Eternal Code Review

Official Poster

Release Date: October 15, 2019

Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller

Director: Harley Wallen

Writer: Harley Wallen

Starring: Damien Chinappi, Richard Tyson, Scout Taylor-Compton, Billy Wirth, Erika Hoveland, Yan Birch, Mel Novak, Vida Ghaffari

Warning: Possible Spoilers In This Review

As I’ve previously mentioned in my review for Attack of the Unknown, there are times here on “Guilty Pleasure Cinema” where I receive an opportunity to watch a film sent to me directly from the distributors or producers. This review is going to be another special review since it falls a little outside the normal reviews I’ve put on here. There won’t be any audio clips or trivia. Instead it’s going to be a straight up review as to why I recommend you check out this particular film. With that being said, I had the pleasure this past weekend of watching a unique film that was written and directed by Harley Wallen, whom has appeared in over forty feature length films and TV shows. His filmography includes Agramon’s Gate which stars B Movie icon Laurene Landon, Betrayed starring John Savage and Abstruse starring Tom Sizemore. I’ll be reviewing his latest release, Eternal Code.

Eternal Code follows the story of Corey (Damien Chinappi), an Iraq War Veteran who is in an unfortunate position like many veterans as he is homeless and unable to find work, not to mention having suicidal thoughts. Sitting on a park bench, he befriends a prostitute named Stephanie (Kaiti Wallen) along with two teenage girls who bring him food and money, Miranda (Angelina Danielle Cama) and May (Calhoun Koenig). Miranda’s mother is Bridget Pellegrini (Erika Hoveland), who is the head of a biological company that is developing technology which could bring eternal life to human beings. She is fighting against a merger that is being led by Oliver (Richard Tyson). To make sure the merger goes through, Oliver assembles a team to kidnap Bridget and her husband Mark (Billy Wirth) and hold them hostage while intimidating the other members of the board to vote yes for the merger. Miranda manages to not be taken and enlists Corey’s help to rescue her parents. Using his combat training and skills, Corey seeks out to find Miranda’s parents as well as protecting her from being kidnapped.

Damien Chinappi in “Eternal Code.”

Clocking in at a runtime of 105 minutes, Eternal Code is a dramatic thriller with science fiction elements. The film deals with the concept of life, death and afterlife. While the concept of life after death remains a mystery to humans, science is hoping to solve the mystery. It also deals with the morals and ethics of this research. You have Bridget who is wanting to use this breakthrough for peaceful purposes while Oliver is wanting this for his own personal ambitions, which you will uncover as you watch the film. He’s not going to let anyone nor anything stop in his way even if it means using retaliatory measures which we find so often in our business world today.

The performances are strong in this film especially from the main leads. Chinappi plays Corey as a lost soul in the beginning, but it would take the decency and good heart of Miranda for him to snap back into a sense of purpose as he is determined to pay his debt to her by rescuing her parents. Chinappi’s performance reminds me of a mix between Jack Bauer and Bryan Mills (24 and Taken for those who aren’t getting the reference). He doesn’t rely on torturing his suspects to extract information. Instead he uses stealth, cunning and the old fashioned gun pointed at the head to get what he needs to move forward. Richard Tyson is in a familiar antagonist role as he has been known for playing villains for most of his career, most notably in Kindergarten Cop. His character of Oliver is cold, calculating and is done reasoning with others. The rest of the supporting casts play their parts appropriately and each bring something to the story. There’s two special appearances in the movie. The first is from Scout Taylor-Compton (Rob Zombie’s Halloween and Halloween II) as Charlie, who is in charge of watching over Bridget and Mark and gets easily annoyed by their constant complaining and her frustration shows during her screen time. The other is Mel Novak (Game of Death, An Eye For An Eye) who plays board member Pomeroy. His appearance is a mix between Cliff Robertson and a certain United States President whom shall remain nameless. Novak is known in the film industry for playing villains, but it was a breath of fresh air to see him play a different role as one of the more reasonable executives and would not be beaten into submission even if it meant losing his life.

Richard Tyson and Vida Ghaffari in “Eternal Code.”

You’ll need to be patient when watching this movie as the pacing starts out very slow, but then picks up around the thirty minute mark. From there you have many moments on screen that will make you tense.For those of you who are expecting long shoot em up scenes or explosions, there’s none of that in Eternal Code. There are fight scenes and dead bodies, but it’s minimal. Instead, Wallen’s direction makes you use your brain and think about what would you do in the situation that they find themselves in. The presentation fits with a real life situation if your loved ones were kidnapped, what would you do? How far involved would you be to get them back? The only gripes I had other than the uneven pacing was I felt some scenes could’ve been trimmed down as they would dwell on matters that have already been established.

Eternal Code is a pleasant flick that is a nice breather from all the blockbuster action films that need car chases, things blowing up and a high body count to keep the audience’s attention. It’s not going to fit everyone’s tastes, but if you’re looking for something that is a little more clever and dramatic, then this is worth a viewing.

Erika Hoveland and Billy Wirth in “Eternal Code.”

Tales From The Darkside: The Movie – Collector’s Edition Review

Official Blu Ray Cover. Courtesy of Scream Factory

As we reach the end of summer and heading into fall, there’s much to be excited about when it comes to new home video releases. Shout Factory and its horror counterpart Scream Factory has released some cult classics for the first time on Blu Ray this past summer including one of my favorite “Guilty Pleasure” films Graveyard Shift (See the Archives for previous review) and they’ve made huge headlines last month with not only the announcement of new Steelbook Editions of Pumpkinhead and Motel Hell, but they announced the Friday the 13th Collection Deluxe Edition which features all twelve films on sixteen discs complete with never before seen cuts and a ton of extras. There was another movie I was eagerly anticipating for its release which I received in the mail this past Monday and is scheduled to be released this upcoming Tuesday, August 25th. I’m talking of course about the Collector’s Edition of the 1990 Anthology Horror film, Tales From The Darkside: The Movie.

Tales From The Darkside was a television series created by horror legend George Romero which debut in 1983. The show which was heavily influenced by The Twilight Zone spanned numerous genres besides horror including science fiction. fantasy and black comedy. The show was a huge success that they spun a movie which was released to theaters on May 4, 1990. The film featured three stories along with a wrap around segment that is considered a fourth story. It was a modest success at the box office and was known for not only for displaying its blend of different genres and originality, but it was also known for being early film roles for then unknown actors Steve Buscemi and Julianne Moore, among others. I’m not going to do a breakdown of the film itself, but what I would say is that Tales From The Darkside: The Movie ranks up there in terms of best horror anthology films. My review will be focused on the new Collector’s Edition Blu Ray and its overall presentation.

The Collector’s Edition features a sleeve cover with new original artwork and a reversible Blu-Ray cover which features the original poster.

The Collector’s Edition of Tales From The Darkside: The Movie comes in a sleeve cover with reversible artwork for the Blu Ray sleeve itself. I love how Scream Factory utilizes the covers as you can have the new original artwork exclusive for the release as your hard cover and then you can change the Blu-Ray sleeve to include the original theatrical poster. You can pay homage to the original art while celebrating the new work. The film itself has been transferred in 1080p so those of you who were hoping for a 2k/4k scan of the original negative will be disappointed. Despite that, the film quality is crisp and clean. The lighting and colors are what really stands out in this presentation. You have the warm amber colors of the first story “Lot 249” which gives it a classic horror feel considering the story was taken from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story of the same name. You have the blue cold colors shown in “Cat From Hell,” which gives the story a deathly atmosphere and you have the smoky gritty look of the third story “Lover’s Vow,” which gives that story a feeling of mystery. Every frame comes alive and you’ll be taken aback by how slick the transition was. There are two options for sound which are DTS Master Audio 5.1 or 2.0 depending on what kind of system you have. I ran the 5.1 sound and I could hear the music, screams and other sounds as clear as crystal. Don’t think you’ll go wrong with either sound choice.

The Collector’s Edition is loaded with extras. In addition to the Theatrical Trailer, TV Spots, Radio Spots and Behind The Scenes Galleries and Footage, there are two Audio Commentary tracks for you to choose from when watching the film. The first Audio Commentary is with Co-Producer David R. Kappes, which is new to this release. The second Audio Commentary which features director John Harrison and Co-Screenwriter George Romero is taken from previous home releases. The commentary from Kappes gives his behind the scenes role of developing the film, what went into the decision making process and his observation of the film as he watches it. The Audio Commentary with Harrison and Romero is a nice gesture to include in this Collector’s Edition. While Romero is no longer with us, it’s still sobering to hear his voice as he talks about his role in the film, which was writing “Cat From Hell” alongside his good friend, Stephen King.

Scene from “Cat From Hell.”

