Pawn Sacrifice

Official Poster

Release Date: September 25, 2015  

Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport  

Director: Edward Zwick  

Writers: Steven Knight (Screenplay), Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson and Steven Knight (Story)

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Live Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

For this review of Guilty Pleasure Cinema I decided to go with a genre that I’ve not done a review for. I went with a Biopic film. I enjoy Biopic films as they give you a cinematic view of a person or a historical event. I went with an individual biopic. This biopic is based on a person that is arguably the best at what he did. What he did was play Chess. He not only became the first (and only) American to win the World Championship, but he unlocked centuries of secrets that were contained in the game. I’m referring to Bobby Fischer.

I’ve been an amateur Chess player for over a year and I’ve been fascinated with Bobby Fischer as an individual. I’ve read many books on him as well as the award-winning HBO documentary Bobby Fischer Against The World. He is a man shrouded in mystery and lived in his own world which consists of 64 squares and 16 pieces. At age fifteen he became the youngest United States Chess Champion. By the time he was twenty-nine, he won the 1972 World Championship against Soviet Champion Boris Spassky. The match is hailed as the only “physical” battle of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The match soared Chess into mainstream popularity. Fischer became a rock star. Right as he won the title, he went into seclusion never playing another professional game until twenty years later. In 2015, a biopic about Fischer and the ’72 Championship was released in limited theaters called Pawn Sacrifice!

Pawn Sacrifice chronicles Fischer’s interest in Chess as a young boy to winning his first United States Chess Championship to his preparation for the World Championship against Spassky. His frosty relationship with his mother, his early signs of paranoia and his all-out desire to be the best in the world weave into the plot.  Directed by Edward Zwick whose credits include numerous critically acclaimed films including Glory, Legends of the Fall, Courage Under Fire, and The Last Samurai the cast includes Tobey Magurie as Bobby Fischer, Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky, Peter Sarsgaard as Father Bill Lombardy, Fischer’s assistant and backup player and Michael Stuhlbarg as Paul Marshall who becomes Fischer’s lawyer.

Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer in “Pawn Sacrifice”

Let me go ahead and get the negatives out of this movie first before going into the reasons why I enjoy this film. It’s a flawed historical account of Fischer’s rise to Chess immortality. There are a lot of inaccuracies during the timeline of events. I won’t document all the inaccuracies I found out due to not giving out spoilers (although I warn about potential spoilers). I understand that biopic films can’t reveal a full narrative unless you plan on having a four plus hour movie. I think the film trims the fat in the wrong places.

Instead what Pawn Sacrifice does is gives you a psychological story. Throughout the film you watch Fischer slowly deteriorate mentally from his constant studying of the game, to his heightened senses which breaks his concentration to his ever growing distrust for those around him to tearing up telephones and breaking any equipment he thinks the Russians can use to spy on him. Yes, the film focuses on Fischer, but it also focuses on his opponent Spassky. Both are considered the best Chess players by their respective homelands. Both are used as pawns to their countries to show off the superiority of each ideological concept. Each play their own psychological games. For Fischer its constant demands on the rules, setting and prize money. For Spassky it’s doing things like standing up and slowly pacing causing noises to interrupt Fischer’s train of thought.  There are moments in the film where Spassky is suspicious of his assistant’s motives and reasonings. All Spassky wants to do is play Fischer in a battle of wits and skill.

As far as the story, the film starts out with Bobby as a young boy garnering an interest in Chess to his quick rise to being the youngest Chess Grandmaster in history to his legendary match with Boris Spassky for the World Championship. The third act of the movie is the dramatization of the Championship match. The original match consisted of twenty four games with Fischer needing to get to twelve and half points to win the title. What director Edward Zwick does is not bore you with highlights from all twenty four games, but rather shows you the important matches in the game along with some of the issues that arise during the match.

Peter Sarsgaard and Tobey Maguire

The cast of the movie is small which is fine since it centralizes on the two figures. Tobey Maguire is not the ideal actor to play Fischer, but I think he did a good job with the performance. Maguire is short is height compared to the real Bobby Fischer who was tall and lanky. I give the makeup department an ‘A+’ for getting Fischer’s hair and facial features. Maguire gets Fischer’s unique walk down to a science. The voice was hard to nail down since Fischer spoke with a soft Brooklyn accent, but it came out in many scenes where Fischer would be fired up about the Russian’s tactics in Chess and complaints about competitive disadvantage and some tense moments between him, Bill Lombardi and Paul Marshall.  Maguire commanded the screen throughout the film with his tactics which were humorous at times including waiting to the last second to make his first move against a Russian opponent and stopping the clock with one second to spare.

