National Lampoon’s Senior Trip

Official Poster

Release Date: September 8, 1995

Genre: Comedy, Adventure

Director: Kelly Makin

Writers: Roger Kumble, I. Marlene King

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.

The students from Fairmount High School

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.

Matt Frewer as Principal Moss

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.

Tommy Chong as Red

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.

AUDIO CLIPS

No One Here
Van Damage
You’re Gonna Wake Up
Good Day To You Asshole
Travis The Star Trek Nerd
Mr. Spock, Your Analysis
The Magic Bus
Reggie
Open The Door
Bus Sick
Follow That Bus
Can I Buy Some Off You?
You Guys Know How To Party
You People Don’t Deserve Kennedy
How Did You Know I Like Chocolate?

Brain Damage

Official Poster

Release Date: May 25, 1988 (France)

Genre: Horror, Comedy

Director: Frank Henenlotter  

Writer: Frank Henenlotter

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.

Rick Hearst in “Brain Damage”

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.

Scene From “Brain Damage”

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.

Aylmer (Voiced by John Zacherle)

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.
  • Film debut of Rick Hearst.

AUDIO CLIPS

These Are Beautiful
Could We See Your Bathroom?
Start of Your New Life
Brian’s High
A Bit Underdone
Things Are Really Getting Weird Around Here
Nothing That Simple
Not Elmer, Aylmer!
Forgot Your Buckets
When It Comes To Blood In My Underwear
Aylmer’s Tune
I’d Be Happy To Help You
The Whole World’s Gonna Come To An End
What’s Your Problem Man?
Yoo-hoo!
Put Me On Your Neck

The Rookie

Official Poster

Release Date: December 7, 1990

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime  

Director: Clint Eastwood  

Writers: Boaz Yakin, Scott Spiegel  

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Charlie Sheen, Raul Julia, Sonia Braga, Tom Skerritt, Lara Flynn Boyle

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Hello, readers! Happy New Year! I apologize for being absent the last couple months. I took a short hiatus from writing to clear my head and get refreshed for the new year. I’m going to dedicate more time on this blog for movie reviews on top of other writing projects that I have planned. Thank you for being a loyal reader and I hope you enjoy the collection of movies that we’ll be looking at in 2021!

While Buddy Cop movies have been around since the dawn of film, they didn’t start becoming commercially successful until around the seventies. Some of the more memorable duos include Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder, Mel Gibson/Danny Glover and in today’s Buddy films, you could argue Kevin Hart/Ice Cube or Jonah Hill/Channing Tatum. Then there are those that didn’t pair well like Chevy Chase/Jack Palance, Jay Leno/Pat Morita, Burt Reynolds/an eight-year-old boy. As the nineties began, you saw more offbeat pairings. One of those offbeat pairings included Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood and Hollywood Bad Boy Charlie Sheen (Yeah never in a million years did I think that would be possible). Both appeared in the 1990 film The Rookie.

Like all Buddy Cop movies this movie focuses on two cops with quite different and conflicting personalities who are forced to work together to solve a major crime. Sheen plays David Ackerman, a rookie cop who is assigned to the LAPD’s Robbery and Auto Theft Division. He is partnered with Eastwood’s Nick Pulovski, a rough wisecracking Sergeant Detective who uses tactics against police procedures to get what he needs to put the bad guys away. David gets thrust into Nick’s case involving a car theft ring that is run by a man named Strom, played by the late great Raul Julia. In addition, Strom is responsible for killing Eastwood’s original partner. Throughout the film, David gets cold feet when it comes to helping Nick. It’s attributed to not only his family background, which he comes from money and power as portrayed in a dinner party scene, but also a post traumatic episode involving the accidental death of his brother when they were children and feeling responsible for it. During a tip from an illegal wiretap, Nick and David head to a local casino where Strom is attempting to steal $2 million dollars to pay his creditors due to Nick constantly disrupting his business. During a search, Strom’s right-hand woman slowly walks towards David. David has his gun pointed at her threatening her to stop or he will shoot. He hesitates and allows himself to be shot and Nick being taken hostage by Strom. David is put on leave from the department due to his cowardice and allowing his partner to be taken. Strom demands the money within twenty-four hours otherwise he will kill Nick. David, feeling guilt and tired of being afraid hunts down Strom’s associates to find where Nick is in time before the police decide to pay up.

Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen in “The Rookie.”

I first encountered this movie during a night flipping through channels with my father several years ago. It appeared on one of the major film channels you can get on cable or satellite. The film was already playing, but we decide to check it out. We turned it on and the first scene we see is Eastwood giving a local news interview on a junkyard search and seizure. In typical Eastwood humor, he begins a profanity laced taunt at the criminal he is after. My dad I instantly cracked up and continued to watch the film all the way through. After the movie, we both agreed that it was a fun flick with loads of action and humor. Recently, I shopped at the place where I do all my movie shopping and found The Rookie on DVD for a mere two dollars. I instantly picked it up. I watched it in full for the first time over the weekend and I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time around.

Clint Eastwood’s performance in this movie is a carbon copy of Dirty Harry, not like that’s a bad thing. From the physical gruffness and aggressive tactics to the smart-ass comments, Eastwood doesn’t skip a beat. When Eastwood gets paired up with Sheen, he’s not amused to the fact that he must “babysit” this rookie. He keeps his pursuit of Strom close to his chest, not revealing too much information to his new partner.

Charlie Sheen’s performance was mellow, but I think he nailed the character of David Ackerman, a rookie cop who is getting more than what he bargained for when joining the force. He becomes a burden to Eastwood due to his inexperience and the fact that Eastwood must bail him out on several occasions. Besides the things I mentioned about Ackerman in the beginning of the review, he also must deal with his girlfriend (played by Lara Flynn Boyle) who is finishing law school. He feels his job is beneath to what she will become. He does gain Eastwood’s admiration in the film when he helps him fix his motorcycle. You will see in a couple scenes how good Sheen is at fixing things. This is in part to Ackerman’s degrees in Engineering and Economics as mentioned during the party scene. Other than that, he struggles to build Eastwood’s trust in him. The botched arrest of Strom along with the kidnapping of Eastwood becomes Sheen’s turning point. When he faces his fears and stops blaming himself for the tragic events of his childhood, he learns from his subordinate and does what he can to find his partner even going as far as breaking up his dad’s meeting to confront him.