The highlight of this Collector’s Edition besides the film itself is the brand new documentary, Tales Behind The Darkside: The Making Of Four Ghoulish Fables. This retrospective of the film spawns six chapters divided up appropriately. The first two chapters go into the history of the Tales From The Darkside television series to the development of the movie and the choices that were made. I loved the fact that the entire crew was taken straight from the television series. They kept it all in the family which gave the film familiarity. From there the next chapters were devoted to each story presented in the movie. You get some wonderful insights into not only the decisions to use which stories for the movie, but also some great commentary from the behind the scenes crew as to how the lighting was created, what sets were hand made and what sets were borrowed and of course how the monsters and special effects were made, which were created once again by Greg Nicotero and his crew. During the chapter of the documentary which talked about the third story presented, which was “Lover’s Vow,” we get an appearance from the stars of that story, Rae Dawn Chong and James Remar, which was a huge surprise considering the only actor shown in the documentary up to that point was Michael Daek who played dual roles as the Mummy in “Lot 249” and the Gargoyle in “Lover’s Vow.” Chong and Remar say nothing but positive things about their experiences on set and the chemistry that was developed between them. For James Remar, he said making this film was the start of the second phase of his career as he was newly sober at the time he started shooting. I couldn’t watch the documentary in a full sitting. It took me two nights to get through it which tells you the running time. This documentary is one of the best exclusive documentaries to come out from Scream Factory and everyone who worked on this should be given a huge round of applause.

Overall, the Collector’s Edition of Tales From The Darkside: The Movie is another home run release for Scream Factory. For its reasonable price you get a high quality horror film loaded with extras. This release will tie you over until the fall when they unleash to the horror consumer a plethora of titles in various box sets and steelbooks. You can still pre-order Tales From The Darkside: The Movie before it is released Tuesday, but it won’t make much difference at this point in terms of receiving it early. Nevertheless grab this release as it is a great film to add to your Shout/Scream Factory collection.

James Remar in the story “Lover’s Vow.”

Attack of the Unknown Review

Official Poster courtesy of Mahal Empire Productions.

While major Hollywood studios have closed their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has not stopped independent film companies from taking advantage of the situation by releasing their movies. One of those companies that is showing no signs of taking a break is Mahal Empire Productions. Mahal has become one of the leading companies for independent movies. Besides the quality and originality of their pictures, they’ve seized upon the concept of using campaign sites such as Indiegogo to ask fans for money to finance their films in exchange for perks. Mahal has exceeded their fundraising goals for each movie campaign and within a matter of days. They clearly know their market and have done it the right way as well as paving the way for those who want to get into the film industry. Now the company will be releasing their biggest release of the summer with Attack of the Unknown.

Directed by Brandon Slagle who in addition co-wrote the script with producers Michael and Sonny Mahal, Attack of the Unknown starts off as an action thriller as an LAPD SWAT team raids on a meeting orchestrated by notorious drug cartel leader Miguel ‘Hades’ Aguirre (Robert LaSardo). After a blazing gunfight, the Feds swarm in and take over the operation much to the disappointment of the team. From there, the story focuses on SWAT leader Vernon (Richard Grieco) whose life is starting to crumble. Besides going through a divorce, he is told by his doctor that he has cancer which has him caught in a miserable vice. Meanwhile in another part of Los Angeles, two police officers with a drunk driving suspect in the back of their vehicle come across what looks like a damaged spaceship in the desert. The ship explodes as the officers reach it only for them and their suspect to be killed by a strange tentacle that jabs them once. From there, a giant spaceship hovers over the city and an alien invasion begins. Vernon and his crew get caught up in it as they are transferring Hades to jail only to have them and their crew work together to figure out what these aliens want and how to defeat them.

Richard Grieco confronts an alien in “Attack of the Unknown.”

Attack of the Unknown takes the ingredients of various science fiction eras, most notably the 50s and the 90s, adds modern day action followed by some solid digital effects, polished cinematography and finishes it with some high quality sound, puts it in a film can and through the projector releases a movie that is all killer and no filler. It’s a film that has some serious tones, but in the end is a homage to the cheeses B movies of past and present. Considering the content, Attack of the Unknown works as a film that is perfect for a Drive In viewing since they’re riding the storm while theaters are hunkered down.

The highlighted performances in this movie are its two leads. First is Richard Grieco whose portrayal of Vernon reminded me of Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid 4 where he is on a death clock and musters the last of his strength for one final mission. In this case, Vernon’s final mission is to save the planet from its unwanted visitors. Grieco plays it with grit and is in no mood for games. Then there’s Hades played by Robert LaSardo, who has been a character actor for more than thirty years and I remember him from his appearances in such film and television most notably in Hard to Kill and Out For Justice with Steven Seagal, playing different criminals in NYPD Blue and more recently in Clint Eastwood’s The Mule. It was great to see LaSardo play a significant role in this as he plays Hades as an arrogant gangster who tries to get underneath the skin of Vernon and the other SWAT teams with his smug and cocky insults to stir up who he is antagonizing in order to get a violent reaction out of them. The rest of the cast offers their own unique traits and abilities including a survivor who runs a podcast and says he can kick some alien ass due to his nonstop playing of Street Fighter. There’s even a cameo from Tara Reid, another frequent Mahal contributor although she is delegated to a flashback.

Robert LaSardo’s performance in “Attack of the Unknown” is one of the highlights of this film.

Another positive about Attack of the Unknown is that it a fast paced film that doesn’t boggle down on tedious scenes that don’t progress the story forward. The initial raid scene in the beginning is fourteen minutes long, but doesn’t feel that way as your eyes are engaged at all the bullets flying and bodies piling up. It makes you feel like you’re playing a video game. From there the invasion starts to happen and the survivors are strategizing as to how they are going to make it out of the situation alive. The film clocks in at 103 minutes which is an appropriate length for a film of this concept.

The design of the giant spaceship borrows from the major ships in Independence Day and even move in a similar fashion. As soon as they arrive on earth, they don’t waste time and start blowing up buildings in downtown Los Angeles and causing a chain reaction where citizens are running for their lives. The design of the alien creatures are picked and pulled from infamous creations. their bodies resemble those of the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation while their claws seem to be taken from Roger Corman’s Attack of the Crab Monsters and the helmets they used are lifted from Ridley Scott’s Alien. While the creatures look dated they are not to be taken lightly as they pack a wallop with their quick kill abilities. Kudos to the makeup and costume department for creating antagonists that pay homage to their sci-fi ancestry.

With a lackluster release this movie year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Attack of the Unknown is just the film that you need to watch to escape the real horrors going on in the world. The film will be released on Video on Demand on Blu-Ray August 28th with a DVD/Blu-Ray release to come in October. Be sure to mark that date on your calendar since it will be the first big release of what is shaping to be a fall finale for new movies to be released on home platforms instead of the traditional theatrical release.

Alternate Poster.

Evolver

Official Photo

Release Date: February 10, 1995

Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror

Director: Mark Rosman  

Writer: Mark Rosman

Starring: Ethan Embry, Cassidy Rae, John DeLancie, Cindy Pickett, Paul Dooley William H. Macy (Credited as W.H. Macy)

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

The 90s saw the boom of video rentals. Chains like Blockbuster had not only the hottest theatrical releases, but movies that went straight to video. Low budget B-movies used the rental boom as a way to get their films out to the viewing public. Companies like Full Moon Features profited and flourished using this concept. Some of the straight to video films began to appear on designated channels. The Sci-Fi channel was known for not only playing classic science fiction and horror films, but they played straight to video exclusives and started making their own movies that would be played specifically on their channel (a trend that has continued today). One of the first titles to come out during this period was the movie Evolver.

The movie is about a teenage gamer and hacker Kyle Baxter (played by Ethan Embry) who is an avid gamer trying to get the high school on an arcade game called Evolver. Evolver is a virtual reality game where the player must track down and shoot a fast moving robot. The company that created the game, Cyber-Tronix is having a contest where they person with the highest score will win a prototype home version of the game which includes a physical robot of Evolver itself. Kyle being a few points short of first hacks into the Cyber-Tronix network and fixes the score so he would be first. He wins the contest and the robot is delivered to his home complete with a big marketing promotion form the company which features the CEO of the company Jerry Briggs (played by Paul Doocey) and the creator of Evolver Russell Bennet (played by John DeLancie). Kyle and his friends start to play with the new robot and seem to have fun. Later as the game continues, Kyle starts to notice some strange things going on with Evolver.  He hacks into the program and finds that the game’s source code is run on a program called ‘SWORD’.  Later while addressing his concerns with Bennett at Cyber-Tronix’s headquarters, he sneaks into one of the computer rooms and discovers that SWORD was originally a military program designed by Bennett and was inputted into robots used in war. The project went haywire when the prototype robot began killing its teammates, forcing Bennett to shut down the program. When confronted by this information Bennett admitted that he was trying to prove that his programmed worked, but lapsed in judgment by not adapting the program enough for home consumption. Now Kyle must find a way to defeat Evolver as its primary objective now is to terminate him.

