Night Wars (1988)

Our voyage through the movies of David A. Prior (and his brother, actor Ted) brings us to an interesting movie, which – while not spookily similar – predates “Jacob’s Ladder” by two years, and poses some interesting questions about the psyche of the fellow making it.

For those keeping score (in other words, me) this is the third of Ted Prior’s six movies to date to feature Vietnam, people getting tortured in the “jungle”, and a main villain who’s an American soldier who collaborates with the enemy, Amazingly, it looks like three of his next four movies – “Operation Warzone”, “Hell On The Battleground” and “Jungle Assault”, all continue the trend (the other – “Death Chase”, looks like another riff on “The Most Dangerous Game”, but set in an actual city!) Although biographical info is in short supply, it seems Prior did indeed serve in the military in Vietnam, so perhaps something he saw or did there traumatised him to the extent of working through it, over and over again, in his movies.

The level of darkness to these scenes is certainly unusual among his b-movie brethren, where war is rarely portrayed as such unremitting hell. It starts off with Trent (Brian Edward O’Connor) having a terrible dream about his time in Vietnam – he escapes from his torture room, frees his friend Jim (Cameron Lowery) but before he can free his other friend, the sadistic American who’s helping out the Vietcong, McGregor (Steve Horton), shoots him. The torture isn’t particularly graphic, but it it feels weirdly real, like it’s not a photogenic Hollywood actor getting beaten up but surviving it manfully. They look like they’re genuinely in pain.

Anyway, the two men meet up and discuss their trauma, and how it’s happening to them both. Jim is married and his marriage starts to suffer, there’s perhaps the world’s sleaziest car salesman in a fantastic cameo, and Grizzly Adams himself, Dan Haggerty, shows up as a particularly unconvincing psychiatrist. His part, much like that of Cameron Mitchell in “Deadly Prey”, feels tacked on and a little unrelated to the rest of what’s going on (plus, his actions – tying the men up and holding them at gunpoint til they snap out of it – seems super-unethical). I mean, I’d worry too if a guy produced a severed finger which could be matched back to a guy who’d been officially dead for 20 years, but still.

In its second half, it sort of pivots to become “A Nightmare On Elm Street” – McGregor realises he’s a figment of their psychosis but still wants to kill them both, over and over again, as “death doesn’t exist here”, and even decides that if they can visit him, he can visit them; and Trent and Jim start arming and preparing themselves for battle over in the dream-Vietnam, figuring that if the injuries they get over there transfer themselves back to the real world, then they can rescue their friend and bring him out too.

I’m not sure it’s all that good a movie, but it’s interesting in a way that a more big-budget movie might not be, as it feels very personal. If Prior had to go through anything like this in Vietnam, then I feel deeply sorry for him (while still appreciating the USA should never have been there in the first place), but the repeated use of these tropes in his movies goes beyond just wanting to get it right and goes into the idea that he can’t get past those images. I have to assume his friends at A.I.P were going, “hey David, want to try some different genres? I think we’re good for dark Vietnam stories for a few years, thanks”.

While budgets are obviously a concern, with Vietnam still looking like the Alabama backwoods it was undoubtedly filmed in, there’s some visual fun, like the juxtaposition of the grotty jungle camp with the flowery bedroom the two men are performing their sleep experiments in; and of course, the old ISCFC favourite, the

WOODEN GUARD TOWER!

As we all know, it only has two variations – it either gets blown up (because if you make a movie, you don’t build a wooden guard tower for the hell of it) or someone gets shot out of it and tumbles to their just-off-camera-crash-mat death. This is version B, and I’m glad to see it.

Just because something’s earnestly made, doesn’t necessarily make it enjoyable to watch, and it’s safe to say that “Night Wars” isn’t going to be in anyone’s top 10 war movies list. But, it’s different. It has a twist-ish ending that you’ll never see coming, and the way it messes with reality is quite interesting too.

