Starring: David Carradine, Michael Moriarty, Richard Roundtree, Candy Clark, James Dixon
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Larry Cohen is perhaps my second favorite filmmaker only to John Carpenter. He’s truly an auteur in the film industry. He wrote, produced, and directed his own movies taking on different genres with creative themes and concepts. Cohen was best known for being a guerrilla filmmaker where he shot his movies without permits and got away with them. His risk-taking no-nonsense style has earned him the admiration from many peers and fans. Sadly, he passed away in March 2019, but his legacy will continue to live on. For this week’s review, we are going to be looking at one of Larry Cohen’s most popular movies. It’s an homage to the early monster movies such as King Kong. It takes place in New York City (like King Kong), but instead of seeing the monster on top of the Empire State Building, you’re going to be seeing a monster on top of another landmark building, the Chrysler Building. This week we’re going to be reviewing 1982’s Q: The Winged Serpent!
As the title suggests, Q is a flying monster that has made its home on top of the Chrysler Building. It flies through the skies of New York City snatching up people for food. No one knows where this creature came from or how it got here. As the monster roams the skies, two separate stories are going on. The first story you have is Police Detective Shepard (David Carradine) who is assigned the case of finding the monster and killing it. He believes the monster has something to do with a series of ritual killings he’s also been investigating. Along with his partner Powell (Richard Roundtree), they link the killings and the monster to a secret Neo Aztec cult. The second story involves Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty), a cheap two-timing crook who is an excellent piano player who is involved in a botched diamond heist. He makes his escape by hiding inside the Chrysler Building where he discovers the creature’s nest atop complete with a giant egg. Jimmy uses this knowledge of the creature’s location to lure his fellow mob pursuers to their deaths at the hands of the creature and to extort the city of money and immunity from prosecution in exchange for giving up the creature’s hideout.
Larry Cohen wrote and shot this movie in a little over two weeks. He was working on a project called I, The Jury until he was fired by the studio (he is credited for writing the script to the movie). Not wanting to leave his hotel room that was paid up, he assembled a small crew from the aforementioned project and started shooting all around the city. It took Cohen six days to write the script for Q. The cast was not aware of what they were making when they received a short telegram from Cohen to arrive in the city and be prepared to work.
When I first watched Q, I was thoroughly impressed with the look and style of the movie. It reminded me of the Godzilla movies that I used to watch as a kid on television. There was a look and feel to them that stuck in my brain and this movie did the same thing. It had me engaged from the first scene and I was on the edge of my seat to see how it was going to play out. I was familiar with Larry Cohen’s work at the time, but not enough to know how he shot films and how he edited them.
Q has an excellent cast filled with character actors and method actors. I’ve always been a fan of David Carradine and I was ecstatic when I found out he was in this film. He doesn’t disappoint. He plays Shepard as a traditional detective, trying to find all the clues and piece them together. When he comes up with his final report, it is rejected by his superiors. Carradine continues to believe what he has uncovered and is willing to do what it takes to stop the monster and save the city. His partner, played by Richard Roundtree is a little rougher around the edges. If interrogators were playing ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ with a suspect, Roundtree would easily be the ‘Bad Cop.’ There’s even a scene where he plays that on Jimmy Quinn. Speaking of Jimmy Quinn, he’s the surprising hero of the movie played brilliantly by Michael Moriarty. When he first appears on screen he is desperate to get back in the game of stealing. When the diamond heist goes bad he starts to get edgy and paranoid. As the movie progresses you see that Jimmy grow a brain and develop a plan to get rid of the people who are looking for him and a way to set himself up for the failed heist. Many critics and fans have hailed Moriarty’s performance as the best piece of method acting they’ve seen and I echo that sentiment. He pours emotions filled with anger, despair and cockiness. This was the first collaboration between Moriarty and Cohen and it wouldn’t be the last as they would work together on five more movies.
Like all of his movies, Larry Cohen shot the film with no permits and used real life police officers, construction workers and window washers which gives the movie an authentic feel. The movie is shot in the streets of New York, over the skies of New York and of course the inside and outside of the Chrysler Building. When you watch the people of New York look above when they are getting splattered with blood falling from the sky or taking cover when bullet cases are raining down, those aren’t paid actors, those are real people who are quickly reacting to the situation that they are in. The only permission he received was from the owners of the Chrysler Building. At the cost of $15,000 Cohen was able to shoot inside the building all the way up to the top where no ordinary citizen has gone before. From there you will be amazed by what the top of the building looks like and becomes the set piece for the climatic showdown between the monster and the police which is this reviewer’s favorite scene in the whole picture.
Now let’s get to the character of the monster itself, Quetzalcoatl! The special effects for Q were done using stop-motion animation by Randall William Cook and David Allen. It is custom for stop motion sequences to be shot as they are happening. This was not the case (nothing is ever coherent in a Larry Cohen movie). When Cohen hired Cook and Allen to do the stop motion animation, he had already finished shooting the movie. His plan was to add the creature into shots already taken. This results in the monster looking like he was pasted onto an existing shot. It brings a sense of unevenness when watching the monster when it appears or has moments of action such as plucking the heads off people. The effects are no different from what you would see in a b movie involving a monster, but don’t let the cheapness distract you. You will easily bypass it as you continue to be engrossed in the movie and enjoy the effects for the sheer fun.
There’s not much more I can say about Q: The Winged Serpent without giving too much away. It’s one of the best B-Movies to come out within the last forty years. It continues to have an impact and has inspired other filmmakers to make their own monster movies using this concept. I rank this as favorite film of everything Larry Cohen has done, even The Stuff! It’s example of a film which proves you can make a crazy concept and can execute it with a great story and characters.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
A young Bruce Willis wanted to star in David Carradine’s role but wasn’t a known name at the time that Larry Cohen could depend on to be bankable. Bruce later met Larry again when Moonlighting (1985) was a hit.
Pre-production for the movie lasted just one week. The film was conceived after Larry Cohen was fired from a big budget film shooting in New York. Cohen, determined not to waste the hotel room he had paid for, hired the actors and prepared a shooting script within six days.
In an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air”, Michael Moriarty described the scene in which he auditions as a piano player. The music he played was a self-composed and unrehearsed improvisation, and the dog’s reaction was genuine.
The building in the opening scene of the movie is the Empire State Building. In this scene, a window cleaner loses his head to the monster. His name is William Pilch, and was the actual window cleaner for the Empire State Building at the time of the movie’s filming.
The French movie poster incorrectly shows the monster covered with feathers, a wavy dinosaur frill along its back, and with large white teeth. This is because it was illustrated and printed up before copies of the film were imported into France.
David Carradine agreed to play Shepard even though he didn’t receive a script to read prior to his first day of working on the film.
The jewel store that the bad guys rob in the early part of the film is called “Neil Diamonds” a pun on the name of Neil Diamond.
Cohen stated about the monsters death at the ending, “It’s the exact same scene as the end of the $150 million Godzilla picture. Gee, if I had that money I could have made 150 movies.”
Shepard’s (Carradine) wife is played by Carradine’s actual wife at the time.
Writers: Norm MacDonald, Frank Sebastiano & Fred Wolf
Starring: Norm MacDonald, Jack Warden, Artie Lange, Taylor Howard, Chevy Chase, Christopher McDonald
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Hello, readers! For this edition of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema” I wanted to dive into another comedy film. A comedy starring one of the more underrated comedians of the 90s. A man who got fired from Saturday Night Live because one of the executives at NBC claimed he was “not funny.” (on the contra-ire). I’m talking about Norm MacDonald. If you’re not familiar with Norm MacDonald, his comedy is brutally outspoken opinions that is delivered in a sarcastic monotone delivery. He was known on Saturday Night Live as the “Weekend Update” anchor, who would start the beginning of the skit with, “Here’s the fake news!” (sound familiar?) MacDonald was known on “Weekend Update” for his constant bashing of Bill Clinton and O.J. Simpson. After being dismissed from SNL, he would go on to star in his first comedic outing, 1998’s Dirty Work!
In Dirty Work MacDonald plays Mitch Weaver, a down and out loser. After being fired from his fourteenth job in two months and his girlfriend kicking him out of their apartment, he goes to live with his best friend, Sam McKenna (Artie Lange) and his dad, whom they refer to as ‘Pops’ (Jack Warden). During a night watching television Pops has a heart attack and is in the hospital. The treating physician, Dr. Farthing (Chevy Chase) informs Mitch and Sam that Pops needs a heart transplant and needs $50,000 for the transplant. Mitch and Sam do various odd jobs to get the money. After an event at their jobs where they were paid by their co-workers to embarrass their boss, they start a revenge for hire business called “Dirty Work!” Their concept is for people to pay them to do their dirty work. With this new business they hope to raise the funds in time and save Pop’s life.
Not only is this Norm MacDonald’s first leading role, this is the directorial debut of Bob Saget (yes, THAT Bob Saget). Together they create a movie that has plenty of sleazy jokes, cringe-worthy moments and even a lightweight love story. It’s an interesting concept by MacDonald which I’m sure came from the idea of getting revenge on NBC. It has a feel similar to “National Lampoon’s Animal House!”
MacDonald holds up good as the lead in this movie. He’s pretty much playing himself. There are times in the movie where he is repeating the same jokes such as bringing out a tape recorded and dictating a, ‘Note to Self’. You get the idea after a few of them. Some of the revenge schemes are bizarre in nature, but the purpose is to get rid of the nuisance that their client is paying them to do.
The rest of the cast has some familiar faces. Legendary actor Jack Warden who plays Pops chews up the scenes he’s in with his twist of humor and dirty mind. Chevy Chase plays the aloof and gambling addict Dr. Farthing. When you hear about some of the things he’s gambled on, it makes you want to shrug your shoulders and raise your hands in disbelief. Traylor Howard, best known for being in the sitcoms Two Guys & A Girl aka Two Guys, A Girl & A Pizza Place and Monk plays Kathy who would become Mitch’s love interest after meeting in a bar. She finds him funny and witty but is not amused when his business starts getting noticed. Christopher McDonald, best known for playing Shooter McGavin in Happy Gilmore plays local real estate mogul Travis Cole who hires Mitch and Sam to get revenge on a rival. My favorite performances in the movie are the small special guest appearances from Chris Farley who plays Jimmy, a barfly that had his nose bitten off by a prostitute and Don Rickles playing a movie theater manager. Look out for cameos from Gary Coleman, Adam Sandler and John Goodman as well.
The weakest performance by far is Artie Lange as Sam. He’s not very funny and seems to be concerned about the things Mitch is doing to gain money. Not only that, but his desperate attempt to get noticed by women is repetitive. Norm would’ve benefited more by having an experienced actor play his best friend.
The comedy in the movie is a blend of physical jokes and MacDonald’s stand up puns. The majority of their jobs that they do for their clients are downright criminal although they seem to get away with it. This movie would not be made in today’s world. The movie clocks in at an hour and twenty-three minutes, which is pretty short for a comedy movie, but there’s no moment that seems to drag out.
There’s not much more I can say about this movie without spoiling it, but if you were a fan of the 90s Saturday Night Live or a fan of Norm MacDonald, I recommend Dirty Work! I give the film props for coming up with something that has never been done before, a revenge business comedy. It’s almost as if this movie is in its own category since there hasn’t been a revenge comedy in recent memory. And if you watch this movie and don’t enjoy it, then you can pay someone to do your dirty work on me!
Trivia (Per IMDB)
Chris Farley’s last film, but he wasn’t included in the credits.
