Future Shock (1994)

Sadly, this isn’t the documentary about the legendary British comic “2000 AD”, released under the same name in 2014 – I don’t think I could watch that and not just spend several thousand words gushing over how important it was to a whole generation of British nerds – but an out of time example of the anthology movie.

Anthology movies enjoyed a period of popularity in the 80s, with stuff like “Creepshow” and “Cat’s Eye” giving us three or four short horror tales (based on short stories, usually). Then, they had another brief renaissance in the late 00s, as low/no budget horror companies discovered they could package short films they’d been offered into these sorts of products, like “V/H/S”, “Hi-8” and many many others – they did pretty good business for their distributors.

And then there’s this (okay, I’ve obviously left loads out, but I’m trying to make a vague narrative here). I’ve really got no idea why it was made or for whom, and the best guess is some enterprising company was given a short film, had absolutely no idea of what to do with it, then the anthology movie idea popped into their head.

Today, this is probably only of interest to fans of the work of Matt Reeves, who directed “Cloverfield” and has done the most recent two “Planet Of The Apes” movies; this represents his first job of any sort, as he wrote and directed the third segment (which, honestly, isn’t even the best of the three).

The wrap-around is therapist Martin Kove, who has a virtual reality machine in his office which he uses to help his patients, or something. Well, it looks like a painted plasma ball with some mesh round it, but never mind that right now. The first segment involves a housewife whose paranoia involving the rampant levels of crime in LA manifests in her being attacked by a pack of wild dogs (while in her house, so they really just run round until a series of stupid events forces her to go outside); the second segment is a nebbish-y student who needs a roommate because he can’t pay his bills (the roommate being played by Bill Paxton, sort of channeling the unhinged character he did so well in “Near Dark”); and the third is about a guy who has a near death experience, then becomes obsessed with figuring out how it could have been avoided. Or something.

As well as Kove and Paxton, we get a very small appearance from James Karen, best known for his OTT performance in “Return Of The Living Dead”. We also get a scene where the housewife watches “Return…”, and I’m sure like everyone else who saw this, my primary thought was “I wish I was watching that movie instead of this”. Brion James, ISCFC Hall of Famer, pops up in a very out-of-character role as the dull businessman husband of the lady from part 1.

According to the trivia I read, there’s a cut scene from the beginning which actually explains the plot, so rather than being left in the dark for the first thirty minutes for no good reason, you might have had some interest. But then, I suppose they’d have needed more of a reason for the wraparound segment to exist, and it doesn’t seem like anyone was bothered about that. It’d have been cool for Kove’s machine to have had some reason to exist, I suppose? It did feel a little bit like Kove should have sat down at the beginning and gone “here’s just one wacky day in the life of a psychiatrist with a magic machine”, as he seems like a good guy, or that they were going to do an anthology TV series with him as the main character, but then got bored after three episodes and decided to make it into a movie.

I’m just making things up. Sorry, reader, but this was really pretty dull and I feel it can’t be recommended, even if you’re on some odd quest to watch every movie with “Future” as the first word of its title, or every anthology movie.

Rating: thumbs down

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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

Cherry 2000 (1988)

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This review thanks to a request / dare from regular reader Dave.

What we have here is a fascinating, funny movie with a great visual style…that completely fails to answer its own central mystery. It feels like some explanation was edited out deliberately to keep us in the dark, and that particular problem will become apparent in a paragraph or so. But what it does have is one of the greatest B-movie casts ever assembled, with three ISCFC Hall of Famers (should we ever do one) gracing the screen.

It’s 2017! The lead drives a weird car with two wheels at the front and one at the back (literally all the other cars in the movie are perfectly normal, though)! Something bad has clearly happened to the world, but LA still largely functions, and Sam Treadwell (TV stalwart David Andrews) works at a huge recycling centre, where endless queues of people bring in metal, cables and suchlike in return for large boxes of something or other. Food, maybe? There’s a fun bit of world-building here, as Sam and his friends go to a bar where lawyers act as pimps for prostitutes, negotiating insanely complicated one-night contracts – the main lawyer is Larry Fishburne, before the early 90s would make him famous (also, this movie was filmed in 1985 but not released til 1988).

CHERRY 2000, Pamela Gidley, David Andrews, 1987, (c) Orion

CHERRY 2000, Pamela Gidley, David Andrews, 1987, (c) Orion

Anyway, Sam goes home at the end of a hard day to his beautiful and somewhat vacant wife, only for it to turn out she’s a robot, a “Cherry 2000” model. While they’re about to have sex on the kitchen floor, the water from an overflowing sink causes her to have a complete meltdown (a rather substantial design flaw, when you think about it), which leaves Sam alone and distraught, especially when he realise she can’t be fixed. He even goes to a robot mechanic, who offers him a variety of other robot women, but he’s all about the Cherry.

What he still has is her (apparently very rare and valuable) personality chip, a tiny CD-looking thing, and armed only with that and a knowledge of where replacement Cherry 2000 models can be found  – the no-mans-land of Zone 7 – he sets off for the Wild West town of Glory Hole to find himself a Tracker to take him into this forbidden area. Melanie Griffith is E Johnson, the best tracker of the lot, but because Sam, along with pretty much every man in the world, is a touch on the sexist side, he tries to find a “better” one and ends up with Brion James, who just takes him into an alley and tries to jump him.

