Split Second (1992)

Now THAT's a tagline

Now THAT’s a tagline

This is another “video shop classic”, one of those movies that always seemed to be on the shelves of little video shops, a guaranteed good time if you couldn’t find anything else to rent. From the mid 80s to the early 00s, we lucky people got to pick from the finest the world had to offer – which usually meant a couple of shelves of new releases and loads of cheap, ugly looking guff. One of the signs that you might be on to a winner is the presence of Rutger Hauer, and with the decent-sized budgets you could get for B-movies back then, all signs were positive.

 

What we have here is the very height of the global warming panic. While we’re still determined to kill our planet off, it would seem, no-one’s panicking about it any more, but back then we gave a damn and there were lots of movies and TV shows that dealt with the potential environmental devastation. Set in 2008, it must have seemed horribly believable, as 40 days of torrential rain have left huge areas of London under a few feet of water; plus, the smog has caused a permanent twilight (handy when you can only film at night but need to do stuff that’s happening in the daytime). Unfortunately, a serial killer who tears out hearts is operating in London, and only one man can stop the killings.

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Hauer is Harley Stone, perhaps the most amazing amalgam of hard-bitten cop clichés ever assembled on film. He’s a recovering alcoholic, and exists, according to the captain, on “anxiety, coffee and chocolate”. He never cleans his apartment, to the extent it would be pretty difficult to have that filthy a home and never do anything about it, and has a lovely complicated backstory. He had an affair with his partner’s wife Michelle, then his partner was killed by that same serial killer who Stone was unable to catch, then he dumped Michelle soon after! He’s got a gigantic gun that’s not regulation, of course, and is the bane of his captain’s existence. There are so many ludicrous elements to his character that it has to be a joke, a parody of how these things normally go, and it’s handled marvellously by Hauer. My favourite bit is him storming down a corridor at the police station, and shouting “outta my way, you fucks!”…at his co-workers.

 

The rest of the cast are a combination of British character actors and a few American imports. Playing his new partner, the super-smart Dick Durkin, is Neil Duncan; the captain is Alun Armstrong and the duty sergeant and main Stone-hater is Pete Postlethwaite. Michelle shows up halfway through and even though I saw her name on the opening credits, it’s still a surprise to see Kim Cattrall in something like this. A couple of small roles for Ian Dury and Michael J Pollard, and you’ve got yourself (by relative standards) an extremely strong cast.

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It’s a serial killer thriller set in the near future, basically, with – I guess – a small intimation that it’s some sort of modern incarnation of Jack The Ripper. When they get sent a heart in the mail and discover that the bite marks look like nothing more than a gigantic rat, though, things start to get very curious indeed. Stone, thanks to a series of scars inflicted by the creature while trying to save his partner, has some sort of psychic link, and there’s a whole thing about the creature stealing DNA from its victims and never leaving a job undone, which is why he’s slowly chasing down Stone. But a lot of the movie is just the fun of setting a fairly standard cops-chase-the-killer thriller in a strange environment.

 

Of course, no-one’s ever going to mistake this for a classic. But an awful lot of the reviews seem to think the over-the-top-ness of it all is an accident and should be mocked; and discount the surprisingly decent comedy between Stone, Durkin and Michelle (one scene between Hauer and Duncan had Duncan corpsing, but Hauer held it together so well they decided to keep it in the movie). The arc of Durkin, from super straight-laced partner to Stone mk 2, is both completely obvious and very well-done. Plus, Kim Cattrall is really good in this – it’s sort of easy to forget with her more famous roles that she has some decent range, and does really well here.

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“Well, Satan is in deep shit”. If he’s got Rutger Hauer with a grenade powerful enough to destroy a city block to contend with, then you’d better believe it.  A film packed with ridiculous one-liners, aware of how silly it is at every juncture and absolutely tons of fun. Always nice to see a science-fiction action movie set in London, too (and really filmed there, at least in part). A surprising amount of movie in this movie, too – at the point most B-movies would be wrapping things up, there’s still half an hour to go. Plus, if you can tell me why the movie’s called “Split Second”, I’ll give you a prize. Honestly.