Ted Prior didn’t act in this one, but he did get a co-writing credit and serving as art director (not sure what that means in this instance, but good on him). There’s also a rather surprising link to a previous ISCFC review series, with Joe Lara (of “Final Equinox”, “Hologram Man” and “Steel Frontier”) showing up as one of the American army extras in the Vietnam scenes. Join us in a few days for “Death Chase”!

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Final Equinox (1995)

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I know there’s a tendency for bad movie lovers to overhype some obscure piece of garbage that only they’ve seen, but this is straight up no fooling one of the most incomprehensible, bizarrely acted, shot and edited movies of all time. A grin spread across my face from five minutes in as I knew I was in for a treat, and if you can track it down you should – I’m delighted I picked this as the last in our long-running series on Joe Lara.

 

Where to begin? A guy doing an archaeological dig armed with little more than a shoe-brush finds, in a few inches of sand, a weird alien artefact that looks a bit like a sawn-off baseball bat painted silver. Then, after a caption which reads “in the not too distant future”, we meet Lugar and Piper (Lara and Robin Joi Brown) coming back from a vacation in outer space, seemingly happy, only to get back to their rather nice-looking home and immediately break up. She keeps making references to him being “dark”, and the “darkness” all around, despite that not really being a thing that people say to each other. Well, she might have explained herself but the background music drowns out bits of dialogue – a problem we’ll have throughout.

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Some sleazy bad guys led by Torman (Martin Kove, never without a massive cigar, apart from, I notice, the picture used immediately above, annoyingly) steal the artefact relatively easily and want to sell it. They’re not bothered about who – they’re happy to sell it back to “Central Intelligence” but if they don’t come through will take it overseas. Lugar, it turns out, is a cop so we’ve got the evil Torman’s gang, the moderately evil Central Intelligence, and the miserable drug addict Lugar (he’s seen puffing on some apparently narcotic inhaler at regular intervals) as our three main groups. Oh, and David Warner, during his wilderness years, shows up as a homeless super-genius who used to work on the artefact before he went mad.

 

That’s your plot, pretty much. Sort of standard, sort of dumb, just every now and again they’ll drop in some reference to them being in the future, like a box that can identify someone immediately by a  strand of their hair or something. It’s everything else that conspires to make this a so-bad-it’s-good classic, and first up is the way it’s shot. Now, this will take a bit of explaining, so apologies if you already know this.

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The way conversations are normally filmed is what’s called shot-reverse shot. It’s simple – one actor is shown in the first shot looking to the right of the camera, and the person they’re talking to will, in the reverse shot, look to the left. They’re not actually looking at each other, but it’s a visual trick and works. This movie occasionally does that, but right from the beginning it has two actors looking the same way, which irritates the brain – plus, all the angles are way off, so it never looks like two people who are feet apart are in the same room. It’s an elementary mistake not even made by  the lowest-budget filmmakers, so for writer-director Serge Rodnunsky (who’d been making movies for five years by this point) to do it over and over again is just a head-scratcher.

 

The use of sets is another winner! Best guess is Rodnunsky or one of his producers loved hunting, as Lugar’s home is covered with hunting trophies, including a gigantic set of tusks dominating his living room. There’s also what is I think supposed to be a strip club later on in the movie? Anyway, it looks like another room in Lugar’s house – mounted animal heads all round, and ugly curtains covering whatever else was on the walls. It’s not just sets that were probably owned by one of the producers, though, it’s moving between them! A fight breaks out in the strip club, which spills outside…the outside of this club being a completely nondescript office building, which then within seconds leads to a large multi-storey car park.

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It doesn’t stop there. “Central Intelligence”, presumably a big deal in the future, have as their main base a similar (perhaps the same) nondescript office building, and the boss of CI’s office looks like a low-level drone’s workstation – example? The only two books he has are a dictionary and a secretary’s handbook.