The movie was released in 1995. I remember seeing previews for this film on the Sci-Fi channel and thinking this looked cool since it was a movie about a video game robot. When I saw the film for the first time, I was thoroughly impressed. It was one of the better robot movies that I had seen in my short time (I was ten years old in 1995). I watched it again not too long ago and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time. It’s a rare breed of films that were played on the Sci-Fi Channel that I liked.

Ethan Emby in “Evolver.”

The opening scene is Kyle playing the Evolver VR game. The VR graphics are similar to the ones that were in The Lawnmower Man (if any of you have seen that). There are some nice first person scenes inside the game that make you feel like you are playing the game (I wish they came out with an Evolver VR game. Now is the opportunity with all the headsets out there). There are a lot of first person shots involving Evolver. There are scenes where you are seeing through the lens of Evolver’s visor and you can see all the programming and targeting that it has. When Evolver moves, you’ll notice the camera is hovered low to reflect Evolver’s height. I thought that was clever. The film has more physical special effects than visual. Most of Evolver’s kills deal with using physical tools and the environment that surrounds him. The only visual effects I found were when he uses electricity and laser weapons, which is fine. Evolver can be predictable on numerous occasions throughout the film, but It’s still a fun little joyride with some intense moments.

This movie had a nice cast of familiar faces. All of them were well suited to their roles. There were a few characters that I felt were fillers for the story. Of course, the film had to have a romantic interest, hence the character of Jane portrayed by Cassidy Rae. At first she becomes a nuisance to Kyle, but finds an immediate attraction to him and early on tries to convince him that Evolver is not what it seems.  The one character I didn’t like was Kyle’s best fried Zack. I can’t remember the actor’s name that played him. At first I thought it was Adam Richman from Man vs. Food because he looks like him. Sadly it wasn’t. Anyway, Zack is a self-centered perv who only uses Kyle to get what’s best for him. In the beginning of the film, he is placing bets on Kyle to beat the Evolver’s game. When Kyle wins the Evolver robot, he wants Kyle to put it in the girl’s locker room so it could record the girls inside. I did not feel any sympathy for what happens to him in this movie.

Evovler, the robot that was supposed to be a fun game.

Amway, let’s focus on the three central characters of this film.

This was one of Ethan Embry’s first teenage roles (he’s been a child actor long before this). He was well suited for the role of Kyle. Like most boys his age during this time period, video games were a way of life and a way of escaping from real world issues. Early in the film, he is very dismissive of his mother due to the fact she is always going out on dates and having to watch his kid sister. You have a sense that he blames her for what happened with the family. It’s only until a scene involving his sister in danger when Evolver is trying to kill her does he show heart and how his selfishness nearly cost him the life of his sibling. He comes to the realization that his family is more important than a piece of rolling metal. In the final confrontation, Kyle shows grave concern for his family when Evolver gives him an ultimatum. In the end, Kyle realized that in order to beat Evolver, he had to think outside of the virtual world and use the real world to his advantage.

The second central character in the film is Russell Bennet. I love John DeLancie and he was perfect for this role. Star Trek fans are well aware of who DeLancie is in their universe as the adversarial character Q from The Next Generation series. For those who aren’t Trekkies, DeLancie is also known for playing the character Donald Margolis in Breaking Bad from Season 2 going into the beginning of Season 3. Bennett is obsessed with making his program work. While the CEO of Cyber-Tronix assigns Bennett to create a holiday techno toy, Bennett is only focusing on his scrapped military program and proving the powers that be that there is nothing wrong with his program. When his boss seems concerned regarding the early data from Evolver and feels that it is not ready for public consumption, Bennett dismisses his notion and comes up with answers as to why Evolver is reacting the way that it is. When Kyle confronts him about the concerns he has with Evolver, he ignores the warnings and fights back at Kyle saying, “I created Evolver. I know what makes him tick and you don’t!” It’s like he is in complete denial. It’s only until the turning point in the film does Bennett understand the real dangers and admits defeat. Unfortunately it will be too late for him to stop it.

Evolver leaving the scene of an accident.

Finally, there is the titular character. Evolver is voiced by William H. Macy (credited as W.H. Macy). Now I’m sure you’re asking why a big name respected actor like William H. Macy is voicing a robot in a straight to video film. William H. Macy was not well known during this time period. ‘Fargo’ wasn’t released until a year after this. I’m he took whatever came to him as most actors do. Evolver’s primary objective is to win. In the VR game, no one has defeated Evolver at Level 4 and that carries over into the home game. Like its namesake, Evolver evolves at every level and he adapts to his surroundings and what he observes. Evolver’s lines are basic in the beginning, but as it confronts new players it mimics their taunts, threats and jokes. Macy does a great job keeping these lines monotone to the robot’s voice, but does it in a way that is humoring. Near the end of the movie, Evolver’s voice becomes more evil and desperate with his enemies still being alive and Macy’s voice easily transitions to that.

This movie came out at the height of the Arcade industry. Virtual reality was still a technology being played around with but it wasn’t available for entertainment consumption. Being a long time video gamer, I loved the concept of having your own interactive gaming robot you could play with. Who wouldn’t want to get their hands on their own Evolver robot to play with? This is another in a long line of films dealing with artificial intelligence and the dangers that are associated with it. You saw a lot of these movies come out shortly after ‘The Terminator’. Evolver takes it to a different level by being a portable video game robot. What is programmed to be a kid’s game becomes a killing machine. With technology continuing and artificial intelligence widening, it only takes one glitch or one error for things to go critical.

Overall, Evolver is still a fun movie. If I had to make a list of my favorite straight to video movies, this would be on my Top 2e list. Like I said earlier, I would love to start a campaign to get an Evolver VR game going. We should take up the social media platforms and let VR companies know we want this to happen and send them a copy of the movie. If by some miracle this indeed happened, it would move the Evolver movie from a simple made for television film into virual reality immortality!

TRIVIA

  • N/A

AUDIO CLIPS

You Screwed Up My Game
What Contest?
This Time You Will Be Perfect
Evolver Introduction
Play With Me
You Can Bet On It
Target Identified
Too Much Cable
Jerkbrain
Poor Innocent Robot
Retest Evolver
Where Ya Hiding?
Killed The Little Prick
I Hope Your Attorneys Are Better Than Your Technicians
Just A Game
I’m Not Your Enemy

Masterminds

Official Poster.

Release Date: August 22, 1997

Genre: Action, Thriller, Comedy

Director: Roger Christian

Writers: Floyd Byars (Story & Screenplay), Alex Siskin, Chris Black (Story)

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Vincent Kartheiser, Brenda Fricker, Matt Craven, Bradley Whitford,

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

I want to take a moment to thank all of you readers who continue to support this blog. Thanks to your comments and feedback through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Fort this week’s review, I present to you a movie that is perfect for this kind blog. It’s a movie that’s only available through VHS and certain streaming sites as it’s never been released on DVD or Blu-Ray. It’s a movie which features a lovable iconic actor in perhaps his first villainous role.  The actor I’m referring to is none other than Captain Picard and Professor Charles Xavier himself, Patrick Stewart. The movie I’m referring to is 1997’s Masterminds.

In Masterminds, Stewart plays Raef Bentley, a man who is hired to oversee security at Shady Glen School, a prestigious private school where children of the wealthiest people in America attend. He uses his position to take over the school and hold several children hostage in exchange for (what else) money. However, his plan hits a snag thanks to a teenage hacker named Oswald (Ozzie) Paxton, played by Vincent Kartheiser. Ozzie is tasked with taking his stepsister to Shady Glen. Ozzie is well familiar with the school as he used to be a student himself before being expelled for setting the science lab on fire. Witnessing firsthand of Bentley’s goons taking out the security guard at the front gate, he goes into the school undetected and thwarts Bentley’s plans using his skills as a hacker among other skills. Soon it becomes a test of wits between the two individuals and only one of them will succeed.

Patrick Stewart plays antagonist Raef Bentley in “Masterminds.”

The movie is directed by Roger Christian, who is infamously known for directing the worst movie of the 21st Centurty (so far), which of course is Battlefield Earth. Christan along with writers Flyod Byars, Alex Siskin and Chris Black create a movie that is essentially Die Hard for kids. The concept, story and sequences of the film are lifted straight from the iconic action movie. Despite the unoriginal concept, I enjoyed this movie most notably for the performances of the actors and how they tried to get the most out of the script. It’s quite a long movie for this kind of concept, clocking in at one hour and forty-eight minutes, but there’s so much going on that keeps the film movie. There are some slow moments in the second half, but then it kicks right back into high gear.

The dialogue is pretty dated with numerous references to things going on during the time frame of the film. Some of the younger viewing audience who wasn’t born during these events won’t understand, but for those of you who grew up with will get it right away. There’s not much in terms of crude humor, but there’s many comedic moments and environmental situations that the characters get themselves into to give yourself a chuckle or burst out laughing to. The movie doesn’t rely on sex or vulgar language to keep the audience’s attention which makes this a suitable movie for children ages 12 and up.

