Twin Sitters (1994)

Every now and again, you watch a movie you’ve heard of, vaguely, from your past, thinking it to be a one-off. Then, when you look with the benefit of the internet you discover there was so much more than you ever expected – I blame this for the endless reviews of horror sequels I’ve subjected you to here at the ISCFC. But sometimes you find something that’s more fun, and thus we come to the Barbarian Brothers.

Peter and David Paul were a pair of identical twins who…the internet is not always as forthcoming as it could be. I guess the 80s were a simpler time, when a couple of bodybuilding twins with a sort of goofy charm could get themselves famous for no reason. So, they appeared in TV and movies, starting with “DC Cab” in 1983 and ending up with this in 1994 (they had a part in “Natural Born Killers” that ended up on the cutting room floor). They seem genuinely likeable fellows, equally happy in “retirement”, with one a photographer and the other running a gym, and I think we’ll be covering a few of their other starring vehicles in upcoming weeks. They did what appears to be a straight barbarian movie, and a lot of comedy, as they clearly loved making people laugh. Good on them!

But bad on people who insist on casting children in movies. Kids are the worst, as they’re never going to be seriously hurt, with a strong chance they’ll just be cute and precocious and learn a valuable lesson at the end about respecting their elders and blah blah blah. I guess the gimmick is, the two kids in “Twin Sitters” are also twins, so…nah, I got nothing. Their uncle is an ISCFC regular by the name of Jared Martin (“Rome 2072: The New Gladiators”, “Karate Warriors”) and their teacher / the brothers’ love interest is Rena Sofer, who’s been in a staggering number of TV shows. But anyway.

Uncle works for a criminal, gets a conscience, goes to the cops, and while he’s testifying, hires the brothers to look after the kids, after seeing them defend a playground from a gang of gunmen. They’re a couple of goofy guys who get fired from every job they’ve ever had, but are clearly destined to open up an Italian restaurant, one being a great cook and the other being perfect maitre d’ material. Oh, the opening scene has B-movie legend Paul Bartel in it for no reason? I guess he was wandering past the set that day, or owed someone a favour? The kids are assholes, the brothers eventually win them over by taking no garbage from the kids at all, there’s the villain (played by former James Bond George Lazenby) trying to silence the Uncle, the usual.

Twin Sitters (1994)
Directed by John Paragon
Shown: Peter Paul, David Paul

It’s almost impossible not to like the Barbarian Brothers, as goofy as they are. One gets the feeling they were allowed a fair degree of latitude with the script, as there are plenty of scenes where they do something which was presumably funny to them, but was definitely not funny to anyone else; the extras in several scenes look vaguely embarrassed to be there. They make HGH jokes at the beginning, which is a weird thing for two men who’ve very obviously had chemical help to obtain their ludicrous physiques (perhaps it was a steroids vs. HGH thing?), too. Plus, they perform most of the soundtrack themselves? Four of the six songs are written by the Barbarians, and while it’s safe to say they’re never going to win a Grammy, just the effort they must have had to expend to get the producers to agree to it is sort of impressive.

It is, almost entirely, a kids’ movie. The jokes are broad, the slapstick is prevalent, the villains are lame and easily defeated, and there’s no complicated emotional stuff (the teacher, for example, seems quite happy to be dating both brothers).

Perhaps this is to do with the director, one John Paragon, who’s much more famous as an actor, having been in “Pee Wee’s Playhouse”, “Seinfeld” and many other things. There’s that same colourful, bizarre spirit at play here, and even if it’s not always that funny to a slightly tired middle-aged man, I imagine there are kids who’d love this stuff. Respect to the sound effect guy, as he was really making an effort, respect to the Paul brothers, who were having a grand old time, and while it may not be a movie to remember when you’re old and gray, it tries. Too hard, at times, but it tries. Exuberant, is a fine word for it.

Rating: thumbs up


The “Police Academy” sequels (1985-1994)

The first “Police Academy” movie is quite good – not, by any stretch of the imagination, great, or hilarious, but it burbles along nicely for an hour and a half, and was hugely successful. Steve Guttenberg became a star, Michael Winslow guaranteed a life of work doing weird sound effects, and…that’s about it.


The sequels, on the other hand, are miserable affairs, and the idea of writing full reviews for each of them filled me with dread. But there may come a time, dear reader, where you’re faced with the tricky question “shall I watch one of the Police Academy movies?” and you may need my help.


The first thing to appreciate is you’ll be able to see the jokes coming. All of them. There’s not a single remotely surprising or interesting comedic idea in any of the sequels, and if you see a scene being set up and think “there’s no way they could do a joke that cheesy”, I 100% guarantee they will do a joke exactly that cheesy. The rough outline of the first four movies is exactly the same – the first hour will be some sort of academy-based shenanigans, where a new group of people will be trained, and the last half-hour will be a mission, where our wacky misfits will have to save the day. As well as the good guy cops, there’s a bad guy cop (either a rival Commandant or a precinct Captain) who hates our heroes and wants them to fail.