 

Before we get onto the home stretch, a few more of the gems you can expect from “Final Equinox”. An onscreen graphic talking about a space-particles of some sort is shown in shot for quite some time, but spelled “partical”; and, while discussing the artefact, one of the baddies said it was found in an underground cave, when we see at the beginning it being discovered out in the open. We’ve also got a love scene between Lugar and Piper, when she comes back and they make an attempt to patch things up, but Lugar is covered at all times whereas Piper…isn’t. Not unusual in and of itself, I’m sure you’ll agree, but when the shooting makes it look like they’re having sex in a tiny closet and has them in contortions no-one would be able to manage, purely to cover up as much of the man’s flesh as possible, then it becomes a bit more up our street.

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“Final Equinox” sort of forgets David Warner is in it for a good long while, but he shows up at the end, re-stealing the artefact which he tells us is actually an alien bomb designed to instantly terraform a planet (which is how we started, apparently, only the aliens accidentally left a spare behind). The big battle between the three groups at the end reveals more of the director’s mastery of all things confusing, and I’d bet good money on most of this movie being done in reshoots, like they added in a subplot when they realised it would only last 70 minutes. It becomes apparent when you see David Warner and the CI guy have a fight, but they’re never in the same shot, and the lighting looks completely different for both of them – in fact I wonder if all the sci-fi trappings were added in at the last minute, because they add absolutely nothing and aren’t referenced by anyone else.

 

THIS MOVIE IS AMAZING! It takes a real effort to make something this bad without listening to any of the presumably professional crew telling you “hey, director, shooting these scenes in this way makes absolutely no sense”. And the ending? Skip to the rating at the bottom if you don’t want anything spoiled, but wiping out the entire human race and just leaving Lugar and Piper alive, two people who the movie has shown repeatedly are wildly unsuitable for each other, is a bold move.

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I would love it if “Final Equinox” got discovered by the bad-movie elite and brought to a wider audience, because I want everybody to see it. It’s rare to see a film with every sort of incompetence on display, but we’ve got it here! And it’s a fitting end to our Joe Lara season. All the rest of his movies look like boring action dreck, so I don’t think I can be bothered to sit through them, but he can be remembered for some of the funnest sci-fi B-movies of the 90s, and this.

 

Rating: a million thumbs up

Live Wire: Human Timebomb (1995)

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This is perhaps the first movie we’ve done here at the ISCFC where it’s such an “unquel” that I didn’t even realise it was the sequel to something else. 1992’s “Live Wire” is a Pierce Brosnan-starring thriller about people coated with some sort of liquid explosive being sent to assassinate politicians (I think, I’ve never seen it as it sounds terrible), and “Human Timebomb” is about brainwashed super-soldiers. No cast or crew are shared, which is just the way we like our unquels.

 

We last saw Bryan Genesse in all-time cast iron classic “Screwballs 2: Loose Screws” and he thankfully keeps the same cheeky grin from that movie, here playing wisecracking FBI agent Parker. In a pretty well-shot and fun opening scene, he’s the lead man at a huge arrest at a drug deal taking place in a real disused drive-in cinema, with a group of Cubans buying what looks like a tiny piece of gold in a small glass case with a suitcase full of cocaine. Why are they so interested in this tiny thing?

 

Unfortunately, the plot sort of falls apart right here. Arriving on the scene after the arrests have been made is CIA agent Gina Young (J Cynthia Brooks), who informs Parker that the lead Cuban drug guy is the nephew of a Cuban general, and therefore has diplomatic immunity. Fun fact: the US and Cuba had no diplomatic relations in 1995 and there’s absolutely no chance that they’d have honoured diplomatic immunity for a drug-smuggling murderer. But let’s not worry about that! Gina takes the nephew back to Cuba on a pretty small, non-official-looking plane and Parker decides pretty much on the spur of the moment to tag along, which brings us to the subject of coincidences.

