Brain Damage

Official Poster

Release Date: May 25, 1988 (France)

Genre: Horror, Comedy

Director: Frank Henenlotter  

Writer: Frank Henenlotter

Starring: Rick Hearst, Gordon MacDonald, Jennifer Lowry, Theo Barnes, Lucille Saint-Peter, John Zacherle (Voice/Uncredited)

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

I’ve been wanting to do this review for a very long time. This happens to be one of my favorite Horror/Drive In/B Movies of all time. It was done by the great Frank Henelotter, who did the Basket Case trilogy (See my review of the first Basket Case movie for Halloween) and Frankenhooker. What’s great about Frank is that he’s only made a half dozen movies, but they’re all creative, original and super fun to watch. I rather have a filmmaker I like make six great movies than a filmmaker like Ridley Scott, who’s made fifty plus movies and thirty-five of them are forgettable. So, without further ado, here is the review for Frank’s 1988 movie about drug addiction in a creepy, funny style titled Brain Damage!

The movie is about a guy named Brian who is laying in bed feeling sick. When he gets up, he notices blood on his pillow all the way down to his bedsheet. He feels the back of his neck which is also bleeding. Unsure of what happens, he lays down again. Suddenly, he starts going on a psychedelic trip where he sees bright lights and colors. Knowing that someone or something is causing this, he asks for this person to reveal themselves. From behind his neck appears a long black/bluish phallic looking parasite named Aylmer (pronounced Elmer). Aylmer reveals to Brian that he has a juice in his body when injected directly into the brain will give the person a euphoric feeling. Brian starts to get addicted to Aylmer’s juice which causes him to isolate himself from his girlfriend, Barbara and his brother, Mike. As Brian goes around town dancing and living it up with this aura in his brain, unbeknownst to him Aylmer kills anyone near him and eats their brain. Brian is eventually confronted by an elderly man named Morris, who was Aylmer’s former host and warns Brian that Aylmer is looking to take over him and by continuing to be on his juice, his brain will continue to turn into mush and become dinner for the hungry parasite. Brian must find a way to get control of himself before he becomes Aylmer’s next victim.

Rick Hearst in “Brain Damage”

As the title suggests, the movie is about drugs, drug addition and the effects it has on the person taking them and their loved ones. According to Frank Henelotter, he came up with this idea after having a bad trip taking cocaine. Henelotter makes a visually compelling monster movie with a strong message. He takes the audience for a ride through the mind and body of a junkie. You go through the highs (pun intended) and the lows of the character. In between the movie you’ll be caked with blood, gore, brains and some dark humor.

Let’s start with the acting. The film is primarily focused on the two characters of Brian and Aylmer. Rick Hearst plays the protagonist, Brian. This was his first movie and does a dang great job of playing Brian. You don’t know much about Brian in terms of what he does for a living, where he came from. Brian gets easily manipulated once he starts getting high which can be common among addicts. When he goes on his trips, he’s very child like as he’s amazed by the colors and lights around him and how he can feel the music. Hearst plays a convincing addict through his physical appearance, his facial expressions and the hallucinations he sees. You’ll laugh, cry and be horrified by what he goes through. Next, you have Aylmer, who is voiced by the great John Zacherle (AKA Zacherle the Ghoul). If you’re not familiar with Zacherle, he was the host of ‘Shock Theater’ back in the late 50s/early 60s when NBC would play the Universal monster movies on television. Zacherle’s voice is soft and sweet which he gives to Aylmer. Aylmer’s voice is soothing to Brian which makes him feel calm around the devious creature. Aylmer is smart in not revealing his intentions to Brian until a crucial scene in the film. He has the characteristics of a snake. He slithers and sneaks around when in hiding but strikes quickly when he is ready to attack. The great use of stop motion animation, puppetry and Zacherle’s voice makes Aylmer one of the best movie monsters I’ve seen in a long time.

