The Best Laid Plans

Official Poster

Release Date: March 1, 2019

Genre: Comedy

Director: Michael LiCastri

Writer: Michael LiCastri

Starring: Linnea Quigley, Edwin Neal, Michael LiCastri, Yvelisse Cedrez, David Plowden, Keith Surplus

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

For those who have been following “Guilty Pleasure Cinema” for the past couple years, there are times where I will do special reviews and/or lists to change the format up. The next few weeks you will be seeing these types of writings. I have planned two separate movie rankings, one based on a filmography of a specific director and the other is a list of movies that have been shown on a particular show that is my current favorite show. For this week’s “Guilty Pleasure Cinema,” I wanted to share with you a review of a film I had an invite to watch. This film is the first full length feature from Writer/Director/Actor Michael LiCastri whom up to that point has made several short films including The Great Pineapple Debacle, When Tarantino Met Shakespeare and October 31st to name a few. The film is titled The Best Laid Plans.

Released in 2019, The Best Laid Plans stars LiCastri as Kevin. He along with his friends Allen (David Plowden) and John (Keith Surplus) are all college graduates who are struggling to find jobs. Kevin finds out that he and his family are about to be evicted from their home, so the three of them are trying to come up with a quick way to raise the money to prevent them from being homeless. They find out that a former classmate of theirs named Tommy (Brian Ballance) won the lottery, they decide to kidnap him to shake out just enough of his winnings to keep Kevin and his family in their home.

Michael LiCastri, David Plowden and Keith Surplus in The Best Laid Plans. Image courtesy of Michael LiCastri.

The Best Laid Plans is a relatable situational comedy filled with quick wit and dark humor. LiCasri creates a visual story of what many college graduates are going through during these harsh times while pointing out the newer generation’s desire to make some fast money with very little effort. You see it today with everyone wanting to be internet sensations or creating profiles on provocative sites where consumers pay money to view explicit content. In this case The Best Laid Plans takes the old fashion concept of a kidnap for ransom scheme.

I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of the three buddies. Their chemistry is the backbone of the movie and I chuckled at the banter between them. Each character is relatable and come from different backgrounds not just from family and economics, but educational as well. It reminded me of one of my all-time favorite comedies Airheads where the three leads would rip each other to pieces over the situation they were in when they took over their local radio station.  The Best Laid features small appearances from Scream Queen legend herself Linnea Quigley and the Hitchhiker from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre Edwin Neal which will make horror fans jump with glee.

Linnea Quigley and Edwin Neal in The Best Laid Plans. Image courtesy of Michael LiCastri.

In terms of the technical aspects of The Best Laid Plans, the locations are minimal as LiCastri focuses on the development of the characters rather than shooting various spots for viewers to look at. There’s no fancy angle shots or shaky first person view. Instead LiCastri keeps the camerawork simple by making sure the essential characters in the scene are all showed in frame. LiCastri can create a lot with very little and those are signs of a good competent filmmaker.

If you’re looking for a good laugh that doesn’t require fart jokes or physical comedy, The Best Laid Plans is for you. Those who are first time filmmakers can watch this movie as a template to how to make a compelling indie film with little to no money. All you need is a great script, relatable characters, and a realistic situation to put them in. At a run time of 73 minutes, it is well paced to keep your attention.

Image from The Best Laid Plans. Courtesy of Michael LiCastri.

The Best Laid Plans is available to watch now on Amazon Prime.

TRIVA (Per Writer/Director/Star Michael LiCastri)

AUDIO CLIPS

The Only People Who Hate Dysentery
Calling It The Man-child
Aladdin Defense
I’m Going To Start A Business
Crepes
How Did The Research Go?
That Guy Is So Hardcore
We’re Going To Take Some of His Money
Where Are The Cookies?
Edwin Neal and Linnea Quigley
How Long Do You Think It’ll Take To Finish All That Weed?
Afraid of Knocking on a Window
Shotgun
You Kidnapped Me For My Lotto Winnings?
Draw Straws
You Going To Give Us The Money?
Intentionally Trying To Shit Myself

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.”

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

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!

