Scanner Cop 2 (1995)

So, we come to the end of the “Scanners” series, which has been…alright? I didn’t love Cronenberg’s original (although it’s clearly the class act in this field), part 2 was terrible, part 3 was great, and the first “Scanner Cop” was dull. So what of the final entry?

“Scanner Cop 2” has, perhaps, the most Aggressive Staring (TM) of any of the franchise. There’s one scene where the villain is doing his thing (which involves sucking the life force out of another scanner, a hitherto unknown power) and it goes on for what feels like three or four minutes – just him staring at another guy, and that guy gradually turning into a skeleton. I think I’ve officially reached my limit of watching movies where people just stare at each other, and you know who’s winning via whose musical sting is loudest.

It’s an unwelcome return for Samuel (Daniel Quinn), the only person to appear in more than one “Scanners” movie, now an LAPD detective (whether he’s still got the same ludicrous mansion he had when he was just a trainee is never mentioned). He’s getting called on by his superior officer, Captain Jack Bitters (Robert Forster, just before Quentin Tarantino briefly saved him from obscurity), to do all sorts of scanner-based crime-solving, and for those of you who remembered him taking Ephemerol at the end of part 1 to control his powers, it’s handwaved away rather magnificently by Bitters saying to an underling “he’s got a special new sort of Ephemerol which allows him to use his powers with no side-effects”. Never mentioned again, never paid off.

There’s a subplot about him searching for his birth mother, which involves the Trans Neural Research Center, and their lovely employee Carrie Goodart (Khrystyne Haje). She distributes Ephemerol to people who can’t afford a prescription for it, and although it’s never mentioned at this point, she’s a scanner too. “Hey, sexy doctor lady, I have this special new Ephemerol that allows you to still use your powers, if you’d like to try it” – NO. This doesn’t happen. Anyway, despite his mother not giving him up, so there being no issues of privacy, and him being a damn cop, he needs help to find her.

The sole bright spark is the villain, one Karl Volkin (Patrick Kilpatrick). His motivation is terribly boring (revenge after Samuel tried to arrest them, and scannered Karl into shooting his own brother), but he realises how silly all this is and goes with it. His scenes from when he’s in the mental hospital are hilarious, and he appears to be doing an impression of the Tasmanian Devil (animated version) – despite them saying he’s getting crazier the longer he goes without Ephemerol, he never reaches those wild heights of overacting again.

Pretty much everything about “Scanner Cop 2” is just sort of okay. There’s dumb logic holes everywhere you look, and the plot is completely standard, but there’s an occasional spark of comedy, or a decent performance from a b-movie regular (such as Ellen Dubin or Eugene Robert Glazer), to elevate things ever-so-slightly. And some of the effects are really quite gross, but I got a bit bored of the camera focusing on them twice as long as was necessary.

I do have one more weird thing to mention, though, and that’s the fact his mother is in a retirement home. How old do you think Daniel Quinn is? (serious question, he doesn’t have it listed on IMDB). Let’s say, at the outside, 35. His mother appears pretty sprightly, she runs down a corridor, doesn’t look frail at all…so why the hell is she in a retirement home? I’d expect her to still be working, looking like she does! Why didn’t they just have her in a mental hospital, trying to deal with her scanning powers?

Ultimately, though, it’s so bland I can’t even be bothered to write a full-length review of it. Cut every EXTREME STARING scene down to 20 seconds (which is about as long as they ever lasted in the original), remove the scenes they just re-used from the first “Scanner Cop” (cars pulling into hospital – the scene is a straight lift) and you’ve got a reasonably punchy hour-long movie. As it is, thumbs down for the last of the series. See you when the remake comes out!

Rating: thumbs down

Scanner Cop (1994)

After a part 3 that was chock full of comedy, head explosions and OTT acting performances, it’s sort of sad that we’re back down in the dreck for part 4 (for that is what “Scanner Cop” is in the “Scanners” franchise). I guess all you really needed to make a tidy profit in the era of VHS rental was a name and a few snappy images for the back of the box.

This is the directorial debut for Pierre David, who was the producer who very cleverly secured himself sequel rights to “Scanners”, way back in 1981. Clearly. Paying an actual director would have cut into his profits, so he took the knowledge and experience of being around movie sets for so many years, and…well, it looks exactly like a movie, I guess? And he must have called in some b-movie favours, as the late great Brion James shows up for 2 minutes near the end, Richard Lynch is the bad guy, and “that guy / gal” actors such as Gary Hudson, Hilary Shepard and Darlanne Fluegel play large roles.

In a filthy apartment lives a father and son – any other movie, you’d assume he was a junkie, but he’s obviously a scanner trying to block out the incessant noise in his head with some Ephemerol (the sole through-line of these movies). Now, I’d probably throw away the empty pill-bottles, as it makes it a lot easier to find the one that still has some in it, but then I’m not a scanner who’s been driven half-mad, so what do I know? His son Samuel also has the scanner gene, and is having just as bad a time of it as Dad. Into this chaos walks cop Peter Harrigan (Stacy Keach-alike Richard Grove) and there’s a few of the “classics” – Dad wobbles his head at the cops, they struggle as if they’re about to turn their guns on each other…Dad almost kills one of the cops, he gets shot, and Samuel is about to do some head-exploding when Peter manages to talk him down.