The last great performance goes to Raul Julia playing Strom. He is cunning at first when things go as planned. As the movie progresses and Eastwood thwarts his criminal business, Strom becomes angry and determined.  When he kidnaps Eastwood, he gains leverage over the cops and devises a way to get his money and take out his enemy at the same time. The only gripe I have about Julia’s character is that he is supposed to be German. Raul Julia is Puerto Rican. It would’ve made more sense to change the character of Strom to a different nationality, but that shouldn’t take away from his performance.

Clint Eastwood, Sonia Barga and Raul Julia in “The Rookie.”

A Buddy Cop film wouldn’t be complete without loads of action. There’s not a lot of shootouts in this film, but there are quite a few chase sequences. There’s one shortly after the beginning of the film, a chase scene involving Sheen and a motorcycle and a chase scene at the climax. The film does a good job of changing the chases so that they’re not repetitive as in car chase after car chase after car chase. All these chases were performed by stuntmen at the physical shooting locations. The explosion effects were also done on location without the use of any blue or green screens brining a sense of authenticity. One scene was done in one take due to the fact they did not have the means to keep doing take after take. It’s incredible what these stuntmen put themselves through to create an entertaining picture. They are the real heroes in the movie industry.

The film does have its flaws. The film doesn’t divulge into Sheen and Boyle’s relationship. She appears in only a handful of shots and one important scene of the film. The same goes with Sheen’s parents. While you know he comes from luxury, you really don’t know much about his dad’s business. One of the more controversial moments in the film is when Strom’s right-hand woman is toying with a tied-up Eastwood. As she speaks to him and slashes his forehead with a razor, she turns on a video camera and begins to rape him. Was it something she did with all her male victims? Did she see something in Eastwood she found attractive such as his boldness or the fact when she gave him a drink of water, he proceeded to spit it at her face? I didn’t think it was necessary especially since you didn’t know anything about her other than she’s a trusted accomplice.

The movie’s run time is two hours on the dot, but it doesn’t feel like a two-hour movie. It’s fast paced with a lot of things happening on screen. You get immersed with what is going on in each scene that time doesn’t exist.

Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen in “The Rookie.”

Overall The Rookie is a good Buddy Cop flick. It may not stand out like the Lethal Weapon movies, but it is better than most of the recent movies of this genre that have been released. The pairing of Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen is still baffling, but it works in this concept if these two could work great together in a Buddy Cop film, who knows what the next great pairing will be? I could see Tom Hardy and Michael Cera in a Buddy Cop flick…….or maybe not.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • According to the book “Clint Eastwood A Cultural Production” by Paul Smith, during the early stages of principal photography, actor Charlie Sheen had substance abuse problems. Eastwood reportedly took on a father-figure role in disciplining Sheen into responsible behavior.
  • The film featured over twice as many stuntmen as it did actors. Held the world record for the biggest ratio of stuntmen/actors. Reportedly, over eighty stuntmen worked on the movie.
  • Clint Eastwood agreed to do this movie in exchange for Warner Brothers letting him make his personal film project, White Hunter Black Heart (1990).
  • The movie was to be directed by Craig R. Baxley starring Matthew Modine and Gene Hackman in 1988 but the production was stopped by the Screen Actors Guild strike
  • The make and model of the car that Clint Eastwood took a disliking to its color was a lime green Type 85 Lotus Esprit SE. The Lotus Esprit was the car that had become famous for appearing in the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and later used again in For Your Eyes Only (1981). In the movie, Eastwood gets to drive the famous James Bond car.
  • According to the article ‘Slam, Bang, Crash, Boom for The Rookie” published in American Cinematographer in January 1991, the movie’s stunt scenes were mostly shot at night with no use of blue screens and with no use of miniatures.

AUDIO CLIPS

Chasing G Rides
I Was Talking About The Babe
No Mistaking This German Beer
Defacing This Car
Watch Your Ass
All Of You Driving Without Auto Insurance Are Under Arrest
Your Wife
Need A Babysitter
Singing To Me Like A Canary
I Didn’t Lie
Bug Up Your Ass
Static Peep
Warm All Over
Let’s Get Hot
Cop Trope
I Was Starting To Enjoy That
Told You To Fasten Your Seat Belt

Night of the Creeps

Official Poster

Release Date: August 22, 1986

Genre: Horror, Comedy, Sci-Fi

Director: Fred Dekker

Writer: Fred Dekker

Starring: Jason Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

We’re near the home stretch in Guilty Pleasure Cinema’s Horror Movie Month special. I’m reviewing five films in the Horror genre every week until the last week in October. We’re at Movie #4 for this special. This next film is a homage to the goofy science fiction/horror films of the 50s that is set in the 80s. This was the debut film of Fred Dekker, a man who was rejected into USC and UCLA’s film school program and settled as an English major. He would develop screenplays along with his friend and roommate, Shane Black (best known for writing the Lethal Weapon movies, appearing in the first Predator movie and more recently directing 2018’s The Predator movie with Dekker as the screenwriter). After this movie, he would go on to write several episodes of Tales From The Crypt in addition to writing and directing two more movies, one was the cult following The Monster Squad and the utter failure Robocop 3. Today Dekker focuses more on writing than he does actual filmmaking. His debut film is still the best of his three and one that I continue to enjoy on a frequent basis. Tonight’s review is Night of the Creeps!

