Night Trap (1993)

David A Prior was, by 1993, firmly in his new mindset of producing competent straight-to-video work to fill those Blockbuster shelves. The man we grew to…love?…with his bonkers Vietnam vet stories, is now like any one of a hundred hacks. So I’m sorry, dear reader, that these reviews will be somewhat less in-depth than you’re used to, mostly because there’s just not that much to write about.

What we have here is a rare starring role for Robert Davi, who’d clearly signed a two-movie deal with AIP, after his supporting role in “Center of the Web”. He’s Mike Turner, your standard-issue tortured cop, and he is, for reasons never adequately explained, part of a stakeout watching a hot naked woman pretend she’s having sex while being in bed on her own, as Bishop (the great Michael Ironside) watches from the other side of the room – he’s in the same room as her, not the same room as Turner.

Bishop throws the poor girl out of the window and then, as the cops chase him through the building, kills Turner’s partner before apparently falling to his death after being shot multiple times. No muss, no fuss, until Bishop’s body can’t be found and he starts calling Turner, telling him he has three days to redeem himself, to kill him or be killed himself.

Rounding out this top-level B-movie cast is Leslie Ann Down as Turner’s ex-wife Christine and John Amos as the surprisingly level-headed police captain, who obviously doesn’t believe in the supernatural shenanigans; there’s also a decent supporting turn from ISCFC alum Lydie Denier (“Project Viper”, “SharkMan”) as the dead girl’s roommate / Turner’s new love interest. And if you’re really into deep cuts, Jack Forcinito, who many years later would star in “Silent Night, Zombie Night”, shows up here in a very early role as a sarcastic cop who gets punched out by Turner when he goes too far.

The setting (New Orleans) and the subject matter (people being killed, demonic unease) is clearly meant to bring to mind “Angel Heart”, one of the greatest films of the 1980s. Sadly, they didn’t have quite the same level of source material to draw from – Alan Parker’s script, from the novel by William Hjortsberg, for one, and David A Prior directing his own script for the other – and while they make an effort to bring some atmosphere to proceedings, it never quite lands.

So, Bishop keeps killing women and, thanks to the magical black person trope, we learn about his backstory. He was the force of nature who killed women back in Salem until the church took over, then just carried on killing women down the centuries anyway. Turner keeps chasing Bishop, and there’s a very oddly done fight scene atop a moving train, which feels like it was crowbarred in because they had the train set left over from “Center of the Web” and decided to re-use it.

Even in a cheap little movie like this, there’s attempts made at artistry, such as the scene which juxtaposes the two men having sex – well, Bishop ties a woman up who thinks she’s going to have sex, then kills her; Turner indeed has sex with his beautiful new French-Canadian girlfriend. It’s quite well done, but it ends up inadvertently leading to one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen, in this or any other movie.

Turner keeps his shirt on during sex, and also never moves. She’s there, naked and gyrating and doing everything a B-movie woman is supposed to do, but during the first half of proceedings, he’s entirely fully clothed, and when they move to the end-game, you can only see his top half and he’s still got his black t-shirt on. What the hell? I’m not saying anyone bought “Night Trap” to see Robert Davi’s bare chest, but it looks so ridiculous I can’t believe they approved it. Does he have a huge Nazi tattoo? Too many weird scars? Or did he just turn up to the set and refuse to take his shirt off, and they couldn’t do what they did in “Deadly Dancer” and replace him with a body double because it was short notice? I have absolutely no idea, but it’s one of the stupidest things I can remember and if Davi just refused to do it, then shame on him.

I could never quite figure out why Bishop was so obsessed with Turner, despite there being other people in the movie he met long in the past and allowed to live (no spoilers!) There’s also no evidence that the plot as described on the VHS box is the same as the one we actually see – I mean, it may be a soul-selling thing, but no-one says that and Bishop never really hints at it. He’s just a guy who’s been around killing people for hundreds of years.

The pacing is strange, too, as it gets going, then has five minutes of Turner sat around not doing much of anything, with people not believing him til way too near the end – it’s a little over 90 minutes but could have been ten minutes shorter and no-one would have been upset (apart from the actors left on the cutting room floor, I guess). If you’re generous, you could say that “Batman Begins” rips off a central part of the plot from “Night Trap”, but it doesn’t make it any better.

It could have been good, but it really only aimed for average, and it landed that perfectly.

Rating: thumbs down

PS I also just discovered there was a computer game called “Night Trap” from 1992, which was a very early example of a sort of interactive movie. I wouldn’t normally mention it but it “starred” ISCFC alum and cautionary tale in human form Dana Plato, and was so infamous that it drove all searches for the Prior movie off the first few pages of Google. Here’s a gif:

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Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence (1993)

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This movie has an interesting-ish bit of trivia about it. It’s the last one ever to use the Alan Smithee pseudonym, which would be discontinued in 2000. Although he’d been credited up to that point, original director William Lustig had his name taken off for the blu-ray in 2013, a release from his own company (he owns Blue Underground). It’s not like I needed that clue to be able to tell something was a bit off about “Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence”, though.