The characters are the broadest caricatures, with one defining characteristic each – the cool guy; the hot woman; the guy who does dumb sound effects with his mouth; the gun nut; the timid woman; the timid man; the clumsy guy; the tall strong guy; the lovable psycho; and so on. In every scene they appear, this one characteristic will be the sole basis of any comedy involving them.


So, now we’ve wrapped up the structure of every Police Academy movie, let’s move on to the movies themselves.


Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985)


Our heroes (well, the ones who the audience liked) reunite to help out Commandant Lassard’s brother and his failing precinct. Joining the series are Tim Kazurinsky and Bobcat Goldthwait – Goldthwait’s “Zed” is the antagonist here, as the leader of “The Scullions”, but the problem is he’s about as frightening as a small cloud on an otherwise sunny day, leaving no tension at all. Colleen Camp and her wacky family are also introduced, and they’re moderately good fun (the father and son always fighting each other).


I won’t bother mentioning this in every recap, but the “Blue Oyster” bar scene in this movie is spectacularly homophobic. The regulars beat the crap out of the Scullions, and the cops come to help out. So far so good, but as the scene ends Hightower is surrounded by the leather-clad gents. A fine end to the scene would be Hightower smiling and thanking the law-abiding locals for their time, but they gather round, obviously infatuated with the cop, and he looks frightened. End scene. It’s like they’re going out of their way to be homophobic.


The jokes are really bad here. I think you might reasonably expect some that are at least tolerable, but you’ll barely crack a smile. And it doesn’t get a lot better.


Police Academy 3: Back in Training (1986)


The unnamed city that’s the home of the first three movies (in part 4 they just say it’s Los Angeles) has two police academies, and due to budget cuts one of them has to close. The bad cop from part 2, Mauser, is now the Commandant of the other academy, and our band of heroes has to get back together to help Commandant Lassard keep his job. The new recruits include Kazurinsky and Goldthwait, as well as a few other one-note characters (the Japanese guy! Clumsy Guy’s wife!).


The first movie was R rated, and had boobs and swearing in it; by part 3, though, the action was PG and would remain so for the rest of the series, ensuring that no-one ever died, swore, took drugs, had sex, or indeed took part in any normal adult human activity. Talking of normal adult humans, there aren’t any in this movie as they all behave like robots whose only function is to enter a scene, have a funny thing happen to them and then leave.


Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol (1987)


There’s a bit more to talk about with this one. Comedian Art Metrano, who’d played Mauser in parts 2 and 3, asked to be replaced (presumably as he had taste) so they brought back Harris from part 1, who liked money more than he liked comedy. The gimmick to bring back the gang and a new batch of recruits is the “Citizens On Patrol” program, teaching average citizens crime prevention techniques (the “hey, we need to save the day” segment is hilariously perfunctory in this one).


The casting is more interesting too. David Spade, future Adam Sandler hanger-on, is a teen skateboarder who gets involved in the program instead of going to prison (mirroring Mahoney in part 1 – perhaps they wanted him to take over the series? Yikes) Appearing as Spade’s double is a 19 year old Tony Hawk (who also doubled for Josh Brolin the previous year in a movie delightfully titled “Thrashin”); also showing up in a small role is Sharon Stone, as the crowbarred-in love interest for Mahoney.


It’s absolutely stuffed with people – almost everyone returns from part 3, along with a huge number of new cast members. Hightower, Jones, Sweetchuck, Hooks and Callaghan are barely in it, all just happy for the paycheque, with Zed (Goldthwait) as virtually a co-lead with Mahoney, getting a love interest and a lot of stuff to do. I guess by part 4 everyone had settled into a rut. It’s also slightly better than part 3, but then watching a compilation video of people vomiting for an hour is better than part 3. The end chase scene is an almost exact copy of the previous movie, with boats replaced by planes and balloons; the last scene is Guttenberg and Stone flying off together in one of those balloons, with Guttenberg leaving the series for good. I imagine it must have been a good feeling.


Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach (1988)


The three employable members of the cast were out of the door (Goldthwait, Guttenberg and Colleen Camp) and we’re left with first-billed Bubba Smith, a man who barely does anything other than raise his eyebrows and do the occasional feat of strength. The plot of this one would struggle to fill an episode of the average American sitcom – our friends go to Miami so Commandant Lassard can be awarded with “Police Officer Of The Decade”, Captain Harris finds out he’s above retirement age, and a group of jewel thieves accidentally swap their bag with Lassard’s.