Night of the Creeps starts out in 1959 when a college fraternity member takes his sweetheart out for a romantic night out sitting in his car looking at the stars. Suddenly, something from the sky crashes down and he goes to investigate it. When he looks closer, a slug jumps out and enters his mouth and he collapses. The film flashes forward to 1985. It is rush week at Corman University. Two outcasts, Chris Romero (Jason Lively) and his friend J.C. Hooper (Steve Marshall) are looking to get into a fraternity in the hopes of meeting girls, particularly one that catches Chris’ eye, Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow). They have a sit down with Brad, who is the president of the Beta Epsilon house. He gives them a quest to steal a cadaver from the medical school morgue and dump it in front of a sorority house. They reluctantly agree. As Chris and J.C. sneak into the medical school after hours, they come across a laboratory. Inside they see a frozen corpse. The corpse is that of the man from the introductory scene.  They decided that he would be the body they would deposit to the sorority house. Little do they realize the body is still alive and the boys run off in terror. Meanwhile the body attacks one of the med students and heads to one of the sorority houses only for his head to explode and slugs shriveling their way out of the body. The investigation is led by Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins), a long-time cop who is burnt out. When he interviews Chris and J.C., they admit to the prank and the case is closed. Little do they all realize that the college is in danger as one by one people are turning into zombies thanks to the parasitic slugs that possess them. Now it’s up to the three of them to stop the epidemic before it gets worse.

Steve Marshall and Jason Lively in “Night of the Creeps.”

I can’t remember the first time I viewed this movie, but I enjoyed it on so many levels. It had the look and feel of both a 50s Science Fiction movie and an 80s Horror Movie which was Fred Dekker’s intention. While the concept is nothing original as it takes from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it is still refreshing to see a take on how the zombies were created. This movie was released in 1986 so prior to that you had Day of the Dead and Return of the Living Dead which had similar concepts. I like the fact that it is a parasite that turns the living into the dead.

The performances are decent. Jason Lively plays Chris as a shy, low self-esteemed kid who can’t seem to find his place in the college world. Steve Marshall plays J.C. as a wiseass, always cracking jokes at the most inappropriate times. Despite that, he is very concerned over his friend and does his best to get him out of his comfort zone and build up some confidence. The real star of this movie is Tom Atkins. Atkins is no stranger to horror films given his performances in The Fog, Creepshow and his most memorable role as the protagonist in Halloween III. Atkins plays Detective Ray Cameron as a drunk, don’t give a shit attitude police officer. He gave us a new phrase to say when answering the telephone. Instead of saying “Hello” when the phone rings, he says, “Thrill Me!” This would become the iconic line of the movie. In addition to his indifferent personality, he is traumatized by the events that happened in 1959. His girlfriend at the time was killed by an escape mental patient during his second week on the force. He comes close to taking his own life but realizes that to find a sense of closure, he needs to help stop the zombie outbreak. I’ve referred to Tom Atkins as “The Pimp of Horror Movies” because he always seems to be getting in bed with a woman he just met. That’s not the case in this movie, but it still doesn’t diminish his title. He has called Night of the Creeps his favorite film that he has done, and I echo that sentiment.

Tom Atkins in “Night of the Creeps.”

The only performance I didn’t care for was Jill Whitlow as Cynthia.  With her soft voice, she is completely wooden with her delivery. There are also times during the movie where she looks like she is in a complete fog or has that look that she is thinking of something else rather than concentration on the situation that she was in. I think she needed to put a lot more life into her.

The effects are cheap and dated by today’s standards, but again I think that was Fred Dekker’s intention. There is an ample amount of gore that is ramped up at the very end during the big battle. I do have to give props to the makeup department for giving each zombie a bit of variety and some personality. The slugs were long and beefy, and they slithered quickly going into basements and hiding in bushes as they prepare to infect their next victim. The music is pure 80s synth that weaves in and out of the frames that it is featured in.

Scene from “Night of the Creeps.”

Out of the three movies Fred Dekker has done, this is my absolute favorite. This is one that I have on rotation during the Halloween season. I enjoy it for that it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it has enough scares, violence, gore and humor to keep your attention. It’s a great movie that has truly earned its cult status.

Next week ladies and gentlemen is the final review in the Horror Movie Month Special. Stay tuned, you don’t want to miss it!

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • All the last names of the main characters are based on famous horror and sci-fi directors: George A. Romero (Chris Romero), John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper (James Carpenter Hooper), David Cronenberg (Cynthia Cronenberg), James Cameron (Det. Ray Cameron), John Landis (Det. Landis), Sam Raimi (Sgt. Raimi) and Steve Miner (Mr. Miner – The Janitor).
  • Graffiti on the wall of the men’s room where J.C. is trying to escape a number of slugs reads, “Go Monster Squad!” The Monster Squad (1987) was also directed by Fred Dekker.
  • Tom Atkins’s favorite movie of his own.
  • “Corman University” is a reference to director/producer Roger Corman.
  • The tool shed sequence was filmed after principal shooting on the movie had wrapped. After a rough cut was shown to a test audience, several people thought that the picture needed more action so this sequence was added to the movie.
  • Fred Dekker’s roommate, Shane Black, worked on the script. The next year, Tom Atkins starred in Lethal Weapon (1987), Black’s first produced screenplay.

AUDIO CLIPS

We’re Dorks
Funny As A Crutch
How About Money?
Oh My God
Walt Disney
Corpsicle
Come And Get Me You Dirty Copper
Thrill Me
What Is This A Homicide Or A Bad B Movie?
That Was Not Too Cool
It’s All Greek To Me
Spanky And Alfalfa
Screaming Like Banshees
Chuckle Heads
Where The Hell Are My Backups?
Do Something Dammit
It’s Miller Time

The Stuff

Official Poster

Release Date: June 14, 1985

Genre: Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi  

Director: Larry Cohen  

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Scott Bloom

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Welcome to the second week of Horror Movie Month on “Guilty Pleasure Cinema!” For this week I wanted to review a film from one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. Larry Cohen was a pioneer and maverick in the film industry. He made all his movies his way and didn’t let anyone stand in his way. He was known for shooting movies on location without permits. Cohen’s films contain a diverse range of concepts and narratives that are weaved into storylines with strange creatures and offbeat characters.  This is perhaps the most popular film in Larry Cohen’s filmography. It is a movie that is still fresh and relatable almost thirty-five years since its release. The concept may be goofy, but you will enjoy the ride this movie provides once you push the Play button on your remote control. If you ask most movie fans to name one Larry Cohen movie off the top of their heads, the majority will say this title, The Stuff! So, without further ado, here is the review to the 1985 horror cult classic The Stuff!

