Category Archives: Cult

Tapeheads (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Starting a video company.

Ivan (John Cusack) and Josh (Tim Robbins) are two slackers who can’t hold down a job for too long. After getting fired as security guards they decide to start-up their very own music video production company, which they name ‘Video Aces’. They find it tough going with many people, like with one producer, the sly Mo Fuzz (Don Cornelius), trying to get them to do the work on spec where they’re forced to make the video using their own funds with the vague promises of potential money later on after they’re ‘discovered’. They finally hit-on the idea of promoting the singing duo the Swanky Modes (Sam Moore, Junior Walker) a soul group that the two idolized in the 70’s when they were kids. Their plan is to hijack a Menudo concert and have the Swanky Modes sing in their place and thus exposing their music to a whole new audience.

The film is produced by the former Monkee Mike Neismith, who had earlier produced the very successful cult hit Repo ManUnfortunately this one doesn’t work quite as well. Much of the problem is that it’s directed by Bill Fishman whose background is in music videos and not filmmaking and it shows. Repo Man succeeded because it was centered around a character and it also had a better mix of quirky comedy and story development. This one is handled in a more slap-dash way. Cusack and Robbins both give excellent performances, but are only seen intermittently and they never really grow or evolve like a character in a good movie should nor do they earn their way into the next scene. Instead they become almost like Barbra Eden from ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ where they just seem to pop in and out of these weird scenarios with bizarre people. The plot is thin and more like a collection of wacky skits. Even as satire it fails because it pokes fun of so many various things, in a completely rambling way, that it becomes unclear what the point, or message is supposed to be. There are certainly some clever, funny bits, but ultimately it comes-off more like an experiment gone awry than a movie.

While the cast is filled with a lot of recognizable faces most of them aren’t seen much. I was disappointing that Doug McClure, as Josh’s exasperated and disapproving dad, wasn’t in it more as he had he potential of creating some interesting confrontations. Susan Tyrrell gets wasted too, which is a shame as she talks here with a high society accent, but  I do remember her saying in an interview that she considered herself a ‘lazy person’ who only did movies for the money and would drop-out altogether if she didn’t need to earn a living, so in that respect maybe she didn’t mind the small bit. Lee Arenberg, who plays a security guard, is only in the beginning, but should’ve returned as he’s seen eating Twinkies while sitting on a toilet inside a public stall and anyone who does something that gross deserves more attention.

Some of the roles are bigger. Mary Crosby, the daughter of Bing Crosby, who starred in the infamous Ice Pirates, 5 years before this one, which virtually killed her film career before it began, does quite well here as a duplicitous agent and actually seems to get more screen time than the two stars. The aging Clu Gulager is quite funny as a Presidential candidate with major skeletons in his closet. The best one though is King Cotton (real name Richard Sony) who was the lead vocalist of the blues band Navasota in the 60’s. Here he plays a restaurant owner who partakes in a wacky music video to promote his business with one version shown during the film and another one called ‘Roscoe’s Rap’ that gets played at the end over the closing credits with both being quite memorable.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: January 22, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bill Fishman

Studio: Filmstar

Available: DVD, Plex

The Farmer (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Country man seeks vengeance.

Kyle (Gary Conway) returns from fighting in WWII a decorated hero, but finds when he gets back home that trying to run a profitable farm to be tough going and risks having it foreclosed on by the bank. One night while swerving to avoid an animal on the road professional gambler Johnny (Michael Dante) gets injured in a car accident near were Kyle lives. Kyle and his friend Gumshoe (Ken Renard) nurse Johnny back to health and for repayment Johnny gives Kyle $1,500, which is enough to help his farmstead survive for a little while longer. Johnny though soon gets into trouble with racketeer Passini (George Memmoli) who permanently blinds him by dumping acid on his face. Johnny wants revenge and hires Kyle, who’s farm continues to struggle, to do it by having him use his superior shooting skills to kill-off Passini and his men while using Johnny’s inside knowledge to track them down. At first Kyle resists, even after Johnny offers him $50,000, but when one of Passini’s men (Timothy Scott) burns down Kyle’s barn, kills Gumshoe, and rapes his new girlfriend (Angel Tompkins) he then decides to go on the warpath.

