Sci-Fighters (1996)

I’m 100% sure the makers of “Sci-Fighters” came up with the title first and the plot second, without worrying about any of those pesky things like what it meant, if it made any sense, etc. Looking for a plot, they made an amalgam of “Blade Runner” and “Die Hard” (two movies with titles that also don’t make much sense); voila, another 1990s video shop classic is born.

It’s a fond return for one of the more long-lasting ISCFC genres, the “space prison” movie. So far, we’ve covered “Alien Space Avenger”, “Moonbase”, “Lockout”, “Assault on Dome 4”, “Starfire Mutiny”, “Total Reality”, “Critters”, “Fortress” 1 and 2, and probably a few others I’ve forgotten; I am prepared to go on the record to say I will watch pretty much anything set in a space prison. Although “Sci-Fighters” only uses it as a jumping off point, but makes sure to make it as confusing as possible, in case you had any crazy ideas about enjoying it or anything like that.

Billy Drago, one of the all-time great “That Guy” actors, is Adrian Dunn, in prison on the Moon, and because one of the other inmates steals a cigarette from him, he starts a circular saw fight (!) and ends up by beating the other guy to death. While trying to make it look like an accident after the fact, Dunn digs an alien parasite of some sort out of the dead guy and puts it in his arm, then “dies” from the exposure. He definitely does this deliberately, although why he does it and how he knows it will have any effect on him is a matter the movie chooses not to bother itself with.

Back on earth, our good friend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper is Detective Cameron Grayson, who’s a special cop with a black badge, which means he can investigate whatever he likes, no matter what his super-stereotypical Captain has to say about it. Thanks to some very crude exposition, we discover the Earth has been under a layer of night (called Econight, caused by volcanic ash maybe?) for 79 days, and everyone’s getting a bit tired of it. They try and simulate daylight by turning on as many lights as possible during the “daytime”, but it’s not working. Oh, and it’s 2009! I love a good “future that’s already happened” movie. He was partners with Dunn but they had a very unpleasant (and, at least initially, unspecified) falling-out, many years ago.

Turns out Grayson and Dunn were partners on the police, way back, and had an (at least initially unspecified) serious falling out some time ago. Presumably, before the being locked up in space prison thing? Anyway, Dunn is brought back to Earth for burial, but he revives thanks to his body’s guest and goes back to his old killing ways, while gradually deteriorating, both physically and mentally. The spore thing he carries inside him spreads, sort of a bit like “The Hidden” but not really, and Grayson has to stop him. To this end, he ropes in scientist Dr Kirbie Younger (Jayne Heitmeyer, “Earth: Final Conflict”)…

Okay, there’s a rather large and entirely pointless coincidence here. Turns out that Grayson’s dead wife, who he “stole” from Dunn and who Dunn then killed, looks exactly the same as Dr Kirbie. There are no flashbacks, and aside from one moment where she tries to convince Dunn she’s still alive and he should stop murdering people, it’s a sub-plot they do nothing with. I presume there was something left on the cutting room floor?

Anyway, there are no real surprises in store if you choose to watch this, just lots of bits cribbed from other, both better and worse, sci-fi / action movies. Piper and Drago are both excellent, pitching their performances perfectly for the material, and once again Heitmeyer shows she was wasted on cheap genre stuff like this. The OTT captain is lots of fun too, there are plenty of fun minor characters…but it’s really really slow in the middle, and the weird way the three main characters are linked ends up being rather annoying.

There’s some fun world-building, though, and you might be forgiven for expecting a sequel. Director Peter Svatek dipped his toe in these genre waters before becoming a TV movie guy, but writer Mark Sevi has previous ISCFC form, having given the world “Scanner Cop 2” and “Terminal Rush” (and lots of movies we really ought to cover). There’s plenty of talent involved, is what I’m getting at in a rather roundabout way. I’m just not sure any of them could be bothered in this instance – maybe there’s a really interesting story about the production? It just feels like they thought up a cool future-world, some great characters but then abandoned the script after writing a beginning and an end.

Not one you’re going to remember much a few days after seeing it, but still good fun. Ish.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Youtube Film Club: Tough And Deadly (1995)

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If you saw one half of “Tough and Deadly” and one of “Back In Action”, you could be forgiven for not realising you were watching two different movies. I mean, you’d have to not be paying very close attention, but when stars Billy Blanks and Roddy Piper, just after meeting in odd circumstances, start fighting each other, a fight which counts as character development (a virtually identical scene in both movies), it’s enough to make you wonder.