Scene From “Brain Damage”

Like his first movie Basket Case, Brain Damage has a similar look and style to it. It’s shot on 35MM film. The atmosphere is gritty as you follow Brian through the various locations in an inner city. Henelotter fills every scene with as much detail to look at. No shot is hollow. You’ll be immersed by the transitional shot of Brian looking up at his ceiling fan which slowly morphs into an eyeball, or the blue colored water which fills up his bedroom as he slowly submerges into it. And like his previous film, there is enough blood and gore to make you squeamish. The most powerful scene in the movie (at least to me) is the confrontation Brian has with Aylmer in the bathroom at a cheap motel. After Aylmer reveals that he needs brains to stay alive, Brian refuses to go along with it and will no longer ask to get high which prompts Aylmer to challenge him that if he doesn’t get a brain, then Brian can’t have his juice. Brian agrees thinking he’ll easily win. There are several dissolve shots of Brian going through severe withdrawal symptoms that are common in addicts who haven’t gotten a fix or are detoxing. Each fade away shot shows Brian in more agony than the previous. On top of that you have Aylmer who gleefully taunts him which doesn’t help the situation. It’s heartbreaking to see Brian struggle, but it shows how powerful drug addiction is.

I’m not certain what the budget was for this movie, but Henelotter has always worked with a very small budget. He squeezes every dollar in his budget and this movie is no exception. The visuals and special effects work are so impressive that you don’t believe this was done on the cheap. I’ve always believed that you don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars to create a great movie. If you have the right story and actors and if the filmmaker can generate a coherent story, then you’ve got a great movie.

Aylmer (Voiced by John Zacherle)

Brain Damage ranks very high (no pun intended) on my all-time favorite movies. More than thirty years later, this movie is completely relevant to the issues of drugs and addiction that we face in our world today. This movie gives you a dark, gory and comedic tale of one who succumbs to drugs. While this movie is not kid appropriate, I believe is a good movie to scare straight anyone who thinks drugs are cool. After watching Brain Damage it will make them think twice before doing something that will give them a short ride, but a long wreck in the end.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • During the fellatio scene the crew walked out of the production refusing to work on the scene. A similar incident happened during the shooting of Basket Case (1982).
  • Brian has an unexplained cut on his lip all throughout the film. It was a part of a subplot involving him getting into a fight the night before defending his brother in a bar fight. But due to time restraints the explanation scenes were never filmed.
  • In a 2016 interview, Frank Hennenlotter said one of his favorite things about shooting in 35mm was that he couldn’t misplace the camera as easily as he did with the 16mm camera he used on Basket Case.
  • Film debut of Rick Hearst.

AUDIO CLIPS

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

The Rookie

Official Poster

Release Date: December 7, 1990

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime  

Director: Clint Eastwood  

Writers: Boaz Yakin, Scott Spiegel  

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

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

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

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

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

Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen in “The Rookie.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen in “The Rookie.”

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

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

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

AUDIO CLIPS

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

Tales of Frankenstein

Official Poster.

Release Date: October 19, 2018 (Limited)

Genre: Horror, Comedy

Director: Donald F. Glut

Writer: Donald F. Glut

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

Warning: Possible Spoilers In This Review

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

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

Scene from “Tales of Frankenstein.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRVIA (Per IMDB): N/A

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

Official Blu Ray Cover. Courtesy of Scream Factory

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

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

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

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

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

Scene from “Cat From Hell.”

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

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

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

Masterminds

Official Poster.

Release Date: August 22, 1997

Genre: Action, Thriller, Comedy

Director: Roger Christian

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

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

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

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

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

Patrick Stewart plays antagonist Raef Bentley in “Masterminds.”

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

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

Vincent Kartheiser plays protagonist and computer whiz Ozzie Paxton.

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

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

Patrick Stewart and Katie Stuart in “Masterminds.”

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

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

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

AUDIO CLIPS

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

Meet Wally Sparks

Meet Wally Sparks

Release Date: January 31, 1997

Genre: Comedy

Director: Peter Baldwin  

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

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

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burt Reynolds plays Dangerfield’s boss, Larry Spencer.

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

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

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

Dangerfield showing off his dance moves.

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

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

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

AUDIO CLIPS

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

Escape From L.A. Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray Review

New Artwork Cover for Collector’s Edition of “Escape From L.A.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic may have put movie theaters on hold, it’s not stopping video companies from releasing new titles for fans to own. Shout Factory is no exception as they continue to release new Collector’s Editions of movies. This week they released a new title in their growing John Carpenter library starring one of his most iconic characters ever written for film. I’m talking of course about antihero Snake Plissken as he goes from the Big Apple to the City of Angels in the 1996 film “Escape From L.A.!”

