Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Page, Deborah Rennard, Lisa Pelikan, Ashley Johnson, Brian Thompson
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
It’s been a while since I reviewed a movie with an 80s action star. I didn’t want to do another Sylvester Stallone, Steven Seagal nor Dolph Lundgren movie since I’ve done one of each. I combed through the list of action stars and one name shocked me as I’ve never reviewed any of his movies for the site yet. The person I’m referring to is the Muscles from Brussels himself, Jean-Claude Van Damme. JCVD was a prolific action star with good looks, kick ass moves and the master of the splits that would make men cringe. Going through is filmography one movie stood out as a perfect film to present since it doesn’t seem to find a whole lot of love in the movie review community. For this review, we look back to 1990 and the film, Lionheart.
In the movie Lionheart, Van Damme plays Lyon Gaultier, a solider in the French Foreign Legion stationed in Djibouti. He receives a delayed letter from his sister-in-law in Los Angeles regarding his brother in the hospital after a drug deal gone bad. After being denied leave, Lyon deserts the legion and escapes in a Jeep. Wandering the desert, he gets work as a tramp steamer which the boat he is working on is heading for the United States. He arrives in New York City instead of Los Angeles. Penniless and with no way of getting to his brother in time he comes across an illegal street fight ring led by a man named Joshua (Harrison Page). Lyon participates in a match which he wins (of course) and earns money. Seeing the potential, Joshua takes Lyon to meet a woman named Cynthia (Deborah Rennard) who runs an organized street fight for the rich. Impressed by his fighting skills Cynthia sponsors him a flight home. Unfortunately, Lyon is too late as his brother has passed. He agrees to fight for Cynthia to bankroll an account to give money to his sister-in-law Helene (Lisa Pelikan) and his young niece Nicole (Ashley Johnson). Unbeknownst to Lyon, members of the French Legion have arrived in America to apprehend him to be Court Marshalled for desertion. Lyon must save his family as fast as possible before he is taken into custody.
Directed by Sheldon Lettich who wrote the screenplay alongside Van Damme, Lionheart is one of the standout films that he’s done. It’s more than a movie with a ton of fights. It’s a film that has heart. Van Damme is looking for redemption for abandoning his brother for a long time and trying to make right with what’s left of his family. The sacrifices he makes in the film from deserting his unit to his body being bloodied, bruised and broken are displayed with determination and will.
The performances in the movie are good and convincing. Van Damme naturally evolves the character of Lyon as a loner who slowly breaks out of his shell and works to make amends to his family and generate an unlikely partnership/friendship with Joshua. Harrison Page does a great job playing Joshua. Although he is a recruiter for Cynthia and is all about the money, he does look out for Lyon and helps him connect with his sister-in-law and niece. He is also credited with giving Lyon the nickname “Lionheart” which he gets known by through the fighting world. Deborah Rennard as Cynthia is seductive and manipulative. She tries to use Lyon as her personal boy toy, but Lyon rejects her advances. She only sees dollars with him and doesn’t care for his well-being. Lisa Pelikan gives a heartbreaking emotional performance as Helene who is angry at Lyon for not making it home on time to see his brother one last time and struggles to find forgiveness, but essentially allows him back into her life and Ashley Johnson was cute as a button as Nicole. There’s an appearance from Brian Thompson as Cynthia’s bodyguard/right hand man Russell, but he doesn’t get a lot of screen time. He appears only when Cynthia appears except for one scene.
The fights in the film are engaging and enjoyable as Van Damme goes up against some of the best each with different builds and abilities. I loved the fact they used different locations for each fight including an underground parking garage complete with cars parked in a circular format to represent a cage, a near empty swimming pool with just enough water to dunk the fighters in and even a racquetball court. It felt like I was watching two gamers play Street Fighter.
The plot is simple and there’s no real twists or turns. There is some predictability near the third act which I won’t go into in order to avoid spoiling anything. Lettich does a great job keeping the audience focused going from a fight to a dramatic scene and then to a character scene, etc. There are a few moments that drag out, but most of it comes from the first quarter of the film.
Lionheart would rank as my third favorite Van Damme film only to Bloodsport and Hard Target. It’s the most human film of his body of work that we won’t see a performance like that again until his semi-biographical movie JCVD (another classic). The film went on to gross $24.3 million on a $6 million budget which is a nice chunk of change. It’s a dramatic actioner with gladiator combat that encompasses the spirit of not just a warrior, but a man.
Trivia (Per IMDB)
A trailer for the film, seen on various VHS releases from Imperial Entertainment, which produced the film, makes absolutely no indication of Universal Pictures’ involvement, since Universal would only pick up the U.S. distribution rights later in the process.
Filmed after Death Warrant (1990) despite being released prior.
Since 2018, “The Last Drive In” has become the staple show on the horror streaming service Shudder. For those who grew up watching Joe Bob Briggs host his own shown on The Movie Channel or those like myself who stayed up late watching him on TNT’s“Monstervision,” it was exciting to see the world’s greatest expert of B-Movies and Drive-In culture return in perfect form. “The Last Drive In” has had two seasons and numerous specials filled with blood, breasts and beasts along with Joe Bob’s informative tidbits of the movie that is being played. He is also joined by Darcy The Mail Girl who adds to the show with her creative cosplay outfits, her sometimes dissatisfaction with Joe Bob’s views and communicating with fans via Twitter. On Friday, April 16th, the gang returns to the trailer for a third season of a hootin’ good time.
Lately on the various social media platforms I’ve been seeing lists fans have created of their rankings of the best “Last Drive In” movies and episodes. The lists have been fun to read and provide plenty of back and forth debate between the Drive In Mutants (as the fans of the show are called). It got me thinking to make my own list. My list is ranked based on the movie, the presentation, enjoyment and replay value. A lot of these movies are no longer available to stream on Shudder so I don’t take that into consideration. I will continue to build on this list all throughout Season 3 and any future specials. Without further-ado let’s get the list going:
You know a movie is bad when there’s not even a decent still photo on the internet. This got a rare one star from Joe Bob.
The first film shown on “VHS Night” on Season 3, Sledgehammer is a movie that you would find playing on your local public access station or Tubi. Best thing about this movie is the end credits with the fake names such as I.C. Knun as Choreography director, I.P. Phreilee as the sound designer and Mike Hunt as the locations scout (the majority of this film was shot in writer/director David A. Prior’s apartment).
89. Dead Heat
Joe Piscopo, ‘nuff Said.
88. Cannibal Holocaust
While I respect the movie for its premise, realism and shock factor, Cannibal Holocaust was a film that I could not stomach all the way through. This and Bloodsucking Freaks were revelations that I’m not big on scenes to shock me, rather I’m grossed out by them. I do give the Shudder team credit for making a separate entry for people to watch the Joe Bob segments without having to go through watching the movie.
87. Hack-O Lantern
Only thing I was hacking up was a lung from all the laughter. I was waiting for Tom Servo and Crow to appear to start riffing this film.
86. Phantasm: Ravager
The long awaited finale in Don Coscarelli’s Phanstasm series, Ravager was a big disappointment. While it was great to see Reggie Bannister, Michael Baldwin and Angus Scrimm in his final appearance as the Tall Man, I did not like the glossy digital imagery, its confusing plot and overwhelming ending. The movie ended up asking more questions than answering them.
85. Dead or Alive
With the exception of the scene of the guy snorting the 30 foot line of cocaine, this was a film I couldn’t get into. Too much fecal material.
84. Daughters of Darkness
While the film does have a seductive and sexual atmosphere, Daughters of Darkness doesn’t have much else going. It’s a movie that will put you to sleep instead of keeping you awake.
83. The Prowler
Part of the original summer marathon in 2018, The Prowler was my first viewing of the film where my memory of the viewing quickly faded like Shudder’s rights to the film.
82. Bloodsucking Freaks
One of the most controversial films ever made, Bloodsucking Freaks was another first time view for me. I enjoyed the trivia Joe Bob provided. As for the rest of the movie, this was another case where I respect and appreciate the risqué film, this was another one that was too much for me to handle.
81. Deep Red
One of the best films from Dario Argento’s filmography, Deep Red is a good film, but I felt the pacing was too slow. Add in the trivia segments and you have a viewing where you need to prepare yourself with tons of coffee, soda, spicy foods or anything else to keep you awake.