But the good thing is, they’re both loads of fun and definitely come recommended. Piper is a private eye by the name of Elmo Freech (ah, the 90s and their wackily named characters) and Billy Blanks is…well, for most of the movie he’s known as John Portland, a CIA agent who suffers amnesia after getting involved in a gun battle, being kidnapped then injected with some weird cocktail of drugs. Freech is ambulance chasing down at the hospital and sees Portland brought in, covered in blood – even though he was tied up and drugged, he was still badass enough to kick the ass of everyone in the car with him and crawl away from the wreckage.

 

ASIDE: The main difference between the two movies is the treatment of cars. You only had to look askew at a car in “Back In Action” and it would explode in comically over-the-top fashion, but in the intervening two years someone evidently learned cars don’t really do that. Thank you!

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Anyway, Freech rescues Portland from an assassination attempt at the hospital and the two of them start working together. We even get a training montage as Portland learns to use his muscles again, although way later in the movie he says angrily “I spent two years learning to use my body again!” Two years? There’s no way! If that’s not enough for you, let’s discuss the monstrous coincidence that powers this tale – Freech was a cop who was kicked off the force for trying to bust a drug dealer called Milan. Milan is working with the CIA to run drugs, including Trekkler (the great Phil Morris, “Seinfeld”, voice actor extraordinaire), who also worked with Portland and wants him dead! Really? You couldn’t have thought of a better way to weave these two tales together?

 

If you ignore all that nonsense, then “Tough And Deadly” delivers in spades. Fight after fight after fight…Freech does his good old fashioned bar-brawling style, and Portland does more spin-kicks than anyone in any movie ever. They even bust some front businesses of Milan’s, a similarity so close with “Back In Action” that I really hope they were made by the same company or someone should be suing.

vlcsnap-2015-05-23-20h14m11s421_grandeThird-billed is Richard Norton, the awesome Australian martial artist who we’ve enjoyed in “American Ninja”, “The Salute Of The Jugger”, both “China O’Brien” movies and “Mad Max: Fury Road”. He’s Milan’s main goon, and is sadly underused here, but he and Piper do have a similar haircut and shirt, so it’s only Piper’s stubble that tells them apart in long shots. James Karen, who you might remember from “Return Of The Living Dead”, is good guy CIA agent Winston Briggers. It’s a very male movie, with the only woman with more than a cameo being Lisa Stahl as Freech’s secretary (she’s 9th billed, indicating just how much of a sausage-fest it is). Talking of Stahl, when our heroes have to hide out at her place, she lives in a mansion, full of huge rooms and tasteful furnishings. All I can say is Freech must pay a little too well. Saying that…when we see Freech’s home, he’s got a tiny apartment with the only decoration being a poster on the wall that simply says “pasta sauce”. Huh?

 

I think this a slightly better movie than “Back In Action”, though. The two stars come together earlier, and seem much more comfortable with each other. Blanks even…dare I say it…acts a few times! Piper is really good, and I wish he’d lucked into something like a Shane Black movie back in the 90s and become the star he deserved to be. There’s not quite as much fighting, which is a good thing (you can only stand so much before your eyes start to glaze over), the acting is overall better and while the plot isn’t exactly taxing, it’s not like any of us would approach a movie with Billy chuffing Blanks in it called “Tough And Deadly” and expect more than what was given.

Is this necessary? Really?

Is this necessary? Really?

After complimenting the treatment of cars, we do get one of the biggest explosions in the history of B-movies, near the end, as a helicopter armed with a rail-gun blows the crap out of a drug-warehouse. No effect, either, they really blew up a massive warehouse. On that crescendo, I highly recommend this, it’s available for free and is plenty of fun.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Youtube Film Club: Back In Action (1993)

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Welcome, dear reader, to a mini-season of Rowdy Roddy Piper / Billy Blanks reviews. Okay, they only made two movies together, but the trailers looked so awesome I decided they deserved a bit of an introduction. Piper was a beloved former pro wrestler who moved into acting and made a pretty decent job of it, going back and forth between wrestling and acting for the rest of his life (he died in 2015). Blanks is a martial artist who got his break when, hired as a bodyguard for one of the actors in a movie shot in the Philippines in 1988, he impressed the producers so much they wrote him in. Despite being a shockingly bad actor, like malfunctioning robot bad, he had a pretty decent B-movie career until inventing the Tae-Bo fitness system turned him into a pop-culture phenomenon of sorts – we’ve already covered his performances in “TC-2000”, “No Retreat, No Surrender 4”, “Bloodfist” and “China O’Brien 2”. But what are they like…together?