The movie starts with a railroad worker noticing a white bubbly substance coming from the snowy ground. He takes a taste of it to see what it is. To his delight it tastes very sweet with the texture of yogurt. Soon the substance is being marketed to consumers as “The Stuff” which becomes a phenomenon. “The Stuff” is marketed as being creamy, filling and with no calories. You can find “The Stuff” at supermarkets, small vendor carts and even a Dairy Queen style drive thru. While people are going crazy over “The Stuff” there are people highly suspicious of this addictive edible food. First there’s a young boy named Jason who wakes up in the middle of the night looking for a snack. He opens the refrigerator door to see a container of “The Stuff” moving. He tries to convince his family that there is something alive within it, but they are dismissive of his claims. Jason gets paranoid that he vandalizes a supermarket by destroying the massive amounts of “The Stuff” that is being sold. The other person who is skeptical of “The Stuff” is a former FBI agent turned industrial saboteur named David “Mo” Rutherford (who tells people that he got the nickname from whenever people gave him money he always wanted mo!). He is hired by numerous corporate executives of the ice cream industry to find out what is in “The Stuff” and destroy it. He befriends the head marketer of “The Stuff” Nicole and they set out to investigate the contents. Mo’s efforts reveal that “The Stuff” is a living parasite that takes over people’s brains and then mutates the host into zombies. Mo encounters Jason and the three of them are determined to destroy “The Stuff” before it consumes more and more people.

The Stuff is my second favorite movie in Larry Cohen’s filmography (Q: The Winged Serpent is first). It took me a long time to find interest in checking it out. When I first saw the cover art, it didn’t appeal to me. Mainly because I wasn’t familiar with Larry Cohen’s work nor was I interested in low budget horror movies. After seeing the movie pop up on several streaming services, I decided to give it a chance and boy did I not regret it. I enjoyed every frame, scene, characters and effects. It made me wish I had seen this movie a lot sooner than I did.

Like most of Cohen’s films, 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. With these new products came heavy advertising and marketing. This was during Reaganomics where the American economy was booming, and people were spending their hard-earned money of anything they can get their hands on. 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.

Michael Moriarty once again returns in a Larry Cohen picture. He follows up his astounding performance in Q: The Winged Serpent with another memorable performance. I loved his portrayal of Mo Rutherford. He has the smarts of a detective and the tongue of a salesman. He’s smooth talking, confident and keeps his eye on the ball. What starts as a simple job to expose “The Stuff” to his employers turns into a national crisis that he must find a way to put an end. The rest of the cast is convincing in their roles. Andrea Marcovicci plays Nicole, the attractive and smart marketer of “The Stuff” who joins Mo in his investigation and become lovers. Garrett Morris plays ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs, the junk food magnet that Mo befriends while visiting a town that has been desolated by relocation of jobs and the great Paul Sorvino as Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears who leads the operation into destroying “The Stuff” and warning the public about the dangers of consuming it.

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. 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.

The Stuff is a rare find. It should’ve been a much more mainstream film considering the subject matter. This is a movie that still holds up after all this time. You can relate this movie to everything that is going on in our world today as consumerism and Capitalism hasn’t slowed down. It’s an iconic B-Movie that stacks right up there with many of the underrated greats. This is the most recognizable film of Larry Cohen’s work and the one movie that people associate Cohen with.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • According to audio commentary on the 2000 Anchor Bay DVD, the scene in the motel where the Stuff comes out of the mattress and pillows and attacks the man on the wall and ceiling was shot in a room that could turn upside down, allowing the Stuff to move up and down the wall. It was exactly the same room used in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) when Johnny Depp’s character Glen is sucked into his bed and his blood is regurgitated back out onto the ceiling.
  • According to Larry Cohen himself, in some scenes in which the Stuff chases characters, a foam made of blended fish bones was used. It stank so much that, as soon as the shots were done, the actors ran to a river in order to bathe and get rid of the stench.
  • Garrett Morris was asked about this film when he participated in AV Club’s “Random Roles” interview series. He said the production was “crazy,” and when the interviewer noted Larry Cohen’s history as “a character,” and asked Morris what he was like, Morris said that “I was taught growing up that if you don’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all,” with no further comment about Cohen
  • Arsenio Hall was considered for the role of “Chocolate Chip” Charlie W. Hobbs.
  • David ‘Mo’ Rutherford tells ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs to contact agent Frank Herbert from the FBI. Frank Herbert was an American science fiction writer best known for the novel Dune and its five sequels.
  • Michael Moriarty (David ‘Mo’ Rutherford) and Paul Sorvino (Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears) went on to appear in 31 episodes of Law & Order (1990) together from 1991 to 1992 as Executive A.D.A. Ben Stone and Sergeant Phil Cerreta, respectively.
  • The original cut of the film was said to be much longer and described by Director Larry Cohen as more “dense and sophisticated”. Feeling that the film was too long, it was cut to increase the pace of the film. There was a romantic scene between Moriarty and Marcovicci that took place in a hotel room in the original cut.

