Writers: William Porter (as Jay Dee Rock) & Steven Kampmann (as Bobby von Hayes)
Starring: Martin Short, Charles Grodin, Mary Steenburgen, Dabney Colman, Richard Kind
Note: This review is dedicated to the memory of Charles Grodin. Thank you for the laughs.
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Does anyone remember the move Three Amigos which was the 1986 comedy starring Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short? I had watched it recently after not having seen it in over twenty years. It featured three Saturday Night Live alums. While Steve Martin and Chevy Chase went on to be leading comedic stars on film, Martin short was left behind. Sure, he’s been a great supporting actor on film, but I couldn’t quite name a starring movie role for him. That is until I discovered that one of the first movies I saw Short in is available to watch on HBO Max. It’s a movie that would play all the time on Comedy Central just as I was getting home from school. It’s been twenty-five years since this movie’s initial release, and this is one that is truly a “Guilty Pleasure Film” for me. For this review, we’re going back to 1994 with Clifford!
The film starts out in the future as Father Clifford Daniels catches a boy trying to leave the orphanage. He sits down with the boy to discuss his reasons for leaving which then Clifford breaks into a moment in his childhood. The flashback is where the movie picks up. Clifford is a ten-year-old boy (You guessed it. Short, a forty-something man at this time is playing a ten-year-old boy) who has severe ADHD (which is caused by a high sugar intake as you will see in various points of the movie) and carries his recorder and his toy dinosaur named Stefan which he always carried in his pocket. He is in an airplane with his parents going to Hawaii for a convention. After hearing that the plane is flying over Los Angeles, Clifford asks if the plane will be landing there so he can go to Dinosaur World, the theme park of his dreams. After finding out it’s not stopping, Clifford goes into the cockpit of the plane and shut down the engines to which the plane must land in Los Angeles. As a result of this, Clifford is banned from the flight. Worried that he’ll miss the convention, Clifford’s father (Richard Kind) calls up his estranged brother Martin (Charles Grodin) who lives in Los Angeles and asks if he would look at him. Martin, a big named architect who is going through his own problems such as finishing a massive train system for the city and trying to save his relationship with his fiancé Sarah (Mary Steenburgen) who are at a stalemate over wanting children agrees to take Clifford into his home. And that’s when Martin’s world would be even turned more upside down.
Clifford was shot in 1990 but didn’t get released in theaters until 1994. The reason was Orion, who produced the movie was on the verge of bankruptcy and they held off releasing several movies until they got their financials in order. The movie tanked at the box office and was universally panned by everyone, especially Roger Ebert who wrote, “The movie is so odd, it’s almost worth seeing just because we’ll never see anything like it again. I hope.” and gave it a rare ½ star. Despite the overwhelming negative reviews, the movie has developed a cult status.
Clifford is indeed an odd dark comedy. I’m not sure what director Paul Flaherty or the writers were trying to accomplish with making this. It seems like they just told everyone let’s be as silly and weird as we can possibly be. I’m surprised Charles Grodin, a respectable actor stayed as long as he did, or he was completely oblivious to what was going on. The reasons that I do like Clifford not just because of the fact it was a movie that was played a lot during my childhood years. There are some things that I do enjoy about it, but then again, I enjoy obscure macabre comedy.
Martin Short and Charles Grodin carry the weight of the movie. Short portrays Clifford very reminiscent of his most iconic characters on SCTV, which was the pointy hair Ed Grimley. Like a ten-year old, when Clifford doesn’t get his way, he behaves badly. He gets triggered that he pulls out Stefan as a kind of security blanket. Some of his actions are even criminal in today’s society. It’s not until the near end of the movie where he realizes why his family is tormented by him. Grodin is the calm authoritative figure who slowly breaks down when Clifford continues to get to the best of him. He develops his own madness and when he tries to find ways of disciplining him, it makes matters worse. It’s as if both are playing Chess against each other predicting on who will make the next move. The cast of the movie is very small. The only supporting actors to this movie are Mary Steenburgen as Sarah who desperately wants children and when she sees Clifford she becomes in awe of him and Dabney Coleman as Martin’s sleazy womanizing boss Ellis who looks to capture Sarah’s heart for himself.
As for the jokes, it’s a blend physical comedy with insanity due to Short’s actions and reactions. Short makes great use of his facial expressions to crack a laugh or two. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is where Clifford takes Stefan out of his pocket and puts it in the shower just as Steenburgen is in it. They’re other jokes such as Short putting Tabasco sauce in Grodin’s Bloody Mary, Clifford’s dancing skills when he has a house party at his uncle’s after tricking him that he was leaving for San Francisco.
The movie ultimately failed due to its shear psychoticism and emotional issues between the two lead characters. There are moments in the film which could be depicted as negligence, kidnapping, and endangering the well-being of a child. Not to mention that when Clifford gets bad news he goes into this trance where he will do things such as eating everything in sight, demanding chocolate or creating something just out of nowhere to get even. This movie would not be possible to make today.
So, if you’re daring enough to watch Clifford you will be in for a comedic experience like no other. If you like madness mixed in with your comedy, then this movie will be right up your alley. My advice though is to not show this to any young children. They could learn some dastardly things watching Martin Short and his antics.
Although planned for a 1991 release, Clifford became one of many films (including RoboCop 3 (1993)) produced by Orion and filmed years before its release date. The reason it was not released until 1994 was due to company Orion’s pending bankruptcy, and not because of bad press screenings, as some sources claim.
Charles Grodin and Mary Steenburgen were also a couple in the movie It Runs in the Family (1994).
Martin Short’s co-stars are usually standing on boxes and next to slightly oversize props.
Starring: Matt Laumann, Michael Peake, Jack Burrows, Kayla Clark, Jake Robinson
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
What’s the weirdest horror monster you’ve ever seen in film? I’ve practically seen them all. From a Siamese twin brother who looks like a squashed octopus to a killer condom with teeth and a flushed fetus that turns into a radioactive bloodthirsty killing machine to a crazy gingerbread man. Monster films can be creative by taking some ludicrous idea and making a character out of it. Take the review for this week. It’s a movie involving a giant monster made of human, radioactive substance and ground beef. This next movie in “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” came out of nowhere like something falling from the sky. The first thing that caught my attention was the movie title followed by the image of a sloppy joe with teeth. The title of the movie was called Inhumanwich!
Inhumanwich! is a Sci-Fi/Horror/Comedy about an astronaut returning to earth from a space mission. As he prepares to eat a sloppy joe sandwich his wife made him for his trip, he gets caught in an asteroid field damaging the ship’s reactor core. Radiation leaks out which gets on him and the sandwich. When he crash-lands in a wooded area, he slowly turns into a meat monster with tentacles. From there it wrecks having in a small southern Ohio town eating one human to another causing it to grow in size. The scientists at NASA team up with the military to stop this creature before it consumes any more victims.
Written and directed by David Cornelius, Inhumanwich! is a throwback to the silly sci-fi monster movies of the fifties. It’s shot entirely in black and white which gives it that authenticity of being a movie from that era. The look of the film is amateurish in nature complete with a local cast and crew, but they all work well together to create a film that doesn’t take itself seriously which makes it enjoyable.
I love the fact that the movie takes place in Ohio. The crew is from Cincinnati and the entire film is shot there. The filmmakers decided to give Dayton (my hometown) its own NASA Mission Control Center. I’m telling you right now, we don’t have an actual Mission Control Center here, but we do have the National Air Force and Space Museum. Other than that, the film does a good job showcasing the area with its suburban neighborhoods and heavily wooded areas.
Like a cheesy monster movie from the fifties, the performances are filled with familiar characters found in most of those films. You have the stereotypical housewife who shows concerns (or lack thereof) of her husband, scientists who come up with ways of stopping the monster only for it to backfire and the military officers complete with firepower who’s only remedy to the situation is to shower it with bullets. There’s plenty of gags and situations with the characters that it reminds me of something Monty Python would do.
As for the star of the movie, the creature is essentially a giant meatloaf with eyes and tentacles. The first time you see it, he is chasing a hunter using fast motion effects. I was literally chocking on my sandwich as I saw this. The creature essentially eats the meat of its victims leaving the bones behind as shown in various shots of skeletons that looked like they were bought from a Halloween Store. It has the ability to camouflage itself with any ground meat as shown in one particular scene. I have to give the filmmakers props for coming up with an ingenious creation.
The film makes do a good job of limiting the use of special effects in Inhumanwich! There’s a mix of physical effects with ones that were done on a computer. They didn’t lessen my enjoyment as I continued through the structured and easy to follow plot. One thing is for sure is that David Cornelius made sure to throw every fifties sci-fi monster trope out there and many were able to stick.
Inhumanwich! is a great throwback to the monster movies of the era. I give the filmmakers much kudos for creating a funny and entertaining movie. If you’re sick of the big budget monster flicks, this is the total opposite. It makes you want to go back and revisit those style of monster movies.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
At about 57 minutes while General Graham is arguing with scientist Ed Farley, the crew can be clearly seen in the reflection on the general’s glasses.
Disclaimer: The rankings are based on my personal viewings, thoughts and opinions. I have not been influenced by outside parties as to where to place certain movies in these rankings.
Most of you readers may have never heard of Al Adamson. You will be familiar with him after this posting. Al Adamson was the son of early Australian film actors. He joined his father, actor Victor Adamson’s (known professionally as Denver Dixon) production company to learn the business. Eventually, Adamson would go on to make his own movies starting his own independent production company where the only person he answered to was himself. Adamson’s films were based on trending genres in the movie world. His eclectic filmography includes Westerns, Horror, Blaxploitation, Sexploitation, Martial Arts and even two Children’s films that spanned three decades. Adamson was known for making his films fast and cheap with very little money and allowing only two takes per scene. He would have his friends and collaborators play multiple roles from acting to set design, performing their own stunts, etc. While his movies aren’t anything revolutionary, they did find an audience. Adamson saw the Drive-In theater trend as a marketing opportunity and took every advantage of it. He along with his producer pal Sam Sherman would re-release their own movies under different titles based on what was hot at the Drive-In. Adamson’s career would come to an end near the mid 80s. Tragically his life would be cut short as he was murdered in 1995 by a contractor working on his home in Indio, California. While Adamson may not be remembered as a great nor influential filmmaker, his works continue to live on thanks to a devoted fanbase along with a new generation of viewers thanks to a recent box set that was released.
Last April Severin Films released the most comprehensive Blu-Ray box set dedicated to Adamson. Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection features all thiry-one of Adamson’s films inlduing the critically acclaimed documentary Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life and Ghastly Death of Al Adamson. Severin released the movies based on the available prints they could find through original negatives, 16mm prints or VHS prints. The box set included Commentary Tracks for each movie, Trailers, Promo Reels and Early Interviews. The Box Set was completed with a one hundred twenty six page booklet chronicling Adamson’s career and information on which version of film you would be watching. The Box Set sold out quickly as it was a limited print.