Vincent Kartheiser plays protagonist and computer whiz Ozzie Paxton.

As mentioned, the performances are what makes this movie enjoyable. Stewart is perhaps the most likable antagonist I could remember in a movie. You can tell that he really enjoyed playing this role. He can take bad dialogue and make in fun and funny. Stewart also provides a bit of temperament for Bentley as he takes it upon himself to make sure that no one gets hurt especially the police which is quite charming and generous to say the least. Vincent Kartheiser is a formidable adversary as Ozzie and does a good performance as the nineteen year old outcast who is quick on his feet and is able to improvise a la MacGyver when it comes to slowing Bentley and his crew down such as jamming the controls in the boiler room to sweat and disorient the bad guys, to rigging a swimming pool to blow up with dynamite and a school timer to flood the underground basement of the school. His skills and tactics earn him the accommodation from Bentley who snickers at him during their first face to face encounter and hopes that he joins his team when he graduates. Irish acting legend Brenda Fricker has a medium role in this film as the principal of Shady Glen, Maloney. She’s a tough as nails and doesn’t put up with nonsense. Fricker was a great choice for that role.  There are small appearances from Matt Craven as Ozzie’s dad and Bradley Whitford as a billionaire corporate executive looking to purchase a major news media organization but is sidetracked when finding out his daughter is one of the children Bentley is holding to ransom.

For those of you who’ve managed to get through Battlefield Earth or is aware of its style would know that it was remember for being shot almost entirely at a Dutch angle. Roger Christian includes many Dutch angles in Masterminds. Some are used in appropriate scenes, but other times it looks out of frame and unwarranted. I don’t know what his obsession is with Dutch angles. I don’t if he’s trying to be inventive, clever or cute, but he needs to learn how to use them in the correct scenes. Christian does end up using appropriate angles in certain moments of the film including overhead shots of Ozzie looking at some of the henchmen while he’s in a vent shaft and during the many hide and seek moments shown. Other than that, the rest of the movie is enjoyable as you will be enamored by the many action scenes that take place throughout the film and will be quoting the hilarious one liners and other cheesy dialogue for time to come.

Patrick Stewart and Katie Stuart in “Masterminds.”

Masterminds is rated PG-13 and is a film that kids, and young adults will enjoy. Despite the concept being done before and is rustic in some areas, it hasn’t lost its overall luster. The fact that it hasn’t been released on current video formats except for streaming shows what a rare title this is and is worthy of the title “Guilty Pleasure Movie!” Masterminds is a great 90s nostalgia flick that’s worth the $5 to $10 to rent on the Xbox Store, iTunes or any other streaming service you used. I’m so happy I was able to find this movie because this is the perfect milestone movie to present on this blog.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • This movie made only seventy-six pounds sterling on its U.K. cinema release, making it the lowest box-office taking of 1998.
  • The setting of the fictional school is actually Hatley Castle. Sir Patrick Stewart would go on to film the X-Men franchise, which also uses Hatley Castle as Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
  • This movie is not available on DVD and Blu-Ray as of November 2018.
  • Kelsey Grammar was the original choice for the villain.
  • When Bentley (Sir Patrick Stewart) makes his first appearance, he asks Principal Maloney to call him by his first name, “Raef”, to which she immediately replies “Fine”. This is a reference to Ralph Fiennes, whose name is pronounced “Raef Fines.”
  • Patrick Stewart’s character wears a Manchester United shirt in the film. In reality, Stewart supports Huddersfield, but since Manchester United is more widely known, the decision was made that he should wear the shirt.

AUDIO CLIPS

Boiling Babe For Dinner
I’m Always In Trouble
Feeding Your Face Again, Dough Boy?
Raef, Fine
Enough of This Happy Boy Business
We Got A Die Hard Situation
We Believe In Discipline
Wienerhead
Benltley Addressing The School
Come Here Little Boy
Is It Hot In Here?
This Is Ugly
I’ll Be Frying
Take It In The Chest
And They Say You’re Not Good With The Fellas
Find Them
United
Who Does This Guy Think He Is?
Yes, Yes, No

Graveyard Shift Blu-Ray Review

Official Blu-Ray Cover of “Graveyard Shift” courtesy of Scream Factory.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down movie theaters it hasn’t stopped Video on Demand nor home video companies from pumping out new releases. This past week Scream Factory announced several new releases coming in time for Halloween including a brand new deluxe edition of the “Friday the 13th” film series. That announcement alone caused their servers to slow down due to everyone attempting to pre-order it. Meanwhile, they have several titles releasing in a matter of weeks. One of those titles is the 1990 Stephen King film adaption of his short story Graveyard Shift.

For the first time ever Graveyard Shift gets the Blu-Ray treatment. In addition to film there are several extras including interviews with Producer/Director Ralph S. Singleton and actors Kelly Wolf, Stephen Macht, Vic Polizos and Robert Alan Beuth along with the theatrical trailer and radio spots.I pre-ordered the film when it was announced and was lucky to receive it by mail before the initial street date. After my initial viewing, I wanted to give you the reader my take on the release. To save you some time, I will not be reviewing the film itself (My full review of Graveyard Shift is posted to this site).

Graveyard Shift is a film that is in my Top 10 Guiltiest Pleasure Movies of All Time and it was great to see that it was receiving an updated treatment. The film is not presented in a 2K or 4K scan so if you were hoping to see it in those formats you are going to be disappointed. Despite that setback, the film still looks good in 1080p. Every shot in the movie is a clean update so you won’t see patches of scenes that didn’t get treated. There is a great balance of light and dark to its brooding atmosphere in the movie and you may notice some things you didn’t notice from previous viewings. There are two audio options to the film depending on your preferences one in the DTS Master Audio 5.1 or 2.0. I switched back and forth between the two audios to hear the difference especially since I viewed this in my bedroom television. Both of them sound sharp. You can hear every line uttered from each character with the exception of Brad Dourif when he introduces himself to Hall. He talks like Boohauer that I still can’t understand what he was saying. The others sounds cut like glass as every machine sound, rat noise, and human screams sound authentic.

The Blu-Ray edition of “Graveyard Shift” provides a great balance of light and dark to its brooding atmosphere.

As for the extras of this release, I was very disappointed that there were no Audio Commentary tracks. I love listening to the Audio Commentaries to listen to the stories of the making of the film, how certain scenes were shot, why they chose the cast, etc. I don’t understand why the decision was made not to have Audio Commentary especially not with the Director not the cast that was interviewed. Guess they couldn’t get a schedule to have them appear and watch the film while they talked. While there may be no Audio Commentary there are plenty of bonus interviews in this release. First, there is a two part interview with Producer/Director Ralph S. Singleton where he talks about his career and how he got involved in this film. Singleton provides some great insights on the making of this film especially his casting choices, the number of rats they had on set and how they were trained and shipped and some of the difficulties they faced during shooting, most notably how the giant bat/rat creature would not function properly and they had to improvise in the same manner as the mechanical shark in Jaws. I was also disappointed that there were no deleted scenes nor TV scenes included especially since it is mentioned in a few of the interviews that they shot more scenes including more of the relationship developing between lead characters Hall and Wisconsky. The interviews with Kelly Wolf, Vic Polizos and Robert Alan Beuth are all around an average of twelve minutes. Each actor talks about how they got into acting, how they got their roles and their experiences on set. All of them were in agreement that they loved shooting on location in Bangor, Maine. It was great that Scream Factory was able to secure interviews with them considering I haven’t seen much of them in any other shows or films with the exception of Polizos who has appeared in many notable films like Harlem Nights and Night of the Creeps.

For me, the best interview extra was with Stephen Macht who played the sleazy cheap antagonist Warwick. Macht, who not only is an incredible actor with many credits to his resume, but he is also an Acting Teacher and Associate Professor who earned a Ph.D. in Dramatic Literature from Indiana University. In his academia train of thought Macht psychoanalyzes the film from different aspects for the viewer. He talked about how his first acting roles were in morality plays and explains how Graveyard Shift is a morality play and further goes into his reasoning providing many examples. I was blown away by what Macht was saying and I could see right there how the film can be interpreted as a morality play. I also loved how Macht described how he got a dialect coach from Maine to help with his accent. He admits that he was told to play it a little over the top, but he sure did enjoy the challenge given that it’s a movie where the story was based in Maine and shot in Maine and wanted to keep it as authentic as possible.

David Andrews as Hall in “Graveyard Shift.”

Overall, while I felt that there could’ve been a little more in terms of bonuses, the Graveyard Shift Blu-Ray is a great pick up to add to your Stephen King collection or if you’re a fan of the film. The film is priced at $23.99 which is a good bargain considering that this isn’t a Collector’s Edition with a high end transition or a dozen extras. It’s a movie that is perfect to watch on a hot summer day considering the sweltering atmosphere that is shown on screen.