AUDIO CLIPS

Tasty and Sweet
Enough Is Never Enough
Sweaty Palm
Mo Rutherford
No, Don’t Eat It
Can’t Wait In Line
The Stuff Commercial #1
You Feed The Dog
Chocolate Chip Charlie
Low Tech Solutions
I Could Always Kill You
They’re Good For Us
I Just Ate Shaving Cream
The Stuff Commercial #2
Pillow Tried To Kill Us
They’re All Stuffies
You’ll Probably Be A Casualty
We’ve Never Lost A War
Get That Shit Off My Station

Leviathan

Official Poster

Release Date: March 17, 1989

Genre: Horror, Adventure, Mystery  

Director: George P. Cosmatos

Writers: David Webb Peoples (Story/Screenplay), Jeb Stuart (Screenplay)

Starring: Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Amanda Pays, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Michael Carmine, Lisa Eilbacher, Hector Elizondo, Meg Foster

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

1989 was a big year for underwater themed Science Fiction movies. First, you had the highly anticipated The Abyss, namely because it’s a James Cameron movie and the special effects were the most innovative and advanced through Industrial Light & Magic. The second film that premiered in 1989 was the obscure cult classic Deep Star Six, which was directed by famed Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham. Finally, you had Leviathan, directed by George P. Cosmatos who was known at the time for directing not one but two Sylvester Stallone movies, First Blood Part II and Cobra. All three movies did were not financially successful at the box office. The Abyss made $90 million but it had a budget of over $50 million. While it made a teeny profit, it was considered by many in the film industry as underwhelming considering the magnitude of the movie. Deep Star Six sank as fast as the Titanic. Leviathan debut at #2, but quickly drowned the following week. Out of these films, I chose Leviathan as the next review in “Guilty Pleasure Cinema” because it’s indeed a guilty pleasure film for me. It ranks in my Top 10 Guiltiest Pleasure Movies of all time, which I’ll reveal at a future date.

The fist time I watched Leviathan, I reacted in a way most people did when it first came out: mortified (and not in a good way). When I decided to watch this movie again, I forgot everything I watched the first time around. When the second viewing was finished, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though it’s a blatant rip-off of Alien, The Thing and The Abyss. it was entertaining. I loved it so much I began playing it several more times. Before I go into more detail as to why Leviathan is a guilty pleasure film, I’ll brief you on the plot.

Ernie Hudson in “Leviathan.”

Leviathan is the story of a group of underwater miners who work for Tri-Oceanic Corp. They’re finishing their last days of a three month operation mining for silver on the Atlantic Ocean floor. The team consists of eight members: Glen ‘Doc’ Thompson (Richard Crenna), Elizabeth ‘Wilie’ Williams (Amanda Pays), Buzz ‘Sixpack’ Parrish (Daniel Stern), Justin Jones (Ernie Hudson), Tony ‘DeJesus’ Rodero (Michael Carmine), Bridget ‘Bow’ Bowman (Lisa Eilbacher) and G.P. Cobb (Hector Elizondo). Their team is led by Geologist Steven Beck (Peter Weller) who reports to Tri-Oceanic CEO Martin (Meg Foster). During a mining operation involving Sixpack and Willie (whom are working as punishment for an altercation between the two), Sixpack falls off a ravine and goes missing. Willie searches for him and discovers a sunken Russian ship named ‘Leviathan.’ She enters through the blown hole of the ship and finds Sixpack along with some treasure. As the crew looks through the contents of what Sixpack found, Doc uncovers a videotape containing a message from the Captain of ‘Leviathan.’ Beck and Doc aren’t sure what the Captain is referring to. The rest of the crew prepares to take a shot of vodka from a bottle they found in the refuge only to discover after tasting it that Beck switched the bottles out and were drinking water. Unbeknownst to the crew, Sixpack hid a flask containing the vodka in his pocket and shares a drink with Bowman. Few hours later, Sixpack starts to feel sick with chills and forming flaky skin on his neck. He succumbs to his illness several hours later which triggers Doc to perform tests on every one of the crew members. When Bowman sees Sixpack slowly mutating into an unknown creature, she decides to take her own life. As the crew tries to dispose of their comrades’ bodies into the ocean, the monster, now fused from Sixpack and Bowman emerges from the body bag and attacks. The crew manages to sink the creature except for its leg which gets severed off during the closing of the hatch. The severed part mutates into a whole new creature and continues the rampage of attacking the crew and grow by consuming blood. The crew declare an emergency, but Martin tells them there is a hurricane approaching them and their rescue is delayed by twelve hours. The crew has no choice but to find a way to destroy the monster.

I’ll start with the cast. Peter Weller is the lead in the film as Beck. He oversees the crew and its mission. He is very commanding and by the book when it comes to company rules. In the beginning of the film, he feels out of place and senses he doesn’t have the respect of the crew. You see his leadership and command develop throughout the movie. I love Peter Weller. He is a person who is dedicated in every role he takes, and this role was no exception. His iconic performance in Robocop groomed him for this part. Richard Crenna who plays Doc is a loner and disliked by the entire crew especially in the beginning of the film. They feel he has something to hide and as the film progresses, he does what he can to not reveal what is happening to the crew except for Beck. Crenna is another actor I’ve enjoyed for a long time. The rest of the characters were great each with their own personalities. I loved the spunky and ambitious portrayal of Williams from Amanda Pays, the practical joker Sixpack from Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson as the somewhat paranoid Jones, Elizondo as the union steward Cobb and Michael Carmine as DeJesus whom all he wants to do is go skiing after his work is over. Sadly this would be Carmine’s last film role as he died in October of the same year due to a heart attack caused by AIDS complications. I think all the performances were good apart from Meg Foster. I know she is supposed to play the disconcerted corporate executive, but she comes off as wooden and monotone. I’ve seen her play this part before in They Live. I don’t know if that’s her style, but I didn’t care for it.

A mutated Daniel Stern and Lisa Eilbacher.

The film is well paced when you compare it to the other two movies I mentioned. None of the scenes drag out too long which keeps your attention focused. There’s plenty of jump scares and tense confrontations between the crew. Legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith provides the music and it sounds eerily familiar to his composition in Alien. Wouldn’t surprise me if he were influenced by that film since this film takes several elements from it.  The special effects were solid. There is a ton of blood, but not too much gore. Any gore that appeared in the movie was either off camera or was in spurts such as in the reveal of the monster in the middle of film or near the end.