I acquired the Al Adamson Masterpiece Collection in late January and spent the past month watching all of his films. For this special edition of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema,” I decided to rank all of Al Adamson’s movies based on my viewings and impressions. I started at the bottom listing my least enjoyable viewings all the way to the one film I found to be my favorite. For this list I excluded the Blood & Flesh documentary. This is strictly on Adamson’s films. For those who are familiar with Al Adamson’s filmography, you may be shocked as where I have certain movies listed. So without further rambling, let’s get the rankings started:
30. Hell’s Bloody Devils
The worst movie on this list happens to be a previously released Adamson film with new footage and this will not be the last movie on this list with this cut and paste concept. Hell’s Bloody Devils takes the previously released film The Fakers, which is about a government agent who infiltrates a Neo Nazi organization in California in hopes of retrieving some counterfeit plates from Germany the Nazis plan on using for a counterfeit scheme and adds a biker gang to the mix. There are only a few scenes of these bikers in Nazi garb and they add nothing to the plot of the film. What’s worse is that this film is shorter than The Fakers. The question that I keep asking in my head while watching these films is why didn’t Adamson turn these concepts into stand alone films? I’m sure he would’ve been able to secure the money to do so. Hell’s Bloody Devils is an example of a filmmaker and a studio trying to capitalize on a merging trend and doing it in the laziest way possible.
29. Nurses For Sale
From the opening scene you would think this is another Al Adamson skin flick, but then it goes downhill from there. Nurses For Sale is a culmination of two films smooshed together. The essential plot of the movie deals with a stolen drug cargo that was supposed to arrive in West Germany. The nurses’ involvement is not very clear as they seem to be helping out with the shipments thinking that they’re medical supplies. Nurses For Sale is one hot mess (no pun intended). This was originally a German film made by Rolf Olsen and then Adamson somehow got the rights to it and added some nude scenes to try to pass it off as a Sexploitation movie. The story is incoherent, and the characters are laughably dumb. Thank goodness this movie clocked in at 67 minutes, otherwise I’d be pulling my hair out in frustration until I became bald. Easily the worst movie of Al Adamson’s filmography, if you would even consider crediting this to him. I had to flip a coin to see whether this film or Hell’s Bloody Devils would be placed at #30. Obviously, this squeaked out…barely.
28. Five Bloody Graves
If Social Justice Warriors created a list of Culturally Inappropriate Films, Five Bloody Graves would be on the very top. Of course, you have to remember this was filmed in the sixties and during a period where white actors would be cast as different ethnic characters. You would think that the filmmakers would do some research about Native Americans and their history rather than choosing the default of all of them being savages and if they’re supposed to be performing as savages, they would learn the correct way of scalping someone. Nevertheless, Five Bloody Graves is a pretty bad Western film. The plot goes in various directions, the action is laughably inept, and the editing is poor. There is a shot of John “Bud” Cardos, who plays the tribal leader raising his spear and screaming that is shown several times including one scene where it’s completely misplaced. There’s also back and forth shots that are mismatched with some missing the sound. The acting leaves a lot to be desired with the exception of John Carradine who plays a preacher. Like the veteran professional he is, Carradine makes a consolidated effort and has a few humours moments as well. The only thing I liked about Five Bloody Graves was that it was shot in Utah with its beautiful countryside. I was in awe as to how clean the rivers were, the gorgeous mountains and Marigold blossoming everywhere. Five Bloody Graves is a prime example of how Al Adamson shot movies cheap and on the fly with little to no effort or care as to the art they are making. I wouldn’t watch this movie again even if it did end up on a Banned Movies List. It belongs in that vault never to see the light of day again.
27. Blazing Stewardesses
The Naughty Stewardesses was a surprise success at Drive In Theaters that Adamson rushed a sequel titled Blazing Stewardesses. Taking inspiration from Blazing Saddles, Blazing Stewardesses brings back the characters from its predecessor and puts them in a crazy story where they stay at a resort of their wealthy friend again from the last movie and then mixes in a western heist element to it. Blazing Stewardesses is a skin flick that never gets started There’s really nothing to like about this movie. except for seeing Lilly Munster Yvonne De Carlo appear in the movie. The plot doesn’t make a lick of sense and there’s too many scenes involving the surviving Ritz Brothers doing their schtick that would only make people the same age as them laugh so hard that they collapse a lung. This is a movie that will be collecting dust inside my Al Adamson Collection until I pass it on to someone else and it will be their decision whether to watch this salty garbage.
26. Mean Mother
Mean Mother is Al Adamson’s first foray into the Blaxploitation genre. This is another patch job as Adamson takes a previously released film, this case Leon Klimovsky’s Run For Your Life from 1971 and adds his own footage. The plot of the movie is two US Soldiers who deserted their platoon during the Vietnam War, go their separate ways and both enter the European Criminal Underworld. The film stars Dobie Gray and Luciana Paluzzi of Thunderball fame. The acting is campy which is what you would expect from a sandwiched film. The Vietnam scenes look like they were shot in a Midwestern location with bare trees, hay, and all kinds of weeds. What little action that Adamson injects in this movie is fun is a nice rush of entertainment before it falls back to the dull, messy plot. Mean Mother is unquestionably the worst Blaxploitation film Al Adamson has done, and this is a genre that seems to be his strongest as you will see quite a few of these films rank higher up on the list.
25. Nurse Sherri
Nurse Sherri is another Al Adamson film combing two film genres into one. The film starts with a cult trying to resurrect one of their members who’s dead and then his spirit somehow enters a nurse named Sherri who then proceeds to go on a murderous rampage in the hospital she works at. Nurse Sherri is a film where the story goes nowhere fast. You see the cult in the beginning of the film, and they don’t return. There’s no explanation as to how Sherri gets chosen to be possessed. The hand drawn animation during the possession scene is so bad it would make the guys in Monty Python laugh. Nurse Sherri includes some outrageous characters including a professional football player who goes blind and suddenly becomes an expert in demonic possessions. Only good thing Nurse Sherri has is the traditional sex scenes in Al Adamson movies and some quality kill scenes. The version in the Al Adamson collection is scanned from the original 16mm print so it’s grainy with some fogginess. Nurse Sherri may appeal to those who love cheese and sleaze, otherwise this would be a candidate for assisted film suicide.
The final completed film of Al Adamson’s career, Lost is about a little girl and her dog getting lost in the desert wilderness of Utah and work together to find their way back home. Lost reminds me of a Hallmark Channel film. It’s a story about friendship and how strong the bond is that they can overcome anything. While the title and premise sounds like this is going to be a sad and depressing film, it’s a painfully frustrating ninety minutes of a poorly written script, characters who don’t seem to know their shoelaces are always untied and moments that make you want to sink your teeth into the skin of your hand. The dog is cute but is useless as all it does is follow the little girl around and be her companion. Lost is a forgettable film and in an ironic way is Al Adamson’s filmmaking career coming full circle.
23. Angels’ Wild Women
Just from one look at the cover of Angels’ Wild Women one would assume that Al Adamson wanted to make his own version of Charlie’s Angels. Only problem with that is that the popular television series would not air until four years after this film was released. The lead women in this film have some flashes of being able to handle themselves against their masculine counterparts, but then they abruptly become vulnerable to the situations they get it. Except for the beautiful women which include Adamson regulars Vicki Volante and Regina Carrol Angels’ Wild Women is another film that doesn’t go anywhere quickly. The story is muddled and falls further deep into the rabbit hole with random subplots added and the characters in the movie are stupid including a naïve farmhand who gets raped by the women in the movie that is sequenced like it came from a bad porno flick. It’s the first movie I’ve seen where a man gets raped by a woman. The bad guy in the movie is some zealous cult leader who allows the women to stay at his ranch only for them to be sickened or killed by the cult. Speaking of cults, Angels’ Wild Women is notable for being shot at the Spahn Ranch where Charles Manson and his family were held up before and after their murder spree. The ranch is where most of the film would take place including a hilarious fight sequence where men are holding onto their beers as they wrestle on the dirt road outside. Again, another film that could have had potential but was poorly executed in the end.
22. Half Way To Hell
Released in 1960, Half Way To Hell is technically regarded as Al Adamson’s directorial debut. He took over for his dad, actor/director Victor Adamson who was known professionally as Denver Dixon (Dixon is shown as director in the opening credits). Half Way To Hell is a simple western shot in black and white. The plot regards a woman Maria San Carlos, the daughter of a wealthy landowner who is an arranged marriage with a Mexican revolutionary general named Escobar. Maria believes in marriage for love, escapes and travels to the US border. She is intercepted by some American outlaws hired by Escobar to bring her back. It’s up to an American cowboy who teams up with Maria’s servant boy and protector also looking for her to save her. The film looks like it was made ten years prior to its actual release. The film is notable for featuring Adamson in a key role as one of the cutthroat cowboys. There’s very little in terms of shootouts or action sequences. The dialogue and performances are what you expect in a low budget film from this era. There is an attempted rape scene that was edgy for its time, but would also be a glimpse of what to expect of an Al Adamson film where taboos are broken in the name of art. Again, it’s a simple black and white western that allowed Adamson to dip his toes into directing and set the blueprint as to how he was going to tell stories through the lens of a camera.
21. Blood of Ghastly Horror
Blood of Ghastly Horror is another film that was previously released as one title and then re-released with a newer title and newly filmed footage. In this case it takes clips from the movies Psycho A Go Go and The Fiend With The Electronic Brain and adds a plot about a mad scientist who experiments on dead bodies and creates zombies in order to find a way to revive his son who was perished in a fall. This film was billed as a quasi-sequel to Fiend, but really makes no sense especially given the ending to both films (which is shown for the third time in this feature). The only thing I liked about this movie is the cheap makeup of the zombies and the appearance of Regina Carroll, the buxom blonde who was Al Adamson’s wife in real life and would appear in the majority of his films. I would not be surprised if Blood of Ghastly Horror was the inspiration for the concept and presentation of Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2 as they took a large chunk of the previous movie and added a new story and newly filmed scenes to make it appealing to viewers.