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Coincidences happen in movies because it’s difficult to figure out ways to bring characters together and have them either come into conflict or fight on the same side. I understand that. But if they’re too big, too tenuous, or there’s too many of them then it becomes too stupid and takes you way out of the movie. Wonder if you can guess where I’m going with this particular review?  So, it turns out that Parker was in the military, and his best buddy was left behind in some shady operation in Cuba, missing presumed dead. This best buddy is also the brother of Gina, and she’s kind of being blackmailed by a rogue Cuban general to bring across that tiny piece of gold which is actually a chip that turns people into mindless killing machines, as her brother is still alive! And they also need Parker to become the latest chip-controlled automaton and kill a bunch of people at the upcoming US / Cuba trade negotiation, allowing the rogue General to take over!

 

I haven’t even mentioned Joe Lara yet, the sole reason anyone would possibly want to watch this movie. He’s Price, a former US soldier who went to work for the rogue General, and is in charge of his team of killers – leading to a classic “here’s my men training” montage (which “Wayne’s World” mocked so well a few years previously). To say he’s a bit evil is to say water is a bit wet, and he’s the best thing about every scene he’s in. I was sort of fooled by the publicity for this movie, expecting it to be a little futuristic, but it’s not; although it’s a great Lara performance, so it goes into his season of movie reviews.

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Parker is captured, gets implanted and becomes a killer for Price, although all it takes is banging his head on a steel pipe for his chip to malfunction and his previous personality to be restored. Hurrah! The movie spends a substantial amount of time in Cuba before rushing to Miami for the trade negotiations and denouement, and it’s amazing. Imagine in 2015 a trade deal between the Secretaries of State for two countries – think about how much security there’d be, and its location. Back in 1995, all they got was a normal hotel full of holidaymakers and a couple of security guys circling the hotel on a monorail (best guess – this hilarious image was crowbarred in because the hotel that let them film in return for free publicity demanded they show off their sweet new purchase).

 

You take what you can get from straight-to-video action/thriller movies, and this one was pretty rough in places. The plot is ludicrous, the acting is ropey, it borrows the US-to-Cuba-to-the-US timeline from one of the worst movies ever (“Red Zone Cuba”), and even if you accept its premise, it still makes no sense. Aside from all the stupid inconsistencies and plot holes and gibberish all movies like this have to an extent, the main issue is that the US is fighting to protect Fidel Castro’s regime against a coup from someone who sounds like he’d be much more amenable to Washington. Even the most undiscerning video store renter in the 1990s must have scratched their heads at the ultimate meaning of this movie.

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Add in some of the worst music ever, and one of the more unusual endings in movie history:

“You’re some piece of work, Parker”

“Yeah”

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And…well, you’ve got yourself a movie. If you’re in an extremely forgiving mood or are more of a Joe Lara completist than I am, give it a go!

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Starfire Mutiny (2002)

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Joe Lara! Our review series of his sci-fi movies continues. We could have reviewed a lot more, as before retiring from the film industry to become a country music singer, he also did a lot of dull-sounding straight-to-video thrillers about army people and cops and so on. But who can be bothered with those?

 

And I wish I’d not bothered with this one. Boy oh boy, was “Starfire Mutiny” tough to get through. It’s a classic example of half a movie’s worth of plot stretched to feature length with pointless talking scenes and guys walking down a corridor bantering about all the women they want to have sex with. Poor Joe Lara! To have this as his last credit is a damn shame. I can also only assume that he’d already mentally checked out of the business by this point, as…actually, I’ll leave that dramatic reveal for later. But if you want an indication of quality, this has no mutinies in it, and doesn’t take place on a ship called the “Starfire”.

 

It’s a couple of hundred years in the future, and the ozone layer is gone, leaving the Earth a desert wilderness. Humanity survives in cryogenic suspension in huge ships in orbit, along with a skeleton crew to keep things in order. They’ve apparently figured out a way to kickstart the ozone layer again, and all they need is a large enough solar flare to power their MacGuffin Beam – it’s probably got a name like Genesis or Gaia or something, but I can’t remember. Also, there’s a small prison left on Earth, home to General Swann, a white supremacist who was kicked out of the army for being too horrible even for them (although judging by the movie’s 100% white cast, perhaps he was successful).