Because Samuel saved his life (eh, okay I guess?), Peter adopts him. Is this something that cops do as a matter of course? Anyway, the Harrigans are just childless with lots of love to offer, so they bring up Samuel right, and…15 years later! He’s just graduated from police academy – but presumably the boring, normal sort of police academy, with no roommates who can make any sound at all with their mouths.

The villain, one Karl Glock (Lynch) and his assistant Zena (Shepard) are kidnapping people and brainwashing them into attacking cops – like, whenever they see anyone in uniform, the cop transforms in their heads into a weird monster. Herein lies the first problem – if you saw a giant zombie wandering towards you, would you attack it with whatever you had at hand, or run like hell? Perhaps some offscreen brainwashing got rid of the “flight” part of “fight or flight”. So, random people start butchering police officers, and it’s up to Harrigan to stop them – he’s the only person who knows Samuel is a scanner, keeping him supplied with Ephemerol, but he asks him to stop taking the drug and use his psychic powers to help him get to the bottom of things. Oh, and fans of “Aliens” will appreciate seeing the great Mark Rolston as Harrigan’s underling Harry Brown (not that Harry Brown), aka “the world’s dumbest skeptic”.

Leaving aside the head-wobbling, it’s a very standard mid-90s straight-to-video thriller with a few grotesque touches. At the beginning, we see a brief glimpse of a mental hospital and it’s straight out of a Victorian nightmare – a corridor full of people tearing their hair out and gibbering and rocking back-and-forth. Surely, not even the worst 90s-era hospital has stuff like that?

I’m not sure what to make of some stuff, like Samuel’s home (he moved out of his adopted parents’ home some time ago). It’s a gigantic place, with an incredible view, high up in the hills of LA, and must have cost – even in the mid 90s – a solid $500,000. Where does an orphan who’s not even started his first job yet afford a place like that? And there’s also the thing of how Samuel’s a super-fast reader, able to get through every page of a massive series of crime reports in the time it takes Brown to get him a cup of coffee. When did that become a scanner power?

Because it’s filmed in a blandly competent style, credit due to the professional Nu Image behind-the-camera team, it leaves us much more time to talk about the bizarre script choices. We see inside Zena’s head at one point, and it’s like a cliché of what the dark parts of someone’s psyche are like – an even grimmer mental hospital than the one in “reality”. Zena appears to fund the brainwashing operation with her tarot card reading storefront, but the curious thing is, she seems to genuinely be psychic, and not in a scanner-y way either. They perhaps ought to have elaborated on that a little, as it’s just confusing.

The first resistance of any sort our villains face doesn’t come til about 1:10 in, and honestly I was getting a bit bored by then. There’s only so long you can spend watching a series of plans be executed smoothly while the people you’re supposed to be cheering for stand around with puzzled looks on their faces! You might also expect to see a relationship develop, but Samuel and Doctor Joan Alden (Fluegel) just aren’t a good visual match at all. In the grand tradition of Scanners stars, Samuel (Daniel Quinn) has a sort-of-unappealing face, while Joan just seems a lot more mature than the apparently-in-his-early-20s leading man. Luckily, the movie realises this, and while there’s an odd scene that implies things are going to happen between the two, nothing does…but that leaves an empty space where the emotional connection ought to be.

Factor in a steel plate in someone’s head apparently being able to block psychic powers, and a main actor who’s scanning face is identical to his constipated face, and you’ve got yourself a movie. While it’s not horrible (lots of b-movie professionals, technically fine) it’s just a bit boring. The only movie that’s really been able to forge a path between the seriousness of the subject matter and the inherent silliness of staring at someone until their head explodes is part 3; this is probably the dullest of the series so far.

Rating: thumbs down

Tremors 3: Back To Perfection (2001)

This might be the ugliest video cover I've ever seen

This might be the ugliest video cover I’ve ever seen

It appears “Tremors 2” has a lot more fans than I previously thought, as feedback for my review has been “that was a bit harsh” – I’m moderately surprised to even get feedback, honestly, but it happens when you review films that other people have actually seen. I feel fairly confident that many fewer of you’ll have watched anything from the “Tremors universe” past part 2, though, so we can continue.


This does give us an opportunity to talk about the straight-to-video sequel. It look like Disney and Universal led the way, with sequels to “Aladdin” and “The Land Before Time” being released that way in 1994, but now everyone’s into it, and all the major movie studios have departments that exist solely to exploit their most popular movies, although now they’ll be on Netflix or DVD rather than “video” (I’m too lazy to change the name, though). These tend to follow a certain business plan, which roughly speaking is:


“How much money can we cut from the budget of these movies before people stop paying to watch them?”