20. Cinderella 2000
Billed as an out of this world musical sex comedy, Cinderella 2000 doesn’t deliver much on the musical or comedy part but has an overabundance of softcore pornography that will get men googly eyed. Al Adamson out weirds himself by taking a loose version of the fabled fairy tale and setting it in a cyber-Orwellian future where sex is outlawed, and Bid Brother decides who are allowed to participate in this adult activity. The story of Cinderella is the same one we all know and love, but this time the woman who is chosen by the “prince” of the film will have the opportunity to join him in consummating the union. The movie is a trip from beginning to end. Adamson throws so many strange characters and ideas into the plot that make you wonder what kind of grass he was smoking when he made this. A form of punishment for a woman who was caught having sexual relations in violation of the law was she was shrunk down into a miniature sized doll. The characters are boisterous, but don’t have much personality other than they’re all as horny as a three-ball cat. Some dialog made me chuckle especially with the stepmother’s two children taking her for help telling the doctor, “She’s got a case of the hornies!” One of the central characters that is supposed to be the comic relief in the movie is a robot who is programmed to uphold the fornication laws and goes berserk if it catches couples in the act. The robot is so annoying in the movie that surpasses the robot from Lost in Space as the most annoying robot ever shown on film or television. There’s very little musical numbers which is a good thing because the singing is cringeworthy. Again, men will find this movie appealing with the plentiful abundance of T&A in the movie. Cinderella2000 features a fourth wall moment with Snow White wishing she were getting lucky only for her wish to come true thanks to the help of the seven dwarfs…. that’s all I’ll say on that matter. Cinderella2000 is a movie that you could watch in a late-night viewing, but for the most part it will appeal to drunken frat boys looking for cheap thrills or prepubescent boys looking to get their rocks off.
19. Sunset Cove
Sunset Cove is Al Adamson’s first and only attempt at a raunchy teen sex comedy. The film is about a group of teenagers who band together to keep their beach from being bulldozed to make way for a developer to build condominiums. Sunset Cove features the stereotypical characters you would see in these type of teen comedies including an overweight character cleverly named “Chubby,” but are likable for the most part thanks in part to the decent performances from the cast of the movie. They’re working together for a common goal not just for themselves but for their community. There’s a surprise cameo from the great John Carradine who plays the town judge at the climax of the movie. This would be Carradine’s seventh and final appearance in an Al Adamson movie. The film features many tropes you’ll find in a beach movie: jocks, girls in bikinis, bumbling law enforcement officers and a corrupt mayor. Sunset Cove features the most lighthearted fun you’ll see in an Al Adamson movie. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Al Adamson movie if there weren’t any sex or topless women. The film does suffer from a listless plot and some of the locations are left to be desired. Sunset Cove may not be a memorable film of this genre but is one of the pleasantly surprising viewings of this filmography.
18. The Naughty Stewardesses
The Naughty Stewardesses is your typical T & A softcore skin flick. Think of Sex and The City on an airplane. The film wastes no time with the hanky panky between a pilot and a stewardess. Eventually the plot starts to form as the veteran stewardess crew show new hire Debbie the ropes and talk about their sexual fantasies. This leads to them staying with a wealthy man who gets to act out his fantasies with the nymphomaniac bunch while Debbie gets romantically involved with an amateur photographer who uses her to take pictures and start an affair that seems to go back and forth all throughout the movie. The Naughty Stewardesses was another attempt by Adamson to make money and exploit a growing trend. The acting doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination and the plot seems to stray away from its heading. The only good thing about the movie is of course the stewardesses although it’s gross that they are getting themselves involved with a man that thirty years older than them. The kinky happy fantasies of the women take a dark turn at the climax of the movie that gets utterly ridiculous. The Naughty Stewardesses doesn’t hold up today considering the volume of sex and pornography that is found today in film, television and of course the internet. Only the hardcore devotees of B Movies and Drive In Culture would be able to bring this film back from its involuntary celibacy.
17. Black Heat
Black Heat was Al Adamson’s first foray into the merging Blaxploitation genre that emerged during the early seventies. It’s a simple story of a Las Vegas cop, played by Timothy Brown in his first, but not last Adamson films who is out to shut down an upscale hotel that is being used a front for numerous illegal activities including loan sharking, gun running and prostitution. He is supported by his partner Tony, played by Geoffrey Land arrive to diffuse the situation and a TV camerawoman named Stephanie, played by Tanya Boyd whom he strikes a romantic relationship with. The film includes Adamson regular Russ Tamblyn as Ziggy who is the middle man for all the criminal activity going on in the hotel and Adamson’s wife Regina Carrol as a musical performer of the said hotel. The storyline is nothing that we haven’t seen before, but it has a decent cast of characters to keep the film moving. There’s a little more effort into the technical side of the film with a good chase scene and some shootouts. The romance element of the film between Brown and Boyd is humorous and playful. Unfortunately, there are some bizarre moments in Black Heat, most notably a horrendous sexual assault scene involving a woman who is a degenerate gambler who loses everything and is forced into a gang-bang to cover her debts. Finally, Black Heat starts to run out of gas during the third act and drags to where you start to lose interest. After watching this film, I felt this was a learning process for Adamson in this genre as he would continue making more Blaxploitation films and correcting the flaws that are in this.
16. Horror of the Blood Monsters
What do you get when you take footage from three separate films and then add your own footage with a different plot, edit them together and then flood them with various color tints? You get Horror of the Blood Monsters. The film opens with a narration sequence from late legendary actor Brother Theodore about a virus that is turning humans into vampires. From there a space crew travels the farthest reaches of the galaxy hoping to find help to stop the virus. They land on a planet that is filled with every kind of danger from dinosaurs to lobster people to a cannibalistic tribe. Not to mention the planet is filled with heavy radiation (the reason for the shades of colors throughout the film). Horror of the Blood Monsters looks like it was made during a bad acid trip. The opening sequence features several crew members including Adamson dressed as vampires biting the necks of unsuspecting victims. From there it morphs into a Sci-Fi film using footage from an untiled unfinished Filipino film, and an unfinished stop motion prehistoric film (One Million B.C.) with some cheap spaceship sequences and a mission control sequence where the screen is in freeze frame during the broadcasts from the spaceship. The cast includes Adamson regulars Robert Dix and Vici Volante with a special appearance from John Carradine as the ship doctor. There is a moment in the movie where Robert Dix explains to Vicki Volante about how the Spectrum Radiation works and how it changes color, followed by them engaging in a long love making sequence. The color of the film changes based on the time of day in the movie and vary from red, yellow, green and blue. It may not be pretty to look at, but that’s the justification Adamson used as cover to the black and white movies he cut and pasted. Horror of the Blood Monsters would’ve been a great film if they stuck with creating a film based on the opening sequence and could’ve used the jumbled movies and release it as a separate title. Then again, what do I know about cheap filmmaking?
15. The Fiend With The Electronic Brain
The Fiend With The Electronic Brain is essentially Psycho A Go Go with a few added scenes explaining why the killer in the movie acts the way he acts to give it a Science Fiction twist. The added scenes feature John Carradine as Dr. Howard Vanard who talks to a detective looking into the murders committed by the killer. Vanard explains that the killer was a soldier who returned from fighting in Vietnam with a traumatic brain injury and Vanard experimented with him by implanting an electronic device for him to recover and live a normal life. Instead, it turned him psychotic. Roy Morton who played the killer in Psycho A Go Go areturns in the added scenes to take care of Vanard from further talking to the police. Carradine’s death scene is hilarious when you watch the performance. While it does give a plausible reasoning for the killer, in the end it wasn’t necessary to make Psycho A Go Go any better than it already was.
14. Carnival Magic
Carnival Magic has the honor of being the only film of Al Adamson’s to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and found its audience through the hilarious riffs and commentary from Jonah, Tom Servo and Crow. Carnival Magic marked a turn for Al Adamson as his first 80s film would not only be his second to last, but his first attempt at making a children’s family film. The story is about a carnival that is trying to keep from going under. A magician that has been the main attraction of the carnival reveals that he has been keeping a talking chimpanzee under his roof named Alex. Alex becomes a part of the magician’s act and becomes an instant crowd pleaser. His popularity catches the attention of a scientist who wants to take Alex and experiment with him to see if he’s the true missing link of human evolution. Carnival Magic in its original non MST3K version is dated for a children’s film but has enough going on to be entertaining. The antics of Alex are funny including him stealing a car and taking a joyride on it. The power of this movie comes from the bond of the magician and Alex as kind of a father/son relationship. Alex makes friends with some of the other carnival workers who look after his well-being especially when he does go missing. It reminded me of another film I liked in my mouth called Dunston Checks In where a monkey escaped his abusive master and made friends with a lonely boy who looks after him. Carnival Magic is a movie that may get the attention of children under 6 but may not be appealing to the other ages. You’re better off watching the MST3K version for a laugh out loud good time.
13. Death Dimension
Jim Kelly returns in another Al Adamson Martial Arts film that while not a direct sequel to Black Samurai but has a lot of familiar elements. Death Dimension is essentially the same storyline as Black Samurai with Kelly trying to find the daughter of a scientist who has a microchip surgically implanted in her forehead that contains instructions on how to create a destructive freeze bomb. She is being pursued by a world-renowned gangster named “The Pig” who is looking to acquire the plans so he can use it to hold the world at ransom. Death Dimension is an odd title considering there’s extraordinarily little in terms of Science Fiction. The film ratches up the Bond elements by adding Oddjob himself Harold Sakata as “The Pig” and one time James Bond George Lazenby as one of Kelly’s contacts which was great to see. The action scenes are fun to watch most notably a boat chase scene with Kelly fighting and knocking his adversaries into the beautiful blue water. While the story of Death Dimension is nothing new, it’s easy to follow along and doesn’t have any twists or things to turn your brain into a pretzel. The film quality of this version is grainy due to the print that Severin Films was able to acquire, but you can still see what’s going on in the frame. Finally, the music is decent with a laughable track during the final chase scene as it sounds like the composer was mashing on a synthesizer. Death Dimension is another fun Martial Arts film that fits in Al Adamson’s Kung Fu Trilogy along with Black Samurai and The Dynamite Brothers.
12. The Fakers
As previously stated in my review for Hell’s Bloody Devils, The Fakers is about a government agent who infiltrates a Neo Nazi organization in California in hopes of retrieving some counterfeit plates from Germany the Nazis plan on using for a counterfeit scheme. Adamson wanted to seize on the success of the James Bond movies by creating a spy thriller of his own. The Fakers has a nice blend of action, story, characters, and music. In traditional James Bond fashion, The Fakers features a romantic sub plot where the protagonist encounters a beautiful young woman caught in middle of the events that are unfolding. Best scene in the movie is where the main character and his love interest are eating at KFC and Colonel Sanders appears in the flesh asking them, “Isn’t that the most wonderful chicken you ever ate?” He refused to say the original scripted line, “Ain’t that chicken finger lickin’ good?” which caused the crew to shoot several takes, which in an Al Adamson movie is a no-no
11. Blood of Dracula’s Castle
Blood of Dracula’s Castle was one of many good concepts from Adamson that doesn’t quite hit their mark. Starring Alexandar D’Arcy as a fangless mustached Dracula he resides in a castle in the middle of the California desert along with his wife the Coutness played by Paula Raymond and their loyal butler George played by John Carrandine. With the use of a henchman named Mango, they kidnap young women who wonder into their property and hold them in the basement to take their blood. Their lives get turned upside down when the original owner of the property passes away and gives the deed to his nephew. He along with his fiancé travel to the castle and meet the squatters. They soon realize that there is something wrong with their new inheritance. There are many things to like about Blood of Dracula’s Castle. The cinematography was good for being an Adamson film apart from a few cuts and scratches from the film translation itself due to it being old and recovered for the box set. I loved the setting and set decorations of the film. While the castle is in the desert, the inside still has that vintage look of Dracula’s original layer settled in Transylvania. John Carradine is the standout performance as George the Butler. Surrounded by amateurs, Carradine’s veteran professionalism and seriousness of the part sticks out. While the story is cohesive, it could’ve been fleshed out more. The biggest thing I didn’t get was why Dracula and the Countess chose to drink blood from a glass rather than bite the necks of their victims the old-fashioned way. One of those mysteries that may never be solved. Blood of Dracula’s Castle may stack at the bottom as a forgettable Dracula movie, but it has enough going on for it to be a decent late night B movie.