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Luckily, Swann has a friend on the outside, Colonel Diana Briggs, and she busts him and a few of his men out, gets them in a spaceship, and then they’re off into orbit to put into action a plan five years in the making – using the nuclear reactors in the cryo-ships to power the MacGuffin Beam. But that will kill everyone!

 

Joe is Sam Talbot, the guy in charge of the skeleton crew. The first reason to get annoyed with “Starfire Mutiny” is, despite his top billing, he’s barely in it! He gets knocked out as soon as the bad guys get to the space station, and doesn’t wake up again til after the halfway point, and even then he doesn’t really do anything. Sorry, Joe! The lion’s share of the heroics go to Ben, the guy in charge of cryogenics (a chap called Julius Krajewski, who is so bad at acting I thought it was going to be revealed to be a joke) and the fraudster who replaced the dead Dr Miranda Blake, the head of the MacGuffin project, in her cryo-pod. She’s Elise Muller, who not only was in “Shark Man”, but has been in a Duplass Brothers movie (“Baghead”) and has a decent career going for herself; she’s the sole bright spark in this too.

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Recapping the plot seems pointless, as it’s “Die Hard” in space (damn you Die Hard for giving low-budget producers a cheap idea!), only a version where Bruce Willis does pretty much nothing and it’s down to a weird camp idiot and a female criminal to save the day. It really tries to be funny as well, with a couple of comic relief goons getting into scrapes, plus Ben quipping every time he’s on screen, but wow does it ever fail.

 

Before I wrap things up, a quick word about the rather odd lesbian scene. “Miranda” convinces the baddies she’s the real deal, and uses her female charms to fool General Swann. This makes Briggs super-jealous and suspicious (legitimately wondering why a 25 year old woman would be in charge of such a huge scientific project), so Miranda has to go to Briggs’ room (why would she have a room on a space station she’d only just arrived at? Shut up) and replace a disk with the real Miranda’s picture on it. To provide a distraction, she seduces Briggs, who after a few seconds of apprehension, agrees. Now, I know sexuality is a sliding scale and all that, but Briggs has been so obsessed with Swann that she gave up her career and is prepared to sacrifice millions of people for him, so it seems a trifle unlikely she’d just hop into the sack with the first woman who asks. Plus it doesn’t work, as Briggs rumbles her plan in the very next scene with some sweet Photoshop analysis of her photo! This scene becomes slightly more understandable when you see the filmography of director Lloyd Simandl, who’s responsible for such classics as “Chained Fury: Lesbian Slave Desires”.

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This movie is why you need a script that will last you 90 minutes. It’s s-l-o-w, full of unnecessary dialogue, and the action is almost non-existent for long stretches. There’s not a single scene that couldn’t have been improved by halving its length – while you don’t notice the editor’s craft when it’s done well, you really notice it when it’s done badly. One great example is when Swann mows down a room full of guards at the prison. Now, he starts at the left and slowly pans right, taking quite a while to shoot everyone. I can understand the first guy dying, but the tenth? Guard 10 had a gun in his hand but seemed quite content to just wait for the inevitable embrace of bullet-assisted death – editing, people! It’s important!

 

I have to assume there was some story behind Lara’s lack of involvement. By screen time, he’d be maybe fifth or sixth billed, and having two other people do the hero stuff while he’s either unconscious or just sitting in a room makes everything feel weird. Even weirder is, he has a fight near the end with a couple of the comic relief goons but loses it.

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“Starfire Mutiny” is a terrible movie, it’s cheap, ugly and stupid, and only avoids the charge of being offensive to women by being offensive to everyone with at least half a normal share of common sense. Avoid (which shouldn’t be difficult, it’s really hard to get hold of and I’ve got no idea why I track this garbage down just to tell you not to track it down).