Happy Heavenly Birthday! My 10 Favorite Larry Cohen Movies

Larry Cohen: 1936-2019

On March 23, 2019, the film industry lost a true auteur. Larry Cohen was the king of B-Movies. He started his career in the industry as a writer for television creating cult shows such as The Invaders, Coronet Blue and N.Y.P.D. Refusing to bow to Hollywood, Larry Cohen went out and created the movies he wanted to create. He wrote, produced, and directed numerous films of different genres. He was also known for giving up and coming African American actors and actresses their big break in the business as well as giving forgotten legends a second wind. His guerilla style of filmmaking was bold and risky. If Cohen were making movies without permits today, he would be arrested multiple times. I consider Larry Cohen my second favorite filmmaker only to John Carpenter. His movies are refreshing to watch for its originality, characters, and the reflection of the world during the particular time. Larry Cohen has claimed to be a writer first as it is notable through various scripts that have been produced into hits such as William Lustig’s Maniac Cop trilogy and the early 2000s suspense thrillers Phone Booth and Cellular. To celebrate his birthday today, I’m sharing with you my ten favorite movies from Larry Cohen’s filmography. These films are listed in order.

10. Original Gangstas

Fred Williamson in “Original Gangstas” (1996).

The first film in the list ends up being the last feature film directed by Larry Cohen and teaming up again with Fred Williamson who starred in the movies Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem. Original Gangstas tells the story of John Bookman (Williamson) who returns to his hometown of Gary, Indiana upon hearing the news that his father got shot by some local gangsters. A former gang member himself, Bookman enlists the help of Jake Trevor (Jim Brown) and Laurie Thompson (Pam Grier) to bring a sense of order and justice to the one flourishing city that has been reduced to rubble, poverty and chaos. The film is notable for being shot on location in Gary during a time where there were more than three thousand crimes reported and hundreds of people murdered as well as Cohen hiring the local gangs to not only perform in the movie, but work alongside the crew. Original Gangstas is a tribute to the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s filled with traditional action scenes of the era and a dramatic story. This film was a personal project for Williamson who was born and raised in Gary and wanted to show the audience that Gary is not the murder capital of America, rather it’s a city looking for it’s sense of place and there are hard working people who are trying to make a difference in improving the community. Original Gangstas is the perfect movie to watch especially during these divisive times in America and by watching should give a glimmer of hope that things can be turned around for the better.

9. Bone

Yaphet Kotto and Joyce Van Patten in “Bone” (1972).

Larry Cohen’s film debut was not a horror flick, but a strange dark comedy. Bone stars Yaphet Kotto as a criminal who breaks into the home of a wealthy couple who are having marital problems. He gets to know the couple and comes up with a resolution to their problems. The movie also stars Andrew Duggan and Joyce Van Patten as the married couple. The film is dialogue heavy with some good acting, early foreshadowing and surreal moments. The film was shot inside and outside Larry Cohen’s house to save money on the budget (he would use his home for scene locations in future movies).  Many consider Bone part of the blaxploitation film library, but it really isn’t. Bone is essentially a social commentary piece about race relations along with the attitudes of upper-class society and their opposition to those who they feel are beneath them. The film features the first interracial sex scene shot on film involving an African American male and a white woman as Van Patten helps Kotto with his own sexual insecurities.

8. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover

Broderick Crawford in “The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover” (1977).

Spanning six decades and eight United States presidents, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover is one of the first film biopics about America’s number one crime fighter. Cohen chronologically walks through Hoover’s career in law enforcement from recruit to establishing the FBI and his continual rise to power and influence while at the same time focusing on the dual nature of his morality. James Wainwright plays a young J. Edgar which then transitions to Broderick Crawford playing him in his formidable years. The film also features an ensemble cast including Michael Parks, Jose Ferrer, Dan Dailey and Rip Torn. The film notably known for Cohen and his crew shooting on location in Washington D.C. and notably at Hoover’s home without permits while getting permission to shoot at the FBI Training Center and inside the FBI building himself, thanks to the first lady at the time Betty Ford. Crawford is the highlight of the film as he portrays Hoover as stoic and stone faced and is determined to hold on to his power by any means necessary. It’s a reminder that power can corrupt a person. Compared to Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover is more accurate account of his life and career.

7. Special Effects

Eric Bogosian in “Special Effects” (1984).

Featuring a small cast including early roles for Zoe Lund and Eric Bogosian, Special Effects is a Hitchcockian style film that gives viewers a behind the scenes look at the process of a film being made. Bogosian plays filmmaker Christopher Neville whose career is in jeopardy after he is fired from a multimillion-dollar project. He has an unexpected visitor in Lund who is an aspiring actress. After an attempt to sleep with her to which she refuses his advances, Neville kills the actress. He uses this experience to make his comeback film. The cast of the film as well as the police are suspicious about the details he puts in while shooting the film. While the pacing of the film is slow and focuses on way too many behind the scenes details, Special Effects is a decent thriller with beautiful cinematography, a heavy synth score and very convincing performances from Bogosian and Lund, who actually plays two roles in the film as the victim and the leading actress of the movie. Special Effects also depicts the seedy side of the movie business as Cohen throws in numerous examples of how cast and crew are treated and how far someone will go to make sure that their vision is completed.

6. The Ambulance

Scene from “The Ambulance” (1990)

Larry Cohen’s first movie in the 90s, The Ambulance is a quirky suspense thriller mixed with some unexpected comedy. The Ambulance stars Eric Roberts as a comic book artist is currently working on a project for none other than Marvel Comics (featuring a cameo from the late great Stan Lee) who meets a young woman on a New York City street named Cheryl (Janine Turner). Suddenly, Cheryl collapses on the street and within a matter of minutes, an ambulance arrives to take Cheryl to the hospital. Josh heads to the nearest hospital to check up on her. When he arrives at the front desk to find out what room Cheryl is in, the staff tell him that she was not admitted to the hospital. Now Josh is convinced there is something going on with the ambulance and the people who are associated with it. After asking for help from the local police department, specifically Lt. Frank Spencer (James Earl Jones) who is not convinced of his story, Josh continues his investigation hoping to find Cheryl before it’s too late. Larry Cohen based this movie on his own frightening experience involving an ambulance. The movie features great performances from Roberts who uses his skills as a comic book artist to his advantage in his finding of Cheryl. Jones plays a cynical meaty role as the rundown detective Spencer who is not convinced of Josh’s story. Legendary comic Red Buttons provides zingers and one liners throughout his screen time as New York Post reporter Elias Zacharai. One thing that struck out to me about The Ambulance was its cinematography. It was sharp, bright, and fit what films would look like in the 90s. The Ambulance itself is a character much like Stephen King’s Christine. Although it’s not a car that comes to life, but it comes to life from the look and the individuals who are driving it. Whenever the ambulance appears on screen, you know something is about to go down and not for good intentions. The Ambulance is a fast-paced thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

5. It’s Alive

Scene from “It’s Alive” (1974)

Larry Cohen’s first take on a monster movie continues to be one of his scariest and iconic in the film world. It’s Alive tells the story of the Davis family who become parents of a killer mutant baby. From there local and government authorities attempt to track it down and kill it. However, the father hopes to find the child before they do. It’s Alive is the quintessential film for horror fans with plenty of scares and gore with a monster that lurks in the shadows. The first fifteen minutes of the film are the most tense and shocking moments captured on film. There are many things to love about It’s Alive from the pacing to the special effects and especially the music which was composed by longtime Alfred Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Hermann. Cohen uses the techniques from Spielberg’s Jaws by showing little of the mutant baby and having the audience interpret what is happening to the victims of its murderous rampage. It’s Alive is also a social commentary about the behavior of newborns and the changes of habitat and effects of chemicals that can cause harm to those in the womb. It’s Alive became such a financial success in the United States and overseas that it spawned two sequels.

4. God Told Me To

Tony Lo Bianco and Richard Lynch in “Gold Told Me To” (1976).

Perhaps the strangest movie Larry Cohen ever made, God Told Me To stars Tony Lo Bianco as Detective Peter Nicholas who investigates a series of murders all around New York City with the suspect proclaiming that God told them to do it. His investigation leads to a cult leader and from there unleashes starting revelations about himself and his beliefs. God Told Me To is a cryptic and challenging film as Cohen creates a world that is focused on religion, cultism, the duality of mankind and the questioning of one’s existence. It’s a complexed than Cohen’s other movies, but provides enough in terms of action, suspense, and imagery to keep you focused. Besides Lo Bianco there are solid performances from respected character actors including Sandy Dennis, Sylvia Sydney and Richard Lynch. The film is notable for Andy Kauffman’s appearance as a New York City police officer walking in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade along with the rest of New York’s finest. You can see the different reactions from the officers when they recognize Kauffman, all thanks to Cohen’s trademark of stealing shots. God Told Me To is a venturous film with twists and turns that dig deep into the mystery of whether or not man is alone in the universe.