10. Psycho A Go Go
Al Adamson’s second feature film Psycho A Go Go is about a jewel heist that goes wrong with one of the burglars tossing the bag of jewels into the back of a pick-up truck driven by an ordinary pedestrian who’s on his way home to celebrate his daughter’s sixth birthday. The thieves track him down and hold his family hostage until they get their stolen loot back. Psycho A Go Go has plenty of zany moments, most notably one of the henchmen who abruptly becomes the main antagonist near the end of the film. The acting is cheesy which includes a doll that sings like Alvin the Chipmunk. There’s enough going on in the film to keep your attention span, most notably the opening heist and the final act. The climax features a long chase scene that starts with the killer stealing a car and going after the wife and daughter of the innocent man and ends up in a snowy mountainside where the final standoff ensures. The cinematography was done by Vilmos Zsigmond who would go on later in his career to win the Academy Award for Cinematography for his work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This was his first Director of Photography job and you could see the talent that he had for lighting and framing as his later works would continue to give him much praise and success.
9. Brain of Blood
Brain of Blood is the story of a dictator from a fictional Middle Eastern country who is dying of cancer and arranges with his aides and future bride for his body to be flown to America where a scientist is preparing to transfer his brain into another human body in order for him to continuing living. What he’s not aware is that the Scientist is planning on putting his brain into the body of his acid scarred servant. This is the most comprehensive film from Al Adamson. While not an original idea, it’s well executed. The story is easy to follow along and has some decent performances, most notable Angelo Rossitto in his first Al Adamson film playing the Scientists’ assistant. You could tell he was having fun with his character especially when checking up on the women who are chained in the Scientists’ basement. There’s also a well-choreographed fight scene and a car chase sequenced to keep the film from being too dialogue heavy. Of course, Brain of Blood couldn’t be a horror film without seeing blood and a brain. The surgical sequence is long, but the effects are gruesome. Kudos to the props and effects department for making a realistic looking brain drowned in blood. Brain of Blood is a movie I would watch again and even draw a little inspiration into writing a script with this subject matter.
8. Jessi’s Girls
Starring Sondra Currie in the eponymous role, Jessi’s Girls is a movie about vengeance and female empowerment. Jessi and her husband, who are devout Mormons are attacked by a group of outlaws. Jessi is raped several times and her husband is killed. With very little strength she finds safe haven in a hut of a hermit who nurses her back to health and teaches her how to use a gun. Jessi then goes out in the world to seek revenge on the outlaws. She frees several female prisoners and starts a gang. Jessi’s Girls is a rare film where it feels Al Adamson took his time on and focuses on character development and emotion rather than fast loose gimmicks. The metamorphism of Sondra Currie is amazing how she went from an innocent devout Mormon woman to a vengeance seeking vigilante with a deep hatred for men. The torture scenes are brutal, and the music heightens the tension and pain being inflicted. There’s enough action and shootouts to keep the film from being too preachy on the morals and ethics of what they are doing. Great supporting cast including Regina Carrol, Jennifer Bishop and Ellyn Stern as Jessi’s partners who slowly infight among themselves in the film and it’s up to Jessi to keep her girls in line. Unfortunately, Jessi’s Girls suffers from having an abrupt ending where the credits roll immediately after the climax. It felt like a slap in the face to what was turning into making Al Adamson a mainstream filmmaker. Jessi’s Girls is still a good film on the merits and worthy of a top ten slot.
7. The Dynamite Brothers
Continuing the trend of making movies featuring trending genres, Al Adamson jumped on the success of Bruce Lee’s final film Enter The Dragon by making a Kung Fu film of his own. Released in 1974, The Dynamite Brothers star Alan Tang as Larry Chin, who arrives in America via Hong Kong searching for his brother. While at a stop in San Francisco, he meets Stud Brown, played by Timothy Brown via being handcuffed to each other by a racist corrupt cop named Burke, played by Aldo Ray. After escaping custody, Larry and Stud head to Los Angeles with the help of a driver by named Betty, played by Clare Torao. I loved this movie. The action starts right at the beginning and doesn’t wear out. The fights are perfectly choreographed and the chemistry between Alan Tang and Timothy Brown remind me of the relationship between Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour. The Dynamite Brothers also features legendary actor James Hong as the antagonist who is quiet, but brutal as you will see in the film where he kills a henchman using a single acupuncture needle. The story is simple and flows easily with an intriguing twist during the final act of the movie. The flaws are little, but rather noticeable especially during a shootout scene where a car flips over and bursts into flames. Nevertheless R. Michael Stringer does a great job with the cinematography with shots overlooking the San Francisco Bay to the mean streets of Los Angeles. Quentin Tarantino has talked in length about The Dynamite Brothers and I could easily see why. It is truly a fun B movie watch for fans of the Martial Arts genre.
6. Satan’s Sadists
Biker films are known for their honest brutality and Satan’s Sadists pulls no punches. Starring Russ Tamblyn as Anchor who leads his gang the Satan’s Sadists on a venture of rape, murder, and revenge. After terrorizing a group of people at a local diner in the desert, a man fresh out of the Marines fights back to defend the waitress against the gang which leads to a chase in the desert where they attempt to hide from the gang finding them. During the search, the gang comes across a trio of college girls working on a project and slowly being to unravel as the day falls into night. The overall presentation of Satan’s Sadists looks like something Quentin Tarantino would’ve made (I believe he mentioned in an interview about really liking this film, but I can’t find the source). The story is easy to follow. The cinematography is gritty and captures the wastelands of the desert along with the long straight roads where the bikers ride in formation. There’s great sixties music that fits the feel and themes of the movie. The performances are solid with Tamblyn being the standout as the quiet but sociopath Anchor and Bud Cardos as the Native American member of the gang Firewater who gets into a power struggle with Anchor. The rest of the gang act like despicable little children due to their antics throughout. The film also marks the feature debut of Adamson’s wife Regina Carrol who would appear in all his films going forward. She has many notable scenes in this including dancing on top of a diner table. It’s something you would see in a Tarantino film. There are some scenes that are hard to watch, most notably the rape scenes involving two women, one at the beginning of the film and one during the middle. It reminded me of the rape scenes in The Last House on the Left. Finally, a biker film wouldn’t be one if it didn’t have any fights. There’s plenty of fights including a great scene where the protagonist takes a snake and hurls it at a biker who gets bitten on the neck and slowly succumbs to the snake’s venom. Satan’s Sadists is without a doubt one of the best films Al Adamson has made and one that was not afraid of pushing the boundaries. It’s the perfect Drive In B movie.
5. Uncle Tom’s Cabin
We’re now down to the final five in the Al Adamson movie rankings. We start with Adamson’s film adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s immortal novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Released in 1977, the film was originally a German production that ran quite long until Adamson bought the film, trimmed it down and added a few of his touches, most notably nude scenes, and a lovemaking scene between the character of Napoleon and the nurse that heals him after he escapes from a riverboat. It’s been a long time since I’ve read the novel so I can’t testify as to how accurate the film is from the novel. The production and filming of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is quite astounding. While Adamson may have not shot the film in its entirety, he took with great care editing and matching the film to create a cohesive narrative to present a dignified film adaptation about the changing attitudes of slavery which would lead to the Civil War. There’s a real authenticity to this film from the settings to the clothes and the music. The performances are top notch, with German actor Herbert Lom playing Simon Legree. He is shown having half of his face scarred reminiscent of the Batman villain Two-Face. There are violent moments in the film that are hard to watch. I had to close my eyes on a few scenes, but you must remember that Adamson put these scenes as context as to how African American slaves were treated. Not as human beings but property. There are not many film adaptations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin out there, but this was the most driven and emotional version I’ve seen that sticks out among Al Adamson’s filmography.
4. Girls For Rent
Starring Adult Film legend Georgina Spelvin, Girls For Rent starts with Spelvin as the role of Sandra escaping from a prison work detail and rendezvous with a woman named Erica, played by Rosalind Miles. There she meets Chuck, played by Preston Price and gets involved in his prostitution business by managing the girls. One of the newer clients named Donna, played by Susie Ewing freaks out and leaves after her client dies of a heart attack. On the lam, Donna hopes to escape from Sandra and Erica who are ordered to track her down and kill her. Girls For Rent is a surprisingly good cat and mouse film. Spelvin delivers a solid performance as the hard-nosed and sadistic Sandra and Susie Ewing as Donna who seems to find herself in one bad situation after another. There are some shocking moments in the film which show how these girls are not here to mess around and they will not let anyone stand in their way. There is a small romance that blossoms between Donna and a man who invites her to camp with him in the mountains and then take her to where she wants to go the next day, but it does not happen until the third act of the movie. Girls For Rent includes plenty of action, surprises and of course sex to keep you engaged and featured a great ending to wrap things up. Girls For Rent easily makes the top of this list for me.
3. Black Samurai
Al Adamson teams up with iconic Martial Arts champion Jim Kelly of Enter The Dragon fame to create Black Samurai. Kelly plays Robert Sand, who is a secret agent for the group D.R.A.G.O.N (Defense Reserve Agency Guardian of Nations) who is vacationing in Mexico is cut short when his superiors assign him to save the daughter of the ambassador of Hong Kong, who just happens to be Robert’s girlfriend. Black Samurai combines Martial Arts, Blaxploitation and Secret Agent genres to create a fast, fun and thrilling film. This is one of Kelly’s finest performances delivering humor, seriousness and of course his fast fists. Black Samurai has a James Bond feel to it featuring Kelly wearing a jetpack and flying around a perimeter, encountering a beautiful but deadly enchantress and stopping an over-the-top antagonist nicknamed “The Warlock.” Of course, there are traps Kelly must escape from most notably a jail cell filled with rattlesnakes. The fight scenes are furious and fun to watch. Kelly takes on all kinds of bad guys notably dwarven henchmen and a giant vulture looking to tear him to pieces. Kelly demonstrates why he is considered one of the greatest in his discipline, which was Shorin-Ryu Karate. The Martial Arts genre was the greatest strength for Adamson as he seemed to know how to frame an enjoyable action flick. Black Samurai easily makes the top three on this list. It is one long roller coaster from beginning to end.