A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

Release Date: November 1, 1985

Genre: Horror

Director: Jack Sholder  

Writers: David Chaskin (Screenplay), Wes Craven (Characters)

Starring: Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Englund, Robert Rusler, Clu Gulager, Marshall Bell

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

In 1984 movie audiences were introduced to a new form of terror. They were introduced to a character who killed his victims in his dreams. They were introduced to Freddy Kruger in A Nightmare on Elm Street. It made over $25 million dollars in the United States box office alone and turned Freddy Kruger into a new horror icon. Despite the instant success which launched the careers of Wes Craven, Robert Englund and yes Johnny Depp, fledgling studio New Line Cinema didn’t make a profit off the film. They were still in the red and desperately trying to stay afloat. New Line Cinema Founder and CEO Robert Shaye decided to take a gamble and make a direct sequel to “Elm Street” in the hopes of creating some cash flow. Nearly a year after its initial release, New Line released the follow up film, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.

Instead of a direct continuation of the first film, the second film follows a whole new cast of characters, but the setting of Springwood, Ohio remained the same. The film focuses on Jesse Walsh, a new resident of Springwood who moves into Nancy Thompson’s old house along with his family. Shortly after moving in, he is visited in his dreams by Freddy whose goal is to takeover Jesse’s body so he can return to the physical world. The film was another financial win for New Line which got the return they were expecting plus more and thus a franchise was born. Despite the success, the film itself received mixed reviews calling it a weak retread of the predecessor and a rushed film that has poor acting, poor dialogue, and not enough scares.

I loved the original Nightmare on Elm Street film. Recently, I watched all the sequels in the franchise (except for the 2010 abysmal reboot). After a Saturday film festival at my home I started to evaluate the sequels. It was a mixed bag. Some of the sequels I enjoyed and some I didn’t. Part 2 was the one that really stood out for me for many reasons, which I’m about to get into.

The film is good technically. The picture seems to be grainy. Not sure if this is due to Jack Sholder trying to make a grittier version of the film. In the same documentary, Sholder admits that he wasn’t a fan of the first film and his objective was to not follow the template of the first film and make something completely different, which he did. Except for one scene, there aren’t that many creative kills that you saw in the first film or the sequels that will follow this one. The concept is bringing Freddy into the real world. You can’t do a lot of supernatural things in the real world (although coming into the real world for Freddy is supernatural). Like its predecessor, the cast is made up of some relatively unknown character actors with the exceptions of Hope Lange and Clu Gulager who played the parents. Both have a combined sixty years of acting experience. I felt each actor fit their roles perfectly, especially Mark Patton. It’s incredible who Patton beat out for the lead role (see trivia below). Looking at that list, Patton was the right choice. Although Patton had a few acting credits before doing this movie, this film is really an introduction of who Mark Patton the person is. The chemistry he had with Kim Myers who plays Lisa, his close friend and love interest is strong, and they balance each other out (Patton and Myers remain close friends to this day and travel to Horror Conventions together).

Mark Patton and Robert Englund.

The opening scene of the film is Jesse and two girls sitting in a school bus on his way to school. Suddenly the bus driver speeds up and plows through a desert where the ground begins to crack and sink and Freddy appears as the driver. This film tells you from this opening scene that Freddy is about to take Jesse for a ride and you the audience are going to be there with him. That opening shot is a credit to Sholder’s visual technique that you will see all throughout the film.

Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is regarded as “The Gayest Horror Film Ever Made.” And there’s truth to it. The film is known for its notoriously homoerotic subtext. You see it throughout the entire film from the characters to the props and the story. The writer of the film David Chaskin was working at New Line Cinema in another department and had written a treatment for a potential sequel that dealt with the paranoia of AIDS and homosexuality and incorporated Freddy Krueger as the disease. New Line Cinema chose his script and got the ball rolling on production. If you watch the series documentary Never Sleep Again, the crew from the film and even Robert Shaye talked about how they never intended it to be a gay film. Even director Jack Sholder didn’t admit that he didn’t have the self-awareness to believe that anything they were doing would be interpreted as being gay. One production designer said in best in the documentary, “We were all incredibly naïve or all incredibly latently gay!” I enjoyed this film due to the fact they were able to take a real issue in society and create a narrative that was shocking and scary.