This movie came out a few months after Norm MacDonald was fired from Saturday Night Live (1975). When it was out in theaters, none of the shows on NBC were allowed to advertise it.
Howard Stern was offered a cameo appearance as Satan, but turned it down. Adam Sandler ended up with the role.
In the scene where Mitch (Norm MacDonald) and Sam (Artie Lange) are getting berated by Mr. Hamilton (Don Rickles), Don Rickles started ad-libbing insults. At one point, Don Rickles started insulting Norm McDonald, and not his Mitch Weaver character. This, of course, didn’t make it into the film, but the “baby gorilla” line, directed towards Sam, was used.
According to Chevy Chase, he was impressed by the original script’s raunchy, R-rated, “over the top” tone (particularly a filmed, but ultimately cut, gag involving MacDonald and Lange delivering donuts that had been photographed around their genitals), and went so far as to tell MacDonald and Lange to not allow any changes. However, the studio insisted on a PG-13 rating, and re-scheduled the film’s release from February to June, where it fared poorly against blockbusters like Godzilla (1998). Unfortunately, no alternate scenes had been shot, and the dialogue could only be changed with the actor’s re-recording their lines. This may explain why some of the dialogue is dubbed in certain scenes.
Julia Sweeney plays Mitch’s deceased mother in a still photograph.
Writers: John Carpenter (Story & Screenplay), Desmond Nakano & William Gray (Screenplay)
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton, Robert Vaughn, Lee Ving, Bubba Smith
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Hope you enjoyed the batch of movies that have been presented on “Guilty Pleasure Cinema!” I have a handful of movies ready to go and trying to write as many reviews as I can in between working my day job, writing and editing a food blog I’m preparing to launch and pursuing other artistic ventures. But enough of my time management issues, let’s get to the next non-horror movie review which will be the 1987 cult film Black Moon Rising!
Released in 1987 and written by horror auteur John Carpenter (ironic since I said I’m not going to mention horror movies for a while on this page), the film features Tommy Lee Jones in a rare leading role as Sam Quint, who is a former thief that is hired by the FBI to steal a computer disk which contains incriminating evidence against a company called the “Lucky Dollar Corporation.” On his tail is a former acquaintance of his Mavin Ringer (Lee Ving) who works for the company. Quint crosses paths with Earl Windham (Richard Jaeckel) at a gas station. Windom just tested a new prototype vehicle called the Black Moom, which can reach speeds of 325 MPH. Quint hides the disk in the Black Moon which makes its way to Los Angeles. Upon intercepting the Black Moon, a group of auto thieves led by a woman named Nina (Linda Hamilton) steal the car along with some other vehicles at a restaurant. Now Quint needs to retrieve the disk to complete his task.
John Carpenter wrote Black Moon Rising during the time he was working on Escape From New York. The script floated around until it was picked up by New World Pictures, which hired Desmond Nakano and William Gray to re-write parts of it and tasked Harley Cokliss to direct.
The movie is essentially a “got to get back a stolen car” story filled with some great chase sequences, ample amounts of action and solid performances from the cast. It’s too bad Carpenter didn’t direct the movie because it does have a style that is suited to his work. Black Moon Rising reminds me a lot of Knight Rider considering the car looks like if KITT had a son.
As previously mentioned, this is a rare lead role for Jones who doesn’t disappoint as Sam Quint. His charm and witty sense of humor is displayed all throughout the move even in the most dire situations. He is observant of his surroundings and uses his skills as a thief to elude his pursuers. Linda Hamilton does a stellar job as Nina. Her story is developed right as she appears on the screen. Throughout the run time, you understand Nina’s background and why she chose the profession she chose. Any bitterness you have towards her in the movie turns into sympathy. She becomes an intriguing partner to Jones’ Quint whose relationship also moves as quickly as the Black Moon car. Other noteworthy performances include Lee Ving as Marvin and Bubba Smith as FBI Agent Johnson, whom Quint reports to.
Director Harley Cokeliss has been a B-movie filmmaker for most of his career, although he has credits directed numerous action sequences for The Empire Strikes Back. That experience paid off as he creates some thrill-seeking action sequences most notably with the car. I could feel my toes curl and my heart race when Jones gets into the car and presses all the buttons to get it to do certain things kind of like the various cars James Bond has used to get out of sticky situations.
The only thing I didn’t care for in the movie is the love scene between Jones and Hamilton. I don’t think the term ‘Awkward’ cuts it when describing the scene. You could easily list it in a top 10 list for “Worst Lovemaking Scenes!” I understand its part of the movie and trying to fit a romantic dynamic in the movie, but they probably could’ve shown it another way.
Despite some of the predictability, Black Moon Rising is still a fun picture that is a wink and a nod to many classic action movies. I appreciate it for its technicality, style and a cast that works together. It’s a perfect viewing for a rainy Saturday afternoon or if you’re looking for a thrilling low budget affair. It impressed me the first time I watched it and it hasn’t changed my opinion since re-watching it again not too long ago.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
This is actually the first screenplay that John Carpenter ever sold. The film had been in development for over 10 years.
Linda Hamilton despised working with Tommy Lee Jones. Jones had been struggling with alcoholism at the time.
Tommy Lee Jones did most of his own stunts.
A lot of Tommy Lee Jones’ wisecracks were improvised by the actor himself.
The stunt driver of the Black Moon had virtually no idea where he was going as he was in a semi-recumbent position whilst driving. His windshield was also made of Plexiglass that reflected every single surface, obscuring his vision even more.
The Black Moon was based on a Canadian car prototype design called the Wingho Concordia II which was first unveiled to the public in 1980. Only one of these were ever actually built so the car seen in the film is a copy cast from molds.
Tommy Lee Jones uses an original H&K P7 9mm pistol in the film. He carries the pistol without a round in the chamber, even though it is widely known to be among the safest handguns ever built and purposely designed to carried with a round in the chamber. He also used an identical P7 in Under Siege (1992).
Writers: Rupert Harvey & Barry Opper (Story), Joseph Lyle & David J. Schow (Screenplay)
Starring: Don Opper, Terrence Mann, Paul Whitmore, Anders Hove, Angela Bassett, Brad Dourif, Eric DaRe
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
The Critters franchise is one of my favorite Horror/Sci-Fi franchises. While the first film is considered a knock off from Gremlins or Ghoulies, it’s a movie that holds up to this date. I loved the story, effects and of course those intergalactic hairballs getting into mischief mayhem with some situations resulting in their deaths. The first Critters movie was a surprise success at the box office and produced a second movie two years later that did as equally as good. The Critters franchise has spawned a total of five movies and a short-lived miniseries on Shudder. The franchise featured great character actors and future leading stars including a sixteen-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio who made his silver screen debut in Critters 3. One of the sequels in the series happens to be a guilty pleasure of mine. While many fans groan over the results, I happened to enjoy it. I remember the Sci-Fi Channel playing this film Saturday afternoons and I would spend those days laying on the couch watching it every time it played. I’m talking of course of Critters 4. Why do I enjoy Critters 4 more than the average fan? I will tell you, but first a quick synopsis.
Critters 4 picks up right at the ending of 3 as bumbling bounty hunter Charlie (Don Opper) does a thorough inspection of the burned down apartment building looking for any remaining Krties. He discovers two eggs in the dryer. Charlie takes them out and gets ready to blast them. He then receives a distress signal from his friend and fellow bounty hunter Ug (Terrence Mann) who tells him it is illegal to destroy those eggs due to a intergalactic mandate. He instructs Charlie to place the eggs in a pod, which crashes down on him to be transported back. Charlie places the eggs as instructed by gets trapped inside the pod when the door closes on him and is gassed. The movie jumps forward to the year 2045. A small group of pirates discover the pod floating in space and acquire it. They are contacted by a galaxy conglomerate called TerraCorp claiming ownership of the pod and instruct the team to head to their station where they will be rewarded. When the team gets to the station, they find that it has been abandoned. As they wait for their payment, the captain of the group, Rick (Anders Hove) decides to rip off the pod after being humiliated by co-pilot Fran (Angela Bassett) in a memorable shower scene. After opening the pod door, Charlie awakens, and the eggs have hatched unleashing the Krites which kill Rick. With the two furballs on the loose it’s up to Charlie and the rest of the team to either stop them or escape the station alive without their reward.
If you’ve managed to check out the Shout Factory release of the entire Blu-Ray collection of the original four movies, they each come with their own little behind the scenes specials. In the documentary for 4 director and producer Rupert Harvey claimed that New Line Cinema gave them a combined budget for 3 and 4. Due to the team on 3 spending the most money out of that budget, there was extraordinarily little left for 4 hence why they had to reuse scenes, lack of Krites and other dollar store sets.
Regardless of the budget, what made this movie was the acting done by the mixed of new and veteran cast. Don Opper and Terrance Mann reprise their roles from the previous films. I was enthralled by Mann’s performance this time around with Ug as he went from being a bounty hunter to a corporate bureaucrat. His promotion into that ranking corrupts his mind as he is only concerned with his mission rather than what happened to his friend. Guess the old saying goes, “Power can corrupt someone!” Brad Dourif once again steals the spotlight as engineer, Al Bert. He is witty and a smart ass but knows his way of computers as evident when he tricks the computer of the abandoned station to give him full security clearance. He essentially becomes the de facto leader as the movie progresses which suits him well as he is the most experienced actor. My other favorite performance in the movie was Anders Hove as the captain Rick. He is a pain in the ass leader when it comes to the crew members always scheming to get more than what he is offered. The other cast members include Angela Bassett in his film debut as co-pilot Fran, Eric DaRe best known for playing Leo Johnson in Twin Peaks as Bernie, who is obsessed with getting access to the station pharmacy and Paul Whitmore as the apprentice, Ethan who sees Al Bert as a friend and mentor and gets the brute of Rick’s temper tantrums. There was a rumor from fans that suggested that Al Bert and Ethan may have had a “more than just friends” relationship. There’s some evidence displayed in the movie, but it’s as big of a mystery as Bigfoot.
The Chiodo Brothers return for one final time (well..not the final time) providing the Critters and the puppetry work. The Critters look just like they’ve always been except they are somewhat bigger in size than what they were in the previous movie. They are still ruthless and won’t let anyone stand in their way of reaching earth. The special effects in the film are mundane compared to its predecessors. They even stole a few shots from Critters 2 and another early 80s Sci-Fi flick starting Opper called Android. Because there are only a few of the intergalactic hairballs to wreak havoc, Harvey uses them like the Xenomorph in Alien where they are running amok around the station and use stealth to sneak up on their prey before they unleash their attack. There’s minimal blood and gore and the death total is the lowest in the series. Again, the performance of the actors keeps the film going at a steady pace.
There’s plenty of flaws that this movie has including the repetitive computer that’s not up to date that gets on the nerves of the crew. I think it’s a failed attempt at adding comedy to a series that has comedic elements to it. Some of the sound design sounds distorted or frazzled like someone is playing on a broken synthesizer and the overall timeline of the story. I don’t think this movie needed to fast forward fifty years to get to where there at considering the advancement of technology and galactic lifeforms other than the Krites that appeared in the first movie.
Personally, I prefer Critters 4 over Critters 3 and the more recent Critters Attacks. While Critters 4 is not the definitive conclusion to the franchise, it does close the chapter on the storyline that was started from the first movie.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
All external space scenes and many sets are lifted from one of Don Keith Opper’s earlier films, Android (1982).
First Critters movie where Don Keith Opper is the highest billed actor.
Filmed simultaneously with Critters 3 (1991), from February 1991 until July 1991.