 

It was directed by the same bloke who made the very early Miramax movie “The Burning”, this and very little else, Tony Maylam; however, writer Gary Scott Thompson is a more interesting fella. He was producer and writer on TV show “Las Vegas”, showrunner on the new “Knight Rider”, and wrote “The Fast And The Furious”, which means depending on the contract he signed, he’s a very rich man indeed.

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Rating: thumbs up

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Omega Doom (1996)

That Hauer picture is from a different movie

That Hauer picture is from a different movie

If there’s a movie you don’t want to be reminded of, it’s “Nemesis 4”. Boy oh boy, does that movie suck, although surprisingly suckiness is not the primary reminder here. We’re talking location, and if you remember Nemesis 4 (pray you don’t) then you’ll remember the large, bombed out town square, the one side street and the numerous rubble-strewn buildings. I imagine Eastern Europe was lousy with such places in the 1990s (although they do look very very similar), and low-budget auteurs like our friend Albert Pyun took advantage.

 

Oh yes, that’s the slightly more important link. In 1996, Pyun made both this and “Nemesis 4”, so best guess is he shot them both at the same time in the same location (I bet he begged Rutger Hauer to show up in the other one too). So, thanks to my punishment-gluttony, we’ve got another 90s post-apocalyptic Pyun-helmed robot B-movie to enjoy!

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Hauer is Omega Doom, although he’s never referred to by that name in the course of the movie. There’s a voiceover at the beginning, the classic scumbag’s trick when your movie doesn’t make sense and you need to explain it – this is a war between robots (yes, they’re called robots throughout, no-one says “cyborg”) and humans, and the robots win. The last human soldier shoots Hauer, and it wipes his memory and evil directives, so he becomes a nameless wanderer.

 

In the meantime, the robots have split into factions and are feuding with each other over…god knows. What do robots need, exactly? They drink water every now and again, but I get the feeling that’s just because they had a bar set and couldn’t think of anything else to do with it. So, there’s the Droids (who look like yer average post-apocalyptic people) and the Roms (who all look like Carrie-Anne Moss from “The Matrix”), a bartender, a bloke who keeps getting his head kicked off (called “The Head”) and Hauer.

No, that's a great effect :)

No, that’s a great effect 🙂

Basically, it’s a retelling of “Yojimbo” / “A Fistful Of Dollars”, where an unnamed stranger walks into town, plays both sides off against each other, leaves the few good people unscathed and walks off into the sunset. As soon as this (not particularly original) thought had settled in my head, I became annoyed, because both those movies are masterpieces of cinema, and this is some pile of garbage made by one of the worst regularly working directors in history. It did nothing interesting or original with the central idea, either, and in fact making all the characters robots made it significantly stupider. There’s not a single human being in this movie, despite their motivation to find the MacGuffin (a cache of weapons) being a rumour that some humans survived and are starting an army.

 

It’s also not terribly exciting. My wife turned to me at about the halfway point and went “shouldn’t there be some fighting?” – given our last Pyun review, “Knights”, was nothing but fighting for the last half-hour, I wish he’d balance his movies a bit better. Because his plan is screamingly obvious, even to someone who’s never seen “A Fistful Of Dollars”, too much of the movie is just waiting around for him to wrap up his plan and bugger off.

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So you’ve got a movie with no-one to cheer for, which is ugly, boring and full of plot holes. Is there anything to recommend? Well, there’s Rutger Hauer. He’s one of my favourite actors, and has been in some of the greatest genre movies ever (including sleeper classic “The Salute Of The Jugger”), and while he’s sleepwalking through most of this, he’s always fun to watch. And there are a couple of decent supporting performances too, such as Tina Cote as the Rom leader, and Jahi Zuri as one of the Droids, a fine and OTT turn.