2. Dracula vs. Frankenstein
Who would’ve thought it would be Al Adamson that would bring two iconic monsters in literature and early days of cinema to duke it out on the big screen? Dracula vs. Frankenstein is perhaps the most notable film of Al Adamson since it’s been played at Drive-Ins and on late night television. The major plot of the movie is Dracula uncovers the remains of the Frankenstein monster and convinces Dr. Durea, the last surviving member of the Frankenstein family to resurrect him. The B story of the movie involves Regina Carol who searches for her missing sister and encounters not only a biker gang, but a carnival where one of the attractions is a cover for Dr. Durea’s lab. The film is notable for many reasons. First, there is a veteran cast including J. Carrol Naish as Dr. Durea, Lon Cheney Jr. as his hulking assistant Groton, Angelo Rossitto as the shorter assistant Grazbo who pretends to be the tour guide of the attraction and Russ Tamblyn as biker gang leader Rico. The performances are good with the highlights being the forementioned actors. Roger Engel (credited as Zandor Vorkov) plays Dracula in a stiff monotonal way. Thanks to the bad editing, he appears at times without makeup and fangs and near the end of the film, he appears with fangs and wearing white clown makeup, which is cheesy but strangely appealing. John Bloom plays the Frankenstein Monster whose lips look like they were swollen due to an allergic reaction to a bee sting plays the monster somewhat clumsily with a few grunts here and there. I liked the cinematography in this as the settings of the movie are a mix a beachside carnival with the final sequence being shot in a church and the final battle taking place in the woods. The fight is more of a tug of war but gets entertaining at the end. I thought the cinematography was good for this type of movie with some funny still frame shots of Dracula using his powers to burn someone. For you gore hounds there’s an ample amount of gore including head rolls and an axe to the face that made me squirm. Dracula vs. Frankenstein is the most impressive film of Adamson’s library from a technical standpoint. It’s not as terrible as some people claim it is. I like to think of it as a good Mystery Science Theater 3000 Movie that you could watch late at night with some friends and riff on it.
1. The Female Bunch
The first film I watched in the Al Adamson Masterpiece Collection turned out to be my overall favorite film of this list. It’s a movie I kept thinking back as I was watching the rest of the films and starting my rankings. Released in 1971, The Female Bunch starts with a woman named Sandy, played by Nesa Renet together with a man named Jim, played by Geoffrey Land who are hiding in the mountains from the female gang looking to apprehend them. The movie then goes into a flashback where Sandy goes into narration of the events leading up to this point. She was working as a waitress struggling to make ends meet. One night she tries to kill herself, but is saved by her Co-worker Libby, played by Adamson’s wife and regular contributor Regina Carrol. Libby takes Sandy to a ranch owned by a female gang. After going through an initiation test, Sandy becomes a member of the group. From there they travel to Mexico to party, get drunk and score drugs. As the film progresses, Sandy becomes unsure if this is the life she wants and questions the motives of its leaders Dennise (Leslie McCray) and strung out sexaholic Sharyn (Sharyn Wyntes).
The Female Bunch features an eclectic cast of newcomers and veterans including frequent Adamson collaborator Russ Tamblyn and Lon Cheney Jr. in his final film appearance. The Female Bunch starts with some great western music and aerial shots from a plan courtesy of Bud Cardos, another Adamson regular who had his own plane. From there it’s a cohesive story of a woman looking for something better in life and finding acceptance within a group which is something we’ve all be involved in at one point in our lives. The middle gets a little dull with the almost never-ending partying in Mexico but makes up with it with some hot sex and dancing. The performances are good. Most of the gang members were amateur actresses who didn’t know how to ride horses until they did this movie. For what its worth they did a valiant effort even though you can tell is some shots they did not look comfortable. There’s plenty to humor to cut through the seriousness of the plot. In Lon Cheney’s role as the Stable Keeper Monti, who gets teased by the women thinking he’s going to get laid by one of them. There’s quite a bit of gruesome violence including a scene where Tamblyn gets a permanent marking on his forehead because of his failed attempt to rape one of the women. There are some hiccups during the third act in which the ADR does not sync up with the actresses’ dialog (this is something you’ll see in most Adamson’s movies). The Female Bunch is a film of female empowerment and they show that they’re playing with the boys on their terms. In the end it was no contest that The Female Bunch was my favorite Al Adamson movie. It’s perhaps my favorite underrated Western film.
So what did you think of the rankings? Agree/Disagree with my list? What is your favorite Al Adamson film? Feel free to leave comments/feedback. I’d love to read your responses.
Starring: Wil Wheaton, Rutger Hauer, Nia Peeples, Ron Perlman, Michael Harris
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
For those that have followed this blog from the beginning, you might recall a review I did for a Sci-Fi Channel original movie entitled Evolver! If you haven’t seen the post before, don’t worry you still can. All my posts are archived 😊 It’s one of my favorite made for television movies. The movie represented a time in the 90s when the Sci-Fi Channel was really coming up in the cable world and its popularity would spawn its own original movies. Another movie I recall seeing when it first came out that I discovered again was a movie called Mr. Stitch! I remember seeing the trailer for it where it was just a man all wrapped up in giant bandages in front of an all-white screen. As an impressionable pre-teen during the day I was overwhelmingly excited to see this. I don’t recall watching it when it premiered, but I remember I was quite fond of the idea, concept and execution. Watching it again not too long ago I double down on my comments. For a movie that is twenty-three years old, it still holds up despite some moments of outdatedness. With that let’s get to the synopsis of Mr. Stitch!
Mr. Stitch stars Wil Wheaton, best known for playing Ensign Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation as an androgynous human made from body parts and skin from various donors and chooses to be a man despite not having the sexual organs of one. He was created by a group of scientists led by Dr. Rue Wakeman (Rutger Hauer). He’s referred to only as ‘Subject 3.’ Later he chooses a name for himself. He is now ‘Lazarus’ after the biblical character. At first, Lazarus is obedient and follows commands and performs his tests. As Lazarus learns more about himself he begins having memories and nightmares from the lives of his donors. They offer clues as to the identities of those who inhabit his body while simultaneously torture him. This creates a rift between his relationship with Wakeman. Wakeman realizes he is losing control over Lazarus as he is developing independent logic and feeling. Lazarus realizes that Wakeman is hiding secrets from him causing him to no longer want to work with him. Psychologist Dr. Elizabeth English (Nia Peeples) is assigned to help Lazarus deal with his tension between Wakeman and deal with his nightmares and with it develop a sense of trust with other humans. They start to get close until Lazarus mentions a phrase that triggers English as it is a phrase that said to her from her deceased science partner and lover Dr. Frederick Texarian (Ron Perlman). Lazarus starts to be overwhelmed by being trapped in the ward and requests to see the outside world which is immediately rejected by Wakeman. He sneaks out and investigates Wakeman’s true intentions with him. Lazarus understands what his purpose is and must find a way to stop Wakeman’s plans as well as make amends with English.
Written and directed by Roger Avary, Mr. Stitch is essentially a modern day retelling of Frankenstein. You have the Scientist who is looking to create a human being from dead (in this case created by tissue and organs of deceased humans) and you have the monster, which in this case is aware, functional and intelligent compared to the monster of the classic tale. It has the same elements in terms of the scientist creating this new life and teaching it how to interact with others and how to function with the purpose that is only known to them. You have the monster that is trying to learn, but starts to become resilient and unbalanced. The two will clash into this tug of war over power and control.
About ninety percent of the film takes place in this ward where everything is white. The scientists wear white suits and Lazarus is bandaged in all white. To me it represents both the first light we see when we are born as well as a state of purgatory where we are trapped in this area and are waiting to get to the outside of what lies ahead (for Lazarus this would be the outside world). We don’t see the outside of the ward until the near climax of the movie and several flashback scenes that Lazarus experiences as nightmares. Only other color we see in the movie is a black couch similar to a top hat that acts as Lazarus’ bed and the snot colored goo that comes out from a giant eyeball called the Observation Eye that watches Lazarus’ every move and from a device that measures and records his brain wave pattern when he is asleep (both are destroyed by Lazarus in a fit of anger).
The look of Lazarus is comprised of numerous pieces of skin from all different colors of humans (Black, White, and Brown). His eyes have different pigments of color. His hair is long and frazzled, almost like a witch. Although he is androgynous, he identifies himself as man due to his strength and anger that is to be more in common with a man than a woman. I give the makeup department credit for creating a creature like this to represent that we are all human begins regardless of race, color, sex and creed. I think that was Avary’s intention as well.
Mr. Stitch has some unique shots and visuals. What stood out to me are the choice of lenses that were used in certain scenes. For example, the “think tank” office of the scientists is shot like they are working inside a bubble. To me, the bubble represents the inner circle of those who are in it as to their research and their plans as to what to do with the research they are developing. The climax scene is deep underground and has a glossy watery effect that surrounds the confronting characters. Based on your impressions it gives you either a dream like effect or an effect if someone where high on drugs.
The pacing is a little uneven, but it doesn’t take away from the plot. Music is incorporated in practically every scene and it’s appropriate for what is happening in the scene. There is heavy metal during Lazarus’ bouts of anger or paranoia. There is a dreamy soft guitar sound during a hypnosis scene. Each piece of music sets the tone for what is happening.
The movie contains a very small cast with the majority of screen time belonging to Wil Wheaton and Rutger Hauer. Both of them I felt did a good job with their performances despite some flaws in the script. Wheaton starts out as very calm and compliant as he performs the tests that Hauer has him do. He’s quite intelligent by quickly developing his self-awareness and heightened sensibility. He is hostile to the scientists, but finds a soft and calming nature when he is around Dr. English. He develops a deep sense of trust and in some cases, love when they are together. Wheaton is able to channel his emotions of the character in the appropriate scenes throughout the film. Hauer portrays Dr. Wakeman as a teacher and somewhat of a father figure to Lazarus. He is cautious with his responses to Lazarus’ questions and steers him away from anything he sees as a threat to his control of him. Hauer was very unhappy with the writing of the movie that he disregarded the script and began to improvise his scenes to match what he felt was more logical of his character and the story. I honestly can’t tell you that I was able to pick out which scenes he improvised, but that’s what makes him a great established actor was that he knew more about the character than what Avary had on paper.
