Youtube Film Club – Banzai Runner (1987)


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.


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).


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.


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



The Dunwich Horror (1970)


Dunwich_HorrorI occasionally like a good pop culture debate with no real right or wrong answer, and a fine example of this is “when did modern horror start?” What do you mean by modern, what do you mean by horror, etc, but two front runners for this particular prize are “Night Of The Living Dead”, from 1968, and “Halloween”, from 1977. Pretty much everything before “Night…” could be classed as “old-fashioned”, everything after “Halloween” is modern. Obviously, there are exceptions, which is why it’s a fun argument, but there’s also some interesting movies made in the middle, and “The Dunwich Horror” is one of those.


Our HP Lovecraft review series rumbles on apace, after the really pretty good “Colour From The Dark”. I was in a good mood from the opening credits, which felt like Bond crossed with Morricone, and the names that came up left my cult-movie-loving brain in happy anticipation – AIP, Samuel Z Arkoff, James Nicholson, and Roger Corman – Corman, working for AIP, made the extraordinary run of Edgar Allan Poe-based horrors in the 60s. Add in a script from future Oscar-winner Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential), an early role for Dean Stockwell, and expectations are, for once with one of the movies we review on this site, moderately high.


Although this wasn’t directed by Corman – this one’s credited to Daniel Haller, who’d go on to direct loads of TV shows – it has that same feel, with the gorgeous super-bright technicolour in full effect (some beautiful purples in the Whateley house, for example). Our story kicks off with the Necronomicon, the “ancient” book of spells and demonic knowledge that Lovecraft made up and loads of people since have tried to prove is a real thing – Professor Armitage (Ed Begley) is giving a lecture about it and then just asks two of his students, Elizabeth (Donna Bacala) and Nancy (Sandra Dee, who got 5% of the profits from her participation) to just put it back in its locked box again. Ah, more casual times! In walks Wilbur Whateley (Stockwell), who wants to borrow the book; the Professor is all “no can do, random stranger”; there’s an attraction between Wilbur and Nancy; an extremely well written restaurant scene; and then Wilbur wangles a lift back to Dunwich as he’s missed his last bus.


Up to now, there’s been a bit of doubt, but Wilbur’s sabotaging her car lets us know for certain he’s up to no good. She’s forced to stay with him in his big old mansion, and then (thanks to a cup or two of magic tea) she’s in his power, forcing Elizabeth and the Professor to track her down. Because it’s Lovecraft, you know there’ll be some unusual family secrets, small towns and large dark forces; and because it’s Corman, you’ll know it’ll be quickly told and probably a little cheap. I’m being way unkind to Corman, though, who had a huge affinity for this sort of material and made some of the best horror of the 60s.


This might be the best of the Lovecraft films we’ve done so far. A lot of criticism at the time came from its psychedelic trappings (filmed in 1969, released in 1970, it’s safe to say that “2001” had a bit of an influence), but when you’re dealing with something which, as in the original story, is invisible, trying to give some visual cues to the audience, the way they did it works extremely well. If you’ve got no money to represent a mutated child of an Elder God, then give us a light show from the monster’s POV. Well done movie!


Also, a good portion of Lovecraft adaptations get to the point of the story where Christianity is irrelevant and the creatures of the Cthulhu mythos come into play, and just go “Satan is sort of the same as these guys, right?” Some of them work, most of them don’t, but they all miss something important with the reduction, that idea of men (it’s always men) looking further than they should, staring into the abyss and definitely having it stare back into them. “The Dunwich Horror” lets you know right from the off it’s going to be doing it the right way, with Yog-Sothoth mentioned by name in the first five minutes and worshipped thereafter. Which isn’t to say it’s an extremely close adaptation of the story, but it gets the important stuff right.