80. Demon Wind
A movie with too many characters, bad acting and a very shoddy plot. If this were a movie about a killer fart, it would’ve charted higher on this list.
79. Slumber Party Massacre II
The first film shown in the Summer Sleepover special, Slumber Party Massacre II looks like a Beverly Hills 90210 episode with Nightmare on Elm Street knockoff dreams. It’s pretty much a bore-fest until the last act of the film when the Driller Killer appears in the flesh equipped with his jagged looking guitar with a drill on the neck and begins to mow down the rock and roll band babes and their obnoxious boyfriends.
78. Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II
Hello Mary Lou has some good effects and some decent performances. However, it doesn’t hold up to the original movie. Of course the best part of this viewing was Darcy getting dressed up as Mary Lou and enjoying a slow dance with Joe Bob.
77. Wolf Guy
Interesting concept starring the great Sonny Chiba. Starts out with some great flourishes of violence and gore, but the story starts to get silly near the second half of the movie.
76. The Legend of Boggy Creek
I’m not a big fan of fictional films that are made in a documentary style. There are some good moments in this film and I liked its gritty and grainy look. However, I felt the music to be overpowering and inappropriate at times. Of course I only viewed this film once which was during the original summer marathon. May give it another chance before criticizing it even further.
75. Blood Feast
One of the first “gore” films made by the great Hershel Gordon Lewis, Blood Feast is known for just that. There is an insane amount of blood and gore in this movie. This movie would become the blueprint for horror movies in the future. Great trivia from Joe Bob as well. What keeps this film from being ranked higher is the plot and acting.
74. Halloween 5
My least favorite Halloween movie of the “Halloween Hootenany” special. There wasn’t much I enjoyed about Halloween 5 including the cheap Michael Myers unmasking. What I did enjoy about this particular episode is Joe Bob’s unexpected destruction of the festive props that surrounded the set.
73. Blood Harvest
Obviously the selling point of Blood Harvest is that it stars Tiny Tim as the oddball character Mervo. There were two special guests that Joe Bob interviewed who knew Tiny Tim well. Justin A. Martell surprised Joe Bob by showing some rare footage of Tiny Tim watching Joe Bob during his tenure on The Movie Channel and praising him for his knowledgeable insights. It was the highlight of this episode.
72. The Love Witch
Written, directed, composed and edited by Anna Biller The Love Witch shows romance through the spectrum of a woman. We follow along the journey of the protagonist on her quest for love. She creates potions to lure potential male partners into falling in love with her only for them to end up getting killed. The Love Witch is a unique take on romantic horror featuring a great art direction with a mix of giallo and seventies with bright cinematography. I love the blend of colors that were used to give an emotional vibe. What keeps this movie from charting higher is the dull acting and a running time that is way too long for this type of concept. Perhaps Biller could’ve used that time to flesh out more of the story as it left questions that didn’t have answers.
Demons is considered a punk horror film. It has no plot, no character development. It’s full of blood, gore and special effects. It’s one big roller coaster from beginning to end.
70. Dial Code Santa Claus
The 1989 French flick known as 3615 Code Pere Noel, Deadly Games, Game Over and Hide and Freak, among its numerous titles is a movie concept that is all too familiar with American audiences. The second half of the movie is a cat and mouse game between a boy who loves to dress as Rambo and sets traps for a mall Santa who is looking to get vengeance after the boy’s mother gets him fired from his Santa gig. I enjoyed the cinematography and the setting of the giant mansion where someone could get easily lost in. There’s a few dead bodies in this one along with painful setups that the antagonist walks right into. Around the same time the following year, another Christmas movie about a boy who is home alone while his family is on vacation in Paris takes on two burglars by setting up traps inside his very own home. Coincide? I think not.
A film that became a victim of financier influence, Spookies is essentially two movies in one. It doesn’t make a lick of sense, but I enjoyed it for its hammy acting and impressive physical effects. Don’t bother trying to work your brain into overtime as to figure out what is going on in terms of the story. As Joe Bob said during the screening of this film, “You need to retire your brain.”
68. Blood Rage
“That’s not cranberry sauce!” This was the infamous line of Blood Rage, the 1987 underground slasher. It has a clever story where the body count stacks up. Great use of effects and has many gory parts with chopped off limbs and ripped up stomachs. The ending would’ve been perfect if it weren’t for one thing…I’m not going to spoil for those who haven’t seen it yet.
Haunt is nothing new nor original, but it’s entertaining enough to keep your attention. There are some grizzly death scenes and unexpected turns near the end of the film. One of the better films to come out within the last year.
66. The House By The Cemetery
I like The House By The Cemetery for its creepy, gory and unsettling atmosphere and scenery, but the plot is muddled and unconvincing. The scenes with the babysitter make you want to throw your hands up in the air when the mother asks what she’s doing which is obviously cleaning up blood on the floor only for the babysitter to answer with, “I’ll make some coffee.”On top of that, this film is notable for having the most annoying dub of child acting along with excruciatingly bad sobbing which is supposed to be the haunted house making that noise that make you want to plug in your ears and go, “La la la!” Thank goodness this is an improved viewing thanks to Eli Roth’s historical insights on this considering the movie takes place near his hometown, although shot in Rome because it’s an Italian movie done by the horror great Luico Fulci. The House By The Cemetery feels like it should be in the middle of the rankings until I realized there were better movies than this.
Italian rip off horror films don’t get any better than Contamination. I liked the cheesy effects and the bad dubbing. Not to mention the weird spacey soundtrack from Goblin. The episode was made funnier with Joe Bob’s tidbits about the movie and how he seemed to get a kick at Italian’s literally stealing from American movies and passing them off as their own original work of art.
William Lustig’s gritty grind-house classic Maniac is a perfect movie for “The Last Drive In.” Filled with claustrophobic atmosphere, gritty cinematography and excellent effects work from the great Tom Savini who was also the special guest during the broadcasting of this episode. While I personally enjoyed the remake better (gasps), Maniac is a great example that you can make a scary and stylish horror flick for an very low budget.
Heathers raised a lot of eyebrows when it was revealed as the second feature in the second episode of Season 2. The debate still rages on as to whether or not to classify this as a Drive-In film. This film is a reminder that Drive-In movies are not just horror movies with blood, breasts and beasts, but films that are designed to give you an enjoyable experience.
62. Tourist Trap
The inaugural film in “The Last Drive In” summer marathon Tourist Trap is a movie filled with strange atmosphere, quirky characters and a bizarre subplot. There are some moments in the movie that do make your skin crawl. This was an early horror flick to experiment with different things seeing what will stick. It may not hold up to the younger audience, but those who’ve seen this film before will still have fond memories of it.
61. Bride of Re-Animator
Brian Yuzna who produced the iconic 1985 H.P. Lovecraft film takes over director duties in this sequel that is lifted from Bride of Frankenstein. The chemistry between Herbert West and Daniel Cain, now Medical Doctors is a love/hate relationship, but realize they both need each other in order to accomplish what they set out to do. While the performances are great and Yuzna ratchets up the blood, gore and the silly creations that Herbert gives life to in order to prove his theory on rejuvenating life through different anatomical parts of the body, the film suffers from its slow pacing and it’s lack of originality which keeps it from charting higher on this list.
60. Mother’s Day
Kicking off Season 3 of The Last Drive In is Mother’s Day and I don’t mean the 2016 movie starring Jennifer Aniston. I’m talking about the 1980 exploitation horror flick released by none other than Troma Entertainment. Written and directed by Charles Kaufman, brother of Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman, Mother’s Day combines elements of Deliverance, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th (the later being shot across the lake from this film) into a grizzly offbeat viewing that has the style and crude humor you would find in a Troma movie. I was thoroughly amazed that this is the all time favorite movie of the Season 3 Premiere guest, Eli Roth who shared with the Drive-In Mutants that he showed this movie during his Bar Mitzvah. His knowledge and insight of the movie was fascinating that even Joe Bob’s bolo started spinning. Roth talks about the influence this movie has had on him since becoming a filmmaker. That’s the power of the drive in movie.
59. One Cut of the Dead
One Cut of the Dead is one of those film within a film concepts. You think you’re watching a zombie movie that is all done in one continuous shot, but then throws a wrench at the second half when it is revealed that it is part of a reality television series. One of the more clever films to be shown on “The Last Drive In.”