The rest of the cast includes Nia Peeples as Dr. Elizabeth English who is brought in to help Lazarus deal with his dreams and nightmares. She builds a rapport with Lazarus during their sessions together. As they get to know each other, she becomes slightly distraught at what she discovers about him. Her feelings for him come full circle in the climax of the film. Peeples is very attractive and gives a soft touch to the films constant hostility between the two main characters. The other main performance comes from Michael Harris as General Hardcastle, who is the head of a secret government organization called ‘The Outfit’ and is in charge of the project. He shovels billions of taxpayers’ dollars to Wakeman and his team with the goal of creating a superior human being that could be used not only in warfare but to take down the bureaucrats in Washington so he can remodel the government in his own vision. He is the real antagonist of the movie. This was perhaps the weakest and most laughable performance of the movie. His dialogue reminds me of something a professional wrestler would say, but he gets what’s coming to him and it’s very satisfying. There is also small appearances from Ron Perlman as Dr. Texarian, the original team leader of the Stitch Project, Taylor Negron as Dr. Alan Jacobs who replaces Dr. English and gets a not so warm welcome by Lazarus and Make Up Effects Guru Tom Savini as a scientist.
Mr. Stitch is available to watch on YouTube since it’s hard to find any video copies. I think you would enjoy watching this made for television movie. It’s a creative take on an original monster story. It doesn’t drag and keeps your attention with every scene. I wish the Sci-Fi Channel would make more of these compelling films than cheap monster movies involving five headed sharks or a yeti with the speed of a greyhound dog. Really makes you miss the 90s.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
Part way through production, Rutger Hauer completely discarded the script and refused to do any scenes from it. The majority of his scenes were improvised by the actor. Later, Roger Avary was forced to rewrite the remaining script to match up with Rutger’s footage.
This movie was the first “original” aired by The Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy). It would be a few more years before they started advertising their made-for-TV movies as “Sci-Fi Originals”, but they did advertise this quite a bit as new and never-before-seen.
Was meant to be a pilot for a proposed television series. After Rutger Hauer gave up on the movie, the series was sunk.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the holiday movie season was a quick breeze with little to no new releases to celebrate the most festive time of the year. One notable release was definitely not for children. The dark comedy flick Fatman stars Mel Gibson as a frazzled Santa Claus who is fighting to save his business of making toys and delivering them to children all over the world. Unbeknownst to him, a neglected and spoiled rich twelve-year old boy hires a hit man (played by Walton Goggins) to kill Santa after receiving a lump of coal for Christmas. Fatman was originally slated to release in theaters but ended up being released on numerous streaming platforms including Amazon Prime and On Demand. The movie received mixed reviews with many people describing the film as a wintery spaghetti western with solid performances from Gibson and Goggins.
For fans of the film or if you missed out during its initial release you can now see Gibson’s take on a cranky, crusty and not so jolly Saint Nick with the Blu-Ray release of Fatman. Not only do you get the Blu-Ray of the movie, but it comes with a Digital Code that you can send to your friends so they can watch it on a home device. In addition, the Blu-Ray features several extras including Deleted and Extended Scenes, Storyboards to Film and an Audio Commentary featuring the writing/directing Nelms brothers, Eshon and Ian, Producer Michelle Lang, Director of Photography Johnny Derango and of course the star of the film, Mel Gibson.
I’m not going to go deep into a review of the movie itself to avoid spoilers. This review involves the overall look and presentation of the Blu-Ray release. Right away I noticed how clean and the picture looked on my television. Your eyes will be treated to the beautiful settings where Fatman takes place. The majority of the movie was shot in Ottawa and the farm that is used as Santa’s base is a real farm where it has been owned through twelve generations of Canadians. The Nelms Brothers make great use of natural lighting to give that wintry look and feel. Every shot in the movie is crisp and the performances add to the emotion that is in the scene. The production team did an amazing job of creating a cold gritty world where the magical season of Christmas is losing its luster. You’ll get excited with every scene involving Gibson and Goggings as they give opposing performances but organically weave in the comedy to not make it too dark and depressing. The story itself is original and innovative as this is a take on Chris Cringle no storyteller would dare to write.
The sound of Fatman is mastered in Dolby Audio. If you have a great surround system or soundbar you’ll be hearing every little detail that is in the movie. You’ll hear the diverse soundtrack that won’t drive you crazy with endless Christmas tunes. You can even hear the breath coming from Walton Goggins during one scene in the film. The sound of the gunshots during the climactic battle scene are sharp and make you feel like you need to duck and cover behind your couch. Kudos to the sound designers for creating the right pitch and tone to add another layer of the film.
While the extras are skim, I’m always excited to read that there is an Audio Commentary for the home release of a film. When you watch Fatman with the Audio Commentary turned on you will hear right away that the participants are recording using Zoom or another online chat site (due to COVID restrictions). I enjoyed listening to Eshom and Ian Nelm’s approach to telling this story and all the decisions that were made from lighting to setting and casting. I’m not familiar with any of their previous work, but this film was a solid first impression for me. It’s great to hear Mel Gibson talk about his approach to Santa and how much fun he had working on this movie. He cracks jokes and at times bummed out when certain lines or scenes were taken out because they were too cheesy. The commentaries are insightful and informative. There was no pause to take a drink of water or catch a breath with this crew. The Storyboard extras will appeal to those who have an interest in how a movie is presented and how the shots will be scheduled. As for the Deleted and Extra Scenes they don’t offer anything that enhanced the movie, but rather gave you an extended look at a scene. These cuts were appropriate given the quick pacing of the movie.
Overall, the Fatman Blu-Ray edition is a nice present give to yourself or to a friend or family member who may enjoy this unique take of a dark comedy holiday film. It’s reasonably priced and has just enough to keep your entertainment level fat and jolly.
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Grace Thorsen, Taylor Sharpe, Ted Raimi
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Bruce Campbell is undeniably the King of B-Movies. He’s catapulted to the top of the genre in large part to his recurring portrayal as chainsaw wielding, boomstick carrying, demon killer Ashley Williams from the Evil Dead movies. His career has spanned for over thirty years. In the last ten years he’s had more mainstream appeal largely in part to his role in the Espionage series Burn Notice and his return to the Evil Dead world as Ash once again in both the Starz TV Series Ash vs. Evil Dead which lasted three seasons and the upcoming Evil Dead video game which was announced a few weeks ago expected to be released for the Playstation 4 and Playstation 5 in 2021. Bruce Campbell portrays characters that make the audience feel like they are a part of the ride. He is not afraid of getting downright goofy as much of his acting was influenced by The Three Stooges. In 2007, he came out with a movie that pokes fun at not only himself, but his career. That movie was called My Name Is Bruce.
As the title suggests, My Name Is Bruce is a tongue in cheek film about Bruce Campbell, his popularity and the blurred line between fiction and reality. The film is about a Goth teenager named Jeff, who happens to be a huge Bruce Campbell fan. Him and his friend meet up with two girls at an abandoned gravesite in the small mining town of Goldlick, Oregon. Jeff finds a circular object placed in front of what looks like to be a collapsed tunnel. Removing the object, Jeff accidentally summons the spirit of Guan-Di, who is the Chinese God War and an early settler of the town. With Guan-Di unleashed and killing it townsfolk one by one, Jeff decides to track down the one person he believes could defeat the evil spirit…..yep, you guessed it. Bruce Campbell.
While the events in Goldlick are happening, Bruce is in a movie studio shooting a sequel to the B-Movie Sci-Fi film Cave Alien. Frustrated by the lack of quality roles, being turned down by women and crushed over a divorce, Bruce threatens to fire his agent, Mills Toddner (played by Tem Raimi in one of three roles he plays in the film). Mills tells him that he has a surprise for him on his birthday. Bruce shrugs it off and heads back to his trailer for a night of drinking and calling his ex wife. Bruce hears a knock on his door and Jeff appears. He asks him to come with him, but Bruce refuses. Jeff resorts to knocking him out and putting him in the trunk of his car. Jeff drives back to Goldlick and lets Bruce out. After Bruce gives a lecture to the townsfolk about kidnapping a movie star, he is informed by Jeff that he called his agent and was told he was free. Bruce believes that this is the surprise Mills was talking about and believes he’s part of a new movie. Bruce plays along with it unbeknownst that the townspeople are serious.
After a hero’s welcome that is filled with food and drink, Bruce leads the townspeople to the cemetery. There he encounters Guan-Di. Realizing that this is not a movie, Bruce tells the people to retreat. From there he cowardly escapes from the town to let the townspeople deal with Guan-Di. The next morning Bruce receives a call from Jeff saying that he is going to fight Guan-Di himself since he is ultimately responsible for releasing him. Now Bruce must decide if he wishes to help Jeff or let him deal with the spirit himself.
This film is hilarious. While this will appeal to the most diehard Bruce Campbell fans, I think viewers who aren’t familiar with him or his work will get a kick out of this. There’s plenty of jokes that will keep the average comedy movie fan in their seats.
You can tell throughout the film that Bruce Campbell enjoys parodying himself. The fact that he depicts himself as an arrogant, cocky, selfish, womanizing and drunken actor who lives in a trailer and is getting burned by horrible acting parts. It’s the polar opposite of the typical Hollywood actor. You get into his head of what he deals with on a daily basis from crazed fans to slimy agents. He doesn’t skip a beat with his line delivery, his physical expressions and his candor. He does show a moral compass during the film as he gets to know Jeff and his mother, Kelly whom he immediately has an attraction for despite her shunning his advances and thinking he’s nothing more than a phony.
The rest of the cast is pretty small as it primarily centers around Bruce and the relationship he builds with Jeff and Kelly. Grace Thorsen plays Kelly. She turns in a decent performance although it didn’t find her convincing that she immediately felt an attraction for Bruce especially after berating him about he thinks the situation is a joke to him, but to the townspeople it’s not. Jeff is played by a kid named Taylor Sharpe. This is his only acting performance to date (according to IMDB). I can see why it’s his only performance. He definitely plays his role like a newcomer. He sounds dull and not too concerned about what has happened. The character of Jeff itself is strange. One minute he is all dressed up as a Goth kid and then the next he’s a regular kid blending in with the town. Eventually his Goth persona would become his hero alter ego when he makes the decision to battle Guan-Di. I will give him props for knowing his Bruce Campbell trivia and his collection of Bruce Campbell memorabilia in his room. Other than Campbell, the other best performance of the film goes to Ted Raimi who plays three different characters. Besides Mills Toddner, he plays the town painter who gripes about having to change the population number of the town and uses lazy methods to change it and he also plays Wing, the last descendent of the original Chinese immigrants that founded the town. Radical leftists will more than likely cry that his performance stereotypes Asians, but I didn’t see it that way. I found it funny that he warns the people about Guan-Di and begins to taunt them. He only appears in a couple scenes, but he would provide something that will help them in the battle with the Chinese God of War.
Speaking of Guan-Di, I think it was an interesting monster that Bruce had to deal with. He looked like a giant puppet that dangled on strings. I’m pretty sure it was the film’s intention to make the monster look cheap as it fits in with the B-Movie concept. Nevertheless it was good to see a little innovation in the bad guy and not make him another vampire or zombie.