He eventually hires E to take him to Zone 7, which brings him into conflict with Lester (Tim Thomerson), a psychopath who cheers his gang up with sports-coach-cum-New-Age platitudes. Lester’s girlfriend / hostess / assistant is, coincidentally enough, Sam’s ex-girlfriend, and their whole section is funny and odd and promises much. Anyway, Sam and E have to fight their way through all sorts of problems, all sorts of people, and when they reach their goal they have to fight their way back. There are some pretty fantastic set-pieces, like when they’re caught with a giant car magnet and start shooting and throwing grenades at their captors as they’re being swung across a large canyon, and if you can’t tell the ending then I would like to show you a new game called three-card monte.

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To create some very slight tension as to what that big old problem is, I’ll tell you the good stuff. It’s got an amazing visual style, with three very distinct areas – the city and its postapocalyptic, claustrophobic look; Glory Hole, like a techno-Wild West; and Lester’s place, what looks like a 1950s view of the future (along with a submerged-in-sand Las Vegas). Either they had an amazing location scout or this was a higher-budget movie than I expected. It’s also got a fantastic cast, leaving aside a not-terribly-great pair of central performances. Brion James, Tim Thomerson and Robert Z’Dar are all B-movie royalty, and have a fine time here, even if Z’Dar barely says a word and James is ditched after only a few minutes on screen. The two non-Griffith women in the movie, Pamela Gidley as Cherry and Cameron Milzer as Elaine, Sam’s ex, are excellent too.

But it’s not all amazing sets, great guest performances and an exciting, fast-paced script! That script, by the way, is the first screen credit from Michael Almereyda, who’d go on to make the amazing “Another Girl, Another Planet” in 1992 using only the Fisher Price PXL200 kids’ movie camera (it recorded onto normal audio cassettes) and is still writing and directing today. It’s got a huge great gulf at its centre, and that gulf is women.

When you discover that Sam, and lots of other people, have robot wives, the first thought that came to mind was “ah, so women have mostly died out, for some reason”. It sort of explains things, but then you see the wider world and women are everywhere! And it’s not like they’re all radiation-scarred or whatever (Griffith herself is testament to that), so one would hope there’d be a reason why so many men would choose robots without much in the way of brain power over real living women. If there is one, it was either mentioned in passing at the beginning, while I wasn’t listening, or edited out. It could have been an interesting feminist statement about the way society treats women, but it ended up just being the story of a guy who wanted a compliant, dull, sex-slave/housekeeper who finally realised by the end that he’d prefer a real woman. In fact, poor Cherry, resurrected in a new body, is just tricked and abandoned at the end because “she’s just a robot”, which seems unnecessarily cruel to someone who’s “loved” him as she has. It’s all rather confusing.

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Trying not to get sucked into the rabbit hole of understanding this movie, it doesn’t even make sense on its own terms. Firstly, there are no male robots, and the subject never even comes up, as if that would be the stupidest thing you could possibly imagine.  Sam’s decision, after having a rather fun-seeming human girlfriend, to get married to a robot, is also never explored.

But if you don’t think about any of that, then you’ll have a really good time. The sense of humour is strong and it’s pitched at just the right level; it looks fantastic; and it races along at a fair old clip. I can see why the movie company had a tough time marketing it, as it’s a pretty odd little mix of styles, and it would have never been a hit, but we still get to enjoy it.

Rating: thumbs up

House 3: The Horror Show (1989)

How shall we describe House 2?

How shall we describe House 2?

If you didn’t have the DVD of this, you’d be forgiven for not realising it was part of the “House” franchise, as it’s just called “The Horror Show” on screen. Plus, it’s got an Alan Smithee writing credit – that being the name used by writers and directors who want their name taken off a film, for whatever reason. “Fun” fact- this is indeed entirely unrelated to the first two films and was only renamed “House 3” for distribution outside the USA. This should be a stinker, right?

Luckily, those same credits give us reason to hope. It stars Lance Henriksen, and reminds us of an era when an odd-looking sorta small guy like him could headline a major studio horror movie, and Deedee Pfeiffer right at the beginning of her career. Chief baddie (because he’s only ever going to be one) is Brion James, one of the all-time great villlains, previously covered by us in “Steel Frontier” . So let’s go!

There are two main things to notice about this film, right from the off. One is, it’s a heck of a lot gorier and less funny than the previous instalments – right at the beginning, Detective Lucas McCarthy (Henriksen) is tracking down serial killer Meat Cleaver Max (James) through a building, and there’s bits of other cops strewn everywhere, with lashings of blood. Two, it’s incredibly similar to “Shocker”, released later the same year. Max is captured, sentenced to death, gets the electric chair , “dies” and then decides to take his revenge. It seems weird, but in a bit of research no-one appears to be blaming anyone for ripping the other off, so perhaps it’s just a bit of electric-powered-murder synchronicity.