From part 1, user of many inventive special effects, and one that still looks great today; to part 2, which used whatever they had lying around left over from part 1, but still looked sort of okay; to part 3, which is mostly CGI and crappy-looking models, the budgets fall and fall and fall. The other thing about straight-to-video sequels is that they obviously can’t afford to pay the stars of the original, so part 2 had Fred Ward and a sort of vague Kevin Bacon-alike, and now with part 3 we’re down to Michael Gross, who worked in the first movie because he had a tiny part as the wacky survivalist guy who was there because he had lots of guns and was enthusiastic about getting the chance to use them. But as the lead?


Let’s recap. It’s 11 years since part 1, and Burt Gummer (Gross) has lent his Graboid-killing abilities to the government of Argentina. This immediately robs the film of any tension or scares, as he’s seen destroying hundreds of the “Shriekers” with a couple of huge aircraft guns mounted to the back of a truck. There’s also the small question of why no-one else appears able to just point a gun in one direction and shoot a lot, as Gummer’s skill doesn’t seem any greater than that. Anyway.


But this is just preamble, as he’s soon back in Perfection, the tiny, remote town which was the site of the first movie. He’s had his compound completely remodelled with a concrete barrier (which goes all the way underneath his house), but other than that the town has barely changed, with the population being down to 5. The kid from part 1 is now a sleazy property developer in his mid 20s, who wants to buy the entire valley up and build houses, and there’s a new guy called Jack (Shawn Christian), who runs very low-rent Graboid tours of the local area. Oh, and Chang’s convenience store has been taken over by his niece Jodi (Susan Chuang). There’s a nice cameo near the beginning, where Mary Gross, aka Michael’s sister, aka off the terrible years of “Saturday Night Live”, pops up and calls him “Mr Goober”, but sadly she’s not in it more as I quite like her. Pretty much everyone who wasn’t Kevin Bacon or Fred Ward and was still alive at the end of part 1 pops up in part 3, but you could be forgiven for not remembering as some of them were pretty minor.


I know no-one likes an armchair quarterback, but think about it for a minute. Imagine the town had turned into a Roswell-style tourist trap after the events of part 1 (where the two stars were pretty big celebrities for a while), and now, 11 years later, there’s no Graboid sightings and all the businesses are closed up, with the area being a complete ghost town. The rest of the film could run the same, even, and the “evil property developer” subplot would make a lot more sense – why’s he so fixated on building in that extremely inhospitable valley with no phone service and nowhere near anywhere? But those things would have cost money, I guess.


So now we’re treated to yet another evolution of the Graboid, the Ass Blaster. Think they were running out of ideas? These creatures fart fire, which propels them into the air, where they can glide. Having a sequel to a movie called “Tremors” with a monster which flies through the air is about the same as making “Revenge of the Dragon” which reveals halfway through the dragon is a mere evolutionary stage to an angry dog. These creatures, much like their parents, the Shriekers, only sense heat, unlike the Graboids, which only sense vibration. Why not?


Oh, another thing. There’s a rack of comics in the shop at the beginning, the fictionalised tales of what happened in parts 1 and 2. Only no-one told the guy they hired to draw the covers of the comics how to spell “Shrieker” – proof:


So, the acting’s sort of alright, but it’s just not that funny. It thinks just having weird creatures in it, and people shouting at each other occasionally, is good enough and it really isn’t. They’re being sold as funny monster movies but by this point, they’re just not trying hard enough at that side of things. There’s also an extremely unconvincing and irrelevant central “romance”, which feels like an extremely hasty last-minute addition and doesn’t really make sense in the world of the movie. Perhaps it’s the fault of writer John Whelpley, who also worked heavily on the abysmal “Earth: Final Conflict”. Or perhaps it’s the fault of Brent Maddock, with this being his only directorial credit (he wrote the first movie, as well as “Short Circuit”)?


A small aside: throughout the three movies, Michael Gross is sporting an “Atlanta Hawks” hat. The Hawks are an NBA team, and Atlanta is all the way on the other side of the country from Nevada (where this and part 1 are set, I think). It’s a nice touch that he’s both a fan of basketball (him being a bit of a redneck) and a team from so far away. Or perhaps it’s just Michael Gross’s own hat and they let him wear it.


An unfunny comedy, and a monster movie where they’re all cheap CGI. Separately they’re awful, but put them together and give it just enough talent to make it bearable, and you’ve got “Tremors 3”. To be immediately forgotten.


Rating: thumbs down

Commander (1988)


Let’s discuss the subject of coincidental similarities between movies. There were a couple of zombie movies from 1980 that used the same trick – of an apparently empty, but infected, boat just drifting into New York harbour, but I think we have a far more unusual one here, after reviewing “The Commander” yesterday. Let’s see what it has in common with the subject of today’s review:


  • Same name (okay, there’s no “the” in this one)
  • Released in the same year
  • Directed by an Italian using an English pseudonym
  • Made at least partly in the Philippines
  • An actor (Mike Monty)
  • A mud fight
  • Boxes full of guns replaced with boxes full of rocks
  • A cobra attacks someone
  • Vietnam stock footage
  • Exploding helicopters


That’s a decent list, although oddly enough, the two movies aren’t all that similar in any other ways. “The Commander” was a European thriller that just happened to have some of its action take place in the Far East; “Commander” is a proper sleazy Filipino war movie, full of death, not exactly heavy on plot, but very heavy on people shooting other people.