This has become, especially in the past decade, known as a ‘lost film’. It had never been shown on broadcast TV nor cable and had never received a DVD release, or Blu-ray, or even VHS. It became impossible to find even a bootleg copy and many had become convinced this was the obscure of the obscure. Code Red promised 10 years ago, much to the excitement of rare film collectors, to release it on DVD, but after some promotion the deal fell through, which frustrated many and gave this film even more of a cult status. Some had come to believe that maybe the movie was simply a ‘myth’ and really didn’t exist at all. Just when everything looked bleak Scorpion Rising gave it a Blu-ray release in February of this year and the print is excellent and the film itself isn’t bad either.

It’s noted for its graphic violence, which may have been the chief reason it never got shown on TV or cable. Some of it is quite cruel, particularly the acid scene and the rape is quite intense too. This tough does effectively get the viewer emotionally riled-up making them want to see Kyle get revenge and relishing the third act when he does. The revenge scenes are just as bloody, but I was disappointed that, as graphic as the movie is, the segment where Kyle shoves one of Passini’s men out a high-story window is not shown. The camera cuts away when Kyle pushes him instead of seeing the body drop down which might’ve been hard to film since a parade was going on below, but an effort should’ve been made.

Conway’s acting is only adequate though he does at least convey a stoic quality. Angel Tompkins does better and while some of her other B-movie roles weren’t so great this one is clearly her best and proves she could act versus just looking pretty. Memmoli is memorable as the slimy villain and he should’ve been in it more, but he got injured on the set while riding in a stunt car and was cooped-up in a hospital during most of the production, which also ultimately lead to his career downfall and death. The former comic who graduated into character actor roles had always struggled with weight, but had gotten himself down to 190 pounds when he was in this movie, but when the accident occurred and he was laid-up his weight ballooned out to as high as 490 and causing him to have to turn down subsequent film parts due to his physical limitations.

The review in Maltin’s book claims that there’s a lot of ‘anachronistic errors’ in the movie and having read the review beforehand I kept my eagle-eye out looking for them, but I really didn’t see any. Again I never lived in the 40’s and technically Maltin, who was born in 1950, didn’t either, but to me I felt it came-off okay. I liked the way it approaches the era in a gritty way versus a nostalgic one and the frequent use of the hand-held camera, which was ahead-of-its-time. The surprise twist at the end isn’t bad either.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 9, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Berlatsky

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: Blu-ray

Class of 1984 (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teacher battles teen gang.

Andrew Norris (Perry King) is the new teacher at Lincoln High, which is an inner-city school prone to a lot of violence and drugs. He’s been hired to teach a music class while replacing another teacher who left suddenly. Almost immediately he’s at odds with Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) the leader of a school gang that constantly disrupts his class. He eventually is able to kick him out, but Peter continues to harass Norris in the off-hours where they vandalize his car and attack his wife (Merrie Lynn Ross). Norris eventually decides he’s had enough especially after the principal (David Gardner) and even the police detective (Al Waxman) show him little support, so he takes matter into his own hands by violently confronting Peter and refusing to back down.

The film, which was directed by Mark L. Lester, who as a B-movie director has done some compact, quality stuff, has definite shades to Teacherswhich came out 2 years later, but with the same type of theme. This one though is harder edged, which makes it a bit better though it’s still weaker than Unman, Wittering, and Zigowhich it also has some similarities to, but without the intriguing mystery element. Lester has stated that he wanted to make an updated version of Blackboard Jungle, but with a grittier feel and while it may have succeeded in that respect it still comes-off as needing an updating. The school gangs dress in an over-the-top way and at times it’s hard to tell whether this wants to be taken seriously, or intended as camp. As violent as it sometimes gets it still doesn’t touch on school shootings, which was unheard of at the time, but would make a modern day high school movie that would deal with that subject more violent and scarier and making this stuff, as edgy as it tries to be, seem tame by comparison.