 

As you may remember, Officer Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar) had his name cleared and was given a full police funeral, which was a nice ending to two excellent movies…until, in true slasher fashion, his hand emerged from the coffin right at the very end to reclaim his badge. Well, the beginning of part 3 goes out of its way to tell us how he was framed and only went after the people who lied about him…unfortunately, for those of us who’ve seen the first two, this makes no sense. His first on-screen act is to snap the neck of a woman who was running away from a couple of muggers, and he murders dozens of innocent people. Dozens!

 

Turns out his resurrection this time is due to a voodoo practitioner called Houngan, and his motives are…a trifle unclear? By that, of course, I mean “completely 100% unexplained”. Well, there’s something about a Bride of Frankenstein-esque deal for him, but to call it half-baked is an understatement. Anyway, as he’s doing his thing, a couple of ambulance-chasing freelance TV cameramen are filming a holdup in a chemists’, where super-brave cop Kate (who’s been given the nickname “Maniac Kate” due to her excessive zeal) injures junkie thief Frank Jessup (Jackie Earle Haley) and kills the clerk, getting shot herself in the process; it turns out the clerk was Jessup’s girlfriend and was in on it.

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I’ll pause for a second to allow you to ponder the image of mad-eyed Jackie Earle Haley and a sweet-looking Hispanic girl being a couple before continuing. The camera guys decide to edit the footage to make it look like Kate murdered the clerk in cold blood – this being the aftermath of the Rodney King beating – even though she’s mortally wounded herself and in a coma; the news report with this footage is presented by Ted Raimi, a nice callback to brother Sam’s performance in part 1. This gets her friend Lt. McKinney (Robert Davi, who doesn’t exactly look like a “McKinney” now I think about it) riled up, and it really annoys Houngan, although why we never find out why. He dispatches Cordell to do his maniac thing in protection of Kate, and this involves killing her doctor, killing another doctor who’s going to turn off her life support, freeing Jessup from the bed he’s been handcuffed to and giving him a gun (not sure why he does that either), and then slaughtering those two camera guys, part of which involves handing over the unedited footage to the cops so Kate’s name can be cleared.

 

Stunt supremo Spiro Razatos is back for this one, and although I presume the budget was slightly smaller, he does manage one absolute gem of a scene, a car chase between Cordell – who is on fire the entire time! – and McKinney, plus his sidekick / love interest Dr Susan Fowler (Caitlin Dulany). And while we’re in the plus column, it’s fun to see a couple of big-ish names brought in for short cameos – Paul Gleason as the cop who wants Kate’s life support turned off, and Robert Forster as the doctor who agrees to do it. Plus, Robert Davi is again excellent, clearly loving being able to play a good guy for once.

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But we really need to discuss that “Alan Smithee” credit. Lustig’s original rough cut came in at 51 minutes (!) and when he was asked by the producers to film the extra scenes to bring it up to feature length, refused and walked off the production, never to return. It turns out the script was written for a black star, but someone decided black star = poor box office, and retrofitted it to be a “Maniac Cop” movie; also, Lustig refused to work with Laurene Landon again, so they had to introduce the Kate character. It sounded like a weird one.

 

One of those producers, Joel Soisson (whose recent career has been producing endless “Children of the Corn” and “Hellraiser” sequels) stepped in to finish things off – this must also have been tricky, as several of the scenes are very obviously outtakes from part 2. For instance, Cordell does the “walk up stairs while shooting cops” thing again, only in the footage used in part 3 you can see one of the corpses break his fall by grabbing onto the bannister. So, it’s disjointed, the voodoo thing makes less than no sense and it’s paced terribly – at around the 30 minute mark, you realise nothing remotely interesting has happened since Kate got shot. Even with reshoots and the intervention of professional “save our movie” editor Michael Elliot, it just feels unfinished.

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I think there’s a law of diminishing returns with slasher villains  (which Soisson no doubt understands very well). There comes a point, usually after part 2 of a franchise, where the hoops that need to be jumped through in order to bring the villain back for yet another instalment either slowly make even hardcore fans resentful, or bore the low-rent TV channels and video distributors who are their main customers. What, we’re not the customers? Oh, no. We’re the people whose goodwill towards previous entries is being sold, to scumbag businessmen who couldn’t give a toss about anything other than money. Michael Myers, Leatherface, Jason Voorhees, Pinhead…they’ve all been killed, for good this time, so often that it’s a joke. But the joke is on us (Freddy Krueger only escapes because he’s always been dead, and because his movies a cut above the others in terms of quality). Those guys are the parents of today’s endless sequel / reboot culture, because when part 7 of some godawful slasher franchise can make more money than a far superior original horror idea, movie companies realised that original ideas were a mug’s game.

 

Don’t know why “Maniac Cop 3” inspired that rant – possibly because parts 1 and (especially) 2 were so good. The stink of pointlessness is strong, even if it’s not an incredibly terrible movie, so I suggest just pretending the franchise ended after the second one. RIP Matt Cordell, you weird indestructible maniac cop, you.