Things kick off nicely, with a drug deal in a cemetery interrupted on multiple fronts – one, by Piper, as tough cop Frank Rossi, along with a van full of cops with shotguns; and the other, by Blanks, as the imaginatively named Billy, who’s the brother of the drug dealer’s lieutenant’s girlfriend Tara. That make sense? Blanks is, of course, a beast, but he’s also stealthy, managing to remove his sister from the crime scene without anyone realising he or she were there. Well, no-one on the good guys’ side, anyway. Piper witnesses the main drug dealer (or who we think is the main guy) gut his partner with a knife, just for good measure. Blanks takes Tara home and they have a big row cos she loves Gantry (the dealer’s lieutenant, played by Damon D’Olivera, who’s told to kill her but refuses) and their discussion on his background leads us to an aside…

 

…Special Forces soldiers in the movies! Low-budget cinema is lousy with guys who went through the super-tough Special Forces training and then quit the Armed Forces ten minutes later to become security guards or cab drivers or just drifters. I can’t help but think Special Forces needs better screening for its potential trainees, as they must lose so many guys who don’t seem like they’ve retired or even soldiered for that many years. Plus, they all suck at taking orders and playing by the rules, two things that’d be pretty important for a soldier. Anyway, Billy is one, which is the thing that explains how amazing he is at martial arts.

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Clearly, former SyFy Channel director Paul Ziller (“Metal Shifters”, “The Philadelphia Experiment”) and co-director Steve DiMarco (best known for TV) had seen “They Live” a few times, and wanted the kudos that classic got from its never-ending fight scene between the two stars. Frank and Billy go at it in a bar – Frank is there to see if he can get intel on the drug gang, Billy to retrieve his sister again – and it’s both not as long and nowhere near as good as its inspiration. Clash of styles, you see, even if it’s amazing to see Frank bust out some straight pro wrestling moves! But anyway, after holding guns on each other a few times and a bit more fighting, Piper comes round to Billy’s way of thinking, that way is murdering people rather than arresting them. When Tara disappears, Billy becomes a straight-up Punisher, slaughtering his way through the dealer’s front businesses.

 

Bobbie Phillips (“Murder One”, the “Chameleon” series of movies, and far too good for this trash) is the TV reporter who edits footage to help Frank out, and eventually becomes his love interest. She both causes and solves most of the problems – including doing an interview with Tara and Gantry, causing her to get kidnapped and tortured to give up their location. The dealers think they tipped off the cops, for some reason? If you’re wondering “why, in the middle of a gang war, would a TV station interview those two people?” then you’re on the same page as me.

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The crime-boss is an ISCFC favourite, Nigel Bennett (“Earth: Final Conflict”, “Forever Knight”) as Kasagian. He’s just your generic bad guy in this, no real character or interests, and he’s actually pretty divorced from the main plot as there’s a top drug dealer who does all the fighting. And boy oh boy, is there a lot of fighting! Every now and again, it looks like some plot is going to break out, but then they realise Blanks is definitely not an actor but he can kick ass so they just have him doing a load more of that. My notes just have “so, fighting, eh?” about ten times. One of the scenes, where Kasajian sends some badass dudes round to kill Billy, is almost perfect, as they appear to be twins with the same cheesy perm, moustache and Zubaz pants. Let’s see if I can find a screenshot of those fine gentlemen.

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Ultimately, it’s a solid B-movie, in the tradition of “Lethal Weapon” and “They Live” – if you’re going to borrow, might as well do it from the best. Piper is great, of course, Philips is excellent, Blanks is there, and while it’d have been cool to see Philips do more fighting (she’s an accomplished martial artist in her own right, not that you’d ever guess from watching this)  there’s not tons of complaining to do here. You know what you’re going to get, and you get plenty of it.

 

Rating: thumbs up

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Terminal Rush (1996)

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Long-term readers may remember our reviews of the “Bloodfist” series, 9 movies which mostly featured Don “The Dragon” Wilson, playing a variety of characters in a variety of environments. It could have been a “Bloodfist”, I suppose – released the same year as “Bloodfist 8”, it bears the same relation to the rest of the series as that one does (none whatsoever). “Terminal Rush” does bear a passing resemblance to one of the more enduring B-movie templates of all time, but more on that later.

 

“They’d have to be a real nutcase” to try and take over the Hoover dam, says a cop near the beginning. Luckily, the movies are lousy with erudite nutcases who want to blow things up and steal things and make a ton of money from doing so, and “Terminal Rush” is no different. Harrison Dekker (Michael Anderson Jr, “Logan’s Run”) leads a team of mercenaries into the Dam, killing some guards, taking others hostage and threatening to blow the dam up unless he gets $25 million. His sidekick is Bartel (the late, great “Rowdy” Roddy Piper) and if you’ve seen any promotional images for this movie, you’ll have noticed Bartel’s rather unusual make-up choices.