The footage of the cargo retrieval ship, and docking with the spaceship are from Android (1982) but the footage of Ug’s ship at the end are taken from Critters 2 (1988).
Terrence Mann and Don Keith Opper have appeared in all four films in the series.
Critters 4 is the only Critters movie where the Critters are unable to shoot poison darts at their victims.
There are mostly only two Critters in this movie, and the second one gets a haircut from a laser rifle, in order to separate the looks for both Critters. However this is also an obvious reference to Critters 2 (1988) where one Critters gets a similar haircut from a laser rifle held by a bounty hunter.
Starring: Linnea Quigley, Edwin Neal, Michael LiCastri, Yvelisse Cedrez, David Plowden, Keith Surplus
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
For those who have been following “Guilty Pleasure Cinema” for the past couple years, there are times where I will do special reviews and/or lists to change the format up. The next few weeks you will be seeing these types of writings. I have planned two separate movie rankings, one based on a filmography of a specific director and the other is a list of movies that have been shown on a particular show that is my current favorite show. For this week’s “Guilty Pleasure Cinema,” I wanted to share with you a review of a film I had an invite to watch. This film is the first full length feature from Writer/Director/Actor Michael LiCastri whom up to that point has made several short films including The Great Pineapple Debacle, When Tarantino Met Shakespeare and October 31st to name a few. The film is titled The Best Laid Plans.
Released in 2019, The Best Laid Plans stars LiCastri as Kevin. He along with his friends Allen (David Plowden) and John (Keith Surplus) are all college graduates who are struggling to find jobs. Kevin finds out that he and his family are about to be evicted from their home, so the three of them are trying to come up with a quick way to raise the money to prevent them from being homeless. They find out that a former classmate of theirs named Tommy (Brian Ballance) won the lottery, they decide to kidnap him to shake out just enough of his winnings to keep Kevin and his family in their home.
The Best Laid Plans is a relatable situational comedy filled with quick wit and dark humor. LiCasri creates a visual story of what many college graduates are going through during these harsh times while pointing out the newer generation’s desire to make some fast money with very little effort. You see it today with everyone wanting to be internet sensations or creating profiles on provocative sites where consumers pay money to view explicit content. In this case The Best Laid Plans takes the old fashion concept of a kidnap for ransom scheme.
I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of the three buddies. Their chemistry is the backbone of the movie and I chuckled at the banter between them. Each character is relatable and come from different backgrounds not just from family and economics, but educational as well. It reminded me of one of my all-time favorite comedies Airheads where the three leads would rip each other to pieces over the situation they were in when they took over their local radio station. The Best Laid features small appearances from Scream Queen legend herself Linnea Quigley and the Hitchhiker from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre Edwin Neal which will make horror fans jump with glee.
In terms of the technical aspects of The Best Laid Plans, the locations are minimal as LiCastri focuses on the development of the characters rather than shooting various spots for viewers to look at. There’s no fancy angle shots or shaky first person view. Instead LiCastri keeps the camerawork simple by making sure the essential characters in the scene are all showed in frame. LiCastri can create a lot with very little and those are signs of a good competent filmmaker.
If you’re looking for a good laugh that doesn’t require fart jokes or physical comedy, The Best Laid Plans is for you. Those who are first time filmmakers can watch this movie as a template to how to make a compelling indie film with little to no money. All you need is a great script, relatable characters, and a realistic situation to put them in. At a run time of 73 minutes, it is well paced to keep your attention.
The Best Laid Plans is available to watch now on Amazon Prime.
TRIVA (Per Writer/Director/Star Michael LiCastri)
The film was shot on digital and on a RED Dragon camera.
The inspiration for the film came from LiCastri as he was frustrated on not finding work shortly after graduating from film school in 2011. The Script was written in 2012.
Disclaimer: The rankings are based on my personal viewings, thoughts and opinions. I have not been influenced by outside parties as to where to place certain movies in these rankings.
Most of you readers may have never heard of Al Adamson. You will be familiar with him after this posting. Al Adamson was the son of early Australian film actors. He joined his father, actor Victor Adamson’s (known professionally as Denver Dixon) production company to learn the business. Eventually, Adamson would go on to make his own movies starting his own independent production company where the only person he answered to was himself. Adamson’s films were based on trending genres in the movie world. His eclectic filmography includes Westerns, Horror, Blaxploitation, Sexploitation, Martial Arts and even two Children’s films that spanned three decades. Adamson was known for making his films fast and cheap with very little money and allowing only two takes per scene. He would have his friends and collaborators play multiple roles from acting to set design, performing their own stunts, etc. While his movies aren’t anything revolutionary, they did find an audience. Adamson saw the Drive-In theater trend as a marketing opportunity and took every advantage of it. He along with his producer pal Sam Sherman would re-release their own movies under different titles based on what was hot at the Drive-In. Adamson’s career would come to an end near the mid 80s. Tragically his life would be cut short as he was murdered in 1995 by a contractor working on his home in Indio, California. While Adamson may not be remembered as a great nor influential filmmaker, his works continue to live on thanks to a devoted fanbase along with a new generation of viewers thanks to a recent box set that was released.
Last April Severin Films released the most comprehensive Blu-Ray box set dedicated to Adamson. Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection features all thiry-one of Adamson’s films inlduing the critically acclaimed documentary Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson. Severin released the movies based on the available prints they could find through original negatives, 16mm prints or VHS prints. The box set included Commentary Tracks for each movie, Trailers, Promo Reels and Early Interviews. The Box Set was completed with a one hundred twenty six page booklet chronicling Adamson’s career and information on which version of film you would be watching. The Box Set sold out quickly as it was a limited print.
I acquired the Al Adamson Masterpiece Collection in late January and spent the past month watching all of his films. For this special edition of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema,” I decided to rank all of Al Adamson’s movies based on my viewings and impressions. I started at the bottom listing my least enjoyable viewings all the way to the one film I found to be my favorite. For this list I excluded the Blood & Flesh documentary. This is strictly on Adamson’s films. For those who are familiar with Al Adamson’s filmography, you may be shocked as where I have certain movies listed. So without further rambling, let’s get the rankings started:
30. Hell’s Bloody Devils
The worst movie on this list happens to be a previously released Adamson film with new footage and this will not be the last movie on this list with this cut and paste concept. Hell’s Bloody Devils takes the previously released film The Fakers, which is about a government agent who infiltrates a Neo Nazi organization in California in hopes of retrieving some counterfeit plates from Germany the Nazis plan on using for a counterfeit scheme and adds a biker gang to the mix. There are only a few scenes of these bikers in Nazi garb and they add nothing to the plot of the film. What’s worse is that this film is shorter than The Fakers. The question that I keep asking in my head while watching these films is why didn’t Adamson turn these concepts into stand alone films? I’m sure he would’ve been able to secure the money to do so. Hell’s Bloody Devils is an example of a filmmaker and a studio trying to capitalize on a merging trend and doing it in the laziest way possible.
29. Nurses For Sale
From the opening scene you would think this is another Al Adamson skin flick, but then it goes downhill from there. Nurses For Sale is a culmination of two films smooshed together. The essential plot of the movie deals with a stolen drug cargo that was supposed to arrive in West Germany. The nurses’ involvement is not very clear as they seem to be helping out with the shipments thinking that they’re medical supplies. Nurses For Sale is one hot mess (no pun intended). This was originally a German film made by Rolf Olsen and then Adamson somehow got the rights to it and added some nude scenes to try to pass it off as a Sexploitation movie. The story is incoherent, and the characters are laughably dumb. Thank goodness this movie clocked in at 67 minutes, otherwise I’d be pulling my hair out in frustration until I became bald. Easily the worst movie of Al Adamson’s filmography, if you would even consider crediting this to him. I had to flip a coin to see whether this film or Hell’s Bloody Devils would be placed at #30. Obviously, this squeaked out…barely.
28. Five Bloody Graves
If Social Justice Warriors created a list of Culturally Inappropriate Films, Five Bloody Graves would be on the very top. Of course, you have to remember this was filmed in the sixties and during a period where white actors would be cast as different ethnic characters. You would think that the filmmakers would do some research about Native Americans and their history rather than choosing the default of all of them being savages and if they’re supposed to be performing as savages, they would learn the correct way of scalping someone. Nevertheless, Five Bloody Graves is a pretty bad Western film. The plot goes in various directions, the action is laughably inept, and the editing is poor. There is a shot of John “Bud” Cardos, who plays the tribal leader raising his spear and screaming that is shown several times including one scene where it’s completely misplaced. There’s also back and forth shots that are mismatched with some missing the sound. The acting leaves a lot to be desired with the exception of John Carradine who plays a preacher. Like the veteran professional he is, Carradine makes a consolidated effort and has a few humours moments as well. The only thing I liked about Five Bloody Graves was that it was shot in Utah with its beautiful countryside. I was in awe as to how clean the rivers were, the gorgeous mountains and Marigold blossoming everywhere. Five Bloody Graves is a prime example of how Al Adamson shot movies cheap and on the fly with little to no effort or care as to the art they are making. I wouldn’t watch this movie again even if it did end up on a Banned Movies List. It belongs in that vault never to see the light of day again.
27. Blazing Stewardesses
The Naughty Stewardesses was a surprise success at Drive In Theaters that Adamson rushed a sequel titled Blazing Stewardesses. Taking inspiration from Blazing Saddles, Blazing Stewardesses brings back the characters from its predecessor and puts them in a crazy story where they stay at a resort of their wealthy friend again from the last movie and then mixes in a western heist element to it. Blazing Stewardesses is a skin flick that never gets started There’s really nothing to like about this movie. except for seeing Lilly Munster Yvonne De Carlo appear in the movie. The plot doesn’t make a lick of sense and there’s too many scenes involving the surviving Ritz Brothers doing their schtick that would only make people the same age as them laugh so hard that they collapse a lung. This is a movie that will be collecting dust inside my Al Adamson Collection until I pass it on to someone else and it will be their decision whether to watch this salty garbage.
26. Mean Mother
Mean Mother is Al Adamson’s first foray into the Blaxploitation genre. This is another patch job as Adamson takes a previously released film, this case Leon Klimovsky’s Run For Your Life from 1971 and adds his own footage. The plot of the movie is two US Soldiers who deserted their platoon during the Vietnam War, go their separate ways and both enter the European Criminal Underworld. The film stars Dobie Gray and Luciana Paluzzi of Thunderball fame. The acting is campy which is what you would expect from a sandwiched film. The Vietnam scenes look like they were shot in a Midwestern location with bare trees, hay, and all kinds of weeds. What little action that Adamson injects in this movie is fun is a nice rush of entertainment before it falls back to the dull, messy plot. Mean Mother is unquestionably the worst Blaxploitation film Al Adamson has done, and this is a genre that seems to be his strongest as you will see quite a few of these films rank higher up on the list.
25. Nurse Sherri
Nurse Sherri is another Al Adamson film combing two film genres into one. The film starts with a cult trying to resurrect one of their members who’s dead and then his spirit somehow enters a nurse named Sherri who then proceeds to go on a murderous rampage in the hospital she works at. Nurse Sherri is a film where the story goes nowhere fast. You see the cult in the beginning of the film, and they don’t return. There’s no explanation as to how Sherri gets chosen to be possessed. The hand drawn animation during the possession scene is so bad it would make the guys in Monty Python laugh. Nurse Sherri includes some outrageous characters including a professional football player who goes blind and suddenly becomes an expert in demonic possessions. Only good thing Nurse Sherri has is the traditional sex scenes in Al Adamson movies and some quality kill scenes. The version in the Al Adamson collection is scanned from the original 16mm print so it’s grainy with some fogginess. Nurse Sherri may appeal to those who love cheese and sleaze, otherwise this would be a candidate for assisted film suicide.