Another first time watch when it was aired, Society was indeed a strange tale about elitism. To say that Screaming Mad George’s special effects were hardcore would be an understatement. Of course the shunting party is a vision that you’ll never be able to shake from your mind. Oh and I loved how Joe Bob asked Darcy numerous questions regarding shunting based on her past experiences, if you know what I mean…..and I think you do.
I’ve been meaning to watch Mandy for the longest time as I was curious to see what all the hype was about. My first viewing of the movie was on “The Last Drive In.” It’s a film that won’t appeal to the entire mutant mass. It’s a psychedelic grind-house trip featuring Nicolas Cage doing what Nicolas Cage does. While I appreciate it for its visual style, I found myself losing interest with all the needlessly long scenes and things I felt should’ve been cut out. Sorry fans of this film, I just have a different view on this.
56. The Little Shop of Horrors
The final double feature of Season 3 featuring two Roger Corman films, one he directed and one he produced. The first feature was Corman’s adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors. Released in 1960, this cult classic has become a classic in itself and I prefer this version over the 1986 musical remake. It has a great blend of wit and wacky. It’s indeed a charming B movie which was ignored during its initial release. The film is notable for featuring a then unknown Jack Nicholson in a small role as a dentist patient and you could see by his performance that he would become the legendary actor he is today. I loved Corman’s background on this movie and was surprised it was shot in two days. Of course, that is expected from Roger Corman. Once the light turns green, he’s off to the races.
55. Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O Rama
I’ve never heard of Sorority Babes At The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama until it was shown during the original marathon. This quirky film features numerous scream queens including Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer. There was so much about this film I enjoyed from the jive talking imp that passed wishes out like candy, a sorority pledge initiation involving smacking booties with large paddles and Linnea Quigley’s all killer no filler performance as Spider. The scene with Spider and Calvin in the bathroom and Calvin talks about how stupid his pick up line was to Spider is featured in the Static-X song “I’m With Stupid.”
54. The Stuff
I’m a huge Larry Cohen fan and I was excited that they showed not one, but two of his movies during Season 1. The Stuff is a quintessential 80s film with great music, special effects and offbeat characters. It was made during a period of heavy product advertisement, additives in food and big corporations profiting from the product. Features the great tagline of “Are you eating it or is it eating you?” Loved Darcy’s cosplay as one of the models during a commercial shoot who is eating a carton of “The Stuff.”
53. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
“The Last Drive In” was a great platform to showcase movies not just made in America, but from all over the world. Yes, this movie was shot in California, but the actors and the setting gives it an authentic Middle Eastern look and feel. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is an isolated atmospheric film shot in black and white and gives a fresh new take on vampire lore. I enjoyed every bit of it.
52. Christmas Evil
The film that got the John Waters Seal of Approval, Christmas Evil is the film that started the killer Santa Claus concept which would be done countless times throughout the 80s. Christmas Evil was known for its grainy cinematography and unique editing style. Writer/Director Lewis Jackson creates a somber story adding themes of social responsibility and personal morality throughout the Christmas season. Brandon Maggart gives a chilling performance as the antagonist who is obsessed with jolly old St. Nick that he takes it upon himself to transform into him and determine whom among his community are naughty and nice. Christmas Evil is a horror flick that doesn’t get mentioned alongside your Silent Night Deadly Nights or Santa’s Slays, but is one that stands the test of time and continues to proudly wear its Cult Status Badge on its chest.
51. The House of the Devil
The House of the Devil is a throwback to the classic horror films of the 70s and 80s. Filled with quiet, but tense moments the movie had me clinching my chest at the thought of what could happen next. It was well constructed and the slow burn would make up to what would be a fast paced and intense ending.
I’ve been seeing lists from other fans’ “The Last Drive In” lists and most of them seem to rank Madman near the bottom. Madman is not a terrible movie. It’s an early 80s slasher that borrows from Friday the 13th featuring a creepy antagonist based on lore and characters that can’t seem to see what’s in front of them. There are some good kill scenes. And how could you not love Joe Bob singing the Madman Marz theme song at the end? I would put that performance alone at the very top of the list.
49. Jack Frost
Another film that is perfect for “The Last Drive In,” Jack Frost is not a great movie, but its over the top silliness makes for pure entertainment. There’s some good effects and creative kills in this film. Cheese can’t even describe the puns Jack says after killing his victims. I’ll always think of this film as Shannon Elizabeth’s acting debut and her crude death scene that if were shown today would definitely be receiving attention from the Me Too movement.
48. Victor Crowley
The fourth installment in Adam Green’s Hatchet franchise is an ode to the slasher films of the 80s. Features some hilarious performances and brutal kills, Victor Crowley is the type of movie you would watch at a sleepover in the middle of the night. And of course I can’t forget to mention the cast of the film appearing as the guests of the show in their pajamas. One thing they left out to make it the ultimate summer sleepover was a campfire and S’mores.
Hogzilla is not a great film, we get it. What makes the episode great is the fact that Darcy was able to get the rights to broadcast this. It was so much fun seeing the crew’s reaction when it was announced Hogzilla would be played. It was the first time on “The Last Drive In” where Darcy played the role of host giving out the Drive In Totals and Awards. We could see Joe Bob having fun with it despite his groans and complaints earlier in the episode. What keeps this from being a top ten episode is again, the overall movie.
46. Fried Barry
A Shudder world premiere film during Season 3, Fried Barry is indeed a trip. A drug addict gets abducted by aliens who then takeover his body and return to earth and ventures through the streets of Cape Town learning the ways of its inhabitants. Fried Barry is an art house style film that relies on visual and movement performances of its lead actor Gary Green rather than dialog. It’s essentially the journey of an extraterrestrial who is experiencing the pleasures of men and women while finding some heart in helping those in need and punishing those with bad intentions. I didn’t go into this movie with expectations and I came out at the end as not only an enjoyable film, but one of the better Shudder originals to air on the channel.
45. Hell Comes to Frogtown
Hell Comes To Frogtown is a great conclusion to what would be an incredible season. You can’t go wrong with a movie starring Rowdy Roddy Piper playing a scavenger whose been recruited by the government to rescue a group of fertile woman by mutant humanoid frogs for the purpose of getting them impregnated to repopulate the world after a nuclear war. Movie is full of hilarious moments and traditional one liners Piper delivers in the same manner as he did in They Live or any of his wrestling promotions. This was a great palate cleanser after the showing of Hellraiser II.
44. Class of 1984
My first viewing of Class of 1984 was on “The Last Drive In” and it was nothing like I’d expected. For some reason I thought it was a zombie high school flick, but instead it was a violent and heartbreaking look at a gang of misfits reigning terror on a school and causing certain teachers such as Perry King’s Andrew Norris to stand up and do something about it when no higher authorities have the courage to. The performances are solid as the mind games dwindle on the psyche of those involved. An overlooked exploitation film that continues to be relatable today with the school system falling apart and very few giving a damn at giving the kids an educational future they deserve. Features a pre Family Ties appearance from Michael J. Fox.
Shown as the final movie in the original marathon Pieces is known for its brutal amounts of blood and gore as the killer takes random body pieces of women in order to create his own human jigsaw puzzle. Joe Bob’s hilarious commentary adds to the weird moments of the film along with the over the top dubbing of the characters since this was made by a Spanish filmmaking crew. I saw this movie before “The Last Drive In” viewing so I had fond memories of it.
42. The Changeling
You can’t go wrong with a traditional horror flick on “The Last Drive In.” The Changeling is a straight up ghost story film with brooding atmosphere and good performances. The film was a great reminder for the viewing audience that you don’t need monsters, blood, sex and any other weird stuff to make a compelling and haunting horror flick.
41. Deadbeat At Dawn
Deadbeat At Dawn is a personal film for me since this was shot entirely in Dayton, OH which is where I’m from and still reside to this day. A gritty underground film similar to The Warriors, Deadbeat At Dawn is known for its guerilla presentation as the film was shot without permits. The plot may not be cohesive, but there’s enough going on with the characters in the movie to keep you focused. For me, it was great to see downtown Dayton shown and remembering the stores and buildings. Most of them are still there although some are no longer inhabited. Amazing how much things change over time.