Speaking of the monster, that was without a doubt the biggest disappointment of the movie. It borrows from the thing in terms of a small piece or particle can form a new life as it is shown during the scene where they crew attempts to dispose the creature in its first stage. When the monster gets bigger as it consumes the crew, you don’t see much of it with the exception of some flashes which is a call back to the old sci-fi horror concept of not revealing too much of the monster. The concept of the creature is supposed to be a genetic alteration of a sea creature, but fuses with people it has either encounter or has the same genetic mutation in their bodies. One shot you see this gigantic blob with tentacles and faces of the crew members it has merged with. It reminds me of the pillar with all the faces from the Hellraiser movies. And when the monster emerges at the very end, you can see how fake the head is. It was reminiscent of a monster in a Japanese Monster Movie. What boggles my mind is that the creature design and the effects were done by legendary effects man, Stan Winston. This was the guy that created the Terminator, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and the Alien Queen in Aliens. What the hell happened here? Did he not have the budget to make something unique and terrifying? Did he run out of ideas? It’s a damn shame. The creature could’ve been something unique and give the film a better lasting impression.

Hector Elizondo in “Leviathan.”

Out of the three movies I mentioned in 1989, I would put Leviathan second behind The Abyss. The problem the movie had as I mentioned in the beginning was that it borrows too much from the other iconic movies I mentioned. It’s not original in terms of concept. I do give it creative points for the source of the disease and the effects that it causes.  Don’t let all that take away from the fact that it is an enjoyable B-Movie and it’s a movie I’ve found myself watching repeatedly. That’s always been the strength of George P. Cosmatos’ films. He doesn’t follow a strict genre. He’s willing to take chances and his movies come about as being fun and entertaining. 

TRIVIA (PER IMDB)

  • In designing the creature of the film, Stan Winston and George P. Cosmatos went through a mini-library of marine life pictures and medical reference books. They were inspired by the physiology of the natural world, and came up with the idea of combining human body parts and elements of deep sea marine life into an unnatural creature never seen on film before.
  • There are very few scenes in the film that were actually shot underwater, as production went for the “dry for wet” look, with most of the scenes inside the Shack taking place on soundstages and a tank measuring 130ft x 270ft.
  • Chicken feathers were used at one point of shooting the underwater sequences to suggest things were floating around in the water. According to Alex Thomson this did not work because the feathers floating side to side instead of up and down and the idea had to be scrapped altogether.
  • Hector Elizondo’s character of Cobb is named after the film’s production designer, Ron Cobb. Also, Michael Carmine’s character of Tony ‘DeJesus’ Rodero, shares the same last name of the film’s first assistant director, ‘Kuki Lopez Rodero’.
  • Second time that Richard Crenna worked with George p Cosmatos after Rambo First Blood Part II, which also had Jerry Goldsmith music.
  • Once, during the underwater photography, John Rosengrant and other members of the SWS on-set crew were underwater for so long and at such depth, that they were unaware of a violent storm that had come in, threatening to rip the topside boat from its anchor and smash it against nearby rocks. “We had no idea all of this was going on, until we came to the surface and saw all this commotion,” recalled Rosengrant. “We all go out of the water and helped to push the boat away from the rocks and hold it steady in this storm.”
  • When Doc is analyzing Sixpack’s skin sample, the computer reports back the phrase “of unknown origin”. This is a winking nod to director George P. Cosmatos and star Peter Weller having previously collaborated on the movie Of Unknown Origin (1983).

AUDIO CLIPS

Go Suck On A Shrimp
Implosion
Keep It To Nine Holes
What A Pair
Skiing
Pipe Down
Blow This
Leviathan
Several Languages
Pop Your Tops
Water
Only Skin Problem I See
You Think They Already Know?
You Don’t Know Shit About Skiing
We’ve Got A Goddamned Dracula On Board?
Bitch, We’re Still Here

Tales of Frankenstein

Official Poster.

Release Date: October 19, 2018 (Limited)

Genre: Horror, Comedy

Director: Donald F. Glut

Writer: Donald F. Glut

Starring: John Blyth Barrymore, Buddy Daniels Friedman, Beverly Washburn, Ann Robinson, Jim Tavare, Len Wein, T.J. Storm, Mel Novak

Warning: Possible Spoilers In This Review

Hello, readers! Once again it’s time for another special edition of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema!” This past Labor Day weekend I had the opportunity to watch the latest release from author/writer/filmmaker Donald F. Glut. For those who may not have heard of the name Donald F. Glut before, let me give you a short biography on his career. Glut started his filmmaking career in 1953 making short unauthorized adaptations of characters such as Superman, Spider-Man and Dracula to name a few. He gained notoriety in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland, which was a genre-specific film magazine that was started by publisher James Warren and editor Forrest J. Ackerman in 1958. From there he went on to become a screenwriter, mostly writing for children’s television shows and cartoons from G.I. Joe to Land of the Lost, pretty much any 80s cartoon show you could think of, he wrote for. Glut is most notable for being an author as he has written around sixty five novels that have been published. His biggest work was writing the novel adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back (coincidentally, he and George Lucas were classmates at the University of Southern California). Today, Donald F. Glut continues to make movies based on his own writings. His latest release is an anthology tribute to Mary Shelly’s iconic novel Frankenstein entitled Tales of Frankenstein.

Tales of Frankenstein consists of four short stories based upon Donald F. Glut’s book of the same name. Each story takes place in a different time period and they revolve around descendants of the notorious doctor whom created a monster that is a legendary staple in the genre of horror. The introduction of the film shows Frankenstein’s monster roaming the outside only to discover a portrait of its creator. From there the portrait appears in each tale going in chronological order of the time piece. At the end of each story, the Frankenstein monster appears in the wraparound segments to transition to the next story and so on.

Scene from “Tales of Frankenstein.”