The final completed film of Al Adamson’s career, Lost is about a little girl and her dog getting lost in the desert wilderness of Utah and work together to find their way back home. Lost reminds me of a Hallmark Channel film. It’s a story about friendship and how strong the bond is that they can overcome anything. While the title and premise sounds like this is going to be a sad and depressing film, it’s a painfully frustrating ninety minutes of a poorly written script, characters who don’t seem to know their shoelaces are always untied and moments that make you want to sink your teeth into the skin of your hand. The dog is cute but is useless as all it does is follow the little girl around and be her companion. Lost is a forgettable film and in an ironic way is Al Adamson’s filmmaking career coming full circle.
23. Angels’ Wild Women
Just from one look at the cover of Angels’ Wild Women one would assume that Al Adamson wanted to make his own version of Charlie’s Angels. Only problem with that is that the popular television series would not air until four years after this film was released. The lead women in this film have some flashes of being able to handle themselves against their masculine counterparts, but then they abruptly become vulnerable to the situations they get it. Except for the beautiful women which include Adamson regulars Vicki Volante and Regina Carrol Angels’ Wild Women is another film that doesn’t go anywhere quickly. The story is muddled and falls further deep into the rabbit hole with random subplots added and the characters in the movie are stupid including a naïve farmhand who gets raped by the women in the movie that is sequenced like it came from a bad porno flick. It’s the first movie I’ve seen where a man gets raped by a woman. The bad guy in the movie is some zealous cult leader who allows the women to stay at his ranch only for them to be sickened or killed by the cult. Speaking of cults, Angels’ Wild Women is notable for being shot at the Spahn Ranch where Charles Manson and his family were held up before and after their murder spree. The ranch is where most of the film would take place including a hilarious fight sequence where men are holding onto their beers as they wrestle on the dirt road outside. Again, another film that could have had potential but was poorly executed in the end.
22. Half Way To Hell
Released in 1960, Half Way To Hell is technically regarded as Al Adamson’s directorial debut. He took over for his dad, actor/director Victor Adamson who was known professionally as Denver Dixon (Dixon is shown as director in the opening credits). Half Way To Hell is a simple western shot in black and white. The plot regards a woman Maria San Carlos, the daughter of a wealthy landowner who is an arranged marriage with a Mexican revolutionary general named Escobar. Maria believes in marriage for love, escapes and travels to the US border. She is intercepted by some American outlaws hired by Escobar to bring her back. It’s up to an American cowboy who teams up with Maria’s servant boy and protector also looking for her to save her. The film looks like it was made ten years prior to its actual release. The film is notable for featuring Adamson in a key role as one of the cutthroat cowboys. There’s very little in terms of shootouts or action sequences. The dialogue and performances are what you expect in a low budget film from this era. There is an attempted rape scene that was edgy for its time, but would also be a glimpse of what to expect of an Al Adamson film where taboos are broken in the name of art. Again, it’s a simple black and white western that allowed Adamson to dip his toes into directing and set the blueprint as to how he was going to tell stories through the lens of a camera.
21. Blood of Ghastly Horror
Blood of Ghastly Horror is another film that was previously released as one title and then re-released with a newer title and newly filmed footage. In this case it takes clips from the movies Psycho A Go Go and The Fiend With The Electronic Brain and adds a plot about a mad scientist who experiments on dead bodies and creates zombies in order to find a way to revive his son who was perished in a fall. This film was billed as a quasi-sequel to Fiend, but really makes no sense especially given the ending to both films (which is shown for the third time in this feature). The only thing I liked about this movie is the cheap makeup of the zombies and the appearance of Regina Carroll, the buxom blonde who was Al Adamson’s wife in real life and would appear in the majority of his films. I would not be surprised if Blood of Ghastly Horror was the inspiration for the concept and presentation of Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2 as they took a large chunk of the previous movie and added a new story and newly filmed scenes to make it appealing to viewers.
20. Cinderella 2000
Billed as an out of this world musical sex comedy, Cinderella 2000 doesn’t deliver much on the musical or comedy part but has an overabundance of softcore pornography that will get men googly eyed. Al Adamson out weirds himself by taking a loose version of the fabled fairy tale and setting it in a cyber-Orwellian future where sex is outlawed, and Bid Brother decides who are allowed to participate in this adult activity. The story of Cinderella is the same one we all know and love, but this time the woman who is chosen by the “prince” of the film will have the opportunity to join him in consummating the union. The movie is a trip from beginning to end. Adamson throws so many strange characters and ideas into the plot that make you wonder what kind of grass he was smoking when he made this. A form of punishment for a woman who was caught having sexual relations in violation of the law was she was shrunk down into a miniature sized doll. The characters are boisterous, but don’t have much personality other than they’re all as horny as a three-ball cat. Some dialog made me chuckle especially with the stepmother’s two children taking her for help telling the doctor, “She’s got a case of the hornies!” One of the central characters that is supposed to be the comic relief in the movie is a robot who is programmed to uphold the fornication laws and goes berserk if it catches couples in the act. The robot is so annoying in the movie that surpasses the robot from Lost in Space as the most annoying robot ever shown on film or television. There’s very little musical numbers which is a good thing because the singing is cringeworthy. Again, men will find this movie appealing with the plentiful abundance of T&A in the movie. Cinderella 2000 features a fourth wall moment with Snow White wishing she were getting lucky only for her wish to come true thanks to the help of the seven dwarfs…. that’s all I’ll say on that matter. Cinderella 2000 is a movie that you could watch in a late-night viewing, but for the most part it will appeal to drunken frat boys looking for cheap thrills or prepubescent boys looking to get their rocks off.
19. Sunset Cove
Sunset Cove is Al Adamson’s first and only attempt at a raunchy teen sex comedy. The film is about a group of teenagers who band together to keep their beach from being bulldozed to make way for a developer to build condominiums. Sunset Cove features the stereotypical characters you would see in these type of teen comedies including an overweight character cleverly named “Chubby,” but are likable for the most part thanks in part to the decent performances from the cast of the movie. They’re working together for a common goal not just for themselves but for their community. There’s a surprise cameo from the great John Carradine who plays the town judge at the climax of the movie. This would be Carradine’s seventh and final appearance in an Al Adamson movie. The film features many tropes you’ll find in a beach movie: jocks, girls in bikinis, bumbling law enforcement officers and a corrupt mayor. Sunset Cove features the most lighthearted fun you’ll see in an Al Adamson movie. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Al Adamson movie if there weren’t any sex or topless women. The film does suffer from a listless plot and some of the locations are left to be desired. Sunset Cove may not be a memorable film of this genre but is one of the pleasantly surprising viewings of this filmography.
18. The Naughty Stewardesses
The Naughty Stewardesses is your typical T & A softcore skin flick. Think of Sex and The City on an airplane. The film wastes no time with the hanky panky between a pilot and a stewardess. Eventually the plot starts to form as the veteran stewardess crew show new hire Debbie the ropes and talk about their sexual fantasies. This leads to them staying with a wealthy man who gets to act out his fantasies with the nymphomaniac bunch while Debbie gets romantically involved with an amateur photographer who uses her to take pictures and start an affair that seems to go back and forth all throughout the movie. The Naughty Stewardesses was another attempt by Adamson to make money and exploit a growing trend. The acting doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination and the plot seems to stray away from its heading. The only good thing about the movie is of course the stewardesses although it’s gross that they are getting themselves involved with a man that thirty years older than them. The kinky happy fantasies of the women take a dark turn at the climax of the movie that gets utterly ridiculous. The Naughty Stewardesses doesn’t hold up today considering the volume of sex and pornography that is found today in film, television and of course the internet. Only the hardcore devotees of B Movies and Drive In Culture would be able to bring this film back from its involuntary celibacy.
17. Black Heat
Black Heat was Al Adamson’s first foray into the merging Blaxploitation genre that emerged during the early seventies. It’s a simple story of a Las Vegas cop, played by Timothy Brown in his first, but not last Adamson films who is out to shut down an upscale hotel that is being used a front for numerous illegal activities including loan sharking, gun running and prostitution. He is supported by his partner Tony, played by Geoffrey Land arrive to diffuse the situation and a TV camerawoman named Stephanie, played by Tanya Boyd whom he strikes a romantic relationship with. The film includes Adamson regular Russ Tamblyn as Ziggy who is the middle man for all the criminal activity going on in the hotel and Adamson’s wife Regina Carrol as a musical performer of the said hotel. The storyline is nothing that we haven’t seen before, but it has a decent cast of characters to keep the film moving. There’s a little more effort into the technical side of the film with a good chase scene and some shootouts. The romance element of the film between Brown and Boyd is humorous and playful. Unfortunately, there are some bizarre moments in Black Heat, most notably a horrendous sexual assault scene involving a woman who is a degenerate gambler who loses everything and is forced into a gang-bang to cover her debts. Finally, Black Heat starts to run out of gas during the third act and drags to where you start to lose interest. After watching this film, I felt this was a learning process for Adamson in this genre as he would continue making more Blaxploitation films and correcting the flaws that are in this.
16. Horror of the Blood Monsters
What do you get when you take footage from three separate films and then add your own footage with a different plot, edit them together and then flood them with various color tints? You get Horror of the Blood Monsters. The film opens with a narration sequence from late legendary actor Brother Theodore about a virus that is turning humans into vampires. From there a space crew travels the farthest reaches of the galaxy hoping to find help to stop the virus. They land on a planet that is filled with every kind of danger from dinosaurs to lobster people to a cannibalistic tribe. Not to mention the planet is filled with heavy radiation (the reason for the shades of colors throughout the film). Horror of the Blood Monsters looks like it was made during a bad acid trip. The opening sequence features several crew members including Adamson dressed as vampires biting the necks of unsuspecting victims. From there it morphs into a Sci-Fi film using footage from an untiled unfinished Filipino film, and an unfinished stop motion prehistoric film (One Million B.C.) with some cheap spaceship sequences and a mission control sequence where the screen is in freeze frame during the broadcasts from the spaceship. The cast includes Adamson regulars Robert Dix and Vici Volante with a special appearance from John Carradine as the ship doctor. There is a moment in the movie where Robert Dix explains to Vicki Volante about how the Spectrum Radiation works and how it changes color, followed by them engaging in a long love making sequence. The color of the film changes based on the time of day in the movie and vary from red, yellow, green and blue. It may not be pretty to look at, but that’s the justification Adamson used as cover to the black and white movies he cut and pasted. Horror of the Blood Monsters would’ve been a great film if they stuck with creating a film based on the opening sequence and could’ve used the jumbled movies and release it as a separate title. Then again, what do I know about cheap filmmaking?
15. The Fiend With The Electronic Brain
The Fiend With The Electronic Brain is essentially Psycho A Go Go with a few added scenes explaining why the killer in the movie acts the way he acts to give it a Science Fiction twist. The added scenes feature John Carradine as Dr. Howard Vanard who talks to a detective looking into the murders committed by the killer. Vanard explains that the killer was a soldier who returned from fighting in Vietnam with a traumatic brain injury and Vanard experimented with him by implanting an electronic device for him to recover and live a normal life. Instead, it turned him psychotic. Roy Morton who played the killer in Psycho A Go Go areturns in the added scenes to take care of Vanard from further talking to the police. Carradine’s death scene is hilarious when you watch the performance. While it does give a plausible reasoning for the killer, in the end it wasn’t necessary to make Psycho A Go Go any better than it already was.