The film primarily focuses on Jesse and Freddy’s relationship to each other. Mark Patton, who plays Jesse in the film was openly gay in real life (although he had not mentioned it to anyone on the set) and incorporates the struggles of his sexuality into Jesse. Jesse becomes attracted to both his male and female close friends in Lisa and Ron Grady. Lisa is obviously attracted to Jesse, but throughout the movie, Jesse seems timid and shy around her, but when it comes to Grady, he instantly clicks to his bad boy persona (which most girls in society today seem to be attracted to). Meanwhile Freddy is trying to convince Jesse to kill for him. Freddy represents the self-hatred that one might have of the thought that they may be homosexual. Robert Englund does a brilliant job of using seduction and manipulation to get to Jesse and use him for his own desires. This is relatable to what is going on in society today with the sexual abuse allegations and the Me Too movement. Men using methods of persuasion to get to the body of a woman.  The victims in the movie are a threat to Freddy in a way that is considered jealousy. He is removing obstacles so that no one interferes with Freddy’s impending host. Finally, the sequence of Freddy tearing through Jesse’s body can be interpreted as Jesse “coming out”.

Mark Patton slowly transforming into Freddy Krueger.

The props and scenes in the movie heightened the narrative. When Lisa is helping Jesse unpack his belongings and puts some things in his closet, you can see a board game titled “Probe”.  In Jesse’s room he has a sign on his front door that says, “No Girls Allowed”. I don’t think you see a lot of teenage boys have that kind of sign in their room. In one of the night sequences when Jesse is getting out of bed, it is so hot in his room you can see his candle melting and shaped like a part of the male genitalia. If you look closely in the shower scene, the shower heads are phallic shaped. In the scene where Coach Schneider is attacked by presumably Freddy, tennis balls are popping out of their cans, Schneider is tied up in the shower by jump rope and flying towels begin to snap at his bare bottom. There was something Freudian going on in that scene.

Finally, Nightmare on Elm Street 2 has a fairy tale side to it, which involves Jesse and Lisa. Because she is in love with Jesse, Lisa is trying to save him from Freddy but doesn’t know how. She pleads with Jesse to let her help him, but he pushes her away. When he transforms into Freddy and escapes, she chases him down and continues to plead for him to come back to her. In a ‘Beauty in the Beast’ moment, she says she loves him and the beast (being Freddy) dies and out of the ashes comes the beauty (Jesse). They hold each other in their arms and embrace that their nightmare is over….or is it?

Kim Myers gives a fairy tale kiss.

To recap, I strongly affirm my opinion that Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is the strongest of the sequels in the Nightmare franchise.  Unlike the latter films which were comical and cartoonish, this film feels real and authentic. This movie still holds up thirty five years later and it is a social film that can be explored, enjoyed and talked about for many decades to come. I would also recommend checking out the new documentary about Mark Patton and his experience on Nightmare on Elm Street 2 titled Scream Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street, which is currently streaming on Shudder.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • New Line Cinema originally refused to give Robert Englund a pay raise, and an extra was cast as Freddy at the start of production. The extra appears in the shower scene where Jesse turns into Freddy, He simply wore a rubber mask and moved like “Frankenstein”. After two weeks of filming, director Jack Sholder convinced New Line Cinema CEO/Founder/Executive Produce Robert Shaye that this was a terrible lapse in judgment, and Shaye met Englund’s demands to return for the sequel.
  • The only “Nightmare” film in which the lead character is male.
  • Mark Patton beat out Brad Pitt and Christian Slater for the role of Jesse.
  • Apart from Robert Englund, this is the only film in the franchise to neither feature an actor from a previous film, nor have one return in a sequel.
  • New Line Cinema CEO/Founder/Executive Robert Shaye wanted to play the character of Grady’s father. However, director Jack Sholder told him that he “Needed a real actor to play that role.” Fearing that he would be fired after the comment, Sholder cast Shaye as the bartender in the S&M Bar that Jesse visits in the film.
  • Special Effects man Rick Lazzarini created a “demonic parakeet” puppet for the scene in which the Walsh’s pet bird flies around and explodes. His puppet was not used because the filmmakers wanted to use a regular looking bird.
  • Kevin Yagher replaced David Miller as the makeup effects artist. Studying pictures of burn victims, Yagher redesigned Freddy’s look to bring out the facial bones and more scaring. He would go on in his career to create the Chucky doll in the “Child’s Play” franchise.