Part of that sleaziness is a medium-to-heavy indifference to ripping off the plots of other movies, so – as I’m sure you’ve already worked out from looking at the cover above – what we have here is a “Rambo” ripoff. “Rambo”, released in 1985, provided a very simple template for low-budget moviemakers to exploit – the lone white hero, teaming up with a handful of good Asians, slaughters hundreds and hundreds of bad Asians. Both feature traumatised Vietnam veterans, but while Rambo was in prison at the beginning of “Rambo”, here, our hero (referred to only as “Commander” for 90% of proceedings. I had to look up that the character was called “Roger Craig”) just stayed in Vietnam after the end of the war with 12 of his buddies, because they hated the Vietcong that much. Since then, he’s been rescuing Vietnamese people from prisons and blowing up as much Army ordnance as he can; as well as murdering with a great deal of impunity. He’s the hero of the locals, most of whom are of course completely unable to defend themselves and rely on the brave white outsider to help; and he has a pregnant girlfriend, Cho Lin. Guess if she survives or not?


ISCFC FAVOURITE THING – the wooden guard tower! We’ve mentioned it before, and you know when you see a wooden guard tower, one of two things is going to happen. Either a guy is going to get shot and fall out of it, or it’s going to blow up (or both). There’s a 0% chance of some low budget movie bothering to build one just to put in the background, so get ready for fun whenever you see one!


So, the plot is completely and utterly irrelevant. Commander wants to go back to the USA with his girlfriend and their soon-to-be baby; so he calls his old Commanding Officer, who comes to town to help smooth the path back to the US. While he’s in town, he helps Commander kill a bunch of Vietcong and take a load of their explosives; they retaliate by killing the entire village where Cho Lin is living and kidnapping her, including loads of children. It takes a strong movie to show a villain so delighted about murdering kids, and this is apparently a strong movie. Anyway. He takes the stolen stuff back to exchange it for her, but she’s already dead, so he goes absolutely hog-wild on these Vietcong assholes and kills hundreds of them, using a truly jaw-dropping amount of high-explosive devices.


The final battle is just full-on spectacle, with any pretence at plot ignored in favour of just a ton of stuff blowing up, then there’s a helicopter battle which is edited so confusingly you think the hero’s friend is trying to kill him, for no good reason; then that’s it. Any movie that finishes with a guy hanging off a rope ladder off a helicopter, firing a bazooka at another helicopter, is alright in my book. I mean, he could have just stayed sat where he was, but that wasn’t badass enough! At every possible opportunity, “Commander” just wants you to bludgeon you – for example, this video estimates that Commander kills 164 people during the course of proceedings.


While it’s a lot of fun, obviously, it’s not very good, and not just for the reasons already stated. Lead actor Craig Alan is an utter charisma vacuum, picked solely for his resemblance to Sylvester Stallone – he did a few films in the late 80s (including the amazingly named “Get The Terrorists”) then disappeared completely, mercifully for us. And it’s not like anyone else is that much better! Then there’s the matter of excessive accuracy. Every single grenade, rocket, bomb and mortar shell hits its target exactly, presumably because it’s easier and cheaper to do it that way, but when you see an already wounded guy, in the middle of the night, hurl a grenade and hit the exact dead centre of what he’s aiming for, even the least discerning action movie fan will be “come on lads, that’s a bit much”. But on the plus side, the blood-squib guy was working overtime on this one, which I liked.


Completely forgettable Rambo ripoff, only to be messed with if you’re in a generous mood.


Rating: thumbs in the middle

Witchville (2010)


Because we couldn’t stay away for long, here’s another SyFy review for you. Spoiler alert – it’s dull as hell, so if you’re a busy person who can spare 90 minutes for a movie but not three minutes to read a review, don’t bother. If you’d like to join me in annoyance, read on.


Luke Goss is presumably quite happy Bros are reforming, and I bet he hopes they make enough money for him to retire from the movies.  He’s been in some interesting stuff, including the two “Death Race” sequels and “Blade 2”, and is much better known as an actor than he ever was as a singer, but…he’s not the best picker of material, let’s put it that way. He and Danny Trejo are go-to guys for low-budget action directors, it would seem (credited together 5 times), and chances are if you see a DVD that looks like a big-budget movie, only you’ve never heard of it, Goss will be in it.


Here, he’s Malachy, a medieval type enjoying a beer with his friend Jason (Ed Speleers). Their fun is spoiled when Jason’s brother Erik (Andrew Pleavin) comes in to round them up and get them back to “the kingdom”, where Malachy’s Dad, the King, is dying. Turns out witches have been cursing the place, or just using up the vitality of the Earth for their black magic, for some time, and the kingdom is in a right old state. A magician called, oddly, Heinrich Kramer (Simon Thorp), tells em about the witches – he has a book with all their secrets in it, and wants their help in hunting down and killing them all. He also appears to be doing a Jonathan Pryce impression, but that’s not crucial to the movie or this review.