14. Carnival Magic
Carnival Magic has the honor of being the only film of Al Adamson’s to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and found its audience through the hilarious riffs and commentary from Jonah, Tom Servo and Crow. Carnival Magic marked a turn for Al Adamson as his first 80s film would not only be his second to last, but his first attempt at making a children’s family film. The story is about a carnival that is trying to keep from going under. A magician that has been the main attraction of the carnival reveals that he has been keeping a talking chimpanzee under his roof named Alex. Alex becomes a part of the magician’s act and becomes an instant crowd pleaser. His popularity catches the attention of a scientist who wants to take Alex and experiment with him to see if he’s the true missing link of human evolution. Carnival Magic in its original non MST3K version is dated for a children’s film but has enough going on to be entertaining. The antics of Alex are funny including him stealing a car and taking a joyride on it. The power of this movie comes from the bond of the magician and Alex as kind of a father/son relationship. Alex makes friends with some of the other carnival workers who look after his well-being especially when he does go missing. It reminded me of another film I liked in my mouth called Dunston Checks In where a monkey escaped his abusive master and made friends with a lonely boy who looks after him. Carnival Magic is a movie that may get the attention of children under 6 but may not be appealing to the other ages. You’re better off watching the MST3K version for a laugh out loud good time.
13. Death Dimension
Jim Kelly returns in another Al Adamson Martial Arts film that while not a direct sequel to Black Samurai but has a lot of familiar elements. Death Dimension is essentially the same storyline as Black Samurai with Kelly trying to find the daughter of a scientist who has a microchip surgically implanted in her forehead that contains instructions on how to create a destructive freeze bomb. She is being pursued by a world-renowned gangster named “The Pig” who is looking to acquire the plans so he can use it to hold the world at ransom. Death Dimension is an odd title considering there’s extraordinarily little in terms of Science Fiction. The film ratches up the Bond elements by adding Oddjob himself Harold Sakata as “The Pig” and one time James Bond George Lazenby as one of Kelly’s contacts which was great to see. The action scenes are fun to watch most notably a boat chase scene with Kelly fighting and knocking his adversaries into the beautiful blue water. While the story of Death Dimension is nothing new, it’s easy to follow along and doesn’t have any twists or things to turn your brain into a pretzel. The film quality of this version is grainy due to the print that Severin Films was able to acquire, but you can still see what’s going on in the frame. Finally, the music is decent with a laughable track during the final chase scene as it sounds like the composer was mashing on a synthesizer. Death Dimension is another fun Martial Arts film that fits in Al Adamson’s Kung Fu Trilogy along with Black Samurai and The Dynamite Brothers.
12. The Fakers
As previously stated in my review for Hell’s Bloody Devils, The Fakers is about a government agent who infiltrates a Neo Nazi organization in California in hopes of retrieving some counterfeit plates from Germany the Nazis plan on using for a counterfeit scheme. Adamson wanted to seize on the success of the James Bond movies by creating a spy thriller of his own. The Fakers has a nice blend of action, story, characters, and music. In traditional James Bond fashion, The Fakers features a romantic sub plot where the protagonist encounters a beautiful young woman caught in middle of the events that are unfolding. Best scene in the movie is where the main character and his love interest are eating at KFC and Colonel Sanders appears in the flesh asking them, “Isn’t that the most wonderful chicken you ever ate?” He refused to say the original scripted line, “Ain’t that chicken finger lickin’ good?” which caused the crew to shoot several takes, which in an Al Adamson movie is a no-no
11. Blood of Dracula’s Castle
Blood of Dracula’s Castle was one of many good concepts from Adamson that doesn’t quite hit their mark. Starring Alexandar D’Arcy as a fangless mustached Dracula he resides in a castle in the middle of the California desert along with his wife the Coutness played by Paula Raymond and their loyal butler George played by John Carrandine. With the use of a henchman named Mango, they kidnap young women who wonder into their property and hold them in the basement to take their blood. Their lives get turned upside down when the original owner of the property passes away and gives the deed to his nephew. He along with his fiancé travel to the castle and meet the squatters. They soon realize that there is something wrong with their new inheritance. There are many things to like about Blood of Dracula’s Castle. The cinematography was good for being an Adamson film apart from a few cuts and scratches from the film translation itself due to it being old and recovered for the box set. I loved the setting and set decorations of the film. While the castle is in the desert, the inside still has that vintage look of Dracula’s original layer settled in Transylvania. John Carradine is the standout performance as George the Butler. Surrounded by amateurs, Carradine’s veteran professionalism and seriousness of the part sticks out. While the story is cohesive, it could’ve been fleshed out more. The biggest thing I didn’t get was why Dracula and the Countess chose to drink blood from a glass rather than bite the necks of their victims the old-fashioned way. One of those mysteries that may never be solved. Blood of Dracula’s Castle may stack at the bottom as a forgettable Dracula movie, but it has enough going on for it to be a decent late night B movie.
10. Psycho A Go Go
Al Adamson’s second feature film Psycho A Go Go is about a jewel heist that goes wrong with one of the burglars tossing the bag of jewels into the back of a pick-up truck driven by an ordinary pedestrian who’s on his way home to celebrate his daughter’s sixth birthday. The thieves track him down and hold his family hostage until they get their stolen loot back. Psycho A Go Go has plenty of zany moments, most notably one of the henchmen who abruptly becomes the main antagonist near the end of the film. The acting is cheesy which includes a doll that sings like Alvin the Chipmunk. There’s enough going on in the film to keep your attention span, most notably the opening heist and the final act. The climax features a long chase scene that starts with the killer stealing a car and going after the wife and daughter of the innocent man and ends up in a snowy mountainside where the final standoff ensures. The cinematography was done by Vilmos Zsigmond who would go on later in his career to win the Academy Award for Cinematography for his work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This was his first Director of Photography job and you could see the talent that he had for lighting and framing as his later works would continue to give him much praise and success.
9. Brain of Blood
Brain of Blood is the story of a dictator from a fictional Middle Eastern country who is dying of cancer and arranges with his aides and future bride for his body to be flown to America where a scientist is preparing to transfer his brain into another human body in order for him to continuing living. What he’s not aware is that the Scientist is planning on putting his brain into the body of his acid scarred servant. This is the most comprehensive film from Al Adamson. While not an original idea, it’s well executed. The story is easy to follow along and has some decent performances, most notable Angelo Rossitto in his first Al Adamson film playing the Scientists’ assistant. You could tell he was having fun with his character especially when checking up on the women who are chained in the Scientists’ basement. There’s also a well-choreographed fight scene and a car chase sequenced to keep the film from being too dialogue heavy. Of course, Brain of Blood couldn’t be a horror film without seeing blood and a brain. The surgical sequence is long, but the effects are gruesome. Kudos to the props and effects department for making a realistic looking brain drowned in blood. Brain of Blood is a movie I would watch again and even draw a little inspiration into writing a script with this subject matter.
8. Jessi’s Girls
Starring Sondra Currie in the eponymous role, Jessi’s Girls is a movie about vengeance and female empowerment. Jessi and her husband, who are devout Mormons are attacked by a group of outlaws. Jessi is raped several times and her husband is killed. With very little strength she finds safe haven in a hut of a hermit who nurses her back to health and teaches her how to use a gun. Jessi then goes out in the world to seek revenge on the outlaws. She frees several female prisoners and starts a gang. Jessi’s Girls is a rare film where it feels Al Adamson took his time on and focuses on character development and emotion rather than fast loose gimmicks. The metamorphism of Sondra Currie is amazing how she went from an innocent devout Mormon woman to a vengeance seeking vigilante with a deep hatred for men. The torture scenes are brutal, and the music heightens the tension and pain being inflicted. There’s enough action and shootouts to keep the film from being too preachy on the morals and ethics of what they are doing. Great supporting cast including Regina Carrol, Jennifer Bishop and Ellyn Stern as Jessi’s partners who slowly infight among themselves in the film and it’s up to Jessi to keep her girls in line. Unfortunately, Jessi’s Girls suffers from having an abrupt ending where the credits roll immediately after the climax. It felt like a slap in the face to what was turning into making Al Adamson a mainstream filmmaker. Jessi’s Girls is still a good film on the merits and worthy of a top ten slot.
7. The Dynamite Brothers
Continuing the trend of making movies featuring trending genres, Al Adamson jumped on the success of Bruce Lee’s final film Enter The Dragon by making a Kung Fu film of his own. Released in 1974, The Dynamite Brothers star Alan Tang as Larry Chin, who arrives in America via Hong Kong searching for his brother. While at a stop in San Francisco, he meets Stud Brown, played by Timothy Brown via being handcuffed to each other by a racist corrupt cop named Burke, played by Aldo Ray. After escaping custody, Larry and Stud head to Los Angeles with the help of a driver by named Betty, played by Clare Torao. I loved this movie. The action starts right at the beginning and doesn’t wear out. The fights are perfectly choreographed and the chemistry between Alan Tang and Timothy Brown remind me of the relationship between Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour. The Dynamite Brothers also features legendary actor James Hong as the antagonist who is quiet, but brutal as you will see in the film where he kills a henchman using a single acupuncture needle. The story is simple and flows easily with an intriguing twist during the final act of the movie. The flaws are little, but rather noticeable especially during a shootout scene where a car flips over and bursts into flames. Nevertheless R. Michael Stringer does a great job with the cinematography with shots overlooking the San Francisco Bay to the mean streets of Los Angeles. Quentin Tarantino has talked in length about The Dynamite Brothers and I could easily see why. It is truly a fun B movie watch for fans of the Martial Arts genre.
6. Satan’s Sadists
Biker films are known for their honest brutality and Satan’s Sadists pulls no punches. Starring Russ Tamblyn as Anchor who leads his gang the Satan’s Sadists on a venture of rape, murder, and revenge. After terrorizing a group of people at a local diner in the desert, a man fresh out of the Marines fights back to defend the waitress against the gang which leads to a chase in the desert where they attempt to hide from the gang finding them. During the search, the gang comes across a trio of college girls working on a project and slowly being to unravel as the day falls into night. The overall presentation of Satan’s Sadists looks like something Quentin Tarantino would’ve made (I believe he mentioned in an interview about really liking this film, but I can’t find the source). The story is easy to follow. The cinematography is gritty and captures the wastelands of the desert along with the long straight roads where the bikers ride in formation. There’s great sixties music that fits the feel and themes of the movie. The performances are solid with Tamblyn being the standout as the quiet but sociopath Anchor and Bud Cardos as the Native American member of the gang Firewater who gets into a power struggle with Anchor. The rest of the gang act like despicable little children due to their antics throughout. The film also marks the feature debut of Adamson’s wife Regina Carrol who would appear in all his films going forward. She has many notable scenes in this including dancing on top of a diner table. It’s something you would see in a Tarantino film. There are some scenes that are hard to watch, most notably the rape scenes involving two women, one at the beginning of the film and one during the middle. It reminded me of the rape scenes in The Last House on the Left. Finally, a biker film wouldn’t be one if it didn’t have any fights. There’s plenty of fights including a great scene where the protagonist takes a snake and hurls it at a biker who gets bitten on the neck and slowly succumbs to the snake’s venom. Satan’s Sadists is without a doubt one of the best films Al Adamson has made and one that was not afraid of pushing the boundaries. It’s the perfect Drive In B movie.