 

Wilson is local Sheriff’s Deputy Jacob Harper (who spent 6 years in Special Forces, we are helpfully told at one point) and he seems to like the life in whatever small town it is that’s next to Hoover Dam. Unfortunately, his wife Katherine (Kate Greenhouse) doesn’t, I guess – it’s never really elaborated on – and as the movie begins, she’s packing her stuff to move out. She wants Jacob to go with her, but he won’t because his grandfather told him his destiny is to perform an act of great heroism in this town. We discover later that she’s pregnant, and her brother is one of the other Deputies, so her insistence on leaving town right at that moment feels a bit off; but literally no-one in the universe is watching this for accuracy in the depiction of marriage, so I won’t dwell on it too much.

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As you’ve probably guessed by now, it’s a “Die Hard” clone, with a bit of “Under Siege” thrown in for good measure. Don finds out that the Dam has been taken over so goes in through a secret maintenance tunnel and starts kicking ass. The FBI are brought in, and they try and stop him; then the Sheriff asks for the Army to be brought in too. In a moderately interesting twist, it seems some of the people on the outside are working for the people inside, and $25 million isn’t going to make much of a difference divided that many ways, so there’s a whole other reason for them being there and a whole lot more money to be made. Can Jacob stop them all? Can Dekker stop doing that thing where the villain shoots one of his own guys in cold blood to prove a point to the other guys?

 

There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be decent – I’ve liked a lot of those cheap ripoff movies, think Don Wilson is a decent enough actor and a great martial artist, and love Roddy Piper. It just feels like a cover version with no soul, though. Take the gunfire scenes (please) and watch how many people appear to be just firing randomly into the air. Or, even with a complete amateur’s limited knowledge of tactics, how stupid they all seem (set yourself in position before you start firing, don’t run and gun from the hip, you’ll never hit the bloke). It’s mostly in one of those disused factories that we B-movie fans know and love, but there’s no sense of where people are in relation to other people…

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It’s just poorly directed. Full of Dutch angles, and that thing where people are shot from a camera which appears to be sat on the floor, meaning we see up a lot of noses. Lord knows why, it becomes irritating really quickly. Director Damian Lee is in regular work (and made ISCFC non-favourite “Ski School”, among others), making those thrillers you’d see on the video shop shelves starring former big stars who still have some name recognition (Dominic Purcell, Andy Garcia, Forrest Whittaker, Cuba Gooding Jr, Christian Slater), and maybe he got better, but this is just bland. Even Piper is sort of bland in this, like he got the weird face-paint but wasn’t allowed to go over the top at all.

 

A word about screenwriter Mark Sevi, who seems to have written more sequels than any other writer ever. To list his first seven credits: Excessive Force II: Force on Force; Dream a Little Dream 2; Scanner Cop II; Relentless IV: Ashes to Ashes; Ghoulies IV; Fast Getaway II; Class of 1999 II: The Substitute; Dead On: Relentless II. “Terminal Rush” was only his second original screenplay – well, okay, “original” is pushing the definition a bit much.

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I expected the ending to be “well, husband, you’re good at your job, therefore I love you again” but they did a surprising (and quite welcome) twist on that sad sexist old trope. It is, unfortunately, the only remotely surprising thing about the movie, and while it’s certainly tolerable, it’s just a bit too amateurish. When you have a movie where Roddy Piper gets to blow up helicopters with a rocket launcher and you’re not grinning from ear to ear at the end, you’ve done something wrong.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Pro Wrestlers vs Zombies (2014)

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I have complained in the past about movies which feel like they were designed for a very specific audience, and I wasn’t part of that audience; but here comes a movie where I get most of the deep-inside references, am familiar with nearly every one of the cast and am a long-term fan of the activity portrayed. So this should be great for me, right?

 

Oh dear me, this was absolutely terrible. It only has its concept going for it – indeed, most of its positive reviews state “pro wrestlers vs. zombies, what more do you need?” – and fails miserably in every possible way. I was about to say that I felt bad for the people who committed to the Kickstarter for this movie, but screw ‘em as it was never going to be anything other than terrible and they all deserved to lose their money. Anyway, let’s recap. This review will be full of spoilers, so if you’ve not seen this yet, congratulations.

 

We start off at a wrestling show, where some formerly famous guys, now working in front of 30 bored people in a high school gym, display their skills. Given the number of zombie extras in this movie, they really should have got some of them in to pack the audience of this show as it looks absolutely terrible, beyond low rent. “The Franchise” Shane Douglas, former star of WCW and ECW, kills a guy in the ring after seeing him kissing his girlfriend in the locker room, but unfortunately this guy has a brother, Angus, who chooses to perform with a shockingly bad Irish accent (well, that’s not the unfortunate part).