 

I know this will come as no surprise to anyone, and I could have saved myself 90 minutes, but I don’t recommend this movie. Unless you’re a reviewer trying to entertain people by writing about it, steer clear. In fact, go watch “The Salute Of The Jugger” again! That movie is amazing! As a “one last thing” idea, the original idea was for this movie to be set at Euro-Disney, and the gangs of robots would have been the animatronic Disney workers, left running for centuries after the apocalypse. Now that might have been interesting.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Bleeders (1997)

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HP Lovecraft’s short story “The Lurking Fear” has already been covered twice by us at the ISCFC, in 1989’s “Dark Heritage” and 1994’s “Lurking Fear”, and it’s a fascinating exercise in how different groups treat the same source material. “Dark Heritage” sticks closest while giving us a ton of gay subtext; “Lurking Fear” sadly doesn’t have much lurking or fear in it, relegating Lovecraft’s story to the B-plot, opposed to an A-plot about bank robbers hiding their stash in a graveyard; and now “Bleeders” (aka “Hemoglobin”) uses the main beats  – underground-dwelling de-evolved trolls, family with heterochromia (two different-coloured eyes) – and uses them to tell yet another different story. But who wins the “Lurking Fear Adaptation Competition”?

 

On a beautiful clear day – surprising for a Lovecraft story – a bored sounding narrator accompanies a boat sailing into a small town’s harbour. The Van Daam family moved to the USA a couple of centuries ago, to escape the people in Europe who weren’t thrilled by incest; after keeping completely to themselves for centuries, if you know what I mean, they eventually died off in the 1920s, and their mansion has sat empty ever since. John and Kathleen Strauss, the couple on the boat are a curious pair, partly because they have absolutely zero chemistry, partly because John spends a good two-thirds of the movie either unconscious or laying about, sickly-looking.  At the same time, the town’s cheapskate undertaker has been forced to dig up all the town’s corpses due to her substandard coffins, but hasn’t learned her lesson, and decides to re-bury a few of them on the Van Daam land, because screw them, they’re all dead, right?

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The ugliest, cheapest looking trolls it’s ever been my misfortune to see are annoyed at the removal of the coffins, so they start to move further afield than their warren of tunnels underneath the town; and there lies the movie. Rutger Hauer, who was presumably in town, had a few spare days and needed the cash, plays the doctor who tries to figure out what’s wrong with John, autopsies a troll and discovers – shock horror! – both sets of sex organs, and generally acts like the only person in town who has a clue. Will John (well, his wife) find his family? Why are his eyes different colours? If you’ve read the other reviews or seen the other movies, you’ll know already but don’t spoil it for everyone else.

 

One question you don’t get the answer to is “why are there virtually no men in this town?” The grave-digging crew is all women, and the only men left are Hauer and an old drunk fella. A reference is made to them all being out on a fishing trip, and it’s not like anything creepy is going on as there are kids around, but it feels weird, like they decided to change the plot three-quarters of the way through filming and left this in as a massive red herring.

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Lovecraft’s stories are perfect for TV and movie adaptation, because there’s interesting locations, not too much in the way of “special effects” (with a few notable examples, of course), and they often have a narrator character who can be turned into the typical movie leading man with no problems. That’s the case with the story here, but for some reason “Bleeders” has gotten rid of that chap and replaced him with…nobody, really. And that’s a pretty substantial problem – who’s the lead in this movie? It’s not John, as he’s mostly comatose. It’s not his wife, as she’s just there to help him, forgives him remarkably quickly for trying to rape her, etc. Hauer’s only in it for 15 minutes or so and there’s no-one else who does much of anything. Not all movies need the classic protagonist, but this is a story designed to have one!

 

Add to this barrel of laughs a complete “TV movie” feel in terms of acting and cinematography, and perhaps the ugliest most stupid ending I’ve seen in a long time, and you’ve got yourself a loser. Honestly, and it surprises me to say this, but I’d rather watch “Dark Heritage” again than this. At least that movie had a point – this is just a poorly guy with weird coloured eyes wondering why the hideous troll-mutant-things don’t attack him, and a whole pile of plot strands that don’t come close to tying together.