5. Uncle Tom’s Cabin
We’re now down to the final five in the Al Adamson movie rankings. We start with Adamson’s film adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s immortal novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Released in 1977, the film was originally a German production that ran quite long until Adamson bought the film, trimmed it down and added a few of his touches, most notably nude scenes, and a lovemaking scene between the character of Napoleon and the nurse that heals him after he escapes from a riverboat. It’s been a long time since I’ve read the novel so I can’t testify as to how accurate the film is from the novel. The production and filming of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is quite astounding. While Adamson may have not shot the film in its entirety, he took with great care editing and matching the film to create a cohesive narrative to present a dignified film adaptation about the changing attitudes of slavery which would lead to the Civil War. There’s a real authenticity to this film from the settings to the clothes and the music. The performances are top notch, with German actor Herbert Lom playing Simon Legree. He is shown having half of his face scarred reminiscent of the Batman villain Two-Face. There are violent moments in the film that are hard to watch. I had to close my eyes on a few scenes, but you must remember that Adamson put these scenes as context as to how African American slaves were treated. Not as human beings but property. There are not many film adaptations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin out there, but this was the most driven and emotional version I’ve seen that sticks out among Al Adamson’s filmography.
4. Girls For Rent
Starring Adult Film legend Georgina Spelvin, Girls For Rent starts with Spelvin as the role of Sandra escaping from a prison work detail and rendezvous with a woman named Erica, played by Rosalind Miles. There she meets Chuck, played by Preston Price and gets involved in his prostitution business by managing the girls. One of the newer clients named Donna, played by Susie Ewing freaks out and leaves after her client dies of a heart attack. On the lam, Donna hopes to escape from Sandra and Erica who are ordered to track her down and kill her. Girls For Rent is a surprisingly good cat and mouse film. Spelvin delivers a solid performance as the hard-nosed and sadistic Sandra and Susie Ewing as Donna who seems to find herself in one bad situation after another. There are some shocking moments in the film which show how these girls are not here to mess around and they will not let anyone stand in their way. There is a small romance that blossoms between Donna and a man who invites her to camp with him in the mountains and then take her to where she wants to go the next day, but it does not happen until the third act of the movie. Girls For Rent includes plenty of action, surprises and of course sex to keep you engaged and featured a great ending to wrap things up. Girls For Rent easily makes the top of this list for me.
3. Black Samurai
Al Adamson teams up with iconic Martial Arts champion Jim Kelly of Enter The Dragon fame to create Black Samurai. Kelly plays Robert Sand, who is a secret agent for the group D.R.A.G.O.N (Defense Reserve Agency Guardian of Nations) who is vacationing in Mexico is cut short when his superiors assign him to save the daughter of the ambassador of Hong Kong, who just happens to be Robert’s girlfriend. Black Samurai combines Martial Arts, Blaxploitation and Secret Agent genres to create a fast, fun and thrilling film. This is one of Kelly’s finest performances delivering humor, seriousness and of course his fast fists. Black Samurai has a James Bond feel to it featuring Kelly wearing a jetpack and flying around a perimeter, encountering a beautiful but deadly enchantress and stopping an over-the-top antagonist nicknamed “The Warlock.” Of course, there are traps Kelly must escape from most notably a jail cell filled with rattlesnakes. The fight scenes are furious and fun to watch. Kelly takes on all kinds of bad guys notably dwarven henchmen and a giant vulture looking to tear him to pieces. Kelly demonstrates why he is considered one of the greatest in his discipline, which was Shorin-Ryu Karate. The Martial Arts genre was the greatest strength for Adamson as he seemed to know how to frame an enjoyable action flick. Black Samurai easily makes the top three on this list. It is one long roller coaster from beginning to end.
2. Dracula vs. Frankenstein
Who would’ve thought it would be Al Adamson that would bring two iconic monsters in literature and early days of cinema to duke it out on the big screen? Dracula vs. Frankenstein is perhaps the most notable film of Al Adamson since it’s been played at Drive-Ins and on late night television. The major plot of the movie is Dracula uncovers the remains of the Frankenstein monster and convinces Dr. Durea, the last surviving member of the Frankenstein family to resurrect him. The B story of the movie involves Regina Carol who searches for her missing sister and encounters not only a biker gang, but a carnival where one of the attractions is a cover for Dr. Durea’s lab. The film is notable for many reasons. First, there is a veteran cast including J. Carrol Naish as Dr. Durea, Lon Cheney Jr. as his hulking assistant Groton, Angelo Rossitto as the shorter assistant Grazbo who pretends to be the tour guide of the attraction and Russ Tamblyn as biker gang leader Rico. The performances are good with the highlights being the forementioned actors. Roger Engel (credited as Zandor Vorkov) plays Dracula in a stiff monotonal way. Thanks to the bad editing, he appears at times without makeup and fangs and near the end of the film, he appears with fangs and wearing white clown makeup, which is cheesy but strangely appealing. John Bloom plays the Frankenstein Monster whose lips look like they were swollen due to an allergic reaction to a bee sting plays the monster somewhat clumsily with a few grunts here and there. I liked the cinematography in this as the settings of the movie are a mix a beachside carnival with the final sequence being shot in a church and the final battle taking place in the woods. The fight is more of a tug of war but gets entertaining at the end. I thought the cinematography was good for this type of movie with some funny still frame shots of Dracula using his powers to burn someone. For you gore hounds there’s an ample amount of gore including head rolls and an axe to the face that made me squirm. Dracula vs. Frankenstein is the most impressive film of Adamson’s library from a technical standpoint. It’s not as terrible as some people claim it is. I like to think of it as a good Mystery Science Theater 3000 Movie that you could watch late at night with some friends and riff on it.
1. The Female Bunch
The first film I watched in the Al Adamson Masterpiece Collection turned out to be my overall favorite film of this list. It’s a movie I kept thinking back as I was watching the rest of the films and starting my rankings. Released in 1971, The Female Bunch starts with a woman named Sandy, played by Nesa Renet together with a man named Jim, played by Geoffrey Land who are hiding in the mountains from the female gang looking to apprehend them. The movie then goes into a flashback where Sandy goes into narration of the events leading up to this point. She was working as a waitress struggling to make ends meet. One night she tries to kill herself, but is saved by her Co-worker Libby, played by Adamson’s wife and regular contributor Regina Carrol. Libby takes Sandy to a ranch owned by a female gang. After going through an initiation test, Sandy becomes a member of the group. From there they travel to Mexico to party, get drunk and score drugs. As the film progresses, Sandy becomes unsure if this is the life she wants and questions the motives of its leaders Dennise (Leslie McCray) and strung out sexaholic Sharyn (Sharyn Wyntes).
The Female Bunch features an eclectic cast of newcomers and veterans including frequent Adamson collaborator Russ Tamblyn and Lon Cheney Jr. in his final film appearance. The Female Bunch starts with some great western music and aerial shots from a plan courtesy of Bud Cardos, another Adamson regular who had his own plane. From there it’s a cohesive story of a woman looking for something better in life and finding acceptance within a group which is something we’ve all be involved in at one point in our lives. The middle gets a little dull with the almost never-ending partying in Mexico but makes up with it with some hot sex and dancing. The performances are good. Most of the gang members were amateur actresses who didn’t know how to ride horses until they did this movie. For what its worth they did a valiant effort even though you can tell is some shots they did not look comfortable. There’s plenty to humor to cut through the seriousness of the plot. In Lon Cheney’s role as the Stable Keeper Monti, who gets teased by the women thinking he’s going to get laid by one of them. There’s quite a bit of gruesome violence including a scene where Tamblyn gets a permanent marking on his forehead because of his failed attempt to rape one of the women. There are some hiccups during the third act in which the ADR does not sync up with the actresses’ dialog (this is something you’ll see in most Adamson’s movies). The Female Bunch is a film of female empowerment and they show that they’re playing with the boys on their terms. In the end it was no contest that The Female Bunch was my favorite Al Adamson movie. It’s perhaps my favorite underrated Western film.
So what did you think of the rankings? Agree/Disagree with my list? What is your favorite Al Adamson film? Feel free to leave comments/feedback. I’d love to read your responses.
Starring: Wil Wheaton, Rutger Hauer, Nia Peeples, Ron Perlman, Michael Harris
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
For those that have followed this blog from the beginning, you might recall a review I did for a Sci-Fi Channel original movie entitled Evolver! If you haven’t seen the post before, don’t worry you still can. All my posts are archived 😊 It’s one of my favorite made for television movies. The movie represented a time in the 90s when the Sci-Fi Channel was really coming up in the cable world and its popularity would spawn its own original movies. Another movie I recall seeing when it first came out that I discovered again was a movie called Mr. Stitch! I remember seeing the trailer for it where it was just a man all wrapped up in giant bandages in front of an all-white screen. As an impressionable pre-teen during the day I was overwhelmingly excited to see this. I don’t recall watching it when it premiered, but I remember I was quite fond of the idea, concept and execution. Watching it again not too long ago I double down on my comments. For a movie that is twenty-three years old, it still holds up despite some moments of outdatedness. With that let’s get to the synopsis of Mr. Stitch!
Mr. Stitch stars Wil Wheaton, best known for playing Ensign Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation as an androgynous human made from body parts and skin from various donors and chooses to be a man despite not having the sexual organs of one. He was created by a group of scientists led by Dr. Rue Wakeman (Rutger Hauer). He’s referred to only as ‘Subject 3.’ Later he chooses a name for himself. He is now ‘Lazarus’ after the biblical character. At first, Lazarus is obedient and follows commands and performs his tests. As Lazarus learns more about himself he begins having memories and nightmares from the lives of his donors. They offer clues as to the identities of those who inhabit his body while simultaneously torture him. This creates a rift between his relationship with Wakeman. Wakeman realizes he is losing control over Lazarus as he is developing independent logic and feeling. Lazarus realizes that Wakeman is hiding secrets from him causing him to no longer want to work with him. Psychologist Dr. Elizabeth English (Nia Peeples) is assigned to help Lazarus deal with his tension between Wakeman and deal with his nightmares and with it develop a sense of trust with other humans. They start to get close until Lazarus mentions a phrase that triggers English as it is a phrase that said to her from her deceased science partner and lover Dr. Frederick Texarian (Ron Perlman). Lazarus starts to be overwhelmed by being trapped in the ward and requests to see the outside world which is immediately rejected by Wakeman. He sneaks out and investigates Wakeman’s true intentions with him. Lazarus understands what his purpose is and must find a way to stop Wakeman’s plans as well as make amends with English.
Written and directed by Roger Avary, Mr. Stitch is essentially a modern day retelling of Frankenstein. You have the Scientist who is looking to create a human being from dead (in this case created by tissue and organs of deceased humans) and you have the monster, which in this case is aware, functional and intelligent compared to the monster of the classic tale. It has the same elements in terms of the scientist creating this new life and teaching it how to interact with others and how to function with the purpose that is only known to them. You have the monster that is trying to learn, but starts to become resilient and unbalanced. The two will clash into this tug of war over power and control.
About ninety percent of the film takes place in this ward where everything is white. The scientists wear white suits and Lazarus is bandaged in all white. To me it represents both the first light we see when we are born as well as a state of purgatory where we are trapped in this area and are waiting to get to the outside of what lies ahead (for Lazarus this would be the outside world). We don’t see the outside of the ward until the near climax of the movie and several flashback scenes that Lazarus experiences as nightmares. Only other color we see in the movie is a black couch similar to a top hat that acts as Lazarus’ bed and the snot colored goo that comes out from a giant eyeball called the Observation Eye that watches Lazarus’ every move and from a device that measures and records his brain wave pattern when he is asleep (both are destroyed by Lazarus in a fit of anger).