The Witch Queen is Sarah Douglas, by a comfortable distance the most famous actor in it (the first two “Superman” movies, a lifetime of TV and film roles, and a regular of the ISCFC, from “Meatballs 4”, “Puppet Master 3” and “Beastmaster 2”). She has an assistant, Jozefa (MyAnna Buring, “Ripper Street”), and a big supply of weird red smoke which possesses people.


There’s not really a lot to this movie. The gang goes after witches, the witches try and kill them, there’s a very obvious “this villain will eventually be on the good side” twist, and then there’s the role of China. As this was funded by Chinese money, Malachy meets a group of Chinese fighters who kill his cannon fodder troops, then when they realise who he is and what he’s fighting, join up with him and become sort of background for the rest of the movie – like that was all they needed to secure the funding, and they couldn’t be bothered to write characters for any of them.


Simon Thorp’s performance is so terrible that I kept expecting him to be the main villain of the piece, undercover, but…no. And Buring is so terrible that I knew she’d be on the good guys’ side by the end. Everyone else is terrible thanks to an appalling script, which has them all talking like brain-dead characters from medieval fan-fiction; Goss is particularly poorly served by the lines he’s forced to read out, but no-one comes out of it well. There’s also a really bad non-following of Chekhov’s Gun – at the beginning, we see Heinrich with a powder that can briefly resurrect dead creatures, so you think, reasonably, that at some point that powder will be used on one of our heroes, to give them that little push over the top to finally defeat evil…of course, that might have been fun or interesting so they just never mention it again.


The main problem I have is how grossly mismatched the contest is. The Witch Queen wins constantly, with our heroes buffeted on all sides by forces they can’t possibly match; after seeing them beaten over and over again for over an hour, a couple of the characters suddenly get massive power-ups during the final battle. What’s quite surprising is seeing a movie about witchcraft in 2010 that doesn’t try and do anything interesting with the idea – like it’s an expression of feminism, or men wanting to control women and being upset when they wanted their own lives. But it’s just more evil women, crappy obvious plot twists, and a pair of twins (spoiler!) who in real life are 11 years apart in age. Clearly the distributors wanted you to think it had more of an Eastern flavour, either to sell it to China or set it apart from legions of similar releases, but if I’d bought it on that proviso, I’d have been very disappointed indeed.


But if you’re a fan of “World Of Warcraft”, then there’s quite a lot to enjoy. All those shoulder-armour-things, ludicrously oversized and entirely unsuitable for combat, feel like lifts from the game, and there’s an apparently almost exact ripoff of a character from a WoW comic (never read it). Also, more than a few people have noticed the similarity to another computer game, “Witcher”, so perhaps they were hoping to get naming rights to one of those, failed but decided to keep the props they’d made.


Anyway, it’s only the morning after watching it, and mercifully the details are already fading from my mind. Let’s just all pretend it never happened, eh?


Rating: thumbs down


The VRAs: Delirium (1979)


This is our ongoing series about films that were banned by the British government, using the Video Recordings Act of 1984. You have the right-wing gutter press and a few Christian pressure groups to thank for these films becoming more famous than they had any right to be (in all but a few cases), and the fact they’ve now virtually all been re-released, uncut, while the law remains in place, tells you more about moral panics than it does about their content. See the VRAs “mission statement” here.

When I discovered that one of the video nasties was filmed and set in St Louis, soon to be my home (if I don’t get turned down for a visa, that is), I had to watch it. It manages to reinforce my belief, though, that the films caught up by the Video Recordings Act might as well have been names drawn from a hat, with a few exceptions. In other words, if I’d spent any money tracking this down expecting a gore-drenched classic, I’d have been very sorely disappointed.

No-one seems particularly interested in saving this movie from utter obscurity, with the exception of people like Tom Stockman, the St Louis film historian / cult movie expert who did a public talk on the movie a little while ago. This huge gulf between its brief notoriety over here, and the almost complete indifference to it in its home country, is sort of interesting – probably a lot more interesting than the movie itself.


Anyway, a rather sad looking fellow called Charlie (Nick Panouzis) goes for what appears to be an interview, and ends up picking up one of the secretaries there, even though he’s almost completely mute; taking her back to her place, and then when he struggles to get an erection, murders her with a conveniently placed spear. Charlie does a whole bunch more killing throughout the first hour of the movie, including one bit where he picks up a hitchhiker, frightens her by driving too fast, then just leaves her in the car to go and sit by a lake. Rather than running the hell away, she joins him, gets naked and goes for a swim, inviting him in (he accepts and murders her).

The thing is, the killer isn’t really the focus of the movie. It’s a “Star Chamber” style group of local businessmen, who have decided to take the law into their own hands. The main guy in the group, a bald chap by the name of Eric (Barron Winchester), is an old army buddy of Charlie’s, and he’s been using him as a sort-of-mercenary for the last year, since his escape from a mental institution. Yes, the Vietnam war traumatised them both, which would have been a very recent memory for Americans of the time. Oh, and one of the group is the guy Charlie was having his interview with at the beginning, which is the tenuous thread holding all this together.