Three plot threads, the same as the average sitcom episode, and the acting is substantially worse. The evil Captain Harris and his incompetent sidekick are almost unbearable by this point, having become even stupider as the movies have gone on. On the other side, we have Matt McCoy as Lassard’s nephew and the obvious Guttenberg replacement; he’s a bland copy, and while he’s had a decent career since these movies, this was not a great beginning.


I knew I was in trouble when I saw the bit that was in all the pre-release publicity (me and my long memory) – the bit where Tackleberry threatens a shark with a huge handgun, and the shark skulks off. It raises, at best, a very slight smile, and it’s by a million miles the best gag in the movie. Knowing that Stephen Curwick is responsible for the writing of both this and part 6 makes me sad for part 6 before I’ve seen a second of it – he was an occasional TV writer before landing this gig, and then did pretty much nothing afterwards.


Police Academy 6: City Under Siege (1989)


Amazingly, part 6 attempts to have a plot of sorts, from beginning to end. For the flimsiest of reasons, Lassard (who, lest we forget, is a teacher and over the age of retirement) and the gang (looking a little thin on the ground now, but bringing back Matt McCoy as the very poor man’s Mahoney) are called in by the Mayor to help stop a criminal gang who are terrorising the city. Of course, as it’s a Police Academy movie the gang is three people and they’re all goofy idiots – including Gerrit Graham, a completely decent actor and wasted on this rubbish – but there’s a mysterious Mastermind behind their actions too.


Much like part 5, it’d be better as an episode of a TV show. Fackler (the clumsy one) comes back, and he knocks things over and appears entirely oblivious, every single time; Hooks squeaks until she’s forced to shout; Tackleberry will shoot things…etc. My god, by part 6 they were really sapping my will to live. Perhaps the sole thing of any interest in this movie is a very early appearance from Dean Norris, who’d go on to play Hank in “Breaking Bad”. He’s one of the horny cops who ogles Callahan as she’s exercising. You can tell I’m stretching for things to write about.


Police Academy: Mission To Moscow (1994)


Five years after part 6, presumably due to some sub-clause of some contract somewhere, a once-proud (well, proud-ish) cinematic franchise was brought out of retirement. Yes, there was still a failed, cancelled-after-one-season live-action TV series to come (an animated series having been produced in 1988) but for the sake of our sanity we’ll ignore that. Part 7 was the end.


The regulars that assemble at the beginning represent the “couldn’t find work anywhere else” contingent. So, making it all the way to the bitter end, we have Jones (mouth-noises); Tackleberry (gun nut); Callahan (big boobs); Captain Harris (stooge) and Commandant Lassard (well-meaning idiot). Joining them as the bland white guy who gets the love interest plot is Charlie Schlatter, who was briefly given leading man roles before going on to be third banana on “Diagnosis: Murder”; he’s spent the last decade as a voice actor.


Incredibly, despite these very slim pickings on the Academy side, the guest casting was the best the series had ever had, with three legitimate stars. Biggest of the lot is Christopher Lee as the Russian police chief, in that post-Hammer, pre-Lord Of The Rings part of his career (doing a favour for the producer); then there’s Ron Perlman, as the villain of the piece, a Russian Mafia boss; and bringing up the rear in the fame stakes is Claire Forlani, early in her career, looking staggeringly beautiful (okay, maybe it’s just compared to the lumpy regular cast, but still) as a Russian cop / translator.


It is, perhaps surprisingly, slightly better than parts 5 and 6, but then those two were abominably written. Although “Mission To Moscow” was written by a couple of people with a grand total of 5 credits between them, neither of whom wrote another word after this (or for a couple of years before, which indicates the script had sat on the shelf for a long time). Filmed in Russia during the 1993 attempted coup, so it’s got that interesting fact going for it, and it’s got Ron Perlman saying he considered his part in shutting down the franchise “a public service”. Christopher Lee remains the only person in 7 damned movies to notice what Jones was doing, not fall for it and just get pissed off…you know, because he’s supposed to be a serious police officer on an international mission and not a gibbering lunatic (in other words, the way he’s been played since part 1).


But we can’t end this on a positive! Marion Ramsey (Hooks, the squeaky voiced one) was not hired for this, and as she couldn’t get any other acting work, begged Bubba Smith (Hightower) to intervene on her behalf. The producers refused, and Smith, top billed in 5 and 6, quit the movie in sympathy with his friend. Oh, and the director disowned it and blamed the producer’s interference on it sucking. Finally – the first time you see “The Game”, the rather tedious linking segment in the big bad’s plan, it’s on a Gameboy…with no cartridge in the back! They can’t sneak that past a nerd like me!