The ratio of black and white students doesn’t mesh. This was supposed to be an inner city school, so you’d think there would be more students of color than white, but instead it’s 98% white with only 1 or 2 black kids per class.  Norris’ roomy home in the plush suburbs seemed too nice for someone working off of a teacher’s salary, so unless his wife had a high income job, which is never confirmed, then the home he lives in wouldn’t be realistic. The reason for Stegman becoming a gang leader doesn’t make sense either. Normally kids get involved in gangs due to being stuck in poverty, but Stegman lives in the suburbs where gang life is quite rare. If he was from an abusive family then it might justify, but his mother (Linda Sorensen) takes his side on everything, so again his motivation for joining a gang isn’t believable and in a lot of ways quite absurd.

I did enjoy King n the lead. He’s played some creepy parts quite effectively in the past, so I wasn’t sure if he could pull-off a good-guy role, but he does it quite admirably. Roddy McDowall is great too in the last film he appeared in with brown hair as after this he began sporting an all gray look. The scene where he teaches a class while holding all the students at gunpoint is by far the best moment. It’s fun too seeing Michael J. Fox (billed without the ‘J’) as a high school student even though he was already 21 at the time of filming. He looks more pudgy and has a bowl haircut though ultimately other than getting stabbed doesn’t have much to do. The weakest link is Van Patten who’s not scuzzy enough to give the role the nastiness that it needed.

The table saw death deserves kudos and the gas fire one isn’t bad either. Having he teachers turn-the-tables on the students and violently fight back gives the movie a novel edge though I wished that King and McDowall had teamed-up together to take on the kids instead of doing it individually. The story though doesn’t get interesting until the violent third act. The theme has also been tackled many times before and this one doesn’t add anything unique to the mix and for the most part is painfully predictable.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 20, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: United Film Distribution Company

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Pluto, Tubi, Freevee, Amazon Video

The Heavenly Kid (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Angel helps out geek.

During the early 60’s Bobby (Lewis Smith) dies in a fiery car crash after the vehicle he was driving goes over a cliff during a game of chicken that he was playing with Joe (Mark Metcalf). His spirit gets sent to purgatory otherwise known as ‘Mid-town’ where he meets Rafferty (Richard Mulligan) who tells him that to get to ‘Uptown’ (Heaven) he’d have to go back down to earth in angel form to help out a human in need. He gets assigned to Lenny (Jason Gedrick) a geeky teen who’s trying in vain to hit on high school hottie Sharon (Anne Sawyer), but to no avail. Bobby is put in charge to teach Lenny how to be ‘cool’ and be able to pick-up chicks, but in the process he learns that Lenny’s dad is Joe, the guy who he raced against before he died, and Lenny’s mother is Emily (Jane Kaczmarek), Bobby’s former girlfriend who he still has strong feelings for.

The movie starts-off with an ill-advised car race that looks like it was ripped straight-out of Rebel Without a Cause. What’s worse is they tack-on this blaring song by Joe Fiore ‘Over the Edge’ that gets played during the crash, which takes away from the drama of the imagery instead of enhancing it. Bobby’s trip to the heavenly way station, which he does via a subway, has comic potential and Richard Mulligan is certainly quite funny, but I didn’t get why there would be a cafeteria, or why they’d eat food. Again, even if they appear in human form they’re still technically spirits as their human body remains on earth after death and decomposes, so why would spirits need to eat and does this mean they’d still have the same digestive system where they poop out what was eaten?

While Gedrick gives a much better performance than his co-star I still felt he was too good looking for the role. A true geek should be scrawny, or overweight, and have bad acne. If he had suffered from those things than his attempted transformation to a ‘cool’ dude would’ve been funnier.