The final spoke of the wheel is a cop, Larry Mead (Terry TenBroek), who’s got the major hots for the first victim’s roommate, Susan (Debi Chaney). Because he wants to have sex with her, he figures he ought to try and solve the case, so he and his partner go to interview the boss, realise there’s something fishy going on, and keep pulling at that thread.

“Delirium” feels like during its production it was taken over by different people, who all wanted different things. You’ve got a traumatised Vietnam vet movie; a serial killer movie; a vigilante movie; and a cop drama. Honestly, you could cut all the serial killing stuff out, literally all of it, and the movie would be largely the same; this is an indication that something went wrong somewhere. The pieces just don’t fit together – perhaps the best indication of this is, Charlie is killed during a random break-in a little before the hour mark, and it doesn’t change anyone’s motivations or actions at all.

If I was writing this review 15 years ago, I’d have made a lot of hay out of how “Sabotage”, the Beastie Boys music video, borrows footage from this for one segment and rips it off in another; “Delirium” was so obscure even by then that I don’t remember a single mention of it (and that video was talked about for ever by the music press).


And if I was writing it at the time of its release, I’d have gone “hold on! That’s the Mastermind theme music!” British TV quiz show “Mastermind” (started in 1972, continuing on to the present day with a hiatus or two) used a piece of music called “Approaching Menace” by a composer called Neil Richardson for its theme. It was taken from a library music LP – compilations in various styles, where anyone can licence the music for a low rate (copyright resting entirely with the publisher, as the composition was a work for hire). If you’re reading this in the USA, the most famous use of library music is probably the theme tune to “Monday Night Football”; whereas “Mastermind” is the most famous in the UK, which makes it popping up when a gang of scumbag businessmen are torturing someone quite unusual.

As you can tell by my spending several paragraphs not talking about the movie, it’s sort of a tough one. The action is slow and horribly disjointed, with gore that’s laughably quaint by today’s standards. If they’d figured out which of the multiple plots they wanted their movie to actually be about and concentrated on that, it could have been interesting; but it’s a lot of very wasted effort.I’ve got absolutely no idea why it was banned, unless right-wing businessmen revenge-killing criminals was in the news at the time?


A quick note about the cast – most of them appear to be St Louis natives who have this as their only real credit (and there are stories on IMDB about one of them walking round malls with a parrot on his shoulder, like he expected this to be his big break). There’s some weak links, but they’re mostly fine.


As is sadly traditional, a final word about the role of women. I mentioned it briefly above, but they’re absolutely only there to be sexual objects or murder victims. There’s a woman who works for the police who’s clearly brilliant at her job (retrieving ancient paperwork, quickly) but the male cops just thank her, then ogle her as she walks away. And she gets off lightly compared to the hitch-hiker. It couldn’t be any more of its time, with all the negativity that entails, if it tried. I feel bad for the women in director Peter Maris’s life, to be honest – Maris is the only person from this movie who had a “proper” career, directing as late as 2007 (this makes him an ISCFC two-timer, having also helmed 1986’s “Land Of Doom”).

You’re not likely to stumble on this any time soon. As the years pass from the video nasty moral panic, the movies that achieved brief fame are increasingly only of interest to movie historians; you can find worse violence and better movies on Youtube in a few minutes. Still, it’s the only slasher movie to feature the Gateway to the West, the arch that dominates the St Louis skyline, so it has at least one thing in its favour.

Rating: thumbs down

Zombi 5 (1988) (aka Killing Birds)


After starting this not-really-a-series with two of the greatest zombie movies of all time (“Dawn Of The Dead” and “Zombie Flesh Eaters”, they’ve very kindly saved the worst for last. It features maybe the biggest star to have sullied his name as part of the franchise – Robert Vaughn, and a very early example of computer porn; but sadly these two things aren’t enough to stop you wanting a bird to pluck your eyes out so you never have to see it again.


We start off with a flashback, to Vietnam days (although they don’t make an effort to change any clothes or hairstyles or anything like that). A guy who has quite the collection of birds comes home from the war and finds his wife in bed with another man. By the way, if this happened to me, I like to think I’d have the nous to just pick a shirt out of the closet, give some small talk about the weather and just walk out again (before phoning a solicitor, of course). But our unseen gent doesn’t have the desire for really dumb jokes that I do, so he kills them both with the same throat-cutting effect, which the producers must have paid for a job lot of because about half the people who die in this die in an identical way. He then kills the couple who are about to visit his house, including throwing a knife at a guy and having it bury itself up to the hilt in his skull – he’s a strong guy! Or this movie is dumb! He rescues the couple’s baby, and is just finishing cleaning up all the evidence of the slaughter when a couple of birds decide, for absolutely no reason, to tear his eyes out.