So, what have we learned from watching all the Police Academy sequels? That I should really stop myself from taking on pointless challenges like this? That Michael Winslow’s mouth shenanigans are perhaps the most annoying thing about a major movie franchise ever? That if Bobcat Goldthwait quits on you because he thinks he can find better work elsewhere, you’re in trouble?


I could list dumb questions like that all day. But let’s at least try and analyse them. The first movie, for all its flaws, is okay-ish. There are real jokes that land, Guttenberg and Cattrall make a decent central couple, and the shticks hadn’t got tired yet. It had an actual conflict that generated the plot, too – Mahoney couldn’t quit the police academy, and they couldn’t throw him out. Solid stuff, and I can totally see why it was a hit. Even part 2 had its moments, even if it had effectively ossified by that point, with the characters appearing, doing their one “funny” thing and then disappearing again. Despite my fond childhood memories of parts 3 and 4, they’re both pretty bad, short on jokes and long on garbage, and 5 and 6 are just shocking, as bad as cinema-released comedy has ever been.


But why? I think it was a producer (Paul Maslansky) whose vision of comedy was that of a child – pratfalls, stupidity, and the idea that getting one over on “teacher” is the funniest thing ever. After part 2 (coinciding, I suppose, with the animated series, explicitly aimed at children), this franchise steered hard for the family market, ensuring that 6 year olds could understand every joke, that criminals were comic rather than frightening, and that every movie should end with a big noisy chase. Nothing has any consequence in this world, and no-one ever changes.


Doing this has bummed me out way more than I expected. I thought it’d be a few laughs and a weak final instalment, but aside from a few jokes here and there, they were miserable after part 1. Look, for example, at a show like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”, a sitcom about a busy police station where any episode has more going for it than the best “Police Academy” sequel. Literally – look at that and leave these movies in the dustbin of history.


Rating: thumbs down x 6

Police Academy (1984)


Now, this is a little outside our normal wheelhouse here at the ISCFC. “Police Academy” was hugely successful, spawning 6 sequels, an animated series and a live-action series; plus, it’s a comedy, with no monsters in it. But, there’s quite a lot to talk about – well, for the first movie, anyway. I think I’ll just do one long review for all the sequels, as…there’s not an enormous amount of difference. The characters and their comedy tics are the same, the plots are largely the same (an hour of academy-based hijinks, half an hour of saving the day), and it’s definitely diminishing returns as the series goes on. But we don’t need to talk about how miserable “Mission To Moscow” was just yet!


It’s a beautifully simple premise for a movie. The Mayor decides that the stringent entrance criteria for the police force are to be removed, and a whole lot of people decide to sign up – most prominently for our tale are George Martin, a Hispanic fella who has five girlfriends; Eugene Tackleberry, a gun-obsessive who presumably failed the mental exam for the Army; Leslie Barbara, the fat loser (a character type I’m glad the movies don’t have quite as much any more); Moses Hightower, the 6’7” monster with super-strength but a heart of gold;  Laverne Hooks, the extremely timid one; and Douglas Fackler, the extremely accident-prone sort-of-douchebag who drives to the academy with his wife hanging on to the hood of the car, demanding he stop.


I’m spending a lot of time on the characters, because this will come in useful later, and they’re all rather lovely little comedy archetypes. On the police side of things, we’ve got bumbling Commandant Lassard; extremely evil Lieutenant Harris; and the inscrutable and beautiful Sergeant Callahan. Plus, of course, our star Carey Mahoney and his best mate Larvell Jones. Mahoney has been arrested (again) for parking a rich asshole’s car on its side, and is given a choice by a friendly captain of prison or the Police Academy. As he’s sat waiting in the lockup, he meets Jones, and the two of them get on immediately and Mahoney decides to help his new buddy out by getting him off his charge and into the academy too.


Mahoney is told he can’t quit, but he can be thrown out; the Chief of Police tells Commandant Lassard that he can’t throw anyone out (as it would be bad for publicity), but needs to make them quit. From this central conflict has sprouted the Police Academy franchise! In this first movie, where the family-friendly groove the series got into was not yet in effect, there’s boobs and swearing, perhaps even a smidgeon of mild drug use; but there’s a couple of extra threads that conspire to show that 1984 was not quite as modern and forward-thinking as you might have assumed.


Is racism bad when the villain is doing it? One of the two evil recruits says, on arrival at the academy, “there’s a lot of spades here”; then later on, when Timid Recruit runs over his toes during a driving test, he screams “you dumb fat jigaboo!” Now, he’s immediately punished by Hightower, but it really shouldn’t just be the gigantic black guy who’s upset by this sort of talk. I know, light comedy and all, but I can’t imagine black people who didn’t have freakishly strong and violent friends were all that thrilled about watching the “decent” white cast just let this happen around them. And the words themselves! Straight out of some 70s thriller, not a mainstream broad comedy.