While Tobey Maguire may not have the full look of Bobby Fischer, the opposite could be said of Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky. Schreiber was the perfect choice for Spassky. If you put a photo of Schreiber and Spassky together you wouldn’t be able to notice the difference. Schreiber speaks Russian throughout the entire movie with the exception of a few tiny moments where he speaks English. Schreiber portrays Spassky like a quiet rock star making entrances with his sunglasses on surrounded by his entourage. Even though he comes from the Soviet Union, we see moments in the film where Spassky is enjoying American culture from listening to music, to playing pinball to taking a swim in the ocean. This does not please his manager who is trying to keep a tight leash on him throughout the movie.

Finally the two remaining cast members, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg play their parts respectively. Sarsgaard plays Bill Lombardi, Fischer’s coach and second and Stuhlbarg plays Paul Marshall, Fischer’s pro bono lawyer who has his work cut out trying to satisfy all of Bobby’s demands. Lombardi is essentially the middle man between Fischer and Marshall. He does his best to keep both on even footing. Sarsgaard plays Lombardi as calm, wise and observational as he can tell right away that Fischer is falling into the same madness that has taken so many Chess prodigies in the past. Stuhlbarg portrays Marshall as somewhat of a weasel as he goes behind Bobby’s back to stay in touch with his sister, Joan who expresses the same concerns that Lombardi has and being a go to contact for people high up in the United States government who have taken a strong interest in Fischer and would like to exploit him to be a shining symbol of American freedom and idealism.

Liev Schreiber and Tobey Maguire

As far as the technical aspects of the film, the visual locations are beautiful and breathtaking as you see the sunny beaches of California to the cold and vast landscape of Iceland with New York being sandwiched in between the two. The film is very bright due to the digital film that was used although it makes up by setting the right lighting and mood during some of Fischer’s darkest moments including his vast breakdown in between games of the World Chess Championship. The music heightens the scenes throughout the movie and add a touch of classic rock and roll music during numerous scenes of Fischer’s dominance of the game when he destroys his opponents left and right.

Pawn Sacrifice is the first film I can think of that focuses on a person from the Chess world. I’ve heard of the movie “Searching For Bobby Fischer,” but that film was never about Fischer. It was a catchy title. If you’re not familiar with Bobby Fischer and would like to learn more about him I would recommend watching this movie. In addition I would watch the documentary I mentioned earlier Bobby Fischer Against The World and read numerous books about him. Fischer is an interesting character study. Who knows? Maybe it will spark your interest in Chess if you haven’t been interested in it already.

TRIVIA

  • A “Pawn Sacrifice” is a move in chess in which a player sacrifices his pawn for a soft advantage such as more space for his pieces or positioning them in better squares in order to develop an attack subsequently. It aims to create unbalanced positions so if the player who is committed to the pawn sacrifice did not capitalize on his temporary advantage, he would lose the game at the end due to his inferiority in material.
  • The narrator of the conspiracy theory audio that Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) is listening to is Liev Schreiber, who plays Boris Spassky.
  • In preparing to write the movie’s script, screenwriter Steven Knight read many of the books that have been written about Bobby Fischer and the “Match of the Century”, as well as speaking with people who knew him. “The most useful material was archival footage of him being interviewed,” said screenwriter Knight. “Bobby spoke and moved oddly, and to see that was helpful. If you noticed him walking down the street, you’d think, ‘there is a curious person’. He might have ended up just another homeless person, but he was just so good at chess that he was saved by it. And, of course, cursed by it as well.”
  • The screenplay for this film was featured in the 2009 Blacklist, a list of the most liked unmade scripts of the year.
  • Of the movie’s title, the film’s director Edward Zwick said: “You have Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon calling Bobby Fischer; you have [Leonid] Brezhnev [Leonid Brezhnev] and the KGB agents following Boris Spassky. Both of these men were pawns of their nations”.
  • Bobby Fischer passed away at the age of 64, which is coincidentally the same number of fields on a chessboard.
  • David Fincher was linked to the project for several years.