3. Black Caesar

Fred Williamson in “Black Caesar” (1973).

One of the most underrated gangster films, Larry Cohen’s second feature Black Caesar is a jewel of the 70s blaxploitation cinema which launched Fred Williamson’s post NFL career as an actor. Black Caesar is a film that has a ton of attitude filled with charismatic characters, a cohesive storyline, violence that would make The Godfather jealous and a phenomenal soundtrack from the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Williamson owns the role of Tommy Gibbs as a man who grew up in poverty in Harlem harassed by racist cops to taking over his home territory and gradually building his own empire under the noses of his employers. At the rise of his power is when his past comes back to haunt him and becomes suspicions of those close to him. The film is the first to show off Cohen’s guerrilla style of film-making as it was shot in New York City and Harlem with zero permits. The reactions you see from the bystanders in the movie are unscripted. Black Caesar became Cohen’s first financially successful film that a sequel was immediately green-lit which was shot and released in the same year as Black Caesar titled Hell Up In Harlem. This film would become the blueprint to how Larry Cohen would create his future works. 

2. The Stuff

Scott Bloom in “The Stuff” (1985).

Perhaps the most regarded and well-known film in Larry Cohen’s filmography, The Stuff is not just a horror movie, but a social commentary. Cohen made this movie at a time in the eighties where people consumed everything. The eighties was the birth of many electronics such as video game consoles, Walkman’s, VCRs, etc. It wasn’t just electronics people were craving, it was the current fashion trends, fast food restaurants popping up at every street corner. Cohen based “The Stuff” off the yogurt craze going on at the time. People were obsessed with yogurt because it was advertised as being healthy, filling, and tasty. Add heavy advertising to that and you have people become hooked on it turning them into consumer zombies. They consume and consume while the companies that make it rake in the profits. The movie is a pure 80s movie in terms of look, music, effects, and overall style. You have the bright neon lights of “The Stuff” logo along with its catchy music and commercials. Featuring a cast which includes Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris and Paul Sorvino. Oh, there’s even an appearance from the old lady in the Wendy’s commercials where instead of screaming, “Where’s the beef?” she cries, “Where’s the Stuff?” The effects of The Stuff creature vary throughout the film. In some parts of the film, it looks like a mix between frozen yogurt and marshmallow. In scenes where it bursts through walls, it milky and watery. Cohen does a great job showing that the creature doesn’t take on a basic form, rather it can come in multiple forms and textures. It even features a great tag line, “Is it eating it or is it eating you?”

1. Q: The Winged Serpent

Scene from “Q: The Winged Serpent” (1982).

Unquestionably my favorite Larry Cohen film of all time. Q: The Winged Serpent perfectly blends the genres of a monster flick with a crime noir filled with off beat characters and amazing performances by the actors that bring them to life including the memorable role of Jimmy Quinn played by Michael Moriarty in which has been described by many critics as the best piece of method acting they’ve seen for a small film. Larry Cohen wrote this film in six days and began shooting quickly after he was fired from directing I, The Jury. Like all 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. Q continues to be a timeless classic for me that I can watch repeatedly. It’s a great homage to the monster movies of the past.

Larry Cohen from “King Cohen” (2017).

So what did you think of the list? Do you agree or disagree? What movie from Larry Cohen’s library would you replace? If you’re interested in learning more about Larry Cohen’s career and his films, check out the award-winning documentary King Cohen. It’s one of the best documentaries of a filmmaker I’ve seen in the past five years.

Sleepaway Camp

Official Poster

Release Date: November 18, 1983

Genre: Horror

Director: Robert Hiltzik

Writer: Robert Hiltzik

Starring: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields, Christopher Collet, Mike Kellin

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Note: This review was originally posted in October 2018 on my previous blog “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review.”

This “Guilty Pleasure Cinema” review is one of the more controversial underground horror movies to come out of this list. This movie came out in 1983, but I wasn’t aware of the film until about 2014. It was this past summer where I watched it for the first time at a local discount theater where they were playing “Summer Themed” horror movies. It’s a movie like the previous two films in the special where I’ve watched repeatedly and enjoyed it on so many levels. The next film on this list is the summer camp slasher film Sleepaway Camp!

Sleepaway Camp is the story of two cousins, Rickey and Angela who are about to spend their summer at Camp Arawak. Rickey is a seasoned veteran at the camp while this will be Angela’s first time. Angela is quiet and shy. She is also suffering from a post traumatic event involving her father and brother being killed in a boating accident. Angela is disliked by the other campers for obvious reasons and only seems to talk to Rickey. She does strike up a conversation with Rickey’s friend Paul and become close throughout the movie. As the summer camp begins its annual season, a series of murders start to happen that has everyone on edge. Who is committing these murders and what is the motive?

Jonathan Tiersten and Felissa Rose as Rickey and Angela in “Sleepaway Camp.”

Sleepaway Camp was a surprise hit at the box office. It grossed over $11 million dollars with a reported $300,000 budget. It has a huge following and Felissa Rose became a member of the “Scream Queen Sorority”. The movie is known for its infamous and controversial ending that still shocks the viewing audience today (It sure did shock me). People like to debate which was the better slasher film, this or Friday the 13th.

Right off the bat, Sleepaway Camp gets your emotions charged. You see the traumatic event that will shape the story and the character of Angela throughout the film. When you see Felissa Rose appear on screen for the first time she is quiet and reserved. She barely makes eye contact with her aunt and stays close to her cousin Rickey. The camp counselors (well…most of them) are aware that this is the first time Angela will be away from home and they give her sympathy and comfort to make sure she enjoys her time. Her unwillingness to socialize with her roommates nor participate in any camp activities draws the ire of Judy (Karen Fields), the supposed popular girl at the camp and Meg (Katherine Kamhi). Rose gives a cold frightening performance with her constant stare downs. It’s a very intimidating look although the rest of the counselors don’t feel intimidated by her. She doesn’t utter her first words until she is confronted by Paul, Rickey’s fried who attempts to engage in conversation with her. From there you see her shyness melt away as she spends more time with Paul.

Susan Glaze and Paul DeAngelo as the horrified counselors in “Sleepaway Camp.”

Besides Rose’s iconic performance, the other performances were good. Each actor and actress played their character as they were written. Jonathan Tiersten’s performance as Rickey was hilarious. He loves to stir up trouble through his trash talking and constant profanity. He does a great job protecting Angela. He’s like a big brother to her rather than a cousin. My other favorite performance is the camp owner, Mel played by veteran actor Mike Kellin, who sadly passed away before the film’s release. Mel does his best to keep his reputation by trying to spin what is happening to the people that are dying in the film. He has a hilarious scene where he appears wearing lime green pants and a yellow jacket in anticipation for a hot date. There’s also a small appearance from Robert Earl Jones as the chef, Ben. He is the father of legendary actor James Earl Jones.

The gore is minimal in comparison to Friday the 13th. The killer uses the surrounding environments to take out its victims one by one. You’ll notice a pattern of whom the victims are. You may think to yourself you already know who the killer is, but the movie uses a bit of trickery to throw off your assumptions. There is a small body count throughout the movie until the very end where the volume doubles.

Mike Kellin gets an arrow to the throat.

Sleepaway Camp balances the kills with some humor. There are plenty of hilarious moments throughout the movie including Rickey and his bunk mates playing tricks on one of their own, the male campers going skinny dipping and some funny mustache miscues. The cop in the movie has a mustache in his first appearance, but when he appears near the end, you can tell the mustache is fake and uneven. The reason for that being is the actor that played the cop had shaved his mustache off after he was done shooting his part but was called back due to additional shooting. Since he couldn’t grow one quickly in time, they had to improvise.

This is the only film writer and director Robert Hiltzik made. He made a career change and today he is an attorney in New York. For what it’s worth, he made a really good slasher film. It’s a movie with a ton of replay value that you can watch repeatedly. You don’t need to be watching it in the summer to enjoy it as it is a film you can watch in any season.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • The original artwork for the Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit boxed set, which included the unauthorized sequels, was recalled after complaints were made by the American Red Cross.
  • Some of the campers seen getting off the buses at the beginning of the film are relatives of the cast and crew.
  • Jane Krakowski, who played Cousin Vicky in National Lampoon’s Vacation was originally cast to play Judy.
  • Mike Kellin’s final film. He was sick during filming but did his best to conceal it from everyone and passed away in August 1983 from lung cancer, three months before the film’s release.
  • Willy Kuskin who plays the character of Mozart, one of the bullied camp boys, was genuinely bullied during filming. Frank Trent Saladino who played Gene, Mozart’s camp counselor, had to step in to protect Willy at times when the other members would take it too far.
  • Felissa Rose and Jonathan Tiersten developed a puppy love type romance during filming but broke up soon after.
  • Jonathan Tiersten was given the role of Ricky after an unusual audition where the writer/director, Robert Hiltzik, asked Jonathan to cuss him out.
  • As a child, writer/director Robert Hiltzik actually went to the camp which was used in the film.
  • One of the inspirations for ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s “Nature Trail to Hell,” along with Friday the 13th Part III (1982), referencing the cutting up of Cub Scouts and an ending you have to see to believe.