The first story presented in the film is titled “My Creation, My Beloved,” takes place in 1887 Bavaria, which stars Buddy Daniels Friedman as Dr. Gregore Frankenstein, a descendant of Victor. Furious over his family’s legacy over Victor’s original creation, Gregore hopes to restore the family name by successfully creating a male and female creation. This is a strong introductory story to the film as it pays homage to not only the original Frankenstein story but to the visual adaptations made by the legendary Hammer Films series. The performances are solid with Friedman able to carry the weight of the story as he is determined to succeed where his family tree had failed. His performance is filled with manic moments as well as some quirky moments. There are some nice visuals and the setting gives an authentic look and feel of 1887 Bavaria. The story has a nice twist ending that rivals those seen in the Tales From The Crypt television series.

The second story deviates from the Frankenstein story, but instead takes place in the Frankenstein universe. Taking place in Switzerland in 1910, “Crawler From The Grave” is a tale which involves Lenore Frankenstein (Tatiana DeKhtyar) who is grieving over the passing over her husband, Helmut Frankenstein (Len Wein in his final film roll). From there, Lenore receives a call from Helmut’s nemesis named Vincent (John Blyth Barrymore) asking about a ring that was buried with him wearing it. The rival sets out to acquire the ring from the grave of the deceased husband only to be followed by something that is not quite human which seems to be seeking the ring as well. Features a supporting cast including Beverly Washburn and Ann Robinson, “Crawler From The Grave” focuses on flashbacks to show the relationship between Vincent and Helmut and from there deals with Vincent acquiring the ring and the curse that comes with it. This story is dialogue heavy with Barrymore taking the mantle of screen time with not much in the way of scares until the very end. Len Wein also delivers a sobering performance in his final film role as Helmut Frankenstein which is a great send off to his incredible career. It’s a lengthy segment that could’ve been balanced out by trimming some of the backstory and including more of the aftermath of Vincent acquiring the ring. The effects at the climax of the story are decent and the music provides the dread that is about to come in the end.

Mel Novak as Dr. Mortality in the story “Madhouse of Death.”

The film-noir flavored “Madhouse of Death” is the third tale in this anthology which takes places in 1948 Los Angeles. The story follows private investigator Jack Anvill (Jamisin Matthews) whose Jalopy breaks down on a country road. From there he walks to the nearest house hoping to get access to a phone. He is greeted at the door by Mogambo (T.J. Storm) who instructs him to stay where he’s at while he asks permission from the homeowner. The owner is Dr. Mortality (Mel Novak) whom is experimenting with inserting a human brain into an ape. To make Jack comfortable he is attended to by three beautiful Chinese women who ensures that his focus is on them and not what Dr. Mortality is about to do to him. While it was great seeing Mel Novak in another villanous role as the determined Dr. Mortality, “Madhouse of Death” is the weakest story in this anthology. I understand Glut wanting to mix film noir with classic horror, which he does accomplish visually, it overall suffers from the tone of the story. I know this is supposed to be the comedic relief of the film, but the humor was amiss. In addition, the performance of the lead actor Matthews is flat as his narration sounds like he’s reading directly from the script which gives his character a boring tone. The portrayal of Jack Anvill doesn’t come off as likeable, but rather annoying. I honestly was hoping for a clever demise.

For the finale of Tales From Frankenstein, we get a reinterpretation of the Frankenstein story taking place in 1957 Transylvania. In “Dr. Karstein’s Creation,” Jim Tavare stars as the titular character as he moves into an abandoned castle in Transylvania in the hopes of creating a new life using various body parts of deceased human beings in order to duplicate the success Victor Frankenstein had with his monster. Karstein recruits teenage local Carl (Justin Hoffmeister) to be his assistant. From there they collect the parts they need to assemble their creature. This is my favorite story in Tales of Frankenstein as it gives a fresh take on the tale while paying homage to Mary Shelly. Tavare is great as the cunning and determined Dr. Karstein while Hoffmeister plays the somewhat oblivious Carl who thinks he’ll be riding on Karstein’s success only for him to learn a very hard lesson in the end. The story is filled with beautiful imagery, franctic action, just the right amount of blood and gore and plenty of humor. “Dr. Karstein’s Creation” is the perfect closer to the anthology.

Jim Tavare as Dr. Karstein in the story “Dr. Karstein’s Creation.”

Overall, Tales From Frankenstein is an acceptable anthology series that pays tribute to the classic monster. This movie is strictly for those horror fans who love the early era of stories and cinema. Those who aren’t keen with Frankenstein will likely pass on this. Despite the off balanced pacing, there is enough here to enjoy from the performances to the vintage settings and the reimagined tales. Donald F. Glut brings to life his novel in his own cinematic adaptation and you have to appreciate him for doing just that. Its what sets apart auteurs from the rest of the artists.

TRVIA (Per IMDB): N/A

Sushi Girl

Official Poster

Release Date: Novemeber 27, 2012

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller  

Director: Kern Saxton

Writers: Kern Saxton, Destin Pfaff

Starring: Cortney Palm, Tony Todd, Mark Hamill, Noah Hathaway, James Duvall, Andy Mackenzie, Sonny Chiba, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Danny Trejo

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

As a diehard movie fan who studied Film Concepts in college, I wanted to get a better appreciation for the art by diversifying the different styles, genres and techniques. I’m tired of the mainstream movies that are out today with its never ending remakes/sequels in order to make money. So with that, I hope you the reader will follow me into the next phase of this blog. Check these movies out for yourself, see what you think and pass it along. If I could get one new viewer to appreciate an underground non mainstream film, I would accomplish what I had hope to accomplish when starting this.  With that being said, let me dive into an underground crime thriller that I haven’t seen in a very long time. 2012’s Sushi Girl.