40. Halloween 4
Halloween 4 ranks as my third favorite film in the franchise and I was excited when it was announced it would be shown during the“Halloween Hootenany” special. After the box office disappointment of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Universal went back to the drawing board to bring Michael Myers back. Halloween 4 would be the introductory film for future scream queen Danielle Harris who is the star of the film with her emotionally charged and vulnerable performance. There is much to enjoy of this movie from the kills to the return of Donald Pleasance desperately trying to warn Haddonfield about the return of Myers. The Return of Michael Myers was indeed a return to form.
39. Dead and Buried
A film that was on my most request list to get “The Last Drive In” treatment was granted during Season 3. Dead and Buried is a classic story of the undead that takes place is a sleepy seaside town. It uses creepiness over gore to get viewers to shake their bones. There’s some great extensive effect scenes including one that will make you squirm. The film also features early appearances of Robert Englund and Lisa Blount. Oh and of course Jack Albertson steals the show. You’ll never look at Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka the same after watching this flick.
38. Ginger Snaps
Another film where I’ve heard so much about, but never got around to watching until it was a feature on “The Last Drive In,” Ginger Snaps makes clever use of the concept of a girl being bitten by a werewolf and slowing transforming into one as a metaphor for girls blossoming into womanhood. Katherine Isabelle acts out her hormonal feelings on boys she likes while unleashing her territorial rage on her enemies. The chemistry between her and Emily Perkins make you believe that they are real life sisters. I watched something fresh and original even if it’s been twenty-one years since its release.
37. Humanoids From The Deep
Humanoids From The Deep would be the final feature of Season 3 with legendary filmmaker/producer Roger Corman hanging out after the first feature to talk about one of his most recognized films. While he produced this movie and not directed it, this film has his stamp. Crazy creatures, naked women, a body count nearing 50, tons of blood and gore and explosions. Oh and don’t forget an insane ending. Humanoids From The Deep starts out punching and doesn’t stop until you are knocked out at the end credits.
36. Street Trash
I was quite surprised to learn that Street Trash was not a Troma film despite the fact it has all the elements to be one. Shown along with The Stuff as part of a melt movie episode, Street Trash features multiple storylines with bizarre characters, sleazy comedic moments and of course some colorful melting effects when victims who drink the half century old “Tenefly Viper.” The film was also notable for being the first film to use the steady cam as writer/director Jim Muro would go on to become the most sought after cameraman in the industry working on every blockbuster movie you could think of.
35. Black Christmas
Another classic film that was the introductory showing to the second Christmas special on “The Last Drive In,” Black Christmas is full of dark atmosphere, tension and uneasy imagery. The production is simple as there is no bloody death scenes, natural lighting and numerous first person shots that put you in the shoes of the killer. The performances of Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder are memorable. This is one of the best films made by Bob Clark who would go on to direct two more critically acclaimed moves in Porky’s and A Christmas Story.
34. Tammy and the T-Rex
The first movie presented in the Valentine’s Day Special, “Joe Bob Puts A Spell On You”, Tammy and the T-Rex is a perfect blend of teenage romance, comedy and horror. Fans were treated to the “Gore Version” of this film that had only been seen in Italy until it was recently released in an original uncut edition on Vingear Syndrome. This version keeps the film from being too sappy. The ratchet up blood and gore definitely had me clinching my teeth over the absurd amount. The chemistry between Denise Richards and Paul Walker is genuine in the first half of the movie and I felt their performances were natural. It gets funnier when Walker’s character becomes the T-Rex and how he tries to act like he’s still human. Tammy and the T-Rex is one of those movies that shows how strong the power of love can be given unforeseen circumstances.
33. Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead
The second film shown in “A Very Joe Bob Christmas,” Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead continues from the events of the second film as we see Michael Baldwin return to play Mike who still is being pursued by the Tall Man and enlists the help of Reggie to stop him. Lord of the Dead features a perfect balance of horror and comedy. I enjoyed the Home Alone introductory sequence of the new character Tim. Reggie Bannister continues to sit alongside Joe Bob to talk about this movie along with the continuing lore of the Phantasm series. Phantasm III perfectly sits in the middle when it comes to listing the films from least to best.
32. Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2
Fans have been desperately crossing their fingers in the hopes Joe Bob and Co. would be presenting this film and they delivered during “Joe Bob’s Red Christmas” in 2019. Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2 is the quintessential best/worst film ever although I’ve grown to be fond of this movie after numerous viewings. The film is known for many things including twenty minutes of the first film being shown as the protagonist Ricky goes through the traumatic details of the events that would lead to him being a killer. Of course Eric Freeman’s performance as Ricky is legendary in the horror world with his frequent eyebrow raising when he talks and the infamous screaming of “Garbage Day” as he shoots a neighbor taking out the trash. What would’ve made this presentation great is if Joe Bob brought Eric Freeman to the set to talk about his experience on the making of this film, but at least we got a re-enactment of the deer antler death from the first movie with Joe Bob dressed as Santa and Darcy playing Linnea Quigley.
31. Scare Package
Scare Package was the first Shudder original film to debut on “The Last Drive In.” The film is an homage to the anthology horror films like Creepshow. Each story is different and clever with some decent performances and a great blend of horror and comedy. The best and surprising thing about this movie was Joe Bob himself making a guest appearance in the final story and becoming a martyr and rightfully placing himself in the list of horror heroes.
30. The Day of the Beast
Week 9 of Season 3 was “Devil Appreciation Night” and the second feature was the 1995 Spanish horror/comedy film The Day of the Beast. The film is about a priest who goes on to commit as many sins as possible before Christmas in order to summon the devil believing that Armageddon will happen due to a cryptogram that he deciphered. Directed by Alex de la Iglesia, The Day of the Beast is an intriguing concept loaded with hilarious situations that the characters find themselves in resulting in a big payoff at the end. The performances of the characters and the cinematography gives the film a dark of a mood as its comedy. I was impressed with this film and it kept me on my toes as to what would happen next. I haven’t seen many Spanish horror/comedy films, but The Day of The Beast is the de facto best film I’ve seen to come from the country.
29. Tetsuo: The Iron Man
Ah, there’s nothing like crazy Japanese horror. I consider Tetsuo a hardcore horror flick as it deals with the melding of man and technology. Through the one hour and seventeen minutes of film, you’re engulfed with the most visceral and uneasy imagery in black and white as you see a man slowly transform. I couldn’t get through this film when I first saw it years ago, but was able to push through and watch it in its entirety during The Last Drive In viewing. I have a much better appreciation for it although it still makes me feel uneasy. Oh and how could you not love the ending segment of the episode where Ernie becomes a metal/lizard hybrid. Shudder needs to get a film adaptation green-lit.
Featuring Clint Howard in an early leading role, Evilspeak uses the concept of technology as a way of summoning the devil. In this case, Howard’s character Stanley Coopersmith uses an Apple computer to translate the book written in Latin from demonic priest Father Esteban to unleash his evil spirit to punish his enemies. Evilspeak is a grisly horror film with a sympathetic character. If you’ve ever found yourself in the same predicament as Coopersmith during your school days, you will relate to this film and its vengeful third act. Not only did this viewing feature Howard as the special guest, but we were treated to a Clint Howard Tribute Song with video montage and an ending shot of his very successful but supportive brother Ron.
27. Phantasm IV: Oblivion
Phantasm IV: Oblivion is one of the best films in the series. Despite the limited setting and characters due to the budget, Don Coscarelli still managed to put together an exciting and story enriched film which for the first time in the series explored the origins of the Tall Man. Angus Scrimm and Michael Baldwin’s performances are the best seen through the continuous narrative of the Phantasm story. Of course we can’t forget about Reggie Bannister as he continues to be Mike’s guardian who swore to protect him from the clutches of the Tall Man who provided great insight on the making of this movie as he did the others during the “A Very Joe Bob Christmas” special.
26. Troma’s War
How could they not show an original Troma movie on “The Last Drive In?” Troma’s War is considered one of the best films of Lloyd Kaufman’s filmography with its serious subject matter mixed in with the traditional gags Troma has been known for including tongue rippings, weird hybrid man/animal creatures and a fart joke that took the wind out of me from all the laughter. And what better way to show this film than to bring Lloyd Kaufman on himself as the special guest. It was so much fun watching Joe Bob and Kaufman talk back and forth not only about the movie but the history of Troma. Kaufman was indeed one of the best guests “The Last Drive In” has ever had on the show. I could watch these two talk about movies all day long. They should get together and do a theater tour once this COVID pandemic finally ends.