AUDIO CLIPS

Any Chips?
Young Fresh Chicken
Wait Until You See Judy
Meg – M.E.G.
She Were Any Quieter She Be Dead
Every Nerve In His Body Is On Fire
Shut Up Mozart
Eat Shit And Live
Getting Caught With Your Pants Down
Hey Bobbery Bob
Angry Lifeguard
Mel’s Rationale
Guess Who?
Makes Things Easier For The Killer
Mel Rants

Critters

Release Date: April 11, 1986

Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror

Director: Stephen Herek  

Writers: Stephen Herek (Screenplay), Domonic Muir (Story & Screenplay), Don Opper (Additional Scenes)

Starring: Dee Wallace, M. Emmet Walsh, Scott Grimes, Billy Green Bush, Nadine Van Der Velde, Don Opper, Terrance Mann

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Movies that came out in the 80s contained a diverse range of genres. We had horror movies, teen comedies, action packed film and the occasional monster movie. With the success of Gremlins in 1984, fledgling production company New Line Cinema looked to creating a movie similar in nature. With the box office success of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, New Line Cinema got out of the red in their financial operation and had some money to invest in more projects. One of the projects that was green-lit to be a “sister” film to Gremlins was the movie, Critters.

Released in 1986 Critters is about a group of intergalactic hairball like creatures known by their species name “Krites” that escape from a prison asteroid and use a stolen spaceship to travel to the closest planet that contained the most life for them to feed their bellies, which is Earth. Desperate to stop the Krites from invading Earth and consuming all of its resources, the warden of the prison asteroid dispatches two bounty hunters to track them down and eradicate them. The Krites land in a field in a small town in Kansas called Grover’s Bend. The people of Grover’s Bend are their own characters. You have the Brown family who live on a farm, Charlie McFadden, the town drunk and Harv who is the easily annoyed Sheriff.  Jay Brown and his mischief son Bradley (Brad) head out to the field where they spot the ship crashing. They appear to find some of the herd dead with nothing left of them but their bones. Heading back to the house they encounter one of the Krites who bites several wounds into Jay as well as a poison needle that shoots from their backs, like a porcupine. The Browns become trapped in their home defending themselves against the Critters. Brad risks to find help and comes across the bounty hunters who have taken human forms. He directs the bounty hunters to his home where they see the Krites and begin a melee of destruction in order to kill them all.

The Bradley family along with Grover’s Bend Sheriff Harv.

Critters was a modest hit at the box office generating more that $13 million against a $2 million dollar budget. It would spawn three sequels, which one of them became the acting debut of an unknown kid would become an A- list actor named Leonardo Dicaprio (Critters 3). It was another franchise New Line Cinema had under their belt with their first being Nightmare on Elm Street. There have been talks of a remake, but I’m not a fan of remakes nor would I encourage a remake of this film. The films may look dated and silly, but they’re packed with enough gore and humor to keep your interests high.

The cast is a mixed of veteran character actors and some that are up and coming. The two popular names on the bill are Dee Wallace, who was the mother in E.T. plays the mother in this film and M. Emmett Walsh who has over two hundred credits to his name, is best known for playing a psycho in The Jerk and Harrison Ford’s boss in Blade Runner. Dee Wallace doesn’t do much except scream and cry through most of the film. Walsh plays Sheriff Harv as a short tempered man who feels the town is becoming a zoo. The film revolves around the performances of Scott Grimes who plays Bradley Brown, the younger of the two Brown children. He is mischievous and always getting into fights with his sister, April. He becomes the hero by risking his neck to escape his house surrounded by the Krites to find help.  Don Opper plays Charlie McFadden, the town drunk and close friend to Brad and believes alien life-forces are trying to communicate with him through his teeth fillings. Opper ends up playing a dual role in this film which he does a good job at. I’ll get to the dual part in a moment. Rounding out the central cast are the bounty hunters. They add just as much humor as the Krites do. The bounty hunters are named Ug and Lee (Ugly, get it?). They are faceless aliens and have transforming abilities. To “blend” in with the earthlings they may encounter, both of them look through a video of Earth and its history. Ug notices rock start Johnny Steele in a music video and transforms into him. Ug and Steele are played by Terrance Mann. Lee struggles to find a form to change into.  A recurring gag in the film is Lee changing into multiple people he encounters. He eventually settles on transforming into Charlie after an encounter with him in a bar. They carry giant cannon guns to blow up the Krites, but instead cause destruction at every location they step in. Even their boss pleads with them about being less destructive.  The bounty hunters would become staple characters of the eventual franchise as Mann and Opper are the only two actors to appear in all four movies. Critters includes small appearances from Billy Zane, who plays April’s new boyfriend, a city boy with a nice car and Lin Shaye of Insidious fame playing Sal the dispatcher.

The Bounty Hunters in “Critters.”

The real stars of the film are the Krites. They were created by the Chiodo Brothers (Stephen and Charles) who were known for Claymation, creature creation and puppeteering. They did a great job designing and moving the Krites. They’re described throughout the film series as “man eating hairballs”, which is true. However, they are very intelligent despite their limitations. They have red eyes, razor sharp teeth and needles that can shoot poison at their prey. They move with the speed and velocity of a cannonball. They crash land on Earth after escaping from a prison asteroid. While they repair the ship, they go off to look for food. They eat anything they come into contact with. The more they feed, the more they grow. You will see one of them in the film turn into a giant with the ability to walk upright like a human being. They come into contact with the Brown family and surround their home causing a Rio Bravo like standoff. The Krites are both scary and funny. There are some Three Stooges inspired moments they get into. One scene shows the Krites tearing up Brad’s room. One of the Krites is trying to communicate with a stuffed E.T. doll and when it doesn’t answer its questions, the Krite gets angry and bites his head off. Another funny moment is a Krite getting burnt by a small torch Dee Wallace uses and runs to the bathroom and jumps into the toilet.

This was the directorial debut of Stephen Herek who would go on to direct Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, The Mighty Ducks and Mr. Holland’s Opus.  I think this is a solid debut and one of his best films in his short filmography.  He does some good things technically. For example, most of the film takes place at night, so Herek uses natural lighting from the moon and flashlights to create a dark tense atmosphere for the Brown family as they investigate what is going on. He also makes good use of the first person view for the Krites. The camera is hovered above the ground and moves stealthily when they’re in hunting mode and then in a racing mode when they’re attacking or trying to reach their prey. The film has its slow moments, but once the Krites appear, the action and the horror pick up and doesn’t end until the final explosion.

Krite

As I mentioned in the beginning this film is very similar in nature to Gremlins. I used the term “sister” film because that’s what it feels like. It doesn’t have Steven Spielberg’s name attached to it, but it’s still a fun monster movie flick. It’s simple so you don’t have to worry about trying to compound narratives or hidden messages or symbolism. It’s a movie where you can lay on the couch and absorb what is taking place. The sequels that followed this film have their good moments and bad moments (mainly due to the budget going way down and the distribution being limited). I would put this movie in my Top 100 80s Films of All Time.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • Corey Burton, who voices the Critters, also came up with their language, which he described in interviews as combining elements of French and Japanese.
  • Terrence Mann performs the song “Power of the Night” as Johnny Steele especially for this movie.
  • This is the second movie (the other being E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial [1982]) with Dee Wallace in which her on-screen son heats up an oral thermometer in order to appear sick to avoid going to school. In E.T. she is fooled, but doesn’t buy it at all second time around in Critters [1986]
  • Don Opper and Terrence Mann are the only actors to appear in all four Critters films. Their characters, Charlie McFadden and Ug, respectively, appear in all four Critters movies.

AUDIO CLIPS

You Miss That Bus
Morning Harv
Charlie, It’s Jeff
I’ll Stand on the Fifth Amendment
What Are You Doing Up There?
Smells Like Oil Burning
Transform
Feeding Starts
Call Harv
What The Hell Are Those Things?
We Want The Krites
Keep Your Shirt On, Asshole
They Were Wearing Funny Clothes
I’m Not Reading You
Who Did Your Bring?
Swallowed My Chewing Tobacco

RIP Joel Schumacher. My 10 Favorite Films.

Joel Schumacher passed away Monday, June 22 from cancer at the age of 80.

This past Monday the movie world lost another influential filmmaker. Joel Schumacher made films that had a sense of style, deep mystery, emotionally developed characters and were risk takers. While many associate him with directing the last two Batman movies of the 90s and essentially ruined the Caped Crusader’s continuing on the big screen for a while, Schumacher made emotionally gripping movies that were successful in their own right. He took on projects that numerous directors would not touch due to the subject matter. For Schumacher they were challenges and they paid off. In honor of his legacy, here is a list of my ten favorite movies from Joel Schumacher. These are listed in order so debates are welcomed.