The story focuses on a man by the name of Fish (Noah Hathaway) who has just been released from prison after serving a six year sentence for armed robbery. A car is waiting for him outside the prison. Fish gets in and is taken to an undisclosed location. When he enters, he sees his old crew waiting for him as they throw a “Welcome Back” party. Hosted by the leader Duke (Tony Todd) and features the short tempered Max (Andy Mackenzie), the eccentric Crow (Mark Hamill) and the reserved Francis (James Duvall). The crew dines on sushi that is served off the body of a beautiful naked woman lying flat and motionless on the table.  Fish realizes that this isn’t just a reunion, but a plot by Duke to demand answers of what happened to the diamonds that they stole from their last heist. Fish tells the group he doesn’t know where they are. The rest of the crew, desperate and determined to get their cut of the diamonds tie Fish up in his chair and start to interrogate him. The interrogation involves methods of torture. The crew will stop at nothing to squeeze the information out of him.

Cortney Palm as the Sushi Girl.

I first heard of this movie back in 2013 when I was listening to a horror movie podcast (can’t remember the name of it). Tony Todd was the guest they were interviewing and he mentioned a movie he was starring in that was about to be released titled Sushi Girl. He said it was his favorite movie he’s ever done and the fact he got to work with Luke Skywalker himself was a dream come true. Coincidentally, the movie was available to stream on Netflix. With that being said, I watched it. I really enjoyed it the first time around. I even mentioned this to Mr. Todd when I met him at the Days of the Dead Convention in Indianapolis in 2013. He reiterated to me that he enjoyed the movie and was moved by my appreciation for the film. When I started researching movies to do for this next phase of the blog, I kept thinking about Sushi Girl, especially since I had only seen it that one time. I found it on DVD at a local store and watched it again. I didn’t remember much from the first viewing only than the characters. After the second viewing, I noticed it was similar in style and tone to another movie that is one of my favorites. Nevertheless I enjoyed the film the second time around.

The film is pretty much an homage to the Quentin Tarantino flick Reservoir Dogs. If you haven’t seen it before it’s about a group of thieves who go on a diamond heist that goes absolutely wrong. The survivors believe there was a mole in their group and try to figure out who it is. The film is known for showing you the before and after the heist, but not the heist itself. It makes the viewer interpret the actual events that took place during. Sushi Girl follows that same concept. You see the planning and aftermath. However, they show the actual heist taking place. These scenes are weaved throughout the film. The main setting of the film takes place in this abandoned building that looks like an Asian restaurant, which makes sense since they’re having sushi for dinner. Like Reservoir Dogs, this movie has a torture scene, shootouts, plenty of blood, humor and a twist ending. If you’ve never seen the said movie before, you should see it (but that’s for another time).

Tony Todd, Mark Hamill and James Duvall in “Sushi Girl.”

The performances are very good and each character has their own identity and personality that causes plenty of friction and tension among them. Tony Todd was great in this. He portrays the leader of group as cold, calculating and in control. I love his deep baritone voice and his wielding of power within the group. Everyone listens to him and when he commands something they do it. He’s played many bad guys before, but I think this is my favorite performance of his other than Candyman which he is well known for. Cortney Palm, who is the ‘Sushi Girl’ in the movie makes her feature length debut. She is completely motionless and does her best to ignore the conversations and actions that are taking place in the dinner. You do see moments where she flinches or sheds a tear. You don’t know anything about her throughout the film until the very end (That’s all I’ll say about that). Kudos to her for willing to be completely naked covered by sushi for her first film. I’m sure many women would refuse to do that as their first role. The best performance of the film by far is Mark Hamill. He plays the character of ‘Crow’ exactly like Truman Capote complete with long blonde hair, glasses and a business suit. He is very eccentric and flamboyant and beneath that layer is a man who is slimy and sadistic. If you’re familiar with Hamill’s work as the Joker in the Batman Animated Series from the 90s, you’ll hear his famous laugh throughout the movie. It was also nice to see cameo appearances from Michael Biehn (Terminator), Jeff Fahey (The Lawnmower Man) and Danny Trejo (Machete) who play a rival group that holds the diamonds the original group is attempting to steal from.

Mark Hamill, Andy Mackenzie and Noah Hathaway in “Sushi Girl.”

Clocking in at 98 minutes, Sushi Girl may not be an original film, but it has enough going on to keep you intrigued and focused. It’s not a fast paced, high action thriller but rather a suspenseful crime drama mixed with story, dialogue and brutality. You really feel the tension between the characters throughout the movie which grows into paranoia and desperation when their situation becomes a lost cause. It gives you the appreciation of what small independent films are trying to do, even if it’s a redundant concept.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • While eating fugu, Duke says “I cannot see her tonight. I have to give her up. So I will eat fugu.” This is, in fact a famous senryu from Japanese poet Yosa Buson, written in the 18th century.
  • The van that is used for the diamond burglary says Falkore Plumbing on the side. Falkor is the name of the Luck Dragon that Atreyu rides in The Neverending Story. Atreyu was played by Noah Hathaway, who plays Fish in this film.
  • This is Noah Hathaway’s first role in a full length film since 1994.
  • Michael Biehn shot his scenes for free in one day as a favor to his good friend Electra Avellan, one of the producers.
  • One of the plainclothes policemen in the van outside the place where the “reunion” is being held, tape recording the criminal conversations within, is named “Det. Harry Caul Jr.” “Harry Caul” was the master audio surveillance character played by Gene Hackman in “The Conversation” (1974).
  • Before he sits down Crow (Hamill) picks up a white rabbit mask off his chair. While non intentional white rabbits are a trademark of Batman villain Mad Hatter (aka Jarvis Tetch) Hamill, who is most famous for voicing the role of Joker on the animated series, Also voices him in the Arkham games

AUDIO CLIPS

Your Idea Of Shelter
Full Service
Sushi Free Girl Not
Four Fifths of a Reunion
Where’s The Fifth Wheel?
Your Welcome Back Party
Fugu
Can’t Wait To Eat Shredded Blowfish
Are You In Or Out?
He’s One Of Us
You Always Clean Your Shitter Before A Job
Non Theater Masks
Who Called The Plumbers?
Jeff Fahey Screams
Mr. Tooth Decay on the March

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.