Feel the atmosphere of that packed house!

Feel the atmosphere of that packed house!

Angus wants revenge on the Franchise so, rather than shooting him or anything sensible like that, formulates a somewhat different plan. I know, everyone who’s wronged does this, so I barely even need to recap it, but he makes a deal with a demon who gives him the power to raise the dead; then pays the local wrestling promoter a wad of cash to send Douglas, the dead guy’s former girlfriend (who left him for Douglas, or something) and a bunch of random wrestlers, to a show in a disused prison. That the promoter offers him a bunch of fairly famous guys when he had no reason to, cutting into his profit, is like the tenth stupidest thing this movie does. Anyway, while they’re on the bus to the show, Angus sends his zombies to kill Douglas’ entire family, then ships those zombies to the wrestling show, where he creates a bunch more zombies; then sets his horde of the undead on the assembled pro wrestlers.

 

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper is one of the most famous pro wrestlers in history, who quit being a full-time bone-bender in the late 80s to concentrate on movies (although he came back plenty of times, often for extended periods). He remained a legit B-movie leading man for the rest of his life (his last starring role, best as I can see, was in 2012), so it’s super-sad to see him in this, presumably done as a favour to one of his old wrestling buddies. His part, originally written for Mick Foley, is sort of the romantic lead for the movie, which with the substantial age difference feels curious at best. His lady friend is Sarah (Adrienne Fisher, the only person who looks like she’s trying throughout) and her arc is a tad…under-developed? She gets a job with Angus, as her marketing savvy will take pro wrestling to the top, but Angus isn’t interested in the wrestling biz as much as he is in slaughtering two particular pro wrestlers. Or did I mis-remember that bit? I’m certainly not going back to check. Anyway, either Angus or the neck-bearded promoter (who’s the writer-director of this movie, in case you ever see him on the street and have a bag of flaming poop close at hand) takes her into the back room for a blow job, and then she just joins the wrestlers on the bus the next day, for no reason other than “why not?” Luckily, she’s an extreme badass – way better than most of the male professional fighters – and bonds with Roddy quickly.

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Oh, when the wrestlers arrive at the prison, the driver (who is also the demon) tells them first to surrender their phones, that these fights will not be predetermined, and the prize for victory will be wealth beyond their wildest dreams. Now, if I’m any of those pro wrestlers, who rely on being physically able to work multiple times a week, and was presented with a plan that shady, I would be telling the bus to turn around and take me home. No doubt. But because the script said so, these guys are all fine and trot off inside, where they’re almost immediately set upon by the undead.

 

So, by 32 minutes, it’s full on war, as the prison is packed full of pro wrestlers and zombies; and for the next hour or so, we’re treated to the same thing, over and over again. Group of people run, fight zombies, and either die or escape to run, fight and die slightly later. One chap, the “Neon Ninja” Michael Façade, got a lot of time to showcase his wrestling skills on a variety of zombies, and I hope he did quite well out of his appearance (although the fact I had to look his name up indicates otherwise). We’re treated to some extremely well-preserved civil war dead later on, people turning on each other to save their own skins, and revelations about Angus’s plan – sadly, no-one goes “hold on, slaughtering hundreds of people seems a bit over the top just to get to the guy who killed your brother and his slutty ex-girlfriend, doesn’t it?”

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How do the pro wrestlers do in this? Roddy Piper is, of course, excellent, doing world-weariness well; although he has a scene where he attacks a zombie while sporting a completely blank expression, a shot he must have expected would be cut from the final movie. Shane Douglas tries but can’t really act, Kurt Angle is decent in his few scenes, and Matt Hardy seems high the entire time. Some of the indie guys are fun, like The Mountain, and I had a soft spot for “Thomas Rodman”, who may well be a brother of the famous Dennis (who has at least 20 brothers and half-brothers, apparently), and certainly dresses and acts like him. The non-wrestlers are, excepting Adrienne Fisher, absolutely terrible, with nothing to set them apart from every other garbage non-professional bargain basement horror movie cast ever.

 

Obviously, only pro wrestling fans will be watching “Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies”, so it’s kind of unfair to judge it the way you would a normal movie. They’re not trying to rip people off here, it does exactly what the title says it will, but…boy oh boy, this is still such a bad movie. If they’d bothered to have the pro wrestlers and zombies actually wrestle, then resort to run, fight, eat when the wrestlers started beating them, it could have been a lot of fun; as it is, it was just one thing, over and over again, which made it feel a hell of a lot longer than it actually was – I checked the clock, convinced there were maybe ten minutes left, to find I was barely at the halfway mark, and groaned.