After watching this film again, I would easily place this in my Top 10 Bruce Campbell movies. Yes, this film will largely appeal to his fan base, but there are those out there that will enjoy it if they are a fan of B-Movies. If you can show this movie to someone who has never seen a Bruce Campbell movie, you might be able to turn them into an immediate fan. If you’re able to do that, then it will be a testament to the power that this film really has.
Trivia (Per IMDB)
The exteriors for the town of “Goldlick” were actually shot on Bruce Campbell’s property where a back lot was built with the exteriors of all of the buildings. The interior shots were all done on a sound stage.
According to the DVD commentary, most of the Bruce Campbell memorabilia in Jeff’s room was real, including a spare Brisco County Jr. costume that Campbell owned. A few fake items, such as a poster for “The Stoogitive,” were made to fill up space.
There are many mentions and references to Bruce Campbell’s other films. Examples are phrases ‘sugar baby’, ‘groovy’ and ‘boomstick’ along with name checking of people like Sam Raimi (director of the ‘Evil Dead’ trilogy).
The rude man in the wheelchair was based on a real person Bruce Campbell met.
Writers: Irwin Yablans (Story), C. Courtney Joyner (Screenplay)
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Lane Smith, Chelsea Field, Lincoln Kirkpatrick, Tom Everett
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Well readers, we’ve reached the final review in Guilty Pleasure Cinema’s Horror Movie Month special. Hope you enjoyed reading them up to this point. If you’ve been keeping up with each review this week, you may have realized that I picked a movie based on a genre of Horror Movies. You may have also noticed that all these movies came out in the 80s. For the final film, I decided to go with the old-fashioned ghost story and yes it was released in the 80s. It was a limited release movie and the directing debut of Renny Harlin, the man who would go on to make blockbuster action movies such as Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger as well as the third highest grossing Nightmare on Elm Street movie in the franchise in Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. It was this film that got Harlin hired to do Nightmare 4. Buckle up because the last film in our special is 1988’s Prison!
The plot is simple and straight to the point. Due to a suspension of funding for a new state of the art prison in Wyoming, the Board of Prisons is left no choice but to re-open the Creedmore Prison, a prison that was shut down twenty years ago. The prison will be run by Ethan Sharpe (Lane Smith), who knows the prison well as he was a corrections officer when it was open. Inmates from all over the state are transferred to this prison and are used as workers to restore the prison to full working capacity. Two inmates Burke (Viggo Mortensen) and Sandos (Andre DeShields) are assigned to break open the Execution Chamber that has been sealed off. As they break through with pickaxes a flash of blue light appears and starts to suck Burke in. Suddenly, there’s flashes of electricity, glass breaking and boilers flaming. The inmates have released a spirit believed to have been the last person executed at the prison and looks to seek his revenge on not only the prison but the man who helped send him to the electric chair, Sharpe.
I heard of this film during Renny Harlin’s interview in the Nightmare on Elm Street documentary Never Sleep Again. He talked about this film as his first film and that he used household effects and tricks to make the movie look good. The movie was a limited theatrical release in the United States and the United Kingdom. Its total gross was a little over $300,000 on a reported budget of $1.5 million. It was released on VHS in 1988. The movie was never released on DVD or Blu Ray until 2013 when Shout Factory acquired the distribution rights and made it available. I purchased the movie last December.
My first reaction when watching this movie was mixed. I thought it felt shallow and bare feeling that there needed to be a lot more meat to the bones. While researching movies to review for this special, I saw Prison in my library of movies and decided to give it another chance to see if this was something worth reviewing. I watched it again and enjoyed it for its atmosphere, use of special effects and creative death scenes. I watched it a third time and I convinced myself that this is a great movie for this special. There’s a certain quality to this movie that I feel has not been replicated when it comes to making a supernatural film.
The mood is everything in Prison. An air of confinement overtakes the film as soon the buses roll into the yard to drop the work crew off at their new home. The look, sound and smell of penitentiary life hangs all over the place. If you’ve watched any of Renny Harlin’s movies he really loves mood when it comes to people and the situations they get themselves involved in.
Lane Smith is billed as the lead in this movie as he is the veteran and recognized actor at the time (Vigo Mortensen was not well known). His performance of Sharpe is a troupe of wardens in movies. He is a hard nose, bug eyed, short tempered warden who is haunted by memories of the executed prisoner who spirit is alive and wreaking havoc on him. It takes a toll on him and his ability to manage the prison and keep things under his control. His paranoia deepens to where he starts to behave irrationally and barks orders that even draw concern looks on the guard captains. Smith has played various characters with strong authority throughout his career and this is no exception.
Vigo Mortensen plays the prisoner who is followed throughout the movie, Burke. Not much is known about Burke only that he is famous for stealing cars and is seen as a sort of “celebrity” within the prison. Mortensen plays Burke as a quiet inmate who keeps to himself in the beginning. He befriends two inmates, his cell mate Cresus (Lincoln Kirkpatrick) and Lasagna (Ivan Kane). During the movie, he becomes a hero when he saves the life of an inmate in solitary confinement from burning alive from the evil spirit when the cowardly guards refused to do so. He is the polar opposite of Sharpe. It’s the perfect role reversal of the criminal being the hero and the law enforcement officer being the villain.
The other lead in the movie is Chelsea Field who plays Katherine Walker who works internally at the Bureau of Prisons and is overseeing the re-opening. She doesn’t like the fact that the board put Sharpe in charge of the prison referring to him as an “Old Dinosaur.” While she has attempted to work with Sharpe, she quickly realizes that she is being shut down by him at every turn especially when the prisoner body count starts to accumulate. She takes it upon herself to find out everything she can about the prisons history and Sharpe’s role in it. Field pops up in the movie from time to time, but I think gives a decent performance.
I love physical special effects and there is plenty of that in Prison. The lightning looks homemade, but authentic and the death scenes are innovative and make great use of the surroundings the impending victims are in. I could tell that the kill scenes in Nightmare on Elm Street 4 drew inspiration from Prison. The only death scene I had a gripe on was the smoking prisoner being burned alive. While it was indeed creative and intense, there were a few shots where you could see a dummy head just rotating its head from side to side.
As I do in most of my reviews, I try not to spoil the ending. I will say that the ending has been done before in a couple ghost themed movies I’ve seen, but I feel is satisfying. It brings a sense of closure to the story. Harlin seems to wrap up his movies by bringing closure or a sense of relief that things are over.
Overall, I would check out Prison. It’s a fine horror movie that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of a blockbuster horror movie. I’ve watched a lot of Renny Harlin’s movies and if you were to ask me to give a list of his five best movies, this would be on the list. His introductory film showcases his talent for vision and atmosphere that would be seen throughout his filmmaking career. Some good, some bad.
That concludes the Guilty Pleasure Cinema Horror Movie Month special. I hope you enjoyed these reviews. It took a lot of time and effort to watch, write and record these pieces, but I have to say that this was fun to do. The big accomplishment I hope to achieve from these is that you go out and watch these movies and see what you think.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
Most of the inmate extras in the film were portrayed by real-life inmates from a nearby prison to add realism to their performances. The armed guards on the towers were, of course, armed with live ammo at the time. Stephen E. Little (Rhino) was a former Hollywood stuntman, who was still a member of SAG, who happened to be serving time for manslaughter that he committed during a bar-room brawl.
The prison where the movie was shot, the former Wyoming State Prison located in Rawlins, Wyoming, has daily tours and much of the set remains intact from when crews filmed there in 1987.
The electric chair (which was never used in Wyoming) was built into the actual gas chamber of the Wyoming Prison and the death scenes were filmed there. The original chair, was carefully removed and an electric chair was built in its place. During the shooting, Viggo Mortensen’s convulsions were so violent the arms of the chair were broken and needed to be repaired.
Chelsea Field was supposed to do a scene in a bathtub but refused to do it.
Viggo Mortensen did the bulk of his own stunts. Moreover, stunt coordinator Kane Hodder gave Mortensen an honorary stuntman’s shirt at the completion of the shooting for this film.
The high-altitude sun in Wyoming caused shooting issues in the scene where the prisoners are stripped to their underwear and forced to stand outside all day. Due to technical issues, the scene was shot over and over and the prisoners in the background become sunburned on one side of their bodies only as extras were not provided sunblock.
The water that Viggo Mortensen runs through in his underwear was real. That part of the prison had been flooded for years, the temperature in the room was below 50F and the water temperature was 46F. Mortensen’s shivering is real. He insisted on shooting the scenes without a double, and only at being forced to relented for some close-up scenes.
Before casting Viggo Mortensen, Thom Matthews auditioned and was being considered for the part of Burke.
Lane Smith remained in character as Warden Sharpe throughout the duration of filming.
Starring: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Scott Bloom
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Welcome to the second week of Horror Movie Month on “Guilty Pleasure Cinema!” For this week I wanted to review a film from one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. Larry Cohen was a pioneer and maverick in the film industry. He made all his movies his way and didn’t let anyone stand in his way. He was known for shooting movies on location without permits. Cohen’s films contain a diverse range of concepts and narratives that are weaved into storylines with strange creatures and offbeat characters. This is perhaps the most popular film in Larry Cohen’s filmography. It is a movie that is still fresh and relatable almost thirty-five years since its release. The concept may be goofy, but you will enjoy the ride this movie provides once you push the Play button on your remote control. If you ask most movie fans to name one Larry Cohen movie off the top of their heads, the majority will say this title, The Stuff! So, without further ado, here is the review to the 1985 horror cult classic The Stuff!
The movie starts with a railroad worker noticing a white bubbly substance coming from the snowy ground. He takes a taste of it to see what it is. To his delight it tastes very sweet with the texture of yogurt. Soon the substance is being marketed to consumers as “The Stuff” which becomes a phenomenon. “The Stuff” is marketed as being creamy, filling and with no calories. You can find “The Stuff” at supermarkets, small vendor carts and even a Dairy Queen style drive thru. While people are going crazy over “The Stuff” there are people highly suspicious of this addictive edible food. First there’s a young boy named Jason who wakes up in the middle of the night looking for a snack. He opens the refrigerator door to see a container of “The Stuff” moving. He tries to convince his family that there is something alive within it, but they are dismissive of his claims. Jason gets paranoid that he vandalizes a supermarket by destroying the massive amounts of “The Stuff” that is being sold. The other person who is skeptical of “The Stuff” is a former FBI agent turned industrial saboteur named David “Mo” Rutherford (who tells people that he got the nickname from whenever people gave him money he always wanted mo!). He is hired by numerous corporate executives of the ice cream industry to find out what is in “The Stuff” and destroy it. He befriends the head marketer of “The Stuff” Nicole and they set out to investigate the contents. Mo’s efforts reveal that “The Stuff” is a living parasite that takes over people’s brains and then mutates the host into zombies. Mo encounters Jason and the three of them are determined to destroy “The Stuff” before it consumes more and more people.