“Escape From L.A” was pretty much a remake/retelling of the first movie. Set in 2013, Snake is once again captured and is tasked by the government to rescue the rogue daughter of the President of the United States whom is in possession of a device that could obliterate the world. The film was known for its near shot for shot resemblance of its predecessor complete with a big named cast for the time and dated effects. It’s $50 million budget was the biggest ever for a Carpenter movie. The film released to mixed reviews from critics and fans and recuperated half of its money at the box office.

Kurt Russell returns as Snake Plissken in “Escape From L.A.”

Shout Factory’s new Collector’s Edition of “Escape From L.A.” restores the film in 4K using the original negative and includes several new interviews with the cast and crew along with the Theatrical Trailer all in a special box with a reversible cover sleeve. Shout Factory continues to impress me with its original artwork. The color scheme made the film look bold and futuristic. As I do with all the Collector’s Edition movies from Shout Factory, I reverse the cover art on the Blu Ray box so I have the original art on the box and the official theatrical poster inside the Blu Ray sleeve. It’s a habit of mine, but I do it out of appreciation as I reflect on the film’s origins and its revival.

Reversible Cover Sleeve Features The Original Poster.

 I just finished watching the film. Although I do not have a 4K television the transfer of the film is slick. The colors and the lighting of the movie really come out onto the screen. One thing I was clearly looking for while watching this was how the cheap effects of the original print would look on this new transition. The scene where Snake travels to Los Angeles via submarine looks smoother and hides away some of the dated CGI. Another scene that improved from its previous theatrical and video counterparts is the motorcycle chase scene where Snake jumps onto a truck. That scene was cleaned up to make it not look like an obvious blue/green screen scene. While these are much wanted improvements, there are some scenes that still stick out like sore thumbs. The infamous surfing scene looks glossy and colorful but does not hold up. Overall, it was great revisiting this movie even if it’s nothing more than a doppelganger of its predecessor.

As for the bonus extras, there are a total of six new interviews featuring certain members of the cast and crew. The interviews feature Stacy Keach, Bruce Campbell, frequent Carpenter actor Peter Jason, Cuervo Jones himself, George Corraface, Special Effects Artist Jim McPherson and Visual Effects Artist David Jones. The Stacy Keach interview is rather short but talks about his relationship with John Carpenter and how he approached his character of Commander Malloy. He does talk about a personal moment on the film that changed his life, but I won’t spoil it. The Bruce Campbell interview is an audio only interview with clips of his performance and stills of the makeup he had to put on for his character. He provides some great insight on his experience doing film which was contrast from Stacy Keach’s experience. The interview does sound dated as he mentions that he recently worked with Kurt Russell again on “Sky High” (which came out in 2005). Peter Jason, George Corraface, Jim McPherson and David Jones have the longest interviews and they all talked about their background, previous jobs and how they joined the project. I have to say the McPherson and Jones interviews were my favorites because they had some great stories on set as well as how they approached their roles.

Kurt Russell and Peter Fonda in “Escape From L.A.”

The biggest disappointment from this Collector’s Edition release is there are no audio commentary tracks for the movie. I love audio commentaries and I put them on during my second viewings of a new release. It would have been great to have John Carpenter reflect on making the film and how he feels about it today. If they couldn’t get Carpenter to do a commentary, they could’ve gone after anyone else from the cast and crew. I’m surprised they didn’t ask any of the interviewees to provide a commentary on their experience and stories.

Once again Shout Factory does an impressive job of bringing a cult classic back to life and in the best format possible. Unlike The Surgeon General of Beverly Hills who botches his patients and requires numerous organ transplants, the facelift of this film is a success. Even if you don’t have a 4K television, you’ll be in awe at its look and the bonus extras and packaging give you the full experience of enjoying Snake Plissken’s next adventure. The Collector’s Edition of “Escape From L.A” is a great addition to their ever-growing library of John Carpenter films.