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After a brief moment to ponder the ending (killing all my friends, hundreds of zombies, then bringing down a demon gets me pretty horny too), would I recommend this movie? Nah. Even the hardest-core of wrestling fans among you would be better off re-watching a classic Roddy Piper movie than popping this on. Don’t let people make money by pandering to you. Demand better.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Immortal Combat (1994)

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If you were thinking of watching a movie to celebrate the life of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, then of course you’d pick “They Live” first, because you’re a discerning movie fan. But, you might then get fooled by some hot garbage like “Hell Comes To Frogtown”, so you’ll need a palate cleanser. Ladies and gentlemen, “Immortal Combat” is the movie for you. It’s a glorious, unapologetically cheesy bit of fun, you can watch it on Youtube, and even the IMDB description is amazing and no-nonsense: “Rowdy Roddy Piper and Sonny Chiba battle an army of immortal ninja warriors.” Boom!

 

It’s also a reunion of Piper and his “They Live” co-star Meg Foster; in that movie, you thought she was a rum ‘un but she ended up good, but in this one she’s villainous down to her bones. She’s in control of perhaps the greatest overactor in history, Deron McBee (who was also “Motaro” in the second Mortal Kombat movie, weirdly), playing “Muller”, aka The Signature Killer, who practices a martial art in which about 50% of it is posing in the weirdest ways possible. They’re doing some suspiciously “The Most Dangerous Game”-style activity, chasing a hugely muscled Asian guy through a forest, but we don’t need to worry about that for the moment!

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Roddy Piper and Japanese action movie superstar Sonny Chiba are a couple of cops. I think, due to Chiba’s incredibly thick accent, they make out he’s some transfer cop from Tokyo PD, but to all intents and purposes they’re the classic buddy-cop duo, and what Chiba lacks in command of English he makes up for in everything else – great body language, looks, and of course amazing martial arts skill, even at his age (55 at the time of filming). They go to some mansion for some reason, and the opening of the movie is framed as Piper and another different Japanese cop telling Piper’s captain about what went down. He meets evil Meg Foster, gets involved in an impromptu kumite (yes!) and generally brawl their way round this super-fancy party. This opening segment is, of course, awesome. JJ (Chiba) spends most of his time looking on sarcastically as Piper keeps fighting, before pulling a sword out and going to town on the guards (using the flat bit of the blade so he doesn’t kill anyone, natch).

 

JJ gets shot in the melee, though, which leads to what I assume was some “we can only get Chiba for a week” work-round from the producers. He spends the entire middle section of the movie absent from the main action, rehabbing his shoulder, doing mystical martial arts stuff, and dealing with his beautiful and entirely non-Asian daughter, who has something to do with why he won’t use a gun or kill anyone (luckily, he gets over that before the end).

I could watch an entire movie of him posing and kicking ass

I could watch an entire movie of him posing and kicking ass

Roddy, on the other hand, is off to the Caribbean island of Santa Marta, and while he’s on the boat there he rescues the beautiful Karen from some sleazy asshole, and it turns out she’s got an undercover reason for being there too. He also befriends a big jocular fighter called Yanagi. Now, imagine who might play a character called Yanagi – if you said Tiny Lister, the black American guy, then award yourself a prize. Seriously, they couldn’t change the name when they recast the part? It turns out when he’s not snorting and growling, Tiny Lister can act quite well, but I think credit must go to Piper for immediately establishing an easy chemistry with his partner, the obvious future love interest and the cannon fodder (spoiler!)

 

The actual plot, not that it really matters, is centred on some splendid “huh?” science. The Mayans developed some serum that turns you into an invincible warrior – the only drawback being that to prepare the brain for it, you need to get hunted and killed by some other warriors (hence the “Most Dangerous Game” references). Luckily, no-one says “hey, if the Mayans had this, how come they died out?” You can kill them, apparently, by setting them on fire or chopping their heads off, so maybe that’s why…

 

Luckily JJ comes back to help near the end, leaving you to ponder such questions as “how did he get a suitcase full of ninja gear through customs?” and “seriously, these two are the subject of an ancient prophecy?” (yes, there’s a prophecy in it, and it’s completely irrelevant to the plot just like any good prophecy should be). The daft sense of humour and the easy rapport between the two stars carries on throughout, the action’s great…seriously, it’s just loads of silly B-movie fun.

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I’ve not even discussed all the stuff going on in this movie – it’s surprisingly packed with incident. Like how the title is a dumb play on words for the computer game / movie “Mortal Kombat”, which was pretty big at the time (I’m guessing the kumite stuff, which really has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, was a vague attempt to make it slightly similar). Plus, if you’re a pro wrestling fan, there’s a small cameo from “Love Machine” Art Barr and an even smaller one from Chris Jericho, both of whom were wrestling nearby and came to the set to visit their friend.