The look of Lazarus is comprised of numerous pieces of skin from all different colors of humans (Black, White, and Brown). His eyes have different pigments of color. His hair is long and frazzled, almost like a witch. Although he is androgynous, he identifies himself as man due to his strength and anger that is to be more in common with a man than a woman. I give the makeup department credit for creating a creature like this to represent that we are all human begins regardless of race, color, sex and creed. I think that was Avary’s intention as well.
Mr. Stitch has some unique shots and visuals. What stood out to me are the choice of lenses that were used in certain scenes. For example, the “think tank” office of the scientists is shot like they are working inside a bubble. To me, the bubble represents the inner circle of those who are in it as to their research and their plans as to what to do with the research they are developing. The climax scene is deep underground and has a glossy watery effect that surrounds the confronting characters. Based on your impressions it gives you either a dream like effect or an effect if someone where high on drugs.
The pacing is a little uneven, but it doesn’t take away from the plot. Music is incorporated in practically every scene and it’s appropriate for what is happening in the scene. There is heavy metal during Lazarus’ bouts of anger or paranoia. There is a dreamy soft guitar sound during a hypnosis scene. Each piece of music sets the tone for what is happening.
The movie contains a very small cast with the majority of screen time belonging to Wil Wheaton and Rutger Hauer. Both of them I felt did a good job with their performances despite some flaws in the script. Wheaton starts out as very calm and compliant as he performs the tests that Hauer has him do. He’s quite intelligent by quickly developing his self-awareness and heightened sensibility. He is hostile to the scientists, but finds a soft and calming nature when he is around Dr. English. He develops a deep sense of trust and in some cases, love when they are together. Wheaton is able to channel his emotions of the character in the appropriate scenes throughout the film. Hauer portrays Dr. Wakeman as a teacher and somewhat of a father figure to Lazarus. He is cautious with his responses to Lazarus’ questions and steers him away from anything he sees as a threat to his control of him. Hauer was very unhappy with the writing of the movie that he disregarded the script and began to improvise his scenes to match what he felt was more logical of his character and the story. I honestly can’t tell you that I was able to pick out which scenes he improvised, but that’s what makes him a great established actor was that he knew more about the character than what Avary had on paper.
The rest of the cast includes Nia Peeples as Dr. Elizabeth English who is brought in to help Lazarus deal with his dreams and nightmares. She builds a rapport with Lazarus during their sessions together. As they get to know each other, she becomes slightly distraught at what she discovers about him. Her feelings for him come full circle in the climax of the film. Peeples is very attractive and gives a soft touch to the films constant hostility between the two main characters. The other main performance comes from Michael Harris as General Hardcastle, who is the head of a secret government organization called ‘The Outfit’ and is in charge of the project. He shovels billions of taxpayers’ dollars to Wakeman and his team with the goal of creating a superior human being that could be used not only in warfare but to take down the bureaucrats in Washington so he can remodel the government in his own vision. He is the real antagonist of the movie. This was perhaps the weakest and most laughable performance of the movie. His dialogue reminds me of something a professional wrestler would say, but he gets what’s coming to him and it’s very satisfying. There is also small appearances from Ron Perlman as Dr. Texarian, the original team leader of the Stitch Project, Taylor Negron as Dr. Alan Jacobs who replaces Dr. English and gets a not so warm welcome by Lazarus and Make Up Effects Guru Tom Savini as a scientist.
Mr. Stitch is available to watch on YouTube since it’s hard to find any video copies. I think you would enjoy watching this made for television movie. It’s a creative take on an original monster story. It doesn’t drag and keeps your attention with every scene. I wish the Sci-Fi Channel would make more of these compelling films than cheap monster movies involving five headed sharks or a yeti with the speed of a greyhound dog. Really makes you miss the 90s.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
Part way through production, Rutger Hauer completely discarded the script and refused to do any scenes from it. The majority of his scenes were improvised by the actor. Later, Roger Avary was forced to rewrite the remaining script to match up with Rutger’s footage.
This movie was the first “original” aired by The Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy). It would be a few more years before they started advertising their made-for-TV movies as “Sci-Fi Originals”, but they did advertise this quite a bit as new and never-before-seen.
Was meant to be a pilot for a proposed television series. After Rutger Hauer gave up on the movie, the series was sunk.
Writers: Steven Knight (Screenplay), Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson and Steven Knight (Story)
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Live Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
For this review of Guilty Pleasure Cinema I decided to go with a genre that I’ve not done a review for. I went with a Biopic film. I enjoy Biopic films as they give you a cinematic view of a person or a historical event. I went with an individual biopic. This biopic is based on a person that is arguably the best at what he did. What he did was play Chess. He not only became the first (and only) American to win the World Championship, but he unlocked centuries of secrets that were contained in the game. I’m referring to Bobby Fischer.
I’ve been an amateur Chess player for over a year and I’ve been fascinated with Bobby Fischer as an individual. I’ve read many books on him as well as the award-winning HBO documentary Bobby Fischer Against The World. He is a man shrouded in mystery and lived in his own world which consists of 64 squares and 16 pieces. At age fifteen he became the youngest United States Chess Champion. By the time he was twenty-nine, he won the 1972 World Championship against Soviet Champion Boris Spassky. The match is hailed as the only “physical” battle of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The match soared Chess into mainstream popularity. Fischer became a rock star. Right as he won the title, he went into seclusion never playing another professional game until twenty years later. In 2015, a biopic about Fischer and the ’72 Championship was released in limited theaters called Pawn Sacrifice!
Pawn Sacrifice chronicles Fischer’s interest in Chess as a young boy to winning his first United States Chess Championship to his preparation for the World Championship against Spassky. His frosty relationship with his mother, his early signs of paranoia and his all-out desire to be the best in the world weave into the plot. Directed by Edward Zwick whose credits include numerous critically acclaimed films including Glory, Legends of the Fall, Courage Under Fire, and The Last Samurai the cast includes Tobey Magurie as Bobby Fischer, Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky, Peter Sarsgaard as Father Bill Lombardy, Fischer’s assistant and backup player and Michael Stuhlbarg as Paul Marshall who becomes Fischer’s lawyer.
Let me go ahead and get the negatives out of this movie first before going into the reasons why I enjoy this film. It’s a flawed historical account of Fischer’s rise to Chess immortality. There are a lot of inaccuracies during the timeline of events. I won’t document all the inaccuracies I found out due to not giving out spoilers (although I warn about potential spoilers). I understand that biopic films can’t reveal a full narrative unless you plan on having a four plus hour movie. I think the film trims the fat in the wrong places.
Instead what Pawn Sacrifice does is gives you a psychological story. Throughout the film you watch Fischer slowly deteriorate mentally from his constant studying of the game, to his heightened senses which breaks his concentration to his ever growing distrust for those around him to tearing up telephones and breaking any equipment he thinks the Russians can use to spy on him. Yes, the film focuses on Fischer, but it also focuses on his opponent Spassky. Both are considered the best Chess players by their respective homelands. Both are used as pawns to their countries to show off the superiority of each ideological concept. Each play their own psychological games. For Fischer its constant demands on the rules, setting and prize money. For Spassky it’s doing things like standing up and slowly pacing causing noises to interrupt Fischer’s train of thought. There are moments in the film where Spassky is suspicious of his assistant’s motives and reasonings. All Spassky wants to do is play Fischer in a battle of wits and skill.
As far as the story, the film starts out with Bobby as a young boy garnering an interest in Chess to his quick rise to being the youngest Chess Grandmaster in history to his legendary match with Boris Spassky for the World Championship. The third act of the movie is the dramatization of the Championship match. The original match consisted of twenty four games with Fischer needing to get to twelve and half points to win the title. What director Edward Zwick does is not bore you with highlights from all twenty four games, but rather shows you the important matches in the game along with some of the issues that arise during the match.
The cast of the movie is small which is fine since it centralizes on the two figures. Tobey Maguire is not the ideal actor to play Fischer, but I think he did a good job with the performance. Maguire is short is height compared to the real Bobby Fischer who was tall and lanky. I give the makeup department an ‘A+’ for getting Fischer’s hair and facial features. Maguire gets Fischer’s unique walk down to a science. The voice was hard to nail down since Fischer spoke with a soft Brooklyn accent, but it came out in many scenes where Fischer would be fired up about the Russian’s tactics in Chess and complaints about competitive disadvantage and some tense moments between him, Bill Lombardi and Paul Marshall. Maguire commanded the screen throughout the film with his tactics which were humorous at times including waiting to the last second to make his first move against a Russian opponent and stopping the clock with one second to spare.
While Tobey Maguire may not have the full look of Bobby Fischer, the opposite could be said of Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky. Schreiber was the perfect choice for Spassky. If you put a photo of Schreiber and Spassky together you wouldn’t be able to notice the difference. Schreiber speaks Russian throughout the entire movie with the exception of a few tiny moments where he speaks English. Schreiber portrays Spassky like a quiet rock star making entrances with his sunglasses on surrounded by his entourage. Even though he comes from the Soviet Union, we see moments in the film where Spassky is enjoying American culture from listening to music, to playing pinball to taking a swim in the ocean. This does not please his manager who is trying to keep a tight leash on him throughout the movie.
Finally the two remaining cast members, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg play their parts respectively. Sarsgaard plays Bill Lombardi, Fischer’s coach and second and Stuhlbarg plays Paul Marshall, Fischer’s pro bono lawyer who has his work cut out trying to satisfy all of Bobby’s demands. Lombardi is essentially the middle man between Fischer and Marshall. He does his best to keep both on even footing. Sarsgaard plays Lombardi as calm, wise and observational as he can tell right away that Fischer is falling into the same madness that has taken so many Chess prodigies in the past. Stuhlbarg portrays Marshall as somewhat of a weasel as he goes behind Bobby’s back to stay in touch with his sister, Joan who expresses the same concerns that Lombardi has and being a go to contact for people high up in the United States government who have taken a strong interest in Fischer and would like to exploit him to be a shining symbol of American freedom and idealism.
As far as the technical aspects of the film, the visual locations are beautiful and breathtaking as you see the sunny beaches of California to the cold and vast landscape of Iceland with New York being sandwiched in between the two. The film is very bright due to the digital film that was used although it makes up by setting the right lighting and mood during some of Fischer’s darkest moments including his vast breakdown in between games of the World Chess Championship. The music heightens the scenes throughout the movie and add a touch of classic rock and roll music during numerous scenes of Fischer’s dominance of the game when he destroys his opponents left and right.
Pawn Sacrifice is the first film I can think of that focuses on a person from the Chess world. I’ve heard of the movie “Searching For Bobby Fischer,” but that film was never about Fischer. It was a catchy title. If you’re not familiar with Bobby Fischer and would like to learn more about him I would recommend watching this movie. In addition I would watch the documentary I mentioned earlier Bobby Fischer Against The World and read numerous books about him. Fischer is an interesting character study. Who knows? Maybe it will spark your interest in Chess if you haven’t been interested in it already.
A “Pawn Sacrifice” is a move in chess in which a player sacrifices his pawn for a soft advantage such as more space for his pieces or positioning them in better squares in order to develop an attack subsequently. It aims to create unbalanced positions so if the player who is committed to the pawn sacrifice did not capitalize on his temporary advantage, he would lose the game at the end due to his inferiority in material.
The narrator of the conspiracy theory audio that Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) is listening to is Liev Schreiber, who plays Boris Spassky.