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Rating: thumbs in the middle

Asteroid vs. Earth (2014)

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Now, I know I said this about the last Asylum film I watched, but I’ve definitely seen this one before, right? Perhaps it’s “Collision Earth” or an old episode of “Sliders” or perhaps, like the Matrix, I’ve begun to see behind the scenes to see the weird machine that churns out the plots for these movies. Or perhaps it’s…

THE SET! Making its fourth appearance in an Asylum movie – after “The 3 Musketeers”, “Super Cyclone” and “Airplane v. Volcano” (and probably a few others), is the circular room with wooden shutters, filled with computers and, usually, busy soldiers, scientists, whatever. The Kondelik Brothers, directors of “Airplane v. Volcano” were kind enough to tell me that it’s the San Pedro Water Treatment plant, so if you’re planning a tour of the venues of Asylum for your next holiday, be sure to add that to the list.

So, there’s an asteroid headed for Earth. Really, I hear you ask? It’s not just a weird title for a mature relationship drama, then? Even though it’s far too far away to have any sort of impact on the planet, the weather starts going screwy, which gives the Asylum the opportunity to use their stock footage again. Fair play to em, they’re getting pretty good at making it look like part of the movie. This weather turns Robert Davi’s house from perfectly normal to bombed-out-looking in about 30 seconds, but he just leaves his wife there (who’s young enough to be his granddaughter) when he gets called up to save the world (he’s an Army General, or something high up). He’s fairly unique in low-budget disaster movie Army guys because when the oddball genius spots the IMPENDING DISASTER, he believes him immediately and signs him up as a special adviser.

The other side of this film is an interesting threesome. First up is Tia Carrere as Marissa Knox, some sort of deep-sea scientist, and then there’s a couple of Marines- Lt Cmdr Chase Seward (Jason Brooks, the main guy from “Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys”) and Lt. Rudy (Wade F Wilson). Rudy acts as matchmmaker for Seward and Knox, and they go from being complete strangers to ready for lovin’ with the simple addition of several hours of drinking. On their way for some sex, they’re stopped by the Army, bundled in a car and taken to save the world – lucky coincidence, eh?

I’m getting bogged down in detail! Rudy is another interesting character, as he’s gay, stopping regularly to phone up his boyfriend (and his Mum). When he tells one of his fellow Marines that he’s gay, the response is “we know” and then everyone gets on with their jobs. Well done, this movie! The director is Christopher Ray, Asylum mainstay and son of cheap-o “master” Fred Olen Ray, so he ought to be commended for showing how gays in the military would be dealt with in an ideal world (no-one would care, either way).

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What he shouldn’t be commended for is what might politely be called a lack of polish in some scenes. Rudy and a few other Marines survive a meteor fragment hitting their base, and are tasked with taking a few nuclear warheads to a volcano – but it’s never really established where they are, how they’re getting to the volcano, and there’s a lot of scenes in their sub-plot that feel like they were filmed with very careful camera angles to hide the normal business going on all around them. Also, they don’t start on this mission til about 15 minutes before the end, so it all feels tacked on, like they realised they’d not filmed enough. Apart from this mission, the rest of the film doesn’t have tons of drama in it – smart and capable people behaving in smart and capable ways does not an exciting thriller make.

It’s not all bad, though. The acting is pretty solid, and the front cover has a pretty funny joke on it. Under the title is “The classic sci-fi thriller returns” – what? Is this a sequel to a film I was previously unaware of? Or are they just referring very specifically to other sci-fi thrillers, and how they’ve not had any classics in a while? A very confusing sentence if it’s not a joke from someone at the Asylum. Also, and I almost didn’t mention it because it shouldn’t be worth mentioning, but people of colour make up a majority of this film’s cast. It’s a good sign, I think, and it’s a shame we have to go to the lower-end of the budget / talent scale to find films where this is a thing and it’s not commented on (inside the film itself).

I don’t like nit-picking, but there are a couple of beautiful moments in this film. It features the greatest mobile phone in the history of mobile phones. Rudy is stood at the edge of a very active volcano, next to two nuclear warheads, on a deserted Japanese island. And he makes a call! Whatever provider he’s with, sign me up, because my reception cuts out if I go into a lift. Also, General Robert Davi liaises with his counterparts from Russia and China. Russia seems okay, but the location of the Chinese high-level military personnel? A lovely suburban living room, complete with swords on the wall and a pot of flowers in the background. WHAT?

Ultimately, the problem this film has isn’t its rather odd moments, but in the main narrative thrust. It’s just not particularly exciting, and they try and cram in too many sub-plots (not a problem I thought I’d ever have with an Asylum movie). Chase and Marissa actually get locked in a room for a decent portion of the film just so the film can concentrate on other people for a bit, but it’d have benefited from trimming their part even more and concentrating on Rudy, who’s clearly the film’s hero. If you’re really desperate for an Asylum fix, you could do worse, I suppose.

Rating: thumbs down