Ho chose not to return for part 2 (part 2 has three directors credited on IMDB, although the credits just have one); I suppose the plot is sort of similar, but the same could be said for literally hundreds of movies from Hong Kong in that era.

The difference between the two movies is handily illustrated in the first five minutes, an extremely long gun-battle that obviously wanted to be like John Woo, but ended up just being confusing. A group of cops, led by a spunky female, are raiding the criminal base of…someone?…which looks a lot like a disused hospital. Thanks to poorly chosen angles, it’s very difficult to tell who’s shooting who, but a heck of a lot of people get shot; then there’s the kung-fu. The first movie had a lot of decent fights that all seemed fairly realistic-ish, but in part 2, everyone who fights is super-powered. The wire-work is insane, with normal cops able to kick people through walls, do that thing where they jump into the air and kick their opponent 6 times before they hit the ground, run up vertical surfaces and generally defy the laws of physics. I can’t tell if they just intended it to be this way or the wire guy they hired was absolutely terrible at his job – either way, it’s certainly visually unique!

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The main focus of proceedings, though, is a cop by the name of Albert Moran (Edu Manzano, now a politician / game show host in the Philippines). His wife and kid were killed by goons from the Nichi Group, gun-runners who try and look legit; this has perhaps understandably made him a little touchy on the subject of crime. This behavior translates itself into slaughtering any gang members he comes across in elaborate, Stallone-in-Cobra ways. After brutalizing one poor fellow, he’s told by his captain not to do it again, or he might get in trouble! Wow, would I love to be a cop wherever he is!

 

I’m a little confused about the women in this movie, in that it’s now a day later and I’m really not sure what their purpose was. Ah, okay! One of them is a well-regarded HK actress who I’m unfamiliar with, Yukari Oshima, playing an Interpol agent called Shoko – have you noticed how much the Far East loves having Interpol in its movies? Does it just have more powers in that part of the world or something? Sharon Kwok is Sue, a local cop, and then one of them has a brother who’s shady as hell right from the beginning, in perhaps a nod to part 1, or perhaps just no-one cared about checking the script to see if it didn’t just rip off their own previous movies. The scene where the two ladies go for dinner, and one of them has a parrot on her shoulder for some reason, is a real puzzler.

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The only obvious lift from another movie in “Lethal Panther 2” is the bit from “Police Story” where Jackie Chan falls from the top of a mall to the bottom, riding on a string of lights and crashing through a bunch of stuff on the way. It’s a little less elaborate here but still quite good fun – still, never quite seen the point of borrowing scenes like this, as all it does is makes you wish you were watching the original. Luckily, they didn’t rip off the bit where Shoko says to the mother of a murdered cop, “take it easy”, in the same way you’d talk to a confused child – I’ll give them a break for language, I suppose, but it still seems incredibly harsh.

 

There’s an absolute ton of action in the first half, then things go off the rails in what must have been a cost-cutting measure. All the various cops are looking after a witness to some Nichi Group badness, but she’s a model and needs to go to work. So, rather than just driving her there, they drive to Albert’s mother’s house, and just decide to stay there for the night. Huh? There’s no reason for it, other than to kill off some of his beloved family members when the goons inevitably attack, and to put Albert’s son in a bit of peril.

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Without our old friend Godfrey Ho at the controls, this movie just turns into a dull mess, as opposed to a glorious one. There’s the barest whisper of information about why these groups of people are all trying to kill each other, and wasting the talents of Yukari Oshima seems a cardinal sin in the eyes of most hardcore Hong Kong action fans. Also, if you were buying this as some sort of girls-with-guns completist, you’d be pretty damn bored by the end, as the women are definitely secondary here. It’s free to watch, I guess, but then so is whatever’s happening outside your house right now.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Epoch: Evolution (2003)

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The first Epoch movie was a hit for the SyFy Channel, drawing their biggest ever rating and almost guaranteeing a sequel. Perhaps the poor fools of 2001 were just deprived of normal entertainment, and “Epoch” was the best they could manage? They both feel a bit like they’ve been beamed in from another universe which has lower standards for its entertainment; but what will SyFy do with the two returning cast members (David Keith and Brian Thompson) and the rather iconic torus (toruses? Torii?)

There are two prongs to this movie. One, a shadowy group with some sort of religious underpinning is hunting and killing everyone who had any interaction with the Torus in “Epoch”. This includes the main female star, and as far as ways of explaining how your cast is a bit thinner for the sequel, it’s kind of a clever idea, although their justification for doing this is…how to put it politely…non-existent? Two, China has decided to start a nuclear war, blowing up a joint US/Russian nuke-tracking satellite. Why they’ve chosen to do this is not clear either – it’s set 10 years later, so it’s not like they’re retaliating for the Americans getting the best of them in the first one.

Unfortunately, they forgot to hire actors for this movie, seemingly using whoever was hanging around their Eastern European set – if their accents were too thick, they were dubbed by even less competent voice people. Of people you might like or recognise, there’s the great Billy Dee Williams as the guy who gets David Keith to emerge from hiding to come and check out the two new Toruses (one in France, the other in Russia); and the staggeringly beautiful Biliana Petrinska in a rare English-language role, as the Russian army representative.