25. The Exorcist III
The Exorcist III is an underrated horror film with plenty of atmosphere, jump scares and solid performances. This was one of the movies I was hoping “The Last Drive In” would show for Season 2. While the film is based on William Peter Blatty’s novel Legion, there’s small elements that bring you back to the first movie including Jason Miller’s return as Father Karras and the exorcism at the end. The highlight of the movie is Brad Dourif’s emotional performance as the Gemini Killer. If horror was not frowned upon by the academy, Dourif would’ve easily receive an Oscar nod for his role.
How could you not call your Halloween special “Halloween Hootenany” without showing the original Halloween? “Halloween Hootenany” gave us three films from the Michael Myers universe and the first film kicked off the festivities. The John Carpenter classic continues to be fresh, innovative and overall creepy. Carpenter’s music only heightens the tension of what is going on. Let’s not forget the performances of Jamie Lee Curtis P.J. Soles and Nancy Keyes as the first trio of scream queens. Halloween continues to be the blueprint for how to make a great slasher film.
23. Maniac Cop 2
The first Maniac Cop film set the tone of the series and it’s first sequel gets a huge facelift (figuratively speaking. Drive In Mutants were treated to a double dose of Maniac Cop during Season 3. Maniac Cop 2 is loaded with enhanced kill scenes, motor vehicle chases and bodies on fire and falling from windows onto the roof of a bus. On top of that, fans were delighted to see a second special guest which turned out to be the fanatical filmmaker of the series William Lustig. I enjoyed his behind the scenes stories on the making of 2 and was quite surprised of the influences that Lustig features in the second film. Lot of fans prefer Maniac Cop 2 over the first movie, which is understandable. The second film looks and feels more lively. This is indeed a great follow up to an 80s exploitation classic, however my heart still belongs to the inaugural film.
22. Chopping Mall
The film that kicked off Season 2 of “The Last Drive In,” Chopping Mall is another film that I’ve seen before and have fond memories. Only Roger Corman could come up with a concept about security robots going berserk and hunting down teenagers trapped in a shopping mall after hours. I love the music along with the performances and action sequences. This viewing was made more special with the appearance of Kelli Maroney who sits down with Joe Bob to talk about the movie and some unflattering experiences with director Jim Wynorski. There’s not much more to say about this movie without going too further into details only to say, “Thank you. Have a nice day!”
The first Christmas special on “The Last Drive In” titled “A Very Joe Bob Christmas” featured the viewing of four of the five Phantasm movies. While the Phantasm movies aren’t Christmas themed movies, you could argue that the silver balls in the series is a reason to show them in December. What can you say about the original Phantasm that hasn’t already been said? It’s another iconic original horror flick filled with diverse characters, tricky special effects and beyond comprehension moments like how does the Tall Man’s chopped off fingers turn into a giant killer fly? Don Coscarelli’s masterpiece is one that continues to be celebrated year in and year out. It’s a classic flick that deserved “The Last Drive In” treatment.
Wolfcop was another movie I’ve never heard of until it was presented on Season 1 of “The Last Drive In.” I loved everything about the flick from it’s new take on werewolf transformations to the fast paced action and a creative plot. Leo Fafard’s dual performance as Lou Garou and Wolfcop is one of the best I’ve seen from the horror genre in the last ten years. It stacks up there along with the other dual superhero performances. I also enjoyed another history lesson from Joe Bob this time about the Canadian province of Saskatchewan where the film was shot and takes places in. I also learned that “Liquor Donuts” is an actual thing. Maybe Shudder can get the rights to play Wolfcop II for Season 3?
19. The Hills Have Eyes
Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes is another film that makes me feel uneasy and I have to pull my own teeth just to get through. What makes this film uneasy for me is that this could happen in the real world and there’s nothing more terrifying than that. I respect the film for it’s risk taking, gritty and sleazy characters and the feeling of hopelessness. This particular viewing was a little more comfortable for me thanks to the special guest appearance of Michael Berryman. While his character in the film, Pluto is a scary as any character on film, Berryman is a gentle humble giant. Just like the promos for Craven’s earlier flick The Last House on the Left, I have to keep telling myself, “It’s only a movie!”
Takashi Miike is one of the greatest if not the greatest Japanese filmmaker. He never apologizes for creating brutal and shocking films with a strong message about society and politics. Audition is one of those movies where it starts out milk and roses until the milk expires and the roses whither. There are so many moments that had me looking away or feeling uneasy as the Eihi Shiina’s performance as Asami who assimilates herself into Aoyama’s life as a possible bride to be, only for her to take out her past traumas on him. The final act of the movie is intense. In the end Audition can be interpreted as a feminist themed revenge flick due to the misogynistic nature of the male characters in the beginning. Either way it’s messaging is loud and clear.
Clive Barker’s film adaptation of his own novel is still an iconic visual experience. There is so much to love about Hellraiser from the makeup to special effects to the original story. It’s a film that gives no warnings as to what is going to happen and apologizes for nothing in the end. Hellraiser pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable in horror films. What a perfect film to be shown in the original marathon where Joe Bob showed the best the genre had to offer.
16. Brain Damage
I’m a huge fan of Frank Henelotter and his movies and I was ecstatic that “The Last Drive In” would be showing another one of his classics. Brain Damage is a creative take on Faust which also has an anti-drug message associated with it. I loved the visuals of the movie and not to mention the relationship between Rick Hearst and Aylmer the Parasite that develops through the movie which becomes a tug-o-war for control. Speaking of Aylmer, he may be cute with a sophisticated voice provided by the late great John Zacherle, but his intentions are downright sinister. Henelotter is not afraid to push buttons and he certainly does in this movie, especially during the club girl giving head scene.
I know what you’re asking, “Why is C.H.U.D. so high on the list?” Yes, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I ranked this movie higher than other because of the fact the Joe Bob made this film more entertaining to watch. I can’t recall a single time since I’ve watched Joe Bob where he outright bashes a movie that is being presented. Every break he seem to gripe about one thing after another about C.H.U.D. which is rightfully so. Also it’s funny that he only gave a Drive In Academy award nomination for John Goodman in his short small role and when he gave the film two stars, you could hear gasps from the Shudder crew. If Shudder can’t get the rights back to C.H.U.D. they should at least put up the Joe Bob segments. Those alone are pure entertainment gold.
14. Castle Freak
Castle Freak is another original and creative film that uses real settings, has a brooding atmosphere and a sympathetic antagonist despite his disfigured appearance. One of the few films from late legendary horror director Stuart Gordon that is not adapted from an H.P. Lovecraft story. This viewing of Castle Freak is enhanced by the special guest appearance of star Barbara Crampton, who is lovely as ever and provides a humbling take on the film. This is one of the best films made by Charles Band’s Full Moon Features and makes me wish that they would go back to this style of film making instead of making Troma ripoffs.
13. Q: The Winged Serpent
Shown the week of Larry Cohen’s passing (featuring a nice tribute at the beginning of the broadcast), Q is the perfect B-Movie to be shown on “The Last Drive In.” A unique film that blends the genres of monster movies and film noir, the movie is known for it’s great performances from its two leading actors Michael Moriarty and David Carradine, it’s inventive story and like every Larry Cohen film, his use of stealing shots and creating realistic reactions from those who are unexpected pelt with blood or running away from the final battle of the flick. Q is my favorite Larry Cohen film of all time and what better way to honor the late auteur’s memory by showing just that.
12. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
One of the most controversial horror movies made and a film that still makes me uneasy, Henry is about as realistic as it can get. The performances of Michael Rooker and Tom Towles as Henry and Otis are as sickening and disturbing as their real life characters (the characters were based on serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole). The home invasion scene in the film is one that I continue to fast forward to this day as it is too much for me to handle. Director John McNaughton is the special guest on the viewing of Henry and goes into the detail the troubles he had making the film and struggling to find a distributor who would release it. Henry is indeed a controversial work of art that is revered and respected by many in the underground horror community.