But the most famous, the image that will pop into your head if you ask them about “Police Academy” being dodgy, is homophobia and the “Blue Oyster” bar. When the evil recruits are trying to find out where the others are having a party, Mahoney directs them to the Blue Oyster, where they’re immediately trapped / surrounded by a room full of stereotypical leather daddies. Forced to dance with the gents all night – with the “dancing” clearly standing for something a little more earthy – they’re seen the next morning, clearly badly shaken and insisting nothing happened. How to even process it? Okay, the gay guys aren’t effete pushovers, so at the very least I guess there’s that…but it’s the implication that they live entirely apart from the rest of society (no matter what time of day or night, the Blue Oyster is full to capacity) and are solely interested in raping whoever comes through the door – none of them have a word of dialogue, of course.


There’s a reference to the Blue Oyster in the recent “Lavalantula”, as Guttenberg says “I liked that place” upon hearing news it’d closed down. It feels like a very subtle apology, but…I don’t know. You can still enjoy the movie by ignoring that section, I suppose. But these two things – racist and homophobic elements when there’s no need for either – make it feel a lot older than 1984, like bizarre relics of the 60s and 70s, and are so old-fashioned that I imagine most kids watching this for the first time would have no idea what they were meant.


Even as annoyed as I was with those segments, they’re small parts of what is still a great film (bear in mind I’ve loved this since I was a kid, other opinions are definitely acceptable). There’s a reason it spawned so many sequels and is still beloved today, to the extent that, for example, “Tackleberry” is now a standard word in the private security industry for a gun nut); the jokes come thick and fast and are of a pretty high quality. They lucked into a great leading man with Steve Guttenberg, and while none of the other cast members are anything like as strong as him, they fill their mostly one-dimensional roles with gusto. All, that is, except Michael Winslow as Jones, the human sound-effect device. His part was written specifically for him after the producers saw his stage act, and they did a pretty poor job of integrating him into the movie – think of the number of times he’s just doing sounds for the benefit of nobody. There’s one scene where he’s doing all the sound effects for a video game, holding a pretend controller…and there’s no-one there. He comes across as a lunatic who’s followed Mahoney to police academy because he’s got nothing better to do.


So far, the series stopped in 1994, with a TV series in the late 90s. Plans to reboot it have been going on for over a decade, but I’m sort of glad they never came to fruition. Firstly, there’s a police comedy on TV right now which, while excellent, is doing poorly in the ratings (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”); and secondly, police comedies are a tough sell with the many many stories of police brutality and even murder by police officers. A knockabout comedy in this style would probably not go down all that well.


Rating: thumbs up


Alien Avengers (1997)


When a movie can be described as “one-joke”, it had better be a funny joke or you’re going to be in for a bad time. You know the sort of thing – what if there were a 40 year old virgin? What if a kid had the superpower of being able to fart a lot? So, as this movie progressed and I expected to get bored, I was pretty pleased that it handled its one joke remarkably well. In this instance, it’s “what if there were super-friendly aliens from a peaceful planet, who came down to earth to brutally murder criminals and lowlife scumbags?”


A rather unusually quiet opening, where Joseph, a young black guy, has to deal with the pull of the local drug kingpin but keep on the straight and narrow, then his mother dies and he inherits her large, run-down old boarding house, is a little more understandable when you see Roger Corman’s name on the credits. Corman is one of my heroes, a titan of low-budget cinema who’s retained a strong social conscience throughout his life, taking on the KKK in 1962’s “The Intruder”, capitalism in 1975’s “Death Race 2000”…okay, and producing the “Sharktopus” series of movies. But he’s one of the greats, and has given a ton of huge names their breaks in the business (Jack Nicholson and Ron Howard, to name but two).

Roger Corman

Roger Corman

The film really kicks off, though, when Charlie and Ronda turn up. Played by “Cheers” legend (and former “House” co-star) George Wendt and TV star Shanna Reed, they’re a colourful bright parody of a 1950s couple and want to rent the top floor of Joseph’s house, despite it still being full of junk, with a leaky roof, etc. They’re clearly hiding something (not-particularly-a-spoiler: they’re aliens) but Joseph lets them stay thanks to their daughter, Daphne (Anastasia Sakelaris) fluttering her eyelashes at him. They renovate the house overnight, serve rather unusual food (a beans sandwich, for one) and the excuse they give for wanting to rent a house in the blackest, most run-down area of LA is to expose Daphne to other cultures.