It’s perhaps a little creaky, erring more on the side of the early 60s Corman than the modern – with a few trims for hippie nudity, it could have easily been made 15 years earlier. And the ending’s a little bit rushed, with them perhaps battering you over the head with the similarities to “Rosemary’s Baby”. But it’s got a great atmosphere, well told, well directed, with some – okay – pretty ropey performances (Stockwell’s a bit mannered) and at least one really good one from Ed “dad of Ed Begley Jr” Begley; it was his last role as he died three months after finishing this.


Add this to the top of your hypothetical Lovecraft movie list, I say.


Rating: thumbs up

The Time Guardian (1987)


time-guardianAs everyone was “celebrating” the fact that yesterday was the actual day they went to in “Back To The Future 2”, the ISCFC did it the proper way – by reviewing a trashy old Australian sci-fi / time travel movie with a couple of odd cameos in it.


Dear movie people: if you’re going to have a text scroll to start your movie, don’t also have someone read out the text scroll. Do you not trust us? One or the other is fine. But it tells us, both ways, that it’s the year 4039 and humanity has retreated to a series of cities with special force fields protecting them; this is down to a race of baddie cyborgs called the Jen-Diki (who it turns out, shock horror were created by humanity a few decades ago to fight a war for them) deciding the best thing to do would be wipe us all out.


So, humanity in the last remaining city figures out time travel, and uses this to escape the Jen-Diki, going back in time to Australia long, long before the white man turned up there, but then the Jen-Diki do too, and…this bit is all slightly confusing. I guess they bounce around time, trying to escape? God knows. Anyway, our hero is Ballard (Australian charisma vacuum Tom Burlinson), one of the handful of soldiers humanity has left, and fighting alongside him is Petra, played by…Carrie Fisher!

Yes, their metal vests have nipples

Yes, their metal vests have nipples

Having such an iconic actress in a movie like this raises all sorts of questions. Her career was going great in the 1980s, so it’s not like she was even in her drug-dependent wilderness years (although it’s very possible she was still using heavily at the time). Although she’s in the movie til almost the end, they clearly only had her for a few days, or she was in no condition to perform, as there’s some really poor cutting round her obvious absence from the set. She gets injured, and despite it being to the shoulder, has to lay down for the next hour of the movie, so we see people look down at her (but not her looking back up), very long distance shots of her next to a campfire, which could be anyone, and lots of shots where she’s the only person in the frame, with the lighting looking suspiciously different to the other people in the same scene.


Ballard and Petra are sent back to 1988 to prepare a dirt mound to sit one of the city’s damaged legs on, and after Petra gets shot (about five seconds after going back in time) the lion’s share of the work is done by Ballard and his new friend, modern day geologist Annie (Aussie soap mainstay Nikki Coghill). Small town rural Australia has a lot of similarities with rural USA, but there’s more of a sense of humour of their mockery of authority, so it rattles along with plenty of laughs, as they try and build the mound, the locals wonder what’s going on, the Jen-Diki try and track them down, and the city slowly flies back through time – in other “we could only afford him for a day” news, the ruler of the city is Dean Stockwell, just after “Blue Velvet” and just before “Quantum Leap”.


It’s definitely not one of the worst films we’ve covered here, and there’s quite a lot to like about it. It’s nicely paced, the plotlines tie together in the end, the cyborg special effects are fun, and it’s interesting to see a movie set in Australia going for a bigger sci-fi theme.


I’d suggest the biggest problem “The Time Guardians” has is the tons of dropped plot threads. There’s a whole backstory for the city hinted at, with posters everywhere telling people to conserve water, but it’s just left there (and why do they need to conserve water, if they can travel in time and go anywhere? Just park by a river and take as much as you want!). Ballard is referred to several times as “the Time Guardian”, as if it’s a title bestowed on him, but as far as the movie’s aware he’s just a grunt being sent back on a mission. And the reasoning behind the ending is not so much flimsy as entirely non-existent.


By all means watch this if you can track it down, but be prepared to scratch your head a few times. Fun by completely inconsequential.


Rating: thumbs in the middle