11. Hellbound: Hellraiser II
What better way to enjoy watching a Hellraiser movie than to watch the perfect sequel to the original and bring along its two main stars as special guests? Hellbound was the first film shown in the final episode of Season 2. Ashley Laurence and Doug Bradley were brought on to discuss not just this movie, but the original film and the lasting legacy of the Hellraiser franchise. Bradley goes deep into the myths and legends of Pinhead and gives his own interpretations of the character he has played for over thirty years. At the same time, we’re watching a film that lives up to the mantle of the first movie providing a cohesive story and some of the nastiest characters you just love to hate. Hellbound was an experience that kept me chained to my seat.
Rabid was indeed a strange film, but would continue David Cronenberg’s vision of bodily horror. Rabid is a mixed take of a vampire flick and a zombie flick with body experimentation. It is filled with gory moments, an intelligent story and a surprisingly good performance from Marilyn Chambers who is best known for her work in the adult film industry. Rabid is a reminder of the fears that we as humans may have when it comes to surgery or implants.
9. Next of Kin
“The Last Drive In” has shown us international films from Italy, Japan, the U.K. and even Serbia, but Next of Kin is the first Australian film to be shown. From the opening shot of the film into the opening credits with a creepy score from Klaus Schulze, you know you about to watch something unique and one of its kind. Next of Kin is a stylized gothic murder mystery with tense atmosphere, great camerawork and gritty but beautiful cinematography featuring shots of lone roads in the land down under. The performances feel real and genuine as you can feel the uneasiness of the characters. It has genuinely frightening and shocking moments that had me clinching my teeth. Huge credit to director Tony Williams for creating a suspenseful Hitchcockian flick that doesn’t need cheap kills or ample amounts of blood to get the audience shivering. Kudos to the production team at “The Last Drive In” for getting the rights to broadcast this film otherwise I would’ve overlooked the chance to see something that did something to me I haven’t felt since I started familiarizing myself with horror at a very young age…scaring the pants right off of me.
I absolutely loved Mayhem when this was presented on “The Last Drive In.” From the first five minutes I was hooked on this film. I like the raged zombie concept that was originally started with 28 Days Later and brought it to a white collar environment. There are some great performances and plenty of action packed moments. I along with many can relate to Mayhem as some days we just want to lash out at our jobs or the people we’re surrounded by that make us want to throw a chair. This was one of the highlights of Season 2 for me.
Stuart Gordon’s take on the H.P. Lovecraft short story is still one of the best low budget horror films of the 80s. It is filled with unique characters including Jeffrey Combs’s quite but determined performance as Herbert West. Besides the ample amounts of blood and gore there are many comedic moments that help tone down the violence and of course the film is known for a head giving head….that’s all I’ll say. Reanimator was the perfect film to be shown during the initial “The Last Drive In” summer marathon and it is still a perfect film in this writer’s opinion.
As I was working on this list, I wanted to incorporate a recent horror film that I enjoyed the most and had a lasting impact. After going through the list, one movie stood out and that was Deathgasm. Deathgasm is a rare film blending heavy metal, dark magic, demon possession and romantic moments. This movie was a gorehound’s dream come true wanting a movie that brings back all the things you love about horror films. There is some exceptionally good performances in this film. I enjoyed the camera work the special effects and of course the music. Deathgasm is a movie that I have on replay when I go back and look to re-watch movies shown on “The Last Drive In.”
5. Train To Busan
I’ve heard so much about Train To Busan from friends of mine and in my busy world, I could never find time to watch it and see if it lived up to the praise that it has received. After watching it on “The Last Drive In” the praise is well deserved. Yes, Train To Busan is a zombie movie with the typical concept of a biological virus escapes and turns people into zombies, but this is a film that is much more than that. It is a thrilling, tension-laced roller coaster ride as the survivors try to escape and block the zombie herd in tight corridors on a train. In addition this movie gets your emotions riled up as you have characters that you care about and feel for their situation and you have characters that you despise. Writer/Director Sang-ho Yeon delivers an unforgettable viewing that redefines the zombie genre after years of staleness.
4. Maniac Cop
Another movie I fell in love with after the first viewing, Maniac Cop gets not only the “Last Drive In” treatment during Season 3, but we get a special guest appearance from the king himself (Elvis per se since he did play him in a movie once). I’m talking about Bruce Campbell. This viewing was highly entertaining. It was fresh to hear Bruce Campbell talk about a movie he was featured in that didn’t have the title Evil Dead in it. Maniac Cop features a ensemble cast of familiar faces including Campbell, Tom Atkins, Richard Roundtree, Laurene Landon and Robert Z’Dar as the antagonist Matt Cordell who is on a rampant killing spree into not only to give a black eye to New York’s finest, but to seek revenge on those that framed him and caused his disfigurement. Great script from Larry Cohen and incredible direction from William Lustig as they unleashed a societal slasher flick about corruption, police brutality and punishing the innocent which continues to play out today.
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was shown during the Thanksgiving marathon titled “Dinners of Death.” This was the perfect movie to watch while you stuffed your face with turkey, sides and pie. After Joe Bob opens up the special with a immigration history on Thanksgiving, we dive right in as we will watch in horror the fate of the five characters in the film as they are picked off one by one from Leatherface. Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece is placed rightfully so in the Horror Hall of Fame. It’s viewing experience enhanced by Joe Bob’s knowledgeable trivia about the making of the movie, the actors and crew involved and where the Chainsaw house currently resides and what has been turned into.
2. Sleepaway Camp
I met Felissa Rose at a convention in 2015 and I honestly told her that I’ve never seen Sleepaway Camp before and that I pledged to her that the next time I met her I would see it. Fortunately, the movie was shown during the initial marathon with Rose appearing as a special guest. I loved Sleepaway Camp after the first viewing and became a huge fan that I went out and bought the Collector’s Edition on Blu-Ray. Sleepaway Camp is not just a camp slasher knockoff. There is some memorable death scenes, off beat characters with their own individual personalities and the misdirection as to who the killer may be. Of course Sleepaway Camp is known for it’s more controversial moments including the ending. I enjoyed Felissa Rose’s stories about the making of the film along with the actors she worked alongside with. I met Rose again in 2019 and brought along my Blu Ray copy for her to sign and told her that I loved the film after finally watching it on “The Last Drive In.” This viewing was the second best viewing of a film only to this film being listed number one….
I had been searching high and low trying to find Basket Case ever since I saw the box cover art at Blockbuster back as a kid (yes, I’m that old). When I heard it was going to be shown on the initial “The Last Drive In” marathon, ecstatic couldn’t describe my reaction. I did not know what to expect from the movie as I avoided spoilers and reviews for the longest time. I literally fell in love with Basket Case when the showing had ended. Frank Henelotter created an original and creative exploitation revenge flick filled with blood, breasts and beasts. I loved the grainy and gritty look of New York City that was shown in the film. Each character was great in their own way. I enjoyed the performances of Kevin Van Hentenryck as the lead character Duane who assists his deformed brother Belial seek revenge on those that separated them and I loved Terri Susan Smith as the loopy Sharon with that hilarious wig on her head. Of course the monster Belial was grotesque and I loved how he goes postal on everyone including the well done stop motion effect of him trashing their hotel room. What astonished me the most about this film was that it was made for only $30,000. Basket Case is an example that you can make a great shock horror flick with little to no money. It’s no wonder why Joe Bob loves this movie and considers it one of his favorite films of all time. I’m right there in Joe Bob’s camp. Basket Case has instantly become one of my Top 5 Horror films of all time.
So what did you think of this list? Feel free to comment, provide feedback, disagree, yell at me. All of it is very much appreciated.
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: 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.
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. Cinderella2000 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. Cinderella2000 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: 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”.
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Grace Thorsen, Taylor Sharpe, Ted Raimi
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Bruce Campbell is undeniably the King of B-Movies. He’s catapulted to the top of the genre in large part to his recurring portrayal as chainsaw wielding, boomstick carrying, demon killer Ashley Williams from the Evil Dead movies. His career has spanned for over thirty years. In the last ten years he’s had more mainstream appeal largely in part to his role in the Espionage series Burn Notice and his return to the Evil Dead world as Ash once again in both the Starz TV Series Ash vs. Evil Dead which lasted three seasons and the upcoming Evil Dead video game which was announced a few weeks ago expected to be released for the Playstation 4 and Playstation 5 in 2021. Bruce Campbell portrays characters that make the audience feel like they are a part of the ride. He is not afraid of getting downright goofy as much of his acting was influenced by The Three Stooges. In 2007, he came out with a movie that pokes fun at not only himself, but his career. That movie was called My Name Is Bruce.