 

Piper knew what he was good at – easy comedy, good old violent action – and stuck to it; it’s a movie like this that should be used to celebrate his life. It’s full of action, it’s funny, it’s trashy entertainment with everyone involved having an absolute blast. Plus, it’s got Sonny Chiba in it! He’s amazing, and sometimes you genuinely can’t tell if he’s speaking English or not, so thick is his accent!

 

Rating: thumbs up

Hell Comes To Frogtown (1988)

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It was with heavy heart that I learned of the death of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper last week. One of the all-time great wrestlers, without him providing Hulk Hogan with a memorable foil, allowing Wrestlemania to be the enormous event it was, pro wrestling would look very different today. His autobiography is perhaps the most “wrestling” of all of them (except Hogan’s himself) as it’s a tissue of lies from beginning to end; but one shouldn’t let that detract from the life of one of the nicest guys in the history of the sport.

Like most of his fans, I watched “They Live” almost immediately on hearing of his death. It’s one of the greatest sci-fi / conspiracy thrillers ever and Piper plays the everyman ass-kicker to a T (plus, could you imagine a 2015 movie where an honest, hard-working, homeless guy is the hero?) A couple of days later, a group of my friends congregated to watch another of his movies, the one he made at nearly the same time and that we all, with our faulty 25-year-old memories, remembered as being almost as good. So how does it hold up?

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Never trust your memories, kids (this equally applies to ex-partners when you start to think “they weren’t so bad”). Anyway, what we have here is a reverse “Handmaid’s Tale” where, after two nuclear holocausts in quick succession, mankind has been pretty much wiped out. The vast majority of who’s left is infertile, but as there are way fewer men left, fertile men are very much sought after, and luckily Sam Hell (Piper) has the strongest sperm the Government has ever seen. So, he gets given a metal chastity-belt-style protector for his groinal environs- which also has a bomb in it, in case he decides Government duty isn’t the life for him – and is sent off into the wilderness. He’s accompanied by Government rep Spangle (Sandahl Bergman, probably better known as a dancer) and soldier Centinella (Cec Verrell), and his job is to impregnate the relatively few surviving women, and to rescue a small group of women from the clutches of Frogtown.

Frogtown is a town made up mostly of mutated frog people, so not just a clever name – some of the frog-heads look quite good, most of them look absolutely awful. For no reason, Bull (the main frog baddie) has a harem of human women, and it’s up to Sam Hell and Spangle (Centinella spends most of the movie waiting outside the town for a signal to attack, also for no reason) to rescue them and do their bit to save humanity. It’s a surprisingly campy sort of comedy, as Hell deals with wearing a metal thong, horny women, old male soldiers who remember the good old days, and the post-apocalyptic wasteland. When they get to Frogtown, they uncover arms smuggling, a frog with three penises, the evil and mysterious Count Sodom, and the world’s most rubbish bar. Will they succeed? Will Sam Hell get to sleep with every woman in the movie? And just who is under Count Sodom’s mask?

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One name, as it came onto the screen at the beginning, filled me with dread. That name- writer/director/producer Donald G Jackson. Jackson has one half-decent credit to his name (the pro wrestling documentary “I Like To Hurt People”) but after that seemed to develop an odd obsession with roller-blading. Along with Scott Shaw, Jackson made “Roller Blade”, “The Roller Blade Seven,” Return of the Roller Blade Seven”, and “Legend Of The Roller Blade Seven” (plus a few other movies with “roller” in the title that look suspicious); this is on top of a couple of in-name-only sequels to this movie, with Shaw taking over the Piper role. They began calling themselves “zen filmmakers”, but unless “zen” now means “absolutely rubbish” I can’t see where that claim comes from. “The Roller Blade Seven” is in the running for worst movie of all time, with its endlessly repeated scenes, bog-standard acting and crappy meaningless plot – actually, saying “worst of all time” indicates it’s worth watching in some sort of perverse way. It’s not, so don’t blame me if you pop it on one evening expecting a few laughs. It will suck laughs from the rest of your life.

While “Hell Comes To Frogtown” isn’t quite as bad as any of the “Roller Blade Seven” movies, it’s still pretty bad. Piper is naturally great, of course, even if he’s given a lot of poor quality wacky slapstick-y comedy bits to do; but everyone else is just terrible, and I’m going to lay most of the blame on  the director. He loves shooting those empty desolate desert-scapes, but after a while it all starts to look the same, and you notice it’s just flat shots of stuff you can see if you drive an hour out of Los Angeles, with nothing interesting to add at all.