 

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club – Danger Island (1992)

That tag line is 100% meaningless, by the way

That tag line is 100% meaningless, by the way

Our long-dormant Joe Lara season continues! For those of you who aren’t regular readers, Joe Lara played Tarzan on TV and film in the 90s before retiring from acting to concentrate on country music. Throughout the 90s, he also made a large number of surprisingly decent sci-fi and action movies, and we’ve reviewed some of them here. Check out “Steel Frontier”, “Hologram Man”, “Final Equinox”, and “American Cyborg: Steel Warrior”, both our brilliant and insightful reviews and the films themselves.

A beautiful tropical country, never referred to by name, is a holiday idyll for many Westerners. We’re treated to some magnificent 1990s bikini modelling before bombs start dropping and military vehicles start rolling up (you know how that part of the world was for coups), but luckily a handful of Americans are able to get on an old plane, piloted by Gary Graham – most famous for the “Alien Nation” TV series. They have to ditch in the middle of the ocean but, after a liferaft scene, wash up on the shore of a mysterious island. There’s a weird poisonous octopus-thing, humans mutating after a bite from the weird poisonous octopus-thing, fruit that turns a non-fruit colour then explodes, and a half-buried US Army jeep which leads them to a gigantic abandoned scientific research station.

In film and TV history, there are weird outliers, films that appear to be influences on later, more famous works, even though their obscurity may well mean the creators of the bigger films or shows never even heard of them; or, if you’re feeling less kind, giving the bigger films plausible deniability. The ur-example is 1976’s “Massacre At Central High” being mined for plot ideas by the 1988 classic “Heathers”; but there’s a decent case to be made for “Danger Island” having some very close similarities to “Lost”. Mysterious unnamed island, odd science experiments, conspiracies, “Project Naomi” (Dharma Institute, basically), an unusual flashback structure, people who seem to have some prior history with the island being drawn there…when one of the characters made a reference to them all possibly being dead already and it being the afterlife, I realised the chance of it being accidental was pretty small.

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An even stronger case for “Lost” borrowing from it is the fact it was designed as a pilot for a TV series that was never picked up. Credit to the editors for making it feel like a real film, but near the end you start noticing stuff like none of the main characters have died yet, no-one bothers fixing the radio until way too long into the movie, and there’s a heck of a lot of potential storylines which haven’t really been resolved. We get clips from what I assume would have been material from the TV show itself (perhaps they shot a few episodes on spec?) over the end credits too. It’s certainly safe to say that if this show had made it to series, we’d never have had all that nonsense with the Others, the hatch, “we have to go back” and so on.

The film is a who’s-who of B-level 90s TV stars. As well as Gary Graham, we have of course Joe Lara (who’s the Sawyer-equivalent here), Kathy Ireland (the supermodel turned “actress”), Richard Beymer (best known as Mr. Horne from “Twin Peaks”) and, among a surprisingly smart and resourceful group of kids, a very young Nikki Cox.
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Nikki Cox could have and should have been a star on an Aniston or Heigl level. She had great comic timing, and was almost unfairly talented as well as being strikingly beautiful. She had long runs on “Unhappily Ever After” and Norm Macdonald’s vanity sitcom, before being given a sitcom of her own. Sadly, this wasn’t the starmaker it could have been (not down to her), and even though she worked regularly after that, she never got the shot she deserved. Throughout the 2000s, she had cosmetic surgery, and a 2008 lip job was very badly botched which completely ruined her career, and just leaves you sad at the Hollywood machine and the pressures on young women. Watch “Norm” to see her in her prime.

This is actually a pretty strong film, and for a TV movie pilot, it’s excellent. Beautiful locations, (for the budget) decent effects, strong cast, offputting and effective music, and plenty of stuff is going on at all times. Our boy Joe Lara shows a hitherto-unexplored knack for comedy, and while you’re wondering about stuff like “how did the generator at that base keep going for 16 years, and who’s been dusting?” you can regret that “Lost” made it and, with its labyrinthine plots and terrible ending, ruined TV drama for years; whereas this, which would have made a great (if fairly lightweight) TV show, didn’t.