Present day! After we see eyeless fella hand over the babies to the hospital authorities way back when, the only two questions are:

  1. Which central character is going to end up being that kid?


  1. What part is the blind guy going to play in proceedings?


Now, there is an answer to both these questions, but it’s so utterly irrelevant to what might kindly be called the plot that I’m genuinely surprised they even bothered. We are then obliged to sit through an interminable “meet the meat” section, where a student receives a letter saying his grant application for an expedition to find the silver-beaked woodpecker has been approved, and assembles the team that’ll be going along. Best Friend, His Girlfriend, Computer Guy, Bookish Girl, Reporter (also main guy’s ex-girlfriend), and Van Driver. Now, I thought “this is a weird bunch to send on an expedition”, but it turns out it’s just a trip to the wilds of Louisiana, and given Main Guy is weird an LSU t-shirt, it’s not that far either. Not sure I’d call that an expedition, you guys! Reporter finds out the location of the last guy to see the special bird, and it turns out to be Blind Guy, aka Robert Vaughn, aka the guy who did all the murdering at the beginning. He points them in the right direction, and off they go.


While dull and stupid up to this point, it at least makes sense, of a sort. Then, there’s a scene where, a few minutes after leaving Blind Guy’s house, they happen upon the truck and the dead body of the guy from the beginning, half-hidden in the woods. He’s looking a bit rough, but if he’d actually been left in the Louisiana wilderness, he’d have been a skeleton in months, much less…15 years? But even this pales in comparison to their decision to just press on with their bird-watching trip and not go and phone the damned authorities! They deserve to die, for all being idiots, is what I’m saying. Bonus idiocy points are awarded for them having precisely zero items of equipment with which to observe or record birds, unless you count Computer Guy and his computer, which is a 1988 laptop so about as useful as you’d expect.


A few of the characters, including Main Guy, have sort of dream sequence / flashbacks, which give them no useful information and serve no purpose whatsoever. Kudos to you if you’re noticing the theme in this review! They find a house, which is the house that Blind Guy lived in before (he evidently moved down the road after slaughtering his wife, her lover and a couple of other guys), and decide to make that a base camp, although they never really leave.

Zombie 5 Killing Birds 6

The one fun thing in this movie is the gay subtext, which is almost too blatant to be called subtext. Van Driver and Computer Guy are always doing stuff together and seeming really happy about it, there’s a shot which is composed in such a way that it looks like Computer’s Guy’s head is in Van Driver’s crotch, and when Van Driver suggests he would quite like to have sex with Bookish Girl, Computer Guy looks super hurt and says “I thought she wasn’t your type”. Sorry, Computer Guy! Although you get the last laugh, because Van Driver dies on fire a few minutes later. Thinking about it, there’s a scene where Best Friend is off exploring the house, and His Girlfriend tags along. He shoves her back, and says “you’d better go with the others”, you know, while he goes off into the dark with a few guys – this is the day after he half-heartedly attempts to have sex with her before just giving up and going to sleep.


Now, if you took part in higher education, think back to your time there. Do you think any of your tutors would have signed off on / paid for a trip out into the wilderness, where you do zero preparation, have zero equipment and absolutely no idea where you’re going? Can you imagine the insurance costs for the “just let them go wherever the hell they like” plan? This is a serious trip, too, which will apparently take the place of several of their senior classes. Damn, but this movie makes absolutely no sense.


Zombies turn up at the 55 minute mark. Not only is this worse, in a sense, than those movies where the zombies don’t turn up at all, but no explanation is given as to why the zombies are there. You can perhaps infer that they’re the corpses of the people that Blind Guy killed, but the movie doesn’t tell you that, or indeed anything else. When Blind Guy turns up at the end and says “these are my fault, sorry”, he also says they feed on fear. Now, if we accept that, which is stupid in itself, we can use the preceding hour as evidence, an hour where none of the cast appear particularly fearful – okay, the odd moment, but it’s hardly enough to cause the dead to rise from their graves. Most of the cast die off, based on being absolutely useless and incapable of defending themselves, and then two of them survive just because. That Main Guy is Blind Guy’s…son?…is brushed off with a few lines at the end, and we’re done.


I’ve spent the day trying to figure out why it ended in such a half-assed way, and the best I can come up with is that Robert Vaughn refused to film the ending they’d written for him and wanted some last-act redemption. Nothing feels like it fits together, starting with the title (no-one kills any birds, and birds don’t kill anyone). No explanation for anything is given. The film makes negative amounts of sense, and is d-u-l-l on top.


Some of these problems might be explained by the presence of uncredited director Joe D’Amato. His is a name you’ll see occasionally in exploitation / horror circles, as he produced a staggering amount of work before his death in 1999, including 111 directing credits in the last five years of his life. 111! It’s safe to say D’Amato was a quantity over quality man, and we’ll be meeting him again in…well, movies that have been released as parts 6 and 7 of this non-franchise. I genuinely have no idea how anyone could have watched this and thought it was worth releasing, or that it made the slightest bit of sense.