AUDIO CLIPS

FU Man Fingers
Nice Ass
Assume The Position, Dirtballs
The Deadly Dinosaur
We’ve Got Special Work To Do Here
Jesse Screams
If You Want To Play With Animals
Do You Remember Your Dreams?
How Do You Like That, Dad?
Grady Talking With His Mouth Full
Shut Up, Grady
What That Boy Needs
Something Is Trying To Get Inside My Body
He’s Inside Me
Turn Down The Heat
You Are All My Children Now

Meet Wally Sparks

Meet Wally Sparks

Release Date: January 31, 1997

Genre: Comedy

Director: Peter Baldwin  

Writers: Harry Basil (Story), Rodney Dangerfield (Screenplay)

Starring: Rodney Dangerfield, Debi Mazar, David Ogden Stiers, Burt Reynolds, Mark L. Taylor

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Rodney Dangerfield was one of the greatest stand up comedians the world had ever seen. He was known for his zinging one liners and monologues preaching about he gets “no respect”. His career was heightened in 1980 when he stole the spotlight in the 1980 golf comedy Caddyshack which lead to starring roles in the films “Easy Money” and the critically acclaimed Back To School. Unfortunately the 90s weren’t so good to Dangerfield. He had two films that flopped and was being overshadowed by the young fresh talent that appeared on Saturday Night Live and In Living Color. One of his last starring roles was 1997’s Meet Wally Sparks.

In the film, Dangerfield plays the titular character who is the host of a sleazy daytime talk show that rivals Jerry Springer, Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jesse Raphael to name a few (all have cameos in the movies). His show has become so raunchy and X-Rated that he is losing sponsors and being threatened with cancellation. In addition, his show has been publicly criticized by Floyd Preston, the conservative Governor of Georgia (David Ogden Stiers) as corrupting the moral fabric of the country. Wally is given an ultimatum by his boss Larry Spencer (Burt Reynolds) to clean up his show or else he will pull the plug. Wally receives an invitation to attend Governor Preston’s fundraiser reception at the Governor’s Mansion (unbeknownst to the Governor, the invitation was sent by his rebellious pre teen son) and his producer Sandy Gallo (Debi Mazar) comes up with an idea to persuade the Governor to appear on his show, which would instantly boost ratings and could change the format of the show.

Wally and Sandy attend the reception in search of the governor. During the party, Wally heads to the governor’s stable and gives his prized horse some alcohol. The horse breaks free from the stable and runs amok inside the Governor’s Mansion. Wally is able to tame the horse and prevent it from hurting the Governor. The presses label him a hero in the papers the next morning. Believing to have been paralyzed from the injury, Wally is staying at the Governor’s Mansion to recuperate, much to the chagrin of Governor Preston. The mansion gets trashed due to Wally’s production company setting up shop inside the mansion and Wally continues to get into shenanigans involving Mrs. Preston. In addition, Wally’s adult son Dean begins a relationship with Governor Preston’s southern bell daughter Priscilla. If that wasn’t enough for Governor Preston to deal with, he is being blackmailed by an outside entity to drop out of the Senate race otherwise, photos showing Governor Preston and an unidentified woman in steamy erotic photos would be released to the public. Wally goes on a mission to find out who is blackmailing the Governor and in return earn his trust to come onto his show and address his supporters.

Rodney Dangerfield as America’s most controversial talk show host.

This movie is based on the tabloid daytime talk shows that dominated television airwaves and a statement on the First Amendment. Throughout the 90s, you couldn’t turn on a television channel without seeing some kind of over the top show. You had the FCC and other government entities looking to block any kind of media in effort to “protect the children”. Wally Sparks represents freedom of speech and freedom of expression while Governor Preston represents the government looking to shut down entertainment that is considered obscene or vulgar. The war continues even to this day with the rise of social media.

Obviously Dangerfield is the shining star of the film. There are plenty of yucks to go around. The jokes are a lot cruder than any of his previous outings, but given the subject matter of the film, it fits in with the narrative. There’s a lot more physical comedy from Dangerfield in this film than any previous film that I can recall. Most of it comes during the reception scene. One thing that is special about Dangerfield is he is able to play lovable characters. His characters start out as self center egotists, but during the course of his movies they start to feel a heart for others. This film follows the same formula. Wally’s objective in the beginning is to have a showdown with Governor Preston on his show in an effort to save him from the unemployment line. However, during the course of the movie as he is spending time getting to know the Preston family, he is grateful for their hospitality and when Governor Preston is in a pickle with a blackmail threat, Wally feels that he needs to repay the debt shown by helping Preston out with his situation.