As the title suggests, My Name Is Bruce is a tongue in cheek film about Bruce Campbell, his popularity and the blurred line between fiction and reality. The film is about a Goth teenager named Jeff, who happens to be a huge Bruce Campbell fan. Him and his friend meet up with two girls at an abandoned gravesite in the small mining town of Goldlick, Oregon. Jeff finds a circular object placed in front of what looks like to be a collapsed tunnel. Removing the object, Jeff accidentally summons the spirit of Guan-Di, who is the Chinese God War and an early settler of the town. With Guan-Di unleashed and killing it townsfolk one by one, Jeff decides to track down the one person he believes could defeat the evil spirit…..yep, you guessed it. Bruce Campbell.
While the events in Goldlick are happening, Bruce is in a movie studio shooting a sequel to the B-Movie Sci-Fi film Cave Alien. Frustrated by the lack of quality roles, being turned down by women and crushed over a divorce, Bruce threatens to fire his agent, Mills Toddner (played by Tem Raimi in one of three roles he plays in the film). Mills tells him that he has a surprise for him on his birthday. Bruce shrugs it off and heads back to his trailer for a night of drinking and calling his ex wife. Bruce hears a knock on his door and Jeff appears. He asks him to come with him, but Bruce refuses. Jeff resorts to knocking him out and putting him in the trunk of his car. Jeff drives back to Goldlick and lets Bruce out. After Bruce gives a lecture to the townsfolk about kidnapping a movie star, he is informed by Jeff that he called his agent and was told he was free. Bruce believes that this is the surprise Mills was talking about and believes he’s part of a new movie. Bruce plays along with it unbeknownst that the townspeople are serious.
After a hero’s welcome that is filled with food and drink, Bruce leads the townspeople to the cemetery. There he encounters Guan-Di. Realizing that this is not a movie, Bruce tells the people to retreat. From there he cowardly escapes from the town to let the townspeople deal with Guan-Di. The next morning Bruce receives a call from Jeff saying that he is going to fight Guan-Di himself since he is ultimately responsible for releasing him. Now Bruce must decide if he wishes to help Jeff or let him deal with the spirit himself.
This film is hilarious. While this will appeal to the most diehard Bruce Campbell fans, I think viewers who aren’t familiar with him or his work will get a kick out of this. There’s plenty of jokes that will keep the average comedy movie fan in their seats.
You can tell throughout the film that Bruce Campbell enjoys parodying himself. The fact that he depicts himself as an arrogant, cocky, selfish, womanizing and drunken actor who lives in a trailer and is getting burned by horrible acting parts. It’s the polar opposite of the typical Hollywood actor. You get into his head of what he deals with on a daily basis from crazed fans to slimy agents. He doesn’t skip a beat with his line delivery, his physical expressions and his candor. He does show a moral compass during the film as he gets to know Jeff and his mother, Kelly whom he immediately has an attraction for despite her shunning his advances and thinking he’s nothing more than a phony.
The rest of the cast is pretty small as it primarily centers around Bruce and the relationship he builds with Jeff and Kelly. Grace Thorsen plays Kelly. She turns in a decent performance although it didn’t find her convincing that she immediately felt an attraction for Bruce especially after berating him about he thinks the situation is a joke to him, but to the townspeople it’s not. Jeff is played by a kid named Taylor Sharpe. This is his only acting performance to date (according to IMDB). I can see why it’s his only performance. He definitely plays his role like a newcomer. He sounds dull and not too concerned about what has happened. The character of Jeff itself is strange. One minute he is all dressed up as a Goth kid and then the next he’s a regular kid blending in with the town. Eventually his Goth persona would become his hero alter ego when he makes the decision to battle Guan-Di. I will give him props for knowing his Bruce Campbell trivia and his collection of Bruce Campbell memorabilia in his room. Other than Campbell, the other best performance of the film goes to Ted Raimi who plays three different characters. Besides Mills Toddner, he plays the town painter who gripes about having to change the population number of the town and uses lazy methods to change it and he also plays Wing, the last descendent of the original Chinese immigrants that founded the town. Radical leftists will more than likely cry that his performance stereotypes Asians, but I didn’t see it that way. I found it funny that he warns the people about Guan-Di and begins to taunt them. He only appears in a couple scenes, but he would provide something that will help them in the battle with the Chinese God of War.
Speaking of Guan-Di, I think it was an interesting monster that Bruce had to deal with. He looked like a giant puppet that dangled on strings. I’m pretty sure it was the film’s intention to make the monster look cheap as it fits in with the B-Movie concept. Nevertheless it was good to see a little innovation in the bad guy and not make him another vampire or zombie.
After watching this film again, I would easily place this in my Top 10 Bruce Campbell movies. Yes, this film will largely appeal to his fan base, but there are those out there that will enjoy it if they are a fan of B-Movies. If you can show this movie to someone who has never seen a Bruce Campbell movie, you might be able to turn them into an immediate fan. If you’re able to do that, then it will be a testament to the power that this film really has.
Trivia (Per IMDB)
The exteriors for the town of “Goldlick” were actually shot on Bruce Campbell’s property where a back lot was built with the exteriors of all of the buildings. The interior shots were all done on a sound stage.
According to the DVD commentary, most of the Bruce Campbell memorabilia in Jeff’s room was real, including a spare Brisco County Jr. costume that Campbell owned. A few fake items, such as a poster for “The Stoogitive,” were made to fill up space.
There are many mentions and references to Bruce Campbell’s other films. Examples are phrases ‘sugar baby’, ‘groovy’ and ‘boomstick’ along with name checking of people like Sam Raimi (director of the ‘Evil Dead’ trilogy).
The rude man in the wheelchair was based on a real person Bruce Campbell met.
Starring: Matt Frewer, Jeremy Renner, Valerie Mahaffey, Lawrence Dane, Tommy Chong
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
National Lampoon was a well-known humor magazine that ran from 1970 to 1998. The magazine formed as a spin off of Harvard’s Harvard Lampoon. The magazine was popular in the 1970s and spawned a series of comedy movies that included their title. The most famous of their films include Animal House and the Vacation movie series starring Chevy Chase. At the turn of the century, National Lampoon started a corporation and generated low budget raunchy comedy films that you would only be able to find at your local video store (which are unfortunately extinct) or streaming services. One of the last National Lampoon films to be released in theater’s was 1995’s National Lampoon’s Senior Trip.
It’s a typical teen comedy with a realistic plot. The students at the fictional Fairmount High School in Columbus, OH write a letter about how bad the education system when several students blame school for not wanting to learn and party all the time. The letter reaches the desk of the President of the United States who phones their Senator and personally invite them to Washington D.C. to help support the President’s new Education Bill. Despite the Senator having his own Education Bill lined up and seeking higher office, he intends to use the ‘slacker students’ to embarrass him and push his own agenda. The Senator arrives at the school and instructs their principal, Todd Moss (played by Matt Frewer) to get them to Washington on time. The road trip doesn’t go as smoothly and on schedule as the students get themselves into crazy shenanigans on and off the bus.
I remember seeing the trailer for this movie on the VHS copy of Dumb and Dumber. I was a pre teen when I saw the trailer and it looked like a pretty funny movie. Unfortunately the movie was rated ‘R’ and I had strict parents who would not let me watch anything that above a ‘PG-13’ rating. Eventually the film made its way onto the small screen and I watched it on my local channel. I watched it with a friend and we enjoyed this movie. A decade later, I found this movie on DVD at a local store where I buy all my movies. Not surprising to this review, the movie still holds up.
This film relates to the experiences we went through in High School (although I’m sure none of you stole a bunch of beer from a mini mart, break stuff at a five star hotel or having your bus driver die on the way to Washington). You can relate to any of the character that best fit your personality in high school. If you were a computer nerd, you were the character Virus. If you were a straight A scholar, you were either Steve or Lisa. If you were a vengeful Trekkie, you were Travis. One thing these characters have in common is they like to party and they get along real well in this film (unlike real world where you were in your groups). There are some scenes of drugs and sex, but it’s only a pinch of it compared to most of the other National Lampoon movies or other teen comedies.