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It all feels a bit cobbled together. One Torus is a healing tower, like before, but the other is all about destruction. Looks like whoever’s in charge of them doesn’t like the thought of nuclear war so is about to re-terraform the planet, again, and it’s up to our heroes to try and figure out what they want, all the while being pursued by assassins hired by the Genesis Coalition. There’s secret military plans that leave David Keith out, just like part 1, but not content to just rip off that, they also borrow some effects shots and most of the rest of the plot. They appear to have borrowed some sets from a primary school play, because I really hope they didn’t pay anyone to make them. Just awful, really distractingly bad.

Plus, I kinda wanted the Torus to win. Wipe everyone out, I say, if the best you can manage is nuclear war and people using religion to murder folks. I think a film has failed if you’re cheering for the destruction of the entire world, personally.

There’s no real explanation for anything that happens. There’s aliens in it, and it turns out Keith’s son is the Messiah, or something. Well, thank the Lord there was no part 3 to this garbage, because the strongest feeling I got about this was that they were asked to make part 2, had absolutely zero idea of what to do, so just cobbled together a few bits and bobs from discarded scripts laying around the SyFy offices, added them to an earlier draft of the first movie – and hey presto, sequel! The one thing they altered from part 1 was to turn religious undertones into overtones – not just the Messiah thing, although that’s by far the worst, but large chunks of the ludicrous script are people reading straight from the Bible.

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The really annoying thing is, if you can forget “2001”, this is a decent idea for a movie series. The people who kick-started our evolution come back to see how we’re getting on and get a bit annoyed with us, but have no real way of communicating that. Part 2 is far too similar to part 1, but they could be used for all sorts of plot ideas. I mean, I barely ever say this, but I’m reasonably confident I could write a better movie than this, but I’m also confident ability has little to do with getting hired to write for the SyFy Channel.

This is right down at the bottom of SyFy’s movies. Avoid at all costs.

Rating: thumbs down

Deathstalker 3: The Warriors From Hell (1988)

No-one who looks even close to any of these people appears in the film

No-one who looks even close to any of these people appears in the film

After the second film, a genuinely funny, clever adventure, the producers decided that aiming for a film people might actually enjoy was too much of a risk! What is easy is a normal sword-and-sorcery film with a protagonist who’s sort of funny, a bit. So that’s what we get here, and we fans are left debating if “The Warriors From Hell” will be a title as equally misleading as part 2’s “Duel Of The Titans”.

Deathstalker, the most inappropriately named comedy thief of all time, is lounging about some fayre, off to meet his friend Nicias, a wizard with a strong resemblance to comic legend Alan Moore. Of course, trouble comes in the shape of Carissa, a princess with a magic crystal, the MacGuffin-est of things. The evil Troxartas, who apparently controls the entire continent they’re on, has the other magic crystal, and if they’re re-united then blah blah blah.

Deathstalker makes the comment “what is it about me and princesses?” which allows us to speculate. At the end of the last film, it looked like he was going to marry the fabulously wealthy Princess Evie (and he had his choice of many beautiful ladies after the first film too); I just think it’s easier to think of Deathstalker as being a James Bond-style title with no real continuity between the films, and part 3’s hero was referring to some other princesses. Or something. Who cares?

Even with henchmen as truly rubbish as the ones in this film are, Carissa is killed and Deathstalker decides to go and reunite the crystals and gain access to a city made of gold. In a filmmaking decision that makes absolutely no sense, he then encounters Carissa’s twin sister, Elizena, on her way to marry…Troxartas! It must be true about power being an aphrodisiac, because he not only has princesses offering themselves up in marriage, but a stunningly beautiful assistant / lover in Camisarde (Terri Treas), and he looks like every stereotype from Nazi literature of the evil Jewish usurer. Ol’ Trox hears DS’s name for the first time and goes “Deathstalker…I thought he was a myth?” which probably indicates he’s from a different universe to the guy who married the Princess and saved the world in previous movies.

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DS is helped by a woman (before he betrays her trust and has sex with her daughter, but she doesn’t know that) who tells him “you’ll be safe in this valley, don’t ride out tonight, wait til the morning”. They’re attacked in the morning by Trox’s troops and it doesn’t seem to be a trap either…anyway, Trox reanimates the corpses of 5 dead super-warriors and sends them after DS (hence the title, so it fits!), but DS makes a deal with them to free their souls, and everything congregates inside Trox’s castle – heroes, villains, undead warriors, sexy assistants, sexy farmer’s daughters, rebellious villagers and all.

I read that John Terlesky and John Lazar rehearsed for 2 weeks for their climactic swordfight in part 2. I’d be surprised if John Allen Nelson (DS) and Thom Christopher (Trox) rehearsed for 2 minutes for their swordfight in this – it’s slow, boring and clumsy, and there are ample opportunities, when Trox has a free arm with a sword in it but doesn’t use it to kill DS, where you can guess they were just pushed out there and told to improvise. It’s all a bit half-arsed, to be honest.

It’s not terrible, though. The evil assistant, after her boss / lover is killed, reveals she quite fancies Alan Moore the wizard, and his look to camera is funny – and not all DS’s lines are crap. But it’s a very pale imitation of its predecessor, and the air of pointlessness hangs over all proceedings. Still, part 4 has the DS from part 1 back to play the character, which might prove to be interesting. I wonder if anyone will make a “you looked weird for a few years back then” joke in it?

Rating: thumbs down