10. Batman Forever

Val Kilmer as the Caped Crusader in “Batman Forever.”

Yes, I know Batman Forever is more like Batman Forgettable, but I have fond memories of the movie going back to when I was ten years old and my mother took me to the theaters to see it opening night. Schumacher takes the Dark Knight in a different direction combining the dark storytelling of Tim Burton with campier villains complete with costumes that have a bit of the tv show influence and are placed in a much bigger and brighter Gotham City. The themes of the film involve deep secrets, revenge and overcoming fears. Val Kilmer puts on the cape and cowl for his only appearance in the franchise as he deals with his nightmares that are triggered after the death of Dick Grayson’s parents who were murdered by Two-Face. Kilmer’s Batman is one dimensional at times not differentiating between the Bruce Wayne persona and Batman. Nicole Kidman plays the love interest who seduces Batman throughout the movie in order to know the man behind the mask. Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal as Harvey “Two Face” Dent looks like someone who is high on coke rather than someone with a dual personality struggling to deal with what’s right and wrong. Then there’s Jim Carrey playing himself in a Riddler costume that is heavily influenced from Frank Gorshin’s look in the TV show and then there’s Chris O’Donnell as the boy wonder Robin complete with puns that would make Burt Ward cringe. Nevertheless, there is something about Batman Forever that makes it a guilty pleasure viewing.

9. Blood Creek

A deadite in “Blood Creek.”

Joel Schumacher returns to horror in a film about a Nazinecromancer raising the dead to do his bidding. It’s up to two brothers to stop him. Features a great cast including Henry Cavill, Dominic Purcell and Michael Fassbender in once again another haunting performance, Blood Creek is great from a stylistic standpoint which has always been Schumacher’s strongest trait as a filmmaker. Unfortunately the story falls under its own weight as it turns from what could’ve been a great premise into a typical group is trapped with a monster and must kill it before it kills them. If you’re a horror devotee like myself, Blood Creek is worth a viewing.

8. St. Elmo’s Fire

St. Elmo’s Fire introduced the world to the “Brat Pack.”

The movie that gave birth to the “Brat Pack,” St. Elmo’s Fire is a film that continues to be a influential film generation after generation. Schumacher tells a story about growing up and the struggles that come with adulthood. St. Elmo’s Fire feels over dramatic at times, but I enjoyed the film through the performances. Each character in the film not only had their own distinct personalities, but their own flaws which make them relatable. You may not understand the decisions they make throughout the story, but it’s decisions that we may have found ourselves having to make those decisions that are in the best interests. St. Elmo’s Fire is a film that reminds us that life isn’t perfect and we’re not perfect people, but we continue to move forward.

7. Falling Down

Michael Douglas goes postal in “Falling Down.”

Falling Down took me a long time to discover. I’ve heard of the film, but could not for the life of me figure out the title. I also didn’t know that this was a Joel Schumacher film until I finally watched it for the first time. Falling Down is a simple concept of a man who is at his breaking point and starts to violently lash out at those he comes across as he walks the streets of Los Angeles in order to get to the home of his ex-wife so he could see his daughter for her birthday. Michael Douglas plays William “De-Fens” Foster, an unemployed defense engineer for the government who is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. He is not intimidated by the people he comes across and won’t let them get in his way of going home. While Douglas plays the anger and rage of the film, Robert DuVall plays the calm and collective detective Pendergast who is working his last day on the job before retirement and is caught up in the events that are going on. Douglas and DuVall are essentially the yin and yang of the movie. Falling Down represents how we as humans have our breaking point and finding the difficulties adapting to an ever changing world and the fear of being obsolete. It’s an intense thriller that you must check out if you haven’t already. Thank goodness for streaming!

6. A Time To Kill

Matthew McConaughey and Samuel L. Jackson in “A Time To Kill.”

Based on the best selling novel by John Grisham, A Time To Kill is an example of a film where Schumacher took high risks and paid off both commercially and critically. The movie deals with a sickening act and a man being put on trial for simply defending his daughter after being violated. With over powering performances from a eclectic cast, A Time To Kill is set at a time that Americans continue to deal with to this day. Schumacher’s direction is spot on and well paced. It is a film that is emotionally charged and can bring a sense of hope that justice still works in the favor of those seeking it.

5. The Client

Brad Renfro and David Speck in “The Client.”

Schumacher’s first John Grisham adaptation is a dark, tense and heart pounding thrill ride with great performances and careful pacing. The Client features Brad Renfro in his film debut as Mark Sway, who becomes a witness to the suicide of a mob lawyer who reveals to him where the body of a missing Louisiana Senator may be. Being sought by the U.S. Attorney’s office and it’s ambitious prosecutor “Reverend” Roy Foltrigg, played by Tommy Lee Jones in another brilliant performance, Mark hires Reggie Love, played by Susan Sarandon for a dollar to defend him. The Client reminds me of another influential drama piece, The Fugitive. Both films are similar in nature. What stands this movie out is the building of the relationship between Mark and Reggie. Both of them slowly learn to trust each other if they’re ever going to get out of the situations they find themselves in. This is one of the few films that follows the book page by page without hacking it to pieces in order to add flair and dramatic emphasis. The film also features early roles for future well known actors including Kim Coates, Anthony LaPaglia and Will Patton.

4. Flatliners

Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts and Olvier Platt in “Flatliners.”

Featuring an ensemble cast including Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, Kevin Bacon and Oliver Platt, Flatliners is the story of five medical students who conduct experiments on themselves in order to physically prove the existence of life after death. As each of them cross over, they see visions of their past which begins to trigger and traumatize them when they are revived. Flatliners is a tense flick with a dark atmosphere and a cast of characters that provide a cocktail of intelligence, cockiness and fear. Sutherland and Roberts’s chemistry carries the film as they each deal with their own nightmares of past situations they experience when they were children. The film’s plot gets repetitive after awhile, but there is so much going on in Flatliners to literally make your heart stop.

3. The Lost Boys

BillyWirth, Kiefer Sutherland, Brooke McCarter and Alex Winter in “The Lost Boys.”

Perhaps the most beloved movie in Joel Schumacher’s filmography, The Lost Boys has a deep meaning for many fans. A new take on vampire lore, The Lost Boys is filled with elements taken from different genres and blends them into a wild ride viewing for the audience. The movie is known for its beautiful cinematography, it’s California setting, killer soundtrack and some of the best makeup and special effects in a movie of this nature. How could I forget the cast? I love the performances in this film especially Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander as The Frog Brothers. Did I mention this was the film that gave birth to the Two Coreys? The Lost Boys deals with themes of youth, innocence and trying to fit in which is something we’ve all had to deal with. The Lost Boys is a staple 80s film that continues to pick up a new legion of fans.

2. Phone Booth

Colin Farrell in “Phone Booth.”

Phone Booth is a suspense thriller that is a callback to the style of film making legend Alfred Hitchcock. Schumacher directs the movie taken from a script written by B-Movie auteur Larry Cohen about a publicist who enters a phone booth only to be trapped in it when a sniper calls him and tells him that he has a rifle pointed at his head. From there it leads to a triangular standoff when the police get involved. Phone Booth takes place in one location all throughout the movie which again is a callback to Hitchcock and his film Rear Window. There is so much tension and pressure in the movie that you could easily miss with the blink of an eye. The small cast including Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland and Forest Whitaker give heart pounding performances. It’s odd seeing Sutherland playing a bad guy in this since 24 started around the same time and launched his television career playing Jack Bauer. Phone Booth is a great tribute to the suspenseful films of the Hollywood golden era.

1. 8MM

Nicolas Cage and James Gandolfini in “8MM”

There’s something about 8MM which makes this my absolute favorite Joel Schumacher film. After the condemnation of Batman & Robin, Schumacher rolled the dice and took on a film that no one wanted to touch. 8MM brings to life the myth of snuff films and ventures into the dark and dangerous world of underground pornography. Nicolas Cage plays a private detective hired by the widow of a industrial millionaire to seek out if the film found in his private safe is real, who made the film and the identity of the victim. He teams up with a purveyor of porn named Max California played by Joaquin Phoenix to help make contacts and get him one step closer to solving the case. Cage finds himself getting dragged deeper and deeper into the seedy world which warps his mind. The best line in the movie sums up Cage’s character when Phoenix warns him that, “You dance with the devil, the devil doesn’t change. The devil changes you.” 8MM is filled with dark, grizzly images and the biggest lowlifes portrayed on film. Peter Stomare and James Gandolfini play characters you just loathe and hope nothing but the worse for them. The movie does leave some questions unanswered, but there’s so much going on in this movie that these questions will slip your mind.

So what did you think of this list? Was there a movie I missed? Feel free to leave a comment. Thank you for reading!