The Stuff is my second favorite movie in Larry Cohen’s filmography (Q: The Winged Serpent is first). It took me a long time to find interest in checking it out. When I first saw the cover art, it didn’t appeal to me. Mainly because I wasn’t familiar with Larry Cohen’s work nor was I interested in low budget horror movies. After seeing the movie pop up on several streaming services, I decided to give it a chance and boy did I not regret it. I enjoyed every frame, scene, characters and effects. It made me wish I had seen this movie a lot sooner than I did.
Like most of Cohen’s films, The Stuff is not just a horror movie, but a social commentary. Cohen made this movie at a time in the eighties where people consumed everything. The eighties was the birth of many electronics such as video game consoles, Walkman’s, VCRs, etc. It wasn’t just electronics people were craving, it was the current fashion trends, fast food restaurants popping up at every street corner. With these new products came heavy advertising and marketing. This was during Reaganomics where the American economy was booming, and people were spending their hard-earned money of anything they can get their hands on. Cohen based The Stuff off the yogurt craze going on at the time. People were obsessed with yogurt because it was advertised as being healthy, filling and tasty. Add heavy advertising to that and you have people become hooked on it turning them into consumer zombies. They consume and consume while the companies that make it rake in the profits.
Michael Moriarty once again returns in a Larry Cohen picture. He follows up his astounding performance in Q: The Winged Serpent with another memorable performance. I loved his portrayal of Mo Rutherford. He has the smarts of a detective and the tongue of a salesman. He’s smooth talking, confident and keeps his eye on the ball. What starts as a simple job to expose “The Stuff” to his employers turns into a national crisis that he must find a way to put an end. The rest of the cast is convincing in their roles. Andrea Marcovicci plays Nicole, the attractive and smart marketer of “The Stuff” who joins Mo in his investigation and become lovers. Garrett Morris plays ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs, the junk food magnet that Mo befriends while visiting a town that has been desolated by relocation of jobs and the great Paul Sorvino as Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears who leads the operation into destroying “The Stuff” and warning the public about the dangers of consuming it.
The movie is a pure 80s movie in terms of look, music, effects and overall style. You have the bright neon lights of “The Stuff” logo along with its catchy music and commercials. There’s even an appearance from the old lady in the Wendy’s commercials where instead of screaming, “Where’s the beef?” she cries, “Where’s the Stuff?” The effects of The Stuff creature vary throughout the film. In some parts of the film, it looks like a mix between frozen yogurt and marshmallow. In scenes where it bursts through walls, it milky and watery. Cohen does a great job showing that the creature doesn’t take on a basic form, rather it can come in multiple forms and textures.
The Stuff is a rare find. It should’ve been a much more mainstream film considering the subject matter. This is a movie that still holds up after all this time. You can relate this movie to everything that is going on in our world today as consumerism and Capitalism hasn’t slowed down. It’s an iconic B-Movie that stacks right up there with many of the underrated greats. This is the most recognizable film of Larry Cohen’s work and the one movie that people associate Cohen with.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
According to audio commentary on the 2000 Anchor Bay DVD, the scene in the motel where the Stuff comes out of the mattress and pillows and attacks the man on the wall and ceiling was shot in a room that could turn upside down, allowing the Stuff to move up and down the wall. It was exactly the same room used in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) when Johnny Depp’s character Glen is sucked into his bed and his blood is regurgitated back out onto the ceiling.
According to Larry Cohen himself, in some scenes in which the Stuff chases characters, a foam made of blended fish bones was used. It stank so much that, as soon as the shots were done, the actors ran to a river in order to bathe and get rid of the stench.
Garrett Morris was asked about this film when he participated in AV Club’s “Random Roles” interview series. He said the production was “crazy,” and when the interviewer noted Larry Cohen’s history as “a character,” and asked Morris what he was like, Morris said that “I was taught growing up that if you don’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all,” with no further comment about Cohen
Arsenio Hall was considered for the role of “Chocolate Chip” Charlie W. Hobbs.
David ‘Mo’ Rutherford tells ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs to contact agent Frank Herbert from the FBI. Frank Herbert was an American science fiction writer best known for the novel Dune and its five sequels.
Michael Moriarty (David ‘Mo’ Rutherford) and Paul Sorvino (Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears) went on to appear in 31 episodes of Law & Order (1990) together from 1991 to 1992 as Executive A.D.A. Ben Stone and Sergeant Phil Cerreta, respectively.
The original cut of the film was said to be much longer and described by Director Larry Cohen as more “dense and sophisticated”. Feeling that the film was too long, it was cut to increase the pace of the film. There was a romantic scene between Moriarty and Marcovicci that took place in a hotel room in the original cut.
Starring: John Blyth Barrymore, Buddy Daniels Friedman, Beverly Washburn, Ann Robinson, Jim Tavare, Len Wein, T.J. Storm, Mel Novak
Warning: Possible Spoilers In This Review
Hello, readers! Once again it’s time for another special edition of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema!” This past Labor Day weekend I had the opportunity to watch the latest release from author/writer/filmmaker Donald F. Glut. For those who may not have heard of the name Donald F. Glut before, let me give you a short biography on his career. Glut started his filmmaking career in 1953 making short unauthorized adaptations of characters such as Superman, Spider-Man and Dracula to name a few. He gained notoriety in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland, which was a genre-specific film magazine that was started by publisher James Warren and editor Forrest J. Ackerman in 1958. From there he went on to become a screenwriter, mostly writing for children’s television shows and cartoons from G.I. Joe to Land of the Lost, pretty much any 80s cartoon show you could think of, he wrote for. Glut is most notable for being an author as he has written around sixty five novels that have been published. His biggest work was writing the novel adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back (coincidentally, he and George Lucas were classmates at the University of Southern California). Today, Donald F. Glut continues to make movies based on his own writings. His latest release is an anthology tribute to Mary Shelly’s iconic novel Frankenstein entitled Tales of Frankenstein.
Tales of Frankenstein consists of four short stories based upon Donald F. Glut’s book of the same name. Each story takes place in a different time period and they revolve around descendants of the notorious doctor whom created a monster that is a legendary staple in the genre of horror. The introduction of the film shows Frankenstein’s monster roaming the outside only to discover a portrait of its creator. From there the portrait appears in each tale going in chronological order of the time piece. At the end of each story, the Frankenstein monster appears in the wraparound segments to transition to the next story and so on.
The first story presented in the film is titled “My Creation, My Beloved,” takes place in 1887 Bavaria, which stars Buddy Daniels Friedman as Dr. Gregore Frankenstein, a descendant of Victor. Furious over his family’s legacy over Victor’s original creation, Gregore hopes to restore the family name by successfully creating a male and female creation. This is a strong introductory story to the film as it pays homage to not only the original Frankenstein story but to the visual adaptations made by the legendary Hammer Films series. The performances are solid with Friedman able to carry the weight of the story as he is determined to succeed where his family tree had failed. His performance is filled with manic moments as well as some quirky moments. There are some nice visuals and the setting gives an authentic look and feel of 1887 Bavaria. The story has a nice twist ending that rivals those seen in the Tales From The Crypt television series.
The second story deviates from the Frankenstein story, but instead takes place in the Frankenstein universe. Taking place in Switzerland in 1910, “Crawler From The Grave” is a tale which involves Lenore Frankenstein (Tatiana DeKhtyar) who is grieving over the passing over her husband, Helmut Frankenstein (Len Wein in his final film roll). From there, Lenore receives a call from Helmut’s nemesis named Vincent (John Blyth Barrymore) asking about a ring that was buried with him wearing it. The rival sets out to acquire the ring from the grave of the deceased husband only to be followed by something that is not quite human which seems to be seeking the ring as well. Features a supporting cast including Beverly Washburn and Ann Robinson, “Crawler From The Grave” focuses on flashbacks to show the relationship between Vincent and Helmut and from there deals with Vincent acquiring the ring and the curse that comes with it. This story is dialogue heavy with Barrymore taking the mantle of screen time with not much in the way of scares until the very end. Len Wein also delivers a sobering performance in his final film role as Helmut Frankenstein which is a great send off to his incredible career. It’s a lengthy segment that could’ve been balanced out by trimming some of the backstory and including more of the aftermath of Vincent acquiring the ring. The effects at the climax of the story are decent and the music provides the dread that is about to come in the end.
The film-noir flavored “Madhouse of Death” is the third tale in this anthology which takes places in 1948 Los Angeles. The story follows private investigator Jack Anvill (Jamisin Matthews) whose Jalopy breaks down on a country road. From there he walks to the nearest house hoping to get access to a phone. He is greeted at the door by Mogambo (T.J. Storm) who instructs him to stay where he’s at while he asks permission from the homeowner. The owner is Dr. Mortality (Mel Novak) whom is experimenting with inserting a human brain into an ape. To make Jack comfortable he is attended to by three beautiful Chinese women who ensures that his focus is on them and not what Dr. Mortality is about to do to him. While it was great seeing Mel Novak in another villanous role as the determined Dr. Mortality, “Madhouse of Death” is the weakest story in this anthology. I understand Glut wanting to mix film noir with classic horror, which he does accomplish visually, it overall suffers from the tone of the story. I know this is supposed to be the comedic relief of the film, but the humor was amiss. In addition, the performance of the lead actor Matthews is flat as his narration sounds like he’s reading directly from the script which gives his character a boring tone. The portrayal of Jack Anvill doesn’t come off as likeable, but rather annoying. I honestly was hoping for a clever demise.
For the finale of Tales From Frankenstein, we get a reinterpretation of the Frankenstein story taking place in 1957 Transylvania. In “Dr. Karstein’s Creation,” Jim Tavare stars as the titular character as he moves into an abandoned castle in Transylvania in the hopes of creating a new life using various body parts of deceased human beings in order to duplicate the success Victor Frankenstein had with his monster. Karstein recruits teenage local Carl (Justin Hoffmeister) to be his assistant. From there they collect the parts they need to assemble their creature. This is my favorite story in Tales of Frankenstein as it gives a fresh take on the tale while paying homage to Mary Shelly. Tavare is great as the cunning and determined Dr. Karstein while Hoffmeister plays the somewhat oblivious Carl who thinks he’ll be riding on Karstein’s success only for him to learn a very hard lesson in the end. The story is filled with beautiful imagery, franctic action, just the right amount of blood and gore and plenty of humor. “Dr. Karstein’s Creation” is the perfect closer to the anthology.
Overall, Tales From Frankenstein is an acceptable anthology series that pays tribute to the classic monster. This movie is strictly for those horror fans who love the early era of stories and cinema. Those who aren’t keen with Frankenstein will likely pass on this. Despite the off balanced pacing, there is enough here to enjoy from the performances to the vintage settings and the reimagined tales. Donald F. Glut brings to life his novel in his own cinematic adaptation and you have to appreciate him for doing just that. Its what sets apart auteurs from the rest of the artists.
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.
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).
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.
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