AUDIO CLIPS

Beaten Everyone He’s Played
Shall We Call It A Draw
Shut Up Size 12
I’m All About The Game
Criticizing A Priest
Speed Chess
All I Want Is Some Quiet
I Screw People
Passed Having Sex For This
Third Best Player In The World
Chess Needs Two Players
Russian Spy Techniques
Cameras Making Too Much Noise
You Don’t Look Well
Like Morphy

Fatman: Blu-Ray Review

Official Box Art

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.

Mel Gibson as Santa Claus in “Fatman”

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.

Walton Goggins as The Hitman

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.

Santa Doing Some Target Practice

My Name Is Bruce

Official Poster

Release Date: April 13, 2007

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Horror  

Director: Bruce Campbell  

Writer: Mark Verheiden

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. 

Bruce Campbell in “My Name Is Bruce”

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.

Guan-Di, the film’s antagonist

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.

Bruce Campbell leads the townspeople of Goldlick to fight Guan-Di

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.

AUDIO CLIPS

Getting You Laid Is Hard Enough
Don’t Worry Hard On
Cheap Drinks
How About You Wait Your Turn?
Unlike Most Action Stars
Hooch For The Pooch
You Couldn’t Commit
We Already Have Something In Common
Unreashed
Evil Dead Shampoo
Chainsaw Monologue
Pick Your Poison
Give It A Rest, Shatner
Give Me Back My Bike
Pack Your Bags
Not A Shallow Sex Machine
Hollywood Writers

Prison

Official Poster

Release Date: December 8, 1987 (UK)

Genre: Horror, Crime, Drama

Director: Renny Harlin    

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.

Opening scene in Prison.

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.

Viggo Mortensen and Ivan Kane in Prison.

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.

Scene from Prison.

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.

Happy Halloween!

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.

AUDIO

The Man Is A Dinosaur
Still One Hard Ass
Here It’s Contraband
Friends Call Me Lasagna
Cellmates
Nothing But A Lock
Sharpe Awakes From Nightmare
Bad Spirit
What Did You Use An Atom Bomb?
Got Plenty of Smokes
Won’t Cut You Any Slack With The Parole Board
Give Me Back My Ball
I Don’t Think The Warden Heard You
Angry Warden Acting
Assemble The Inmates
Total Silence

Night of the Creeps

Official Poster

Release Date: August 22, 1986

Genre: Horror, Comedy, Sci-Fi

Director: Fred Dekker

Writer: Fred Dekker

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

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Atkins in “Night of the Creeps.”

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

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

Scene from “Night of the Creeps.”

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

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

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

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

AUDIO CLIPS

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

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives

Official Poster

Release Date: August 1, 1986

Genre: Horror, Thriller   

Director: Tom McLoughlin

Writer: Tom McLoughlin

Starring: Thom Matthews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen, C.J. Graham

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Welcome to Horror Movie Month on “Guilty Pleasure Cinema!” To celebrate the month of October which is of course Halloween season, I will be posting a review each week of a horror film that is one you can watch repeatedly till your heart’s content. I figured I start this special with a familiar movie franchise involving a hockey mask wearing murderer. Of course, I’m talking about Jason Voorhees and the Friday the 13th film series.

 The legacy of Friday the 13th spans eleven films (twelve if you count Freddy vs. Jason), a TV series (by name only), merchandise and a successful online video game until a recent lawsuit pulled the plug on any new content. Jason Voorhees has become an iconic horror figure. If you were to place a Mount Rushmore of Horror Movie icons, he would definitely fill a spot there. While the movies may be repetitive with the same concept of teenagers getting killed at a camping ground by first a woman getting revenge for her son drowning then the son actually being alive to the son be risen from the dead, they are fun to watch in part to the original and innovative kill scenes each movie has to offer. Not only that, but the movie managers to show different renditions of Jason. It’s fun to debate with fans on which was the best Jason of the movie series. Another fun debate is which movie was the best movie in the series. There are quite a few movies in the franchise I adore, but for this review there was one that stood out after analyzing it much deeper, which is the sixth movie, subtitled Jason Lives.