Of course, the actual reason is Charlie and Ronda want to hunt. Their planet is crime and violence-free, so they take a vacation in the scummiest places possible and hunt other planets’ lowlifes, like parading through a back alley with a large gold watch and hoping someone tries to rob them for it. They treat this ultra-violence as a bit of sport, and it is pretty violent – at one point, they tear off a potential rapist’s leg and beat him to death with it. A lot of the humour comes from this way out-of-place couple in the ghetto, and it’s great.


Joseph and Daphne’s budding relationship, and her parents’ completely non-human response to them having sex, is a really well-done B story; slightly less interesting is the “I suppose we’d better have a normal plot” plot, about a couple of cops who just don’t like Joseph very much. They’re investigating Charlie and Ronda’s killings, and due to their odd values (despite liking Joseph, they’re happy to let him take the fall for them) they leave a gun with his fingerprints at a crime scene…


A problem with movies that sound great described like this – “a couple of aliens straight out of the 50s come to earth to kill criminals” – is that they’re never quite as OTT as you want them to be. There’s always a boring normal subplot, or a valuable lesson to be learned, or something along those lines. This is no different, although it comes pretty close to just ignoring normal movie morality and going all out; it’s still an absolute ton of fun though.


Wendt and Reed are both brilliant, giving it their all, and while Christopher M Brown as Joseph is a bit of a wet blanket (as are the cops, and the rest of the humans), Sakelaris is wonderful as well. Her career went absolutely nowhere after this and its sequel – bit parts and one-off TV appearances, then nothing after 2007. It’s a damn shame, as she’s both crazily beautiful and gifted at comedy.


It’s listed as a TV movie, although I can’t imagine this sort of movie playing on any TV channel in the late 90s (maybe HBO? The writer, Michael McDonald, has acted in tons of TV comedy, although I don’t suppose that information helps). Anyway, we’ve got a sequel to look forward to, with most of the cast and crew returning (Reed is replaced by Julie Brown, which is a shame although I like Brown just fine).


It’s a surprisingly great movie, chock full of fun and gore, and I enthusiastically recommend it, should you be able to track it down.


Rating: thumbs up

Full Moon High (1981)


This film is like if the Zucker brothers’…gardener, and Woody Allen…’s dentist, decided to make a movie together. It’s relentlessly packed with jokes, to the extent that 93 minutes feels like 193 (not entirely in a bad way). And it’s part of what was a surprisingly werewolf-packed early 80s – from “The Howling” to “American Werewolf in London” to “The Company of Wolves” to “Teen Wolf”, among others.


The early 80s were a different time, in some ways. Well, in racist and homophobic ways. Beginning with a literal “drop the soap” gag in front of their aggressively camp gym teacher, we meet Tony (Adam Arkin), the star of the football team and all-around good egg. His Dad (Ed McMahon, very well known in the US as chat show legend Johnny Carson’s sidekick for decades) is in the CIA and takes Tony to Romania for some particularly weak reason, and while he’s exploring the countryside (after being booted out of the hotel by Dad, who wants to have sex with a couple of prostitutes) he gets attacked by a wolf. Tony then transforms on the flight home and, apart from one night near the end, appears to turn into a wolf every single night, puzzlingly ignoring the one rule werewolves have – especially given the title!


He also becomes immortal, which is again just a reason to have him head off and terrorise America for twenty years (after accidentally causing the death of his father). He doesn’t kill anyone, just bites them (usually in the ass), and for some reason doesn’t turn anyone else into a werewolf while doing so. Anyway, in the “present day”, he comes back to town and re-enrolls in high school, attempting to end the football curse by winning the big game, become mortal again and so on. His friends (well, his one friend, and his girlfriend) have aged, and writer-producer-director Larry Cohen has said this was an attempt to make a wider point about changing social mores in America, and how his old classmates have changed more than him. This is, of course, bollocks. The previously peaceful and clean school, which had very few non-white people in it back in the late 50s, becomes filthy and lawless by the early 80s, and I’m sure it’s a complete coincidence that the school’s population is now mostly black.


All this is just a poor framework to hang hundreds and hundreds of gags on. From the newspaper with the wonderfully underplayed headline “Werewolf Annoys Community” to the way they show the passage of time, it’s stuffed. There’s an odd bit of fourth-wall breaking in there too, when Alan Arkin (Adam’s dad, playing his psychiatrist in the best performance in the movie) accidentally shoots one of the camera people. Bob Saget, future sitcom superstar and smutty standup comedian, has his first movie role as a news reporter and gets some good lines in too.


It’s difficult / pointless to recap this sort of comedy. “Some jokes happened, and then some more jokes”. So let’s return to my first sentence – the Zucker brothers stuff we’ve covered, but what about Woody Allen? Well, Arkin behaves very much like Allen would if he’d ever made a film during his early funny period about becoming a werewolf, and the clash of styles works surprisingly well.