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There’s one more curious name attached to this, and it’s not director Peter Svatek, who went on to a career in awful TV movies before breaking a 5 year drought with a documentary about MMA superstar Georges Saint-Pierre. It’s Dan O’Bannon, writer of “Dark Star”, “Alien”, “Total Recall”, and “Return Of The Living Dead”, a genuine shlock superstar. He’s got previous Lovecraft form, having directed “The Resurrected”, but his involvement her is still a puzzler. Maybe he was bored one weekend and knocked a script out, or maybe he was paid to add his name to the script, as he did with “Dead and Buried”? I guess we’ll never know.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Wedlock (1991)

Wedlock 1991 (02)

Fresh from our review of “Salute of the Jugger” a few weeks ago, I was about to make a joke about this being the end of our Rutger Hauer / Joan Chen season, but it turns out they made another film together, 1996’s “Precious Find”. Do you think they turned up for the first day of filming and went “you again?”

This is one of those great sci-fi B-movies that seemingly sprang up everywhere in the 80s and 90s. Frank (Hauer), Noelle (Chen) and Sam (James Remar) are robbing a bank vault which has $25 milion worth of diamonds in it – Frank and Noelle are engaged, but she decides to betray Frank and throws her lot in with Sam, after a hell of an escape sequence. So, after getting shot, he ends up in future-prison, and that’s where Wedlock comes in.

It’s sort of a clever system – no walls, very few guards, regular male-female “alone time”. Every inmate is fitted with a metal collar with C4 in it, and as long as you don’t go 100 yards from your wedlock partner, you’re fine – problem is, you don’t know you’re wedlocked to. There’s a line indicating a hundred-metre diameter circle, as long as you stay inside it you’re always safe. The inmates spy on the other inmates, because no-one wants to get their head blown off – if your partner makes a run for it, you’re done for too. You misbehave and you get put in the “The Floater” – a large coffin full of water, pretty much.

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This is a pretty cool setup for a movie, but it’s only half of it – Hauer ditched the diamonds before being double-crossed, so no-one knows where they are; and Tracy (Mimi Rodgers) has figured out that Hauer’s her wedlock partner, and she wants out, reasoning that as long as they stay together, they should be fine. So the rest of the movie is chases and double-crosses and the two of them desperately trying to stay within a hundred yards of each other.

There’s a few flaws in the Wedlock system (some savant on the IMDB message board clued me in) but never mind that, because this is fun! Hauer and Rodgers make an unlikely but good team, Remar and Chen relish playing their OTT bad guys, and there’s a memorable turn from Stephen Tobolowsky as the prison warden and inventor of Wedlock. There’s a very brief early appearance from Danny Trejo too, seemingly pre-at least some of his tattoos, and a few good visual gags…it’s just a strong, entertaining movie with a clever central idea, and it’s absolutely worth a watch. If anything, it uses its plot points too quickly! The direction from Lewis Teague is okay, nothing too flashy or interesting (his IMDB bio’s first descriptive word is “efficient”, which says a lot).

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This movie is also a minor entrant in the “Cubs win the World Series” range of movies. If you want to indicate you’re in the future, or an alternate reality, this is the trick that many many movies have used. For those of you who don’t like or follow baseball, the Cubs are the unluckiest team in the sport, having not won the main prize for over 100 years (this list gives a breakdown of all the things that have happened since). This trope is most famously used in “Back To The Future 2”, when the year of the Cubs drought-breaking win is…2015. If they actually win next year, get ready for the internet to explode.

Rating: thumbs up

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The Salute Of The Jugger (1989)

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I had basically no idea what to expect when popping this film in. I guessed it was post-apocalyptic, but that was about it and I’m glad I’d managed to spend my life going spoiler-free because I think I’ve re-discovered one of the great classics of the “Video Shop era”.