‘Jason Lives’ marks the debut of the undead Jason concept that would be a staple for the rest of the films here on out. The film opens immediately with Tommy Jarvis, the hero of the last two installments driving with a friend to Jason’s gravesite. Tommy, plagued by nightmares that he could return wants to make sure he stays dead. When they get to the gravesite Tommy and his friend start digging and open up Jason’s casket to reveal his maggot infested corpse covered in spider webs.  Tommy rips a metal bar from the gate and repeatedly drives it into Jason. Suddenly, a storm arrives and lightning strikes the rod still stuck inside Jason, which causes him to be resurrected. As soon as Jason gets out from his grave, he kills Tommy’s friend and Tommy flees. Tommy heads to the police station to warn about Jason’s return, but the Sherriff is not convinced and puts Tommy in a holding cell. Meanwhile, Jason begins his murdering spree once again as he tracks down counselors at Camp Forest Green (the town was renamed from Crystal Lake to Forest Green in order to erase the horrible history of Jason and his mother……like people are going to forget).  With the help of the sheriff’s daughter Megan, Tommy realizes that he is the one responsible for bringing Jason back to life and he is responsible to end the nightmare once and for all.

C.J. Graham puts on the hockey mask in “Jason Lives.”

Tom McLoughlin, writer and director of this film did a great job reviving the Friday the 13th franchise after the dismal performance of Part V : A New Beginning (for many reasons). What better way to revive the franchise than revive the killer of the series (with the exception of the first movie) Jason. Instead of stating to the audience that he is still human, he states that Jason died in The Final Chapter and we’re going to bring him back to life as a real monster. His revival was clever and reasonable. The look of Jason is different for obvious reasons, but he still hangs on to his trademark hockey mask. He provides a plethora of kills ranging from his weapon based kills such as a spear, a harpoon gun and his traditional machete to more physical and creative deaths such as slamming a girl’s face through a wall in the bathroom of an RV to folding up a victim like a lawn chair. Fans won’t be disappointed with the kills this movie has.

The acting is decent with Thom Matthews leading as Tommy Jarvis. If you’re not familiar with Matthews, you may remember him from another iconic cult horror film in the 80s which was The Return of the Living Dead. He played a bumbling employee where he and his boss accidentally release the chemical that brings dead people back to life and eventually turns the both of them into zombies. It was a great comedic performance, however as Tommy Jarvis he is the complete opposite of comedic. He plays Tommy as a man who is constantly tortured by his memories of his encounter with Jason and being the one that ended his existence. When he tries to destroy Jason’s body to make sure he never comes back, a cruel twist of fate happens when he drives that gate bar into him causing it to be a lightning rod when the storm comes. As soon as Jason arises, Tommy is in full panic. He does his best to warn people, but they don’t believe him considering his history and state of mind. It’s only until learning the error of what he did is when he owns up to the mistake and realizes that he brought Jason back into the real world and he is the only one that can send him back to the grave. Matthews’ version of Tommy is definitely the best performance in comparison to John Shephard’s performance in Part V, although I still think Corey Feldman’s portrayal in The Final Chapter is my favorite.

Ron Palillo and Thom Matthews in “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.”

The role of Jason would be portrayed by C.J. Graham, which would be his only movie role (with the exception of his appearance as Jason in the Alice Cooper music video for the main song, which I’ll get to later).  From the first kill of punching through a man’s chest to killing a group of paintballers, he portrays Jason as a slow pacing juggernaut who dispatches anyone that stands in his way. On top of that Graham performs all the stunts as Jason in the movie which go to his dedication despite the fact that he was neither an actor nor a stuntman. He also provides a shocking personality to Jason. There is a scene where Jason appears inside a cabin full of young female campers. One of them gets scared, closes her eyes and covers her face with a blanket praying he doesn’t kill her. Jason stands at the side of the bed looking at her with a curious look and doesn’t flinch or give any indication he is going to kill the little girl. It shows a bit of vulnerability and the impression that Jason will not kill someone who is pure or innocent.

The rest of the cast is fodder for Jason. You have you stereotypical counselors and local law enforcement who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s a few great scenes with the caretaker of the cemetery and an angry person who was hit with a paintball which provide some comic relief.

This is one of the more stylistic movies in the series. It has a great blend of darkness, comedy and music. Speaking of music, for the first time in the series, Part VI has a soundtrack which features songs from some notable rock artists including a brand new song specifically for the movie by none other than Alice Cooper. The song “He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask)” has become the official theme song to Jason. It’s a true 80s song with a great blend of synths along with Cooper’s commanding vocals. The music video features C.J. Graham as Jason as he breaks through the movie screen while spectators are watching Part VI.