In preparing to write the movie’s script, screenwriter Steven Knight read many of the books that have been written about Bobby Fischer and the “Match of the Century”, as well as speaking with people who knew him. “The most useful material was archival footage of him being interviewed,” said screenwriter Knight. “Bobby spoke and moved oddly, and to see that was helpful. If you noticed him walking down the street, you’d think, ‘there is a curious person’. He might have ended up just another homeless person, but he was just so good at chess that he was saved by it. And, of course, cursed by it as well.”
The screenplay for this film was featured in the 2009 Blacklist, a list of the most liked unmade scripts of the year.
Of the movie’s title, the film’s director Edward Zwick said: “You have Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon calling Bobby Fischer; you have [Leonid] Brezhnev [Leonid Brezhnev] and the KGB agents following Boris Spassky. Both of these men were pawns of their nations”.
Bobby Fischer passed away at the age of 64, which is coincidentally the same number of fields on a chessboard.
David Fincher was linked to the project for several years.
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, William Sadler, George Carlin, Joss Acklund
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
In 1989 movie audiences were treated to a new original concept adventure movie about the fate of the future lying in the balance of two high school musicians passing their history exam. That movie was called Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It was a surprise success that not only launched Keanu Reeves into a mainstream star, but it also spawned a cartoon show and two sequels including 2020’s Bill & Ted Face The Music. For this review I wanted to look at the second film in this newly formed trilogy, which coincidentally is reaching the big 3-0 milestone! I’m talking of course about Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey!
The movie takes place five years after the events of the first movie. A man from the future by the name of De Nomolos (Joss Acklund) has created two evil robot versions of Bill & Ted and sends them back to their time to disrupt the next phase in their destiny, which is winning the Battle of the Bands and being one step closer to the Wild Stalyns changing the world with their music. The present day Bill & Ted continue to struggle at being good musicians, even with the help of their other band members, their girlfriends they rescued from 15th Century England. They encounter their evil doppelgangers when they arrive at their apartment and tell them that they are here to help solve their problems. Instead they take Bill & Ted to a desert and throw them off a cliff killing them. Now in a state of limbo, Bill & Ted must figure out a way to come back to life and stop the evil robots from accomplishing their mission. After two failed attempts at warning their parents about what happened, they are banished to Hell where they go through trials from their childhood until they are confronted by the Grim Reaper (William Sadler) who states they can return to the physical world if they beat him in a contest. After defeating Death in a contest……or in the case several contests, they go to Heaven and ask God for assistance in beating the evil robots. They are directed to a creature named ‘Station’ who is considered the most brilliant scientific mind in the universe. With Station’s help, they create two good Bill & Ted robots to counter the evil robots. They return to earth just as the Battle of the Bands begin and engage in a confrontation with the evil robots and De Nomolos for the fate of the future.
The sequel was as successful as the first movie, but fans are divided as to which of the two movies was better. Some fans believe Excellent Adventure was the superior of the two. Other fans believe Bogus Journey was the better film. After watching the film, I think Bogus Journey is on equal footing to its predecessor. . I would use the analogy in another Keanu Reeves movie, The Matrix to describe the two. They are two radically different films, but when they are put together they equal out. It’s a great idea to go from Bill & Ted having a positive and “Excellent” adventure to having a negative and “Bogus” journey, hence the equal concept.
The story is good although I think the script could’ve been fleshed out a little more and could’ve used a better third act. Reading the Behind the Scenes of this movie, writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon admit that the original third act was ripped up and they were struggling to come up with an act that would satisfy viewers and bring the story of Bill & Ted full circle. I’m not sure what the original third act entailed with the exception of a trivia note at the bottom. With the exception of a few returning characters the only other reminiscence of the first film that are shown in the second are the phone booth which is found in only a few scenes and you get a glimpse at the future where is a harmonious utopia thanks to the protagonist and their music.
The only returning characters in the second film are Bill, Ted, Ted’s father, Missy and George Carlin, who reprises his role as Rufus, although his role has shrunk from the first film. All the other characters are new. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter play dual roles as not only the dim witted heroes, but the evil robot versions of them. The evil robots are stronger and smarter, but they are programmed to speak and act just like their human counterparts which I found funny. Their master DeNomolos, played by legendary character actor Joss Acklund I found to be a very weak villain as he appears only in the opening scenes, a few scenes where he is checking up on the robots’ statuses and the final confrontation. Not much is known about DeNomolos other than the fact he was Rufus’ old teacher and that he despises the society that Bill & Ted have created and goes on a crusade to destroy them so he can reshape the future into his ideals, which could be perceived is having a Marxist ideology. Acklund didn’t have much to work with and his acting and body language gave me the impression that he didn’t want to be in this movie, which is a shame. I’m sure he was thinking to himself, “How do I go from playing an evil South African diplomat in “Lethal Weapon 2” to playing a villain having to babysit two robots in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey? I guess we’ll never know what his mindset was.
The real star of the film and without question the best performance goes to William Sadler who plays the Grim Reaper. His portrayal of Death starts out serious and then goes completely one eighty when he spends more time with the heroes. When Death first encounters them just as they died, he is prepared to take them into the afterlife, but they distract him and give him a “Melvin” in order to escape. It’s only when they are in Hell that they summon Death and accept his challenge of playing him in a game to return to Earth (I won’t tell you what game or games they play, but they were my favorite scenes of the film). When Death joins Bill & Ted he becomes more of a nuisance rather than a helper. He’s always looking attention and feels left out when Bill & Ted don’t give him credit for things that he supposedly did. The accent Sadler uses is Slovakian which gives him range and power, but also makes it funny especially when during his angry outburst moments in the film.
As far as the rest of the film in terms of special effects and settings, it’s interesting to see the film’s vision of the future where everyone wears highlighter colored clothing which reflects well with the lighting in their classrooms. You see a small glimpse of Evil Bill and Evil Ted pulling their skin off to reveal their robot form which is colorful and high tech for the time and the vision of Hell in the film is depicted as a never ending industrial corridor with infinite doors and the Devil instructing the damned to “Choose their Eternity”.
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is one of the few sequels out there that matches up to its predecessor. Matheson and Solomon rolled the dice and took their chances of not repeating the same concept of the first movie and it paid off. Watching it again after all these years, it holds up strongly in comparison to other sequels that came out in the early 90s.
The guitar solo before KISS’ “God Gave Rock And Roll To You”, is performed by guitar legend Steve Vai. The footage had already been shot, and the world premiere was a week away, when he was asked to do it. He also contributed various music in the film, including “The Reaper Rap”, which features on the end credits.
When Bill and Ted go to Missy’s séance, you can see Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, the creators and writers of Bill and Ted. They’re the only men that are attending the séance. (Chris is the guy with the white shirt, and Ed is the guy with the glasses.) They also say “Ed and Chris rule the world” backwards
The original title was “Bill and Ted go to Hell” but was changed because of American objections to the use of the word “hell”.
The “Riddance of Evil” book that Missy uses to send Bill and Ted to Hell, is actually a re-dressed copy of the Stephen King short-story collection “Four Past Midnight.” She opens it to a page in the story “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” which can be read clearly in a few frames of the film.
During the séance scene, the chant to send Bill’s and Ted’s spirits, can be read backwards as “Ed and Chris will rule the world.” Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson being the movie’s scriptwriters.
The mountain, to which Bill and Ted are brought to be killed by the evil robots, is the same mountain Captain Kirk climbs in Star Trek: Arena (1967), which Bill and Ted watched in their apartment.
Joss Ackland said in a Radio Times interview, he only did this project, because of a bet between him and a family member
In a deleted sequence, the Evil Robots use devices to re-create Bill’s and Ted’s’ personal Hells (Granny Preston, the Easter Bunny, and Colonel Oats) and send them after the heroes. Bill and Ted end up having to face their fears to get rid of them. Bill gives Granny her kiss on the cheek, Ted calls his brother and apologizes for stealing his Easter candy, and both boys treat Oats with kindness and friendship rather than terror.
Director Peter Hewitt has a cameo in the film. He plays the smoker in the Builder’s Emporium to whom Death says, “I’ll see you soon.” In the cast credits The Smoker is credited as “Max Magenta”.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the holiday movie season was a quick breeze with little to no new releases to celebrate the most festive time of the year. One notable release was definitely not for children. The dark comedy flick Fatman stars Mel Gibson as a frazzled Santa Claus who is fighting to save his business of making toys and delivering them to children all over the world. Unbeknownst to him, a neglected and spoiled rich twelve-year old boy hires a hit man (played by Walton Goggins) to kill Santa after receiving a lump of coal for Christmas. Fatman was originally slated to release in theaters but ended up being released on numerous streaming platforms including Amazon Prime and On Demand. The movie received mixed reviews with many people describing the film as a wintery spaghetti western with solid performances from Gibson and Goggins.
For fans of the film or if you missed out during its initial release you can now see Gibson’s take on a cranky, crusty and not so jolly Saint Nick with the Blu-Ray release of Fatman. Not only do you get the Blu-Ray of the movie, but it comes with a Digital Code that you can send to your friends so they can watch it on a home device. In addition, the Blu-Ray features several extras including Deleted and Extended Scenes, Storyboards to Film and an Audio Commentary featuring the writing/directing Nelms brothers, Eshon and Ian, Producer Michelle Lang, Director of Photography Johnny Derango and of course the star of the film, Mel Gibson.
I’m not going to go deep into a review of the movie itself to avoid spoilers. This review involves the overall look and presentation of the Blu-Ray release. Right away I noticed how clean and the picture looked on my television. Your eyes will be treated to the beautiful settings where Fatman takes place. The majority of the movie was shot in Ottawa and the farm that is used as Santa’s base is a real farm where it has been owned through twelve generations of Canadians. The Nelms Brothers make great use of natural lighting to give that wintry look and feel. Every shot in the movie is crisp and the performances add to the emotion that is in the scene. The production team did an amazing job of creating a cold gritty world where the magical season of Christmas is losing its luster. You’ll get excited with every scene involving Gibson and Goggings as they give opposing performances but organically weave in the comedy to not make it too dark and depressing. The story itself is original and innovative as this is a take on Chris Cringle no storyteller would dare to write.
The sound of Fatman is mastered in Dolby Audio. If you have a great surround system or soundbar you’ll be hearing every little detail that is in the movie. You’ll hear the diverse soundtrack that won’t drive you crazy with endless Christmas tunes. You can even hear the breath coming from Walton Goggins during one scene in the film. The sound of the gunshots during the climactic battle scene are sharp and make you feel like you need to duck and cover behind your couch. Kudos to the sound designers for creating the right pitch and tone to add another layer of the film.
While the extras are skim, I’m always excited to read that there is an Audio Commentary for the home release of a film. When you watch Fatman with the Audio Commentary turned on you will hear right away that the participants are recording using Zoom or another online chat site (due to COVID restrictions). I enjoyed listening to Eshom and Ian Nelm’s approach to telling this story and all the decisions that were made from lighting to setting and casting. I’m not familiar with any of their previous work, but this film was a solid first impression for me. It’s great to hear Mel Gibson talk about his approach to Santa and how much fun he had working on this movie. He cracks jokes and at times bummed out when certain lines or scenes were taken out because they were too cheesy. The commentaries are insightful and informative. There was no pause to take a drink of water or catch a breath with this crew. The Storyboard extras will appeal to those who have an interest in how a movie is presented and how the shots will be scheduled. As for the Deleted and Extra Scenes they don’t offer anything that enhanced the movie, but rather gave you an extended look at a scene. These cuts were appropriate given the quick pacing of the movie.
Overall, the Fatman Blu-Ray edition is a nice present give to yourself or to a friend or family member who may enjoy this unique take of a dark comedy holiday film. It’s reasonably priced and has just enough to keep your entertainment level fat and jolly.