We are long post-apocalyptic here. Real civilization is but a distant memory, tyres are used for decoration or protection, outside the “cities” humanity lives in tiny settlements in the desert, known as dog-towns because that’s what they use for meat. Into one of these nondescript villages comes a team of juggers, led by Sallow (Rutger Hauer) with excellent support from Mbulu (Delroy Lindo) and Young Gar (a very young Vincent D’Onofrio).

The players are known as juggers, but the game is just The Game. It’s sort of a super-brutal form of future-rugby, with teams comprising of a “Quick”, a “Chain” and three “Slashers”. The quick needs to grab a dog-skull and place it on their goalpost, and the other team tries to stop them. Everyone apart from the Quick has weapons, and it’s extraordinarily brutal, with death commonplace and lots of scars guaranteed. The travelling teams survive on tributes from their opponents (provided they win) and after every match is a big party where you’re provided with a seemingly willing harem of people of the gender of your choice, plus food, drink and music.

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This game was invented wholesale by writer / director David Peoples, and it’s proved popular enough to cross over to the real world, with several leagues in Europe and the US (presumably with less death and disfigurement). Peoples is one of the cleverest of Hollywood’s scriptwriters, having written “Blade Runner”, “Unforgiven” and “Twelve Monkeys”, and this, while not quite up there with those classics, certainly deserves a great deal more attention than it’s had.

Wannabe Quick Kidda (Joan Chen) is looking for more than her small-town life, so when Sallow’s Quick is severely injured after playing in her town, she follows them and eventually works her way onto the team. She learns the game and the team improves, all the while heading north, towards the Red City and a potential challenge match against their League team, strong and fast professionals, where it’s either death or glory – Sallow, a former League player, got their attention as a young man by lasting 26 “stones” (game times are marked by throwing stones at a gong, 3 segments lasting 100 hundred stones each, one stone every five seconds or so).

There’s a lot of film in this film. At a point in the action where your average low-budget sci-fi film would have been ready for the crescendo, “Salute of the Jugger” is barely halfway over. Kidda blossoms and the film develops two stories – her attempt to make it to the League, and Sallow’s attempt at redemption after years in the wilderness. Alongside all this is some frankly masterful world-building, where every single thing feels like it was thought out. The dormitory that Kidda and Sallow stay in in the city; the literal divide between rich and poor (with segments feeling like a spiritual predecessor to “The Hunger Games”); the way the dog-towns operate; and very importantly, the film’s view of gender.

Gender is almost entirely irrelevant. Sallow’s team, as well as having Kidda, has another woman member, and they fight in exactly the same way and are treated as equal members. Sex for the victorious team is provided equally to both genders, and aside from a slightly under-developed plot about the reason for Sallow being kicked out of the Red City being something to do with an upper-class woman he had a relationship with, there seems to be complete equality. No point is made of this, although it’s certainly deliberate, so if you’re watching you’ll just be enjoying the plot and the matches, until you stop and think about it for a second and realise that there’s no sexist language, no misogyny, and women aren’t threatened out in this wilderness. Class is the only divide in this world.

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On top of a really smart script and a sexism-free world, there’s the games themselves. Boy, are they exciting! It feels like a real sport, and the final match as Sallow’s team goes further than any challenger ever has before, bringing spectators from all over the city to cheer them on, is the equal of any great sport film you could name.

This is a really good film, one that absolutely nails the ending, a minor classic of the era of video shops (early 80s to early 00s) and it’s tied together with a fantastic performance from Rutger Hauer. His ability to elevate material with his sheer presence has made lots of films enjoyable that shouldn’t have been, and his presence in great films has made them classics. If you think about it, he can match top 5 best films with just about anyone – “Blade Runner”, “The Hitcher”, “Fatherland”, this and about 20 tied for that fifth spot. He’s fantastic, and he’s helped by great turns from Chen, Lindo and D’Onofrio. How is this film not more popular?

So, jump on a cheap VHS copy of this film the next time you see it, while we’re still in its 25th anniversary year, and have yourself a heck of a time. A real gem.

Rating: thumbs up