Rating: thumbs up

Hologram Man (1995)

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Our Joe Lara season continues! For those of you who haven’t read our “Steel Frontier” and “American Cyborg: Steel Warrior” reviews, Joe was the guy who played Tarzan on both the big and small screens, before retiring from acting in 2002 to concentrate on a country music career. In between Tarzan gigs, he made some surprisingly entertaining sci-fi-action movies, and we’re reviewing them.

Joe is Dakota, and it seems to be his first day on the police force (although someone calls him Lieutenant, which indicates I really ought to pay more attention to these movies) and he’s partnered with John Amos, who my American readers will know from “Good Times” and my British ones from “Coming To America”. He’s the grizzled veteran, you get the drift, and this scene appears to exist mostly to show that Amos has a gun so powerful it can blow trucks up with a single bullet.

I’m a huge fan of scenes where the director or other power-player in a film puts in a scene where they’re doing something gratuitous. Evan Lurie is the writer / producer of this film (his sole writing or producing credit) and we’re treated to an absolutely 100% unnecessary scene of him having sex with a pneumatically-breasted blonde lady. Have a screencap, and notice the rack of guns hanging in the foreground while the lovemaking is occuring:

MAXIMUM EROTICISM

MAXIMUM EROTICISM

Lurie is Slash Gallagher, as fine a name as you could hope for, and he’s got a plan which is sort of what Robin Hood would do if he were a violent psychopath. The city is run by an incredibly corrupt cabal so he’s all about taking them down – luckily, the city has Dakota to protect it, and at the end of a fairly amazing (for a low-budget B-movie) car chase / gunfight, Slash is arrested.

Now, here’s where the film gets a bit odd. The prisons of the future are rehabilitation facilities, where people are…turned into holograms and reprogrammed so their antisocial thoughts and feelings are removed, then (I think?) put back into their bodies and sent out as useful and productive members of society. If you think this makes no sense, then come join me on the “What the hell?” bench. Slash has been in prison for five years, and in that time the elite has built a huge dome over downtown LA to keep the air safe, but also to bleed even more money from the likes of you and me.

Slash is, of course, irredeemable even with this technology. Dakota’s girlfriend, conveniently, is one of the scientists in charge of the programme, and if only she had his powers of observation she’d have stopped the mole inside the prison from messing with the holograms and…turning Slash into an unstoppable hologram! He can move around freely and kill people with electricity. This, of course, makes no sense.

So, Slash and his cronies (Tiny Lister, awesome as always; the Hacker guy; and a chap with one eye whose co-cronies make an awful lot of mean jokes about it) continue on with his pre-imprisonment plans, and Dakota, now with the Joe Lara trademark stubble, continues on with his plans to stop him. Which is a bit difficult as he’s just a hologram – although, when they figure out how to create a plastic mold for the hologram, which looks exactly like their real human body (and then create perfect masks of other people), things get a bit blurred.

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This film is amazing. On the surface, it’s sort of a weird combination of “Demolition Man” and “Face Off”, but it’s more overtly political than the former and much stupider than the latter. There are a lot of big firefights and car chases in this too, because as any good B-movie person knows, you need to keep the audience entertained. Lara and most of the supporting cast range from solid to great in the acting stakes, and indeed the only one who lets the side down is Evan Lurie as Slash. I’m intrigued as to why this was his only writing / producing credit, but he’s not the greatest angry villain in the world. He was ripped in this film as well, and his dreadlocks certainly made him stand out in the crowd. So it’s slightly odd to see his current career, which is as an art gallery owner just outside Indianapolis. Good on him for doing what he loves, though!