Michael Swan confronting Jason.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives is one of the strongest if not the strongest film in the series and has held up nicely unlike some of the other movies. If you believe there is a better entry in the series than Part VI, I challenge you to prove me wrong!

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • After becoming a born again Christian, John Shepherd who starred as Tommy in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) did not want to reprise the role, and it went to Thom Matthews instead.
  • Director Tom McLoughlin took home some props from the film, including Jason’s tombstone – which sits outside his house, made to look like Jason is buried in his yard – and his casket, which sits in his garage. The DVD box set includes a scene in which he shows off these props at his home, and tells of how a city employee refused to enter his yard to read the meter because he thought a body was really buried there.
  • The film contains numerous references to other horror films and/or people connected with them. Megan mentions Cunningham Road, a reference to Sean S. Cunningham director of Friday the 13th (1980) and creator of the series, while Tommy mentions a grocery store called Karloff’s, an homage to famous horror actor, Boris Karloff , director John Carpenter of Halloween (1978), while the name Sissy is perhaps a reference to Sissy Spacek who starred in Brian DePalma’s Carrie  (1976), which is based on a novel by Stephen King. Also, Sissy wears a jacket with the name “Baker” on the back, possibly a reference to Angela Baker from Sleepaway Camp (1983).
  • The first film in the series to be recorded in Ultra Stereo.
  • The original actor to play Jason was fired for being too fat. They recast the part with C.J. Graham, a restaurant manager with no stunt experience but a military background as an Army soldier. That made him perfect to take orders and execute stunts with military precision. Bradley’s paintball scenes were not re-shot meaning he does play Jason for a very brief part of the film, after that point it’s C.J. Graham as the masked killer.
  • Ted White stated in interviews that he was offered the opportunity to return to the role of Jason Voorhees, whom he portrayed in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) but he turned the role down. White stated that in hindsight, he should have accepted the offer.
  • This is the first film in the series in which all teenage roles are played by young adults, none of the actors being teenagers in real life during production.
  • The final scene to be shot was the crashing of the RV. Director Tom McLoughlin was terrified during filming, as there could only be one take and the crashing made the scene incredibly dangerous for C.J. Graham.

AUDIO CLIPS

Don’t Piss Me Off, Junior
You’re Going To Be Sorry
We Better Turn Around
Prisoner of Love
Angry Paintballer
Help Me
Wherever The Red Dot Goes
Does He Think I’m A Farthead?
Exciting As It Gets
With All The Grief You’ve Given Me
Game Called Camp Blood
Where’s Cort?
What Are You Doing Back There?
Very Sick Boy
Happy Friday The 13th
Don’t Clown Around
I Think We’re Dead Meat
Maggot Head

Leviathan

Official Poster

Release Date: March 17, 1989

Genre: Horror, Adventure, Mystery  

Director: George P. Cosmatos

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

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

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

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

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

Ernie Hudson in “Leviathan.”

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

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

A mutated Daniel Stern and Lisa Eilbacher.

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

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

Hector Elizondo in “Leviathan.”

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

TRIVIA (PER IMDB)

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

AUDIO CLIPS

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

Tales of Frankenstein

Official Poster.

Release Date: October 19, 2018 (Limited)

Genre: Horror, Comedy

Director: Donald F. Glut

Writer: Donald F. Glut

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

Warning: Possible Spoilers In This Review

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

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

Scene from “Tales of Frankenstein.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRVIA (Per IMDB): N/A

Sushi Girl

Official Poster

Release Date: Novemeber 27, 2012

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller  

Director: Kern Saxton

Writers: Kern Saxton, Destin Pfaff

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

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

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

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

Cortney Palm as the Sushi Girl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

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

AUDIO CLIPS

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

Eternal Code Review

Official Poster

Release Date: October 15, 2019

Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller

Director: Harley Wallen

Writer: Harley Wallen

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

Warning: Possible Spoilers In This Review

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

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

Damien Chinappi in “Eternal Code.”

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

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

Richard Tyson and Vida Ghaffari in “Eternal Code.”

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

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

Erika Hoveland and Billy Wirth in “Eternal Code.”