Ein Werwolf bei§t sich durch

Woody Allen would certainly have improved on the editing and other technical shortcomings that “Full Moon High” suffers from, though. Someone decided that while most scenes in movies have a beginning, middle and end, this one should only have middles, so characters leap about in time and space, come to very sudden realisations, and so on. It’s so weirdly noticeable that even the members of my regular Monday night bad film club who tend not to be as bothered as I am by technical stuff were complaining about it. Plus, there’s a ton of ADRed dialogue in here, as if someone saw this and thought it needed even more jokes? This is an extremely rare example of a movie that could have less in it and work more. There’s also the sad news of Elizabeth Hartman, who has a very oddly inserted part as a sort of love interest for Tony. This was her last movie, and after battling depression for years, committed suicide a few years later.


Add on a complete mess of an ending and you’ve got yourself a movie. Larry Cohen is an interesting fella, having made “It’s Alive!” and its sequels, wrote one of my favourite 80s thrillers “Best Seller”, and had a hand in the creation of “Maniac Cop”. He’s also beloved of Blaxploitation fans, making “Black Caesar” and “Hell Up In Harlem” and giving regular roles to people like Fred Williamson, which indicates the weird racist tone of the modern school scenes were unintentional.


I think I’m going to have to call this one a failure, but a really interesting one. Be prepared to be checking your watch from the halfway point onwards, make sure you’ve got a decent group of people with you, and there’s still plenty to enjoy.


Rating: thumbs in the middle


Critters (1986)


critters-movie-poster-1985-1020205513People in the 80s seemed to understand that if you made B-movies, you might as well make them fun. It’s not like anyone’s going to take “shapechanging bounty hunters track an escaped group of criminals, who are all small mutant-hedgehog-looking aliens, across the galaxy to a small town in Kansas” and treat it like a great work of art. A “Critters” remake in 2015 would have tons of backstory at the beginning and be half an hour longer; but luckily we don’t have to worry about that!


Thank you for not messing about, movie! In a lightning fast opening, we see a prison asteroid with a ship full of prisoners heading towards it. After touching down, the ship is taken over by the Krites and escapes – the authorities (aka a voiceover) charge a couple of bounty hunters with killing them, and off we go. Total elapsed time, about three minutes.


But it can’t all be fun in space, so then we get some fun on Earth. Because everyone mentions it, I suppose I ought to as well – although the director loudly denies “Critters” was produced in response to the success of “Gremlins”, it very obviously was, and there are a ton of similarities. Small town which appeared out of time even then; father who tinkers; scene where the critters run wild (one of them tries to talk to a stuffed ET doll before biting its head off); blowing up a building near the end. I mean, it’s not close enough to warrant being sued for plagiarism or anything like that, but it’s unlikely to have been an accident.


The bounty hunters are shapeshifters, so while one picks a guy from a music video pretty much at random (the awesomely coiffed “Johnny Steele”) to blend in, the other can’t decide – changing from the corpse of the Deputy who’s the Krites’ first victim, to the local Pastor, eventually to the town drunk. It’s a fun moment in a movie that really seems like it’s paying attention and getting those little things right. The buildup to the “carnage” is well-handled, if a trifle slow in comparison to the opening scenes, and the scene transitions are clever. Or maybe I’m just too impressed by that sort of thing. Who knows?


The cast is really strong too – from theatre star Terrence Mann as stoic bounty hunter Ug, to Dee Wallace Stone as the harried mother (a role she seemingly played in every movie from the mid 80s to the mid 90s), to M Emmet Walsh as the Sheriff, to Billy Zane in a very early role, as the surprisingly non-douchebag boyfriend – despite his number plate, which had the custom frame “I don’t give a shit”. It’s a cast every bit as strong as “Gremlins”, despite being a little smaller and a little more cartoony – Don Keith Opper as Charlie the town drunk is the chief culprit.

Critters - 6

So, we’ve got critters which are surprisingly easy to kill, a family fighting off the Krite invasion of their house, and a couple of aliens with super-cannons trying to find out where they are (although if they’d left the main family for another ten minutes, they’d have probably had their job done for them – the humans definitely have the bounty hunters beat in the Krite headcount stakes).


There’s one bit where you go “oh, the 80s” with a sad look on your face, and that’s when the parents need to pick one of their kids to go on a mission to get help. Rather than the 18 year old daughter, who can drive, they pick the 12 year old son, who just has a bike, and it’s not even a point of contention, as everyone just understands the boy is better for the job. But that’s one small moment in a film which is funny, full of action, and quite charming in its own way; I’m definitely looking forward to parts 2, 3 and 4 now, which means they’ll probably be terrible and you can laugh at my optimism in this review.