Rating: thumbs down

Zombi 4 (1982) (aka Panic)


I suspected this day would come, dear reader. This film poses a very serious question which we may choose to answer or not, one that cuts to the very heart of what we’re doing here at the ISCFC. That question is…”were they short of zombie movies that week?” It’s the first zombie movie we’ve reviewed here that DOESN’T HAVE ANY ZOMBIES IN IT

I’ve got no idea. Originally named “Bakterion”, which is a cool title, also known as “Panic” (appropriate) and “Monster of Blood”, this is listed on IMDB’s alternate titles as Greece (transliterated ISO-LATIN-1 title)- “Zombi 4 – I ekdikisi ton zontanon nekron”, which translates as “Zombi 4: Revenge of the Living Dead”. This sounds like someone, about ten years ago, decided to rename this on IMDB for a laugh, the information got picked up by Wikipedia and now it’s a thing, despite me being unable to find any evidence of its existence under that title. So congratulations, long-ago internet prankster, you tricked me into watching this.


A lab accident is the cause of all our woes here, some lab in the UK – simply called, rather wonderfully, “Chemical” – has been dabbling in God’s domain; the serum they gave to a rat made it so mean and strong that it broke out of its cage and disappeared down a drain. At the same time, the chief scientist there, Professor Adams, gets some of the experimental goo all over him and disappears; then, a few minutes later, a hideous mutated figure starts killing people and draining their blood. Or was that the previous zombie movie? Ah, who cares? Anyway, they appear to be trying to hide from us that the scientist and the mutant are the same person, but it’s a little on the obvious side.


It’s at this point, about five minutes in, that proceedings grind to a halt. We’re introduced to a bunch of old white men with dubbed accents that don’t match their appearances at all, they’re all Government people of various sorts; and then we meet the guy who’s being dispatched to solve the problem, an American agent called…Captain Kirk. Yes, one of the ten or so most famous fictional characters of the 20th century, and they just decided to name one of their characters that – bravo! He’s off to the definitely-not-in-England town, and there he meets Prof Adams’ assistant, Jane Blake, with the blondest perm and the darkest eyebrows, so the two of them…well, the two of them do nothing. Jane sits around and looks worried while Kirk does all the actual stuff, because this is a European 1980s horror movie and women are several steps below plankton in terms of the amount of agency they’re allowed.


It feels very shambolic, all the way through, like someone behind the scenes was annoyed they were told to set it in England so did as much as possible to sabotage it. While a load of army guys are driving down the street, the car’s eye view is leafy suburban London, but when it cuts to a shot with actors in it, it’s very clearly a completely different location, somewhere in semi-rural Spain probably (the other listed filming location). The cars and police uniforms sort of look a bit British, but not enough to fool a Brit, and there’s the home of one of the government guys, with a pool and a huge outdoor area for barbecues and loungers; a home which just wouldn’t be in Britain because we don’t have enough summer to warrant it. I mean, okay, this could sound a bit like nitpicking, but it’s so poorly done that you can’t help but notice. It’s not like it would’ve cost extra to fix, even.


Everyone keeps talking about a virus that’s spreading, and it needing to be contained, but the slight problem there is, there’s no evidence of a virus spreading anywhere. Aside from the infected rat, which shows up in one scene, now of massive size, and then disappears from the movie, the only “infected” person is Professor Adams, and there’s zero evidence of him being able to pass the infection on to anyone else. So they send the army in to “quarantine” the town, and put Plan Q into place, which involved bombing the entire town and pretending it was an accident. I mean, come on! It’s one guy! Did no-one at any point during the making of this piece of garbage go “you know this plan makes absolutely zero sense, right?”


I’ve not mentioned the cinema scenes yet. Given they don’t mention timescales, it seems like only a few days has passed since the accident in the lab, but in the intervening time the monster has had time to build himself a little nest in the tunnels just below a cinema – but that’s not the best thing. It’s when he attacks a cinema full of people, the lights go out and for a good minute, the entire screen is black. Not even a few shadows! Although it interrupting the movie-within-a-movie was fortunate, because it was the dullest-looking thing I’ve ever seen, just a car pulling away, seen from the back, with some jaunty music playing. No people, no dialogue.


There’s a moment, about an hour in, where I sort of liked it. The escalating panic, the sense that no-one knew what was going on, but then it got stupid again really quickly. Was it the group of people who tried to charge a heavily armed army cordon? Or the way the Government guy didn’t think to evacuate his family before the cordon fell, even though he knew it was coming? Is it wondering what plans A-P were?


It commits the worst crime a movie can, which is to be boring. The acting’s bad, but that’s to be expected in the Italian-made 70s / 80s end of things. I almost admire the chutzpah of whoever called this “Zombi 4”, if indeed it was ever called that, but I wish they’d imparted some of that chutzpah to the writer or director. Director Tonino Ricci is called “maybe the worst genre director in Italy” by several other reviewers, and I won’t correct them. Even though it’s free, avoid – unless you’re on some pointless mission to review every movie in an ill-defined “series”.


Rating: thumbs down


PS – the bit right at the end of the credits was funny, though.