The other shining performance comes from David Ogden Stiers, who sadly passed away a few days ago. He portrays Floyd Preston, the Governor of Georgia and a leader of the moral majority. He finds Wally Sparks and his show repulsive and is on a crusade to get him thrown off the air. To make matters worse, Preston is powerless to kick Sparks out of the mansion when he is hurt from the incident at the mansion involving a horse. His adviser warns him that kicking him out will diminish his reputation as a moral compassionate human being. In addition, Sparks’ presence in the mansion starts to attract younger voters who are fans of the show in supporting Preston’s campaign for Senator. Preston certainly comes at a cross road and becomes consumed with his battle over Sparks that he starts to alienate himself from his family and causing them to rebel against him. Stiers is a big man and he fits the role of a governor well. He has quite a few laughable moments involving situations that he falls upon.

Burt Reynolds plays Dangerfield’s boss, Larry Spencer.

As for the rest of the cast, the performances were pretty shallow, especially Burt Reynolds. For all the talk regarding loss of sponsors and fines from the FCC, Reynolds doesn’t sound the least bit concerned. He is really out of place in the movie. Anyone could’ve portrayed the role of Larry Spencer better than he did. Luckily, he’s only in a few scenes that you could skip over if you wanted to.

One of the notable things about this movie is the number of cameos. As I mentioned in the beginning of the review, there are cameos featuring Jerry Springer, Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jesse Raphael. In addition, other talk show personalities that have a cameo include Roseanne, Morton Downey Jr. and Tim Allen (playing his “Home Improvement” character). It’s funny to see them all berate Wally Sparks and call him a has been and the fact that he is still alive. Other cameos include Bob Saget and Stuttering John Melendez playing news reporters, Gilbert Gottfried and Julia Sweeny playing a married couple on Wally’s show and Tony Danza playing his character from Taxi.

With the laughs that this movie has, it is not without its flaws. I didn’t like the pacing of the movie. The movie starts out with Dangerfield going full force at a hundred miles an hour, but then it slows down during the middle of the film and it comes to a screeching halt. It goes from being funny to dramatic. It gets mushy with Wally’s son and Preston’s daughter developing a relationship against the will of the Governor. Another flaw is the ridiculous cartoonish scenes involving Spencer’s top assistant who detests Wally and is spying on him to see if he is actually injured or if he is faking it. He is falling out of trees and getting dragged behind a car. It’s reminiscent of a Wild E. Coyote cartoon. It really had no place in the movie. Lastly, the climax of the movie was so mindless and childish. Again it’s pretty cartoonish with the final confrontation between Wally and the people who are blackmailing the Governor.

Dangerfield showing off his dance moves.

If you’re a fan of Rodney Dangerfield, this movie is right up your alley. Those who are not fans are advised to turn away. While Meet Wally Sparks is not one of Rodney Dangerfield’s most memorable films, it will be remembered for Rodney doing what Rodney does best, which is making us laugh.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • Students in Daingerfield, Texas’ schools got an early release day, because the town gave Rodney Dangerfield a parade, and a street renamed in his honor, when he came to town.
  • One of two Rodney Dangerfield films that feature a vocal performance by Michael Bolton, the other being Back to School (1986). Bolton’s song “Everybody’s Crazy” is playing on the record player during the frat dorm party.
  • Tony Danza reprises his role as Tony from the hit TV show “Taxi” in this film.
  • Gilbert Gottfried who has a small part in the film said on his podcast that he has never seen the finished release.

AUDIO CLIPS

Hard To Believe
Siskel and Ebert Review
You Lost Another Sponsor
Ratings Chart
Governor I’m Crushed
Don’t Go Soft
It’s Just A Drink
Wide As The Mississippi
Stuttering John
That’s Why We Call Him Egypt
Don’t Lift Anything Over Ten Pounds
Talk Soup
What Happened?
I Love Peacocks
I’ve Got A Straight
Great Balls of Fire
Great Grandaddy