I also thought it was ridiculous that he already had this beautiful woman named Melissa (Nancy Valen) who was really into him, and I think most guys would actually agree better looking than the plastic barbie that he was after. If this doofus is too dumb to realize on his own the good thing that he already has and instead callously takes her for granted simply because he feels the other one is better looking, after all the only reason he’s ‘in-love’ with Sharon is because she’s ‘hot’ then he shouldn’t get ‘help’ from an angel and justifiably deserves to be a lonely loser. I also felt that Melissa should’ve been more geeky since she was into another geek and having her be so pretty didn’t make much sense as other guys would be hitting-on her and since Lenny was not picking-up on her clear signals she would easily move on with somebody else and not hold-out so long, or feel the need to, for Lenny to finally see-the-light.

Spoiler Alert!

The rehabbed car in which Bobby takes what is literally an a rusty, empty shell of an old vehicle and through his heavenly magic turns it into a retro sports car I had problems with. For one thing since it was built on Bobby’s magical powers I would think Bobby would need to be present for it to run instead of Lenny being able to drive it by himself. Also, where did this key come from that Lenny uses to put in the ignition to start the car? This was literally just an old car frame when it was spotted and it’d be doubtful there would be any key in it and if there was it’d be as rusted as the rest of it. If you want to argue that this key was also a part of Bobby’s divine magic then there needs to be a scene with him creating it using his powers and then handing it to Lenny because it comes-off as big logic loophole otherwise.

The shot where Joe wakes-up to see Emily floating up the stairs by herself doesn’t work either. The idea is that human’s can’t see Bobby, who’s the one carrying Emily up the stairs, because he’s an angel, but if a person is being carried their ascension would have more of a jostled appearance instead of looking like they’re riding up an escalator like it does here.

The big reveal, in which it’s found that Lenny is actually Bobby’s son, is problematic since Bobby’s car crash occurs during the early 60’s (1960-63) and the present day for the story is October, 1984, which is when it was filmed. A senior in high school would’ve been born in 1967, or at the very earliest late 1966, so unless Emily was carrying Lenny around in her womb for 3 full years before he finally came out this whole concept just doesn’t work.

The thing that I really couldn’t stand was Bobby who’s a walking-talking cliche. Smith plays the part in a one-dimensional way and he looked too old for a teenager and was in fact 28 when it was shot. His generic advice on how to pick-up women is simplistic to say the least and if he really believes just feeding a woman lines about ‘how nice her hair looks’ is enough to get her to go out with him, or any other guy, then maybe he’s the one that needs the teaching and wisdom instead of dispensing it.

I also couldn’t understand why Lenny’s situation was so ‘dire’ that he needed heavenly intervention. There’s lots of kids who get bullied in school and can’t get a date that don’t have guardian angels come down to help them out, so what makes Lenny so special? Even if you factor in that Bobby is Lenny’s dead father it still doesn’t work because there’s lots of kids out there whose parents die when they’re young who don’t come back to help them as angels, so the questions still remains; what makes Lenny so special and is he deserving of this ‘help’? There’s millions of people out there who are homeless and victims of horrible crimes and abuse, which is who Bobby should’ve been assigned to, not a dopey kid who’s living a comfortable suburban existence and whose only ‘pressing issue’ is that he can’t make it with a stuck-up superficial babe who’s way out of league anyways.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 26, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Cary Medoway

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Beyond Reason (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s losing his sanity.

Filmed in 1977, but never released to the theaters and only eventually finding its way to VHS 8 years later. Written and directed by Telly Savalas the story centers on Dr. Nicholas Mati (Savalas) who works at a mental hospital and has an unorthodox way of treating his patients, which does not go over well with the young, blonde Dr. named Leslie Valentine (Laura Johnson) who feels his methods go too far. Suddenly after witnessing the suicide of one of his patients Mati begins having weird hallucinations. Those around him fear he may be losing his grip on reality, but Mati thinks Leslie may have something to do with it by attempting to drive him crazy she can have him fired from his job, so Mati sets out to expose her scheme.