I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of each character. All of them had great chemistry together. Each character had their own standout moments. Matt Frewer’s portrayal of Principal Moss reminds me of a real life Principal McVicker from Beavis and Butt-Head. He’s very spastic, agitated and punctual and finds himself in uneasy situations. This movie was the feature film debut of Jeremy Renner. He plays the leader of the class named Dags who is a stoner and the vigilante of the school. His antics are praised by many and loathed by some. Then there’s Kevin McDonald who plays Travis, the school crossing guard and an obsessed Star Trek fan. He lives in his basement that is built to replicate the enterprise, carries around a blow up doll dressed like Uhura and he is obsessed with seeking revenge on Reggie (Dag’s sidekick). With the exception of a confrontation in the movie, there’s no explanation as to why Travis is out to kill Reggie. It’s funny seeing him trying to get to Reggie, but ends up being caught in an unpleasant scenario when things start happening to him. He talks to himself and only speaks in Star Trek language. I can relate to that because I’ve known quite a few people that were serious Trekkies.
The best performance by far is Tommy Chong as Red, the bus driver. In pure Tommy Chong fashion, he steals every scene he is in. He blends in with the students and praises them for their mad partying habits.
This film manages to bring up a moral issue at the end. They talk about the importance of education for future generations. It’s funny how the students define themselves as the poster children of slackers and losers with no future as a way to get their message across. This film came out in 1995 when Bill Clinton was pushing for a better education program for kids in America. Maybe he watched this film to help advance his narrative? (Wouldn’t surprised me if he did.)
Senior Trip is one of the most underrated teen comedies to come out in the 90s. It may not be the cream of the crop in the National Lampoon film library, but this has enough chuckles to keep you entertained.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
Film debut of Jeremy Renner
The bus driver “Red” played by Tommy Chong hums the tune, and sings some of the lyrics, from the song “Earache My Eye”, which was the song that Chong and Cheech Marin play at the end of Up in Smoke (1978).
Wanda and Reggie discuss a crossover between horror icons Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. This eventually happened in Freddy vs. Jason (2003).
Dag’s first name is never mentioned. But when Lisa is listing his good qualities vs. his bad qualities, it is seen at the top of the paper. Mark.
Starring: Rick Hearst, Gordon MacDonald, Jennifer Lowry, Theo Barnes, Lucille Saint-Peter, John Zacherle (Voice/Uncredited)
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
I’ve been wanting to do this review for a very long time. This happens to be one of my favorite Horror/Drive In/B Movies of all time. It was done by the great Frank Henelotter, who did the Basket Case trilogy (See my review of the first Basket Case movie for Halloween) and Frankenhooker. What’s great about Frank is that he’s only made a half dozen movies, but they’re all creative, original and super fun to watch. I rather have a filmmaker I like make six great movies than a filmmaker like Ridley Scott, who’s made fifty plus movies and thirty-five of them are forgettable. So, without further ado, here is the review for Frank’s 1988 movie about drug addiction in a creepy, funny style titled Brain Damage!
The movie is about a guy named Brian who is laying in bed feeling sick. When he gets up, he notices blood on his pillow all the way down to his bedsheet. He feels the back of his neck which is also bleeding. Unsure of what happens, he lays down again. Suddenly, he starts going on a psychedelic trip where he sees bright lights and colors. Knowing that someone or something is causing this, he asks for this person to reveal themselves. From behind his neck appears a long black/bluish phallic looking parasite named Aylmer (pronounced Elmer). Aylmer reveals to Brian that he has a juice in his body when injected directly into the brain will give the person a euphoric feeling. Brian starts to get addicted to Aylmer’s juice which causes him to isolate himself from his girlfriend, Barbara and his brother, Mike. As Brian goes around town dancing and living it up with this aura in his brain, unbeknownst to him Aylmer kills anyone near him and eats their brain. Brian is eventually confronted by an elderly man named Morris, who was Aylmer’s former host and warns Brian that Aylmer is looking to take over him and by continuing to be on his juice, his brain will continue to turn into mush and become dinner for the hungry parasite. Brian must find a way to get control of himself before he becomes Aylmer’s next victim.
As the title suggests, the movie is about drugs, drug addition and the effects it has on the person taking them and their loved ones. According to Frank Henelotter, he came up with this idea after having a bad trip taking cocaine. Henelotter makes a visually compelling monster movie with a strong message. He takes the audience for a ride through the mind and body of a junkie. You go through the highs (pun intended) and the lows of the character. In between the movie you’ll be caked with blood, gore, brains and some dark humor.
Let’s start with the acting. The film is primarily focused on the two characters of Brian and Aylmer. Rick Hearst plays the protagonist, Brian. This was his first movie and does a dang great job of playing Brian. You don’t know much about Brian in terms of what he does for a living, where he came from. Brian gets easily manipulated once he starts getting high which can be common among addicts. When he goes on his trips, he’s very child like as he’s amazed by the colors and lights around him and how he can feel the music. Hearst plays a convincing addict through his physical appearance, his facial expressions and the hallucinations he sees. You’ll laugh, cry and be horrified by what he goes through. Next, you have Aylmer, who is voiced by the great John Zacherle (AKA Zacherle the Ghoul). If you’re not familiar with Zacherle, he was the host of ‘Shock Theater’ back in the late 50s/early 60s when NBC would play the Universal monster movies on television. Zacherle’s voice is soft and sweet which he gives to Aylmer. Aylmer’s voice is soothing to Brian which makes him feel calm around the devious creature. Aylmer is smart in not revealing his intentions to Brian until a crucial scene in the film. He has the characteristics of a snake. He slithers and sneaks around when in hiding but strikes quickly when he is ready to attack. The great use of stop motion animation, puppetry and Zacherle’s voice makes Aylmer one of the best movie monsters I’ve seen in a long time.
Like his first movie Basket Case, Brain Damage has a similar look and style to it. It’s shot on 35MM film. The atmosphere is gritty as you follow Brian through the various locations in an inner city. Henelotter fills every scene with as much detail to look at. No shot is hollow. You’ll be immersed by the transitional shot of Brian looking up at his ceiling fan which slowly morphs into an eyeball, or the blue colored water which fills up his bedroom as he slowly submerges into it. And like his previous film, there is enough blood and gore to make you squeamish. The most powerful scene in the movie (at least to me) is the confrontation Brian has with Aylmer in the bathroom at a cheap motel. After Aylmer reveals that he needs brains to stay alive, Brian refuses to go along with it and will no longer ask to get high which prompts Aylmer to challenge him that if he doesn’t get a brain, then Brian can’t have his juice. Brian agrees thinking he’ll easily win. There are several dissolve shots of Brian going through severe withdrawal symptoms that are common in addicts who haven’t gotten a fix or are detoxing. Each fade away shot shows Brian in more agony than the previous. On top of that you have Aylmer who gleefully taunts him which doesn’t help the situation. It’s heartbreaking to see Brian struggle, but it shows how powerful drug addiction is.
I’m not certain what the budget was for this movie, but Henelotter has always worked with a very small budget. He squeezes every dollar in his budget and this movie is no exception. The visuals and special effects work are so impressive that you don’t believe this was done on the cheap. I’ve always believed that you don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars to create a great movie. If you have the right story and actors and if the filmmaker can generate a coherent story, then you’ve got a great movie.
Brain Damage ranks very high (no pun intended) on my all-time favorite movies. More than thirty years later, this movie is completely relevant to the issues of drugs and addiction that we face in our world today. This movie gives you a dark, gory and comedic tale of one who succumbs to drugs. While this movie is not kid appropriate, I believe is a good movie to scare straight anyone who thinks drugs are cool. After watching Brain Damage it will make them think twice before doing something that will give them a short ride, but a long wreck in the end.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
During the fellatio scene the crew walked out of the production refusing to work on the scene. A similar incident happened during the shooting of Basket Case (1982).
Brian has an unexplained cut on his lip all throughout the film. It was a part of a subplot involving him getting into a fight the night before defending his brother in a bar fight. But due to time restraints the explanation scenes were never filmed.
In a 2016 interview, Frank Hennenlotter said one of his favorite things about shooting in 35mm was that he couldn’t misplace the camera as easily as he did with the 16mm camera he used on Basket Case.