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By far the worst crime though, in a movie full of them, is sexism. A movie, written produced and directed by a man, about a world now dominated by women – first thing we see is the new Army vehicles are bright pink. Because they’re girls!!! HAHAHAHAHA!! Near the beginning, they capture a desert-dwelling woman, and realising she’s fertile and of age, drug her and get Sam to impregnate her. I guess it’s not rape because she’s super-happy the next morning? Every woman in the movie is awful and useless and is just waiting for the big strong guy to come and rescue them and it really begins to grate after a while. The last line, supposedly there to generate a laugh, is when Spangle (who’s now Sam’s girlfriend, I guess?) tells him his next job is to have sex with all the women they rescued. He looks dejected and says “a soldier’s work is never done”. Now, the saying is “a woman’s work is never done”, so do you think the director knew this and was making a “joke” or had he just heard it once, sort of remembered it and decided to bung it in the end of his garbage movie?

There’s a moderate-to-large plot hole that derails the movie the instant you think about it. Sam Hell is extremely valuable, right? So what’s the best way of utilising his ability – is it:

a. Send him off into the dangerous wilderness to impregnate women, on the off chance he finds them and that they’re at the most fertile time of the month

or

b. Keep him safe and send the women to him, testing them to make sure it’s the optimal time to procreate?

Of course, B is the most sensible choice, yet the movie chooses A (and also pretends that artificial insemination wouldn’t exist in a world where every remaining scientist would be working on fertility technology). Ah, dammit, I’ve given this garbage movie too much thought.

You don’t need to believe in female equality to hate “Hell Comes To Frogtown” though, you just need eyes, ears preferably, and to have seen other movies. It’s just terrible, boring, not funny, not dramatic, slow and stupid. A half-funny title desperately in search of a movie to attach itself to.

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Rating: thumbs down

They Live (1988)

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Directed by: John Carpenter

In recent years many professional wrestlers have tried to branch out into acting, and aside from Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson few have succeeded. An indicator for potential success of a wrestler transitioning into acting is to look back at the promo work of a wrestler during the in-ring career. Good talkers, those who are able to sell a wrestling feud are likely to be able to transition into the world of acting. Charisma counts. Which is why bulky charisma vacuums like John Cena, Randy Orton and Ted DiBiase Jr., who all have been used in the dire ‘Marine’ franchise, have flopped, and been unable to build any kind of career outside the squared circle.

So when Rowdy Roddy Piper popped up in John Carpenter’s ‘They Live’ I had reasonably high hopes. Piper’s manic ‘Pipers Pit’ segments were memorable before WWF became WWE, and if any professional wrestler could be the lead actor in a film about sticking it to the man than Roddy piper would be that guy. In ‘They Live’ Piper plays the unnamed loner who in the credits is identified as Nada.

Basically John Carpenter offers up an unsubtle sci-fi critique on consumer culture and corporate greed in the eighties. Carpenter reflects what was going on under the government of Ronald Reagan, as American tried to puff out its chest and reassert itself as a major player after the torrid seventies.

Nada uncovers that the bankers, cops, and upper crust who control the city are aliens. He notices that after putting on a cheap looking pair of magical sunglasses (oh, gosh I’m affected by consumerism enough to bash Nada’s shades) which reveal subliminal messages on billboards and who the aliens are. Business picks up when Nada kills two policemen, who are aliens, nicks their guns and goes on the run.

In the early part of the film Nada does some hard labouring for a low wage, he becomes buddies with another construction worker called Frank (Keith David), a noble worker bee who just wants to keep his head down and earn money for his family. There’s a wonderfully long fight scene between Nada and Frank midway through the movie down some grim alleyway, as Nada tries to get Frank to look through the sunglasses and see the truth. The fight feels endless, a real tiring slog. At one stage Roddy Piper executes a beautiful back body drop.

As a cultural commentary ‘They Live’ is relevant today. Last week it got a mention in Charlie Brooker’s ‘Weekly Wipe’ show on the Beeb. When you think about the financial crisis, the recession, the snoopy spying of GCHQ and the already forgotten Occupy movement; you could argue that in true cinema fashion it’s due for a remake to reflect these dystopian times. There’s certainly an almost hypnotic quality to YouTube Vloggers dropping products to their millions of followers and people being pacified by a steady stream of distractions, all brought to us as we stare blankly at our electronic devices, continuing to buy buy buy.

But what ‘They Live’ teaches us is that though one may become enlightened; trying to convince other people about the so called ‘truth’ is almost impossible. Carpenter spins an entertaining yarn, and Roddy Piper surprises everyone by being a strong lead who drops a several quotable one liners.

– RJW

7/10

They Live on IMDB