While the concept is an interesting one the execution is not. I did feel the scenes done inside the hospital had a gritty touch, so it gets a few points there, but the story takes too long to get going. The scenes meander, too much extraneous dialogue, and not enough dramatic moments to keep it compelling, or even mildly engaging. It’s also unclear what genre to fit this into, or the target audience, which makes it easy to see why the studio refused to release it as it clearly was going to clunk at the box office and most critics who reviewed it would’ve gotten as bored as I did watching it.

I do like Savalas and usually enjoy his presence especially when he plays bad guys. While he can also play good guys well it’s never in the same dynamic type of way. His character here is limp and poorly defined. Since he starts out behaving a bit goofy right from the beginning his transition to loonyville isn’t much of a contrast, or shock. He also acts borderline creepy and at one point in a pre-Me Too moment even pinches one of his nurse colleagues in the ass. In any event you really don’t care if he goes mad or not and his journey, or why it’s occurring, won’t hold most viewers interest.

The most disappointing thing is that Priscilla Barnes, best known for playing Teri on ‘Three’s a Company’, was originally cast to play the part of Dr. Valentine and is even seen in a scene where a group of doctors tour the facility, but then got fired midway through the production and replaced by Johnson. Johnson, who looks quite similar to Barnes, is just not as good of an actress. Her confrontations with Savalas offers no spark, or fire. I honestly believe Barnes would’ve done better and while I’m not sure what the reason was for her being let go it’s a shame it occurred as it’s the one thing that might’ve helped made the movie better.

Spoiler Alert!

There is a diverting moment near the end where we see a fast-cutting mosaic of the weird visions going on inside Mati’s head, but this stuff needed to be trickled all the way through to help give the film more of a visual dynamic. As for the resolution I couldn’t make much sense of it though by that time I was just glad it was over and really didn’t care. There are though fans of the film who will insist it’s a ‘brilliant ending’ as Mati was apparently intentionally making himself go mad, as they explain it, to help him understand what his patients must go through, which is all a part of his ‘love centered therapy’. However, it’s not done in a way that makes it clear to most viewers and many will leave feeling confused and that it was a big waste of time.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1985 (CBS Television Network Broadcast)

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Telly Savalas

Studio: Arthur Sarkissian Productions

Available: VHS

Eat and Run (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Alien eats Italian people.

Murray (R.L. Ryan) is a large, bald-headed creature from another planet who begins devouring any Italian person that comes along. This started when he ate some Italian food and liked it so much he decided that the people who made it must be good to eat too. Mickey (Ron Silver) is a police detective trying to find out why so many Italians in the city are disappearing. He begins an affair with Cheryl (Sharon Sharth) a judge who has a propensity of letting criminals off with light sentences. When Mickey arrests the creature it was found-out that his rights were violated when Mickey read him his Miranda warning in English despite the fact that the alien didn’t understand the language, which causes Cheryl to drop all charges against him. She then dumps Mickey for the creature and the two move in together. Their relationship goes well initially until the alien realizes that Cheryl is Italian and thus begins eyeing her as his next meal. Can Mickey save her before she gets eaten?

This is yet another example of an Airplane-wanna-be that mimics the same rapid-fire jokey-style of that film, but was written by those who didn’t have the clever sense of humor of the Zucker brothers to pull it off. This one was done by the father and son team of Stan and Christopher Hart. Stan had spent years writing for ‘Mad’ magazine as well as winning several Emmys for his work on the ‘Carol Burnett Show’, but his humor is dated. I’m okay with some jokes misfiring, but it went 15-minutes in before I even chuckled a little. The gags are quite corny and done with a lack of style or creativity. It also relies on a lot of running jokes, like Mickey’s tendency to narrate the movie while talking to himself, which annoys those around him, which wasn’t funny the first time it happened, and proceeds to get redundant and stupid the more it continues.

The film lacks cohesive logic. I realize this was supposed to be just a silly movie, but the concept should be thought-out at least