Rating: thumbs up

Alpha Big Dog


The ISCFC love to feature DIY projects, and here is a funny YouTube comedy series written by Joe Benarick called ‘Alpha Big Dog’. Essentially the series recognizes what it the UK is known as Lad Culture, represented by the oiks on ‘Geordie Shore’ and swaggering Football fans who worship Tim Sherwood. In America, Lad Culture is all about douchebags and frat boys. Alpha males who pose and posture. The kind of meatheads who’ve devoured the complete works of Tucker Max and mastered the art of beer pong.

‘Alpha Big Dog’ is about Joey B, an obnoxious wannabe Reality TV star, who reminds me of a cross between Kenny Powers from ‘Eastbound & Down’ and The Situation from the much maligned ‘Jersey Shore’. The first episode provides several laugh out loud moments and hints at the kind of surrealness that punctuates another YouTube comedy series ‘Pound House’.

You can watch the first episode of ‘Alpha Big Dog’ right here, right now…


Oblivion (1994)


We love Full Moon Entertainment here at the ISCFC – we’ve reviewed many of their films, and are always happy to point people to where for a low low monthly price you can have access to their entire back catalogue. They’ve been going, under a variety of names, keeping genre fans happy for over 30 years (although I don’t think anyone was happy with “Puppet Master: The Legacy”).

Predating “Firefly” and “Cowboys vs. Aliens” by many years, 1994’s “Oblivion” is a sci-fi-western-comedy. Well, really it’s a Western, with funny bits, set on a far-distant planet, but you get the idea. To those cynics among you wondering if Full Moon got offered a Western movie set and decided to write a film around it, hush because there’s plenty of care taken to incorporate the different elements – the town’s doctor also fixes robots, there’s an ATM next to where the horses are tied up and the alien streetlights dominate the skyline.


Red-Eye, a lizard-alien, and his gang of goons have murdered the sheriff of Oblivion and are trying to take over. It’s all about a substance which we’ll call, for ease of my typing fingers, X – value demonstrated when a guy looking for it throws a huge hunk of gold away. Super-valuable, and it shorts out electrical circuits, meaning the cyborg Deputy of the town is no use against the gang either. Into this fun comes the Sheriff’s son Zack, bringing with him a “native”, Buteo, who he rescued from being eaten alive by gigantic scorpions. Zack’s a pacifist, but will he be able to put this aside to fight Red-Eye and save the town?

The cast is absolutely packed with genre superstars. Doing double-duty as Red-Eye and crazed prospector Einstein is Andrew Divoff, and he’s great in both roles; ISCFC favourite Musetta Vander is his leather-clad electric whip-wielding sidekick; Isaac Hayes has a cameo as the X buyer; Catwoman herself, Julie Newmar, is “Miss Kitty”; Carel Struycken (whose name you won’t recognise, but whose face you definitely will) is the undertaker; and George Takei is Dr Valentine.


Of all these, Takei is the biggest name, and this fame allowed him some hefty leeway. He’s drunk almost his entire time on screen, and he’s terrible at acting drunk; plus he ad-libbed an absolute ton of Star Trek-related lines, which scriptwriter Peter David has completely disowned. One Star Trek line, okay, it’s pretty much expected if you hire him, but there were loads of them. It’s not like Isaac Hayes sang “Shaft” during his scenes.

As well as the typical western movie beats, there’s some really funny scenes in “Oblivion”, including the funeral being held in the same building as a game of bingo; and the response to the Undertaker is always good – given how rarely you see Struycken actually talk in his other roles, you’d assume he’s no good at it, but he’s fine in this. There’s a surprisingly good English accent from South African-turned-American Vander, and the two main roles – Zack and Buteo – while being interchangeable at times (they both criticise the other for philosophising too much) are fun and their motivations are clear. Musetta Vander comfortably steals every scene she’s in, as well, absolutely understanding what sort of movie this is.


This is the sort of film that Full Moon were made to do. Getting every penny from their budget, having a lot of camp fun and doing something the big studios would never even think of, much less spend millions of dollars on. This was filmed back-to-back with its sequel (there’s a “to be continued” at the end, which you don’t often see at the end of movies because, you know, you paid good money to see a complete story, not the first half of one) and was the last movie in the relationship between Full Moon and Paramount, meaning from now on, expect lower star-power and budgets from them (there’s a bit of a gulf between this and, say, 2000’s “The Dead Hate The Living!”) But they’re still doing it and still having fun, so more power to them.

A true clash of genres, made with love and a knowing wink, it’s fallen into a little obscurity compared to some of their other output but it’s absolutely worth watching. And with Full Moon’s streaming service being so comprehensive, you don’t have to hunt it down.

Rating: thumbs up