So, this is another hit for our Joe Lara season. There’s weirdness, disused factory fights a-plenty, hologram-on-hologram action, and the women in this film (aside from the lady at the beginning) are treated fairly decently. Also, the ending is one of the funnest and out-of-nowhere ones I can remember.

Rating: thumbs up

American Cyborg: Steel Warrior (1993)

Lord knows who that bloke in the background is

Lord knows who that bloke in the background is

This film and “Steel Frontier” represent the beginning (and possibly the middle) of the ISCFC’s Joe Lara season. Lara most famously played Tarzan, both on TV and film, and before he quit acting in 2002 to pursue a career in country music he appeared in an unbroken string of fairly terrible sounding, but actually pretty good, films.

It’s 17 years after a nuclear war which has pretty much done it for humanity, and the AI computer we built to help us out has decided to take over, using cyborg “enforcers” to maintain the peace over the remaining human settlements. Humans are all sterile and are gradually dying out…now, I don’t like pointing these things out, but if the computer doesn’t care about humanity, why bother saving any of them? We’re given all this information by the weirdest sounding faux-English voiceover guy, who I expected to be popping up throughout the film to fill us in on stuff, but just doesn’t. Shame!

After meeting an Enforcer, who’s an odd looking fellow for a cyborg badass, being skinny, a bit thin on top and having a small moustache, we then see a member of the human rebellion, seemingly determined to draw attention to himself by acting as suspiciously as possible. The driving plot of the film (discovered when the rebel makes it to his home base) is the one remaining fertile woman has gotten pregnant. For reasons unknown, they put the foetus in some sort of artificial womb, which is just a giant test tube with a timer attached…Mary, the woman in question, needs to get to the seafront in 36 hours in order to rendezvous with a French ship and take the foetus to Europe, where they will start a new fresh strain of humanity. It’s a sign of a woman whose fertility is important to a film that she’s called either Mary or Eve, usually.

Lovely lovely Mary

Lovely lovely Mary

Of course, the Enforcer finds them, and after a fight where Mary kicks ass by dropping a car engine on his head, the rebels are scattered to the four winds and the clock is ticking. No Joe Lara yet, I hear you ask? Well, when Mary is at her lowest point, about to have her stuff stolen, he swoops in to help her and after a bit of bribery on her part, agrees to help her across the city to the dock. He’s Austin, a mysterious drifter with a heart of gold, and he is magnificent in this, hair flowing free.

The majority of the film is their journey across town, with attempts to thwart them from a very camp gang, the Leeches (cannibal mutants), one of Austin’s old friends, and of course the Enforcer himself. This film was made just after “Terminator 2”, and if we’re being honest borrows quite heavily from it, so the cyborg in this, while having none of the T-1000’s shapeshifting ability, takes a severe kickin’ and keeps on tickin’. He can regenerate chopped off fingers and heals all but the most severe injuries fairly quickly. There was a point when he got impaled on a massive spike and I shouted at the screen “CHOP HIS DAMN HEAD OFF” but they didn’t listen.

The first thing to note about this film is that it’s good! The action is tight, there’s no messing around, and the motivations of everyone (apart from the computers who decided to keep humanity around) are clear. It’s also from that sweet spot of VHS dominance when any old film could get some decent amount of coin thrown at it – so despite them re-using a few sets in very different parts of the city, it looks like a pretty expensive film, and would certainly not get made the same way today. Okay, it’s not the most original film you’ll ever see, but with the title it has, few people would be expecting that.

Mary, the saviour of humanity, is no shrinking violet either. She kicks ass, doesn’t rely on Austin for too much and saves the day a few times. It’s refreshing to see, honestly. I could have sworn I recognised her from something, but it seems after working for David Fincher (in a couple of Billy Idol music videos) Nicole Hansen’s career didn’t do too well.

Despite this having a lot of similarities with “Steel Frontier” – heck, you could make half a case for that film being a sequel to this one – it was loads of fun to watch and if you have any love for video-shop classics, then I’d recommend giving this a try.

Rating: thumbs up

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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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