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Okay, it’s definitely the least of the House films. It’s basically a traditional slasher movie, with jump scares, long periods where not a lot happens, a main character who’s losing his mind, and has no-one believe him about the bad guy. So far, so ordinary. Also, the body horror special effects look absolutely awful in HD, yet another reason why all 80s horror movies should only be available in VHS-quality.

Brion James is the saviour of this film. He’s an amazing character, and his initial “death” scene is a genuinely over the top, gruesome and frightening moment. As he gets deeper into McCarthy’s mind, we’re treated to one scene where he takes over the TV standup comedy show they’re watching and does a lot of “take my wife, please” style jokes, where the punchline is always murder. Standup’s loss is…nah, he’s awful at it, but the scene is great. He’s another first-ballot ISCFC Hall Of Famer, and according to an interview this was his favourite ever role.

I appreciate “House” was always intended to be an anthology film series, but to have part 3 so different in tone and execution from parts 1 and 2 is still a little odd. Part 2 was pretty much completely a comedy, with comedy leading men in it, but part 3 is a slasher movie with no jokes, apart from ones the characters see on TV. Still, Henriksen plays the harried everyman pretty well, and were it not for the glacial pace of the central section, it would be a decent addition to the series.

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Before we go, a word about how this film is related to “The Evil Dead”. Italy, for many years, was a copyright-free zone – if you had a bootleg CD in the 90s, chances are that’s where it came from. When the first two Evil Dead films were released there, they were renamed “La Casa” 1 and 2, and some scumbag distributor decided that building on the success and quality of those two was easier than starting from scratch, publicity-wise. The “Casa” horror series just continued with a series of entirely unrelated movies (much like the “Zombi” series took Dawn of the Dead as their starting point). That list:

La Casa = Evil Dead (1981)
La Casa 2 = Evil Dead 2 (1987)
La Casa 3 = Ghosthouse (1988)
La Casa 4 = Witchery (1988)
(featuring a between-TV-shows David Hasselhoff and Linda Blair possessed by a demon)
La Casa 5 = Beyond Darkness (1990)
La Casa 6 = House 2: The Second Story (1987)
La Casa 7 = House 3: The Horror Show (1989)

I love it. I love every stupid audience-cheating bit of it, including not using House 1 as part of the series, and having House 2 and 3 in there, despite them not even being related to each other. I want La Casa 8, you guys!

Anyway, House 3, eh? Anybody want us to cover “Shocker” next?

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club: Steel Frontier (1995)

The birthday haul

The birthday haul

Thanks to £6 and the local second-hand shop, I am in possession of 13 films. One of them I’ve already reviewed on here (“Ninja Terminator”) and one of them is really good (“Drive”) but there’s going to be some amazing action in there, and you will get to read about them. It’s also sort of close to this site’s original remit (as the Poundland DVD Review).

Anyway, if you want scenes seemingly selected at random from classic Westerns, grafted onto some poorly developed post-apocalyptic background (or “Mad Max meets The Man With No Name”, as IMDB helpfully sums up), then this is the film for you. The small town of New Hope, which survives thanks to a process they have for turning old car tyres back into usable oil, and lots of car tyres, is invaded by a group called the United Regime, although at other times they refer to themselves as the Death Riders. Anyway, they slaughter a bunch of people and enslave the rest, taking over the oil business. The main man, General Quantrell (Brion James, who appeared in so many great films), has a gun so powerful it blows a man thirty feet back…but that’s evidently just a lucky shot, because it’s never referenced again.

Driving through the wilderness is Yuma, played by Joe Lara, who was in scores of dreadful-sounding films from the 90s before seemingly retiring from the business around 2000. He’s just doing his thing until he interrupts the United Regime guys trying to round up people who fled New Hope, and then in a surprisingly exciting and stunt-filled car chase kills several of them before his capture. He decides to join the United Regime guys, but then uses his position to sow discord in their ranks, rescue a beautiful woman from her would-be rapist and generally be a badass, before helping the remaining townsfolk drive them out for good.

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There’s lots for the bad film afficionado to appreciate here. Yuma kills some desert creature for food at the beginning, but by the time he’s walked over to the corpse ten seconds later rigor mortis has set in. Most of the bad guys are the most hilarious over-actors I’ve seen in a long time, and they seem to really relish their craziness – along with the desert mutants (called Roach-Eaters) this film is packed full of people who’d prefer to scream their dialogue. The famous scene from “Shane” where a dead body is delivered to the station, is ripped off here by a multiple of 5, and the fact that dead bodies tend not to stand up is ignored. There’s also a rather bizarre LA gang style initiation into the United Regime.

But, I’ve got to say I enjoyed it. This is the sort of film that will never be made again, a B movie with a big budget, where the huge explosions are absolutely real (they must have found an old set, or village that needed demolition doing, because some of the stuff that gets blown up is massive) and dozens of cars and trucks get detonated or smashed to pieces too. No big stars (much as I love Brion James, he’s not a marquee name) and, if I’m being fair, no originality either. It’s not the greatest film you’ll ever see, but it’s plenty of fun and you can play “spot the film they ripped off”, scene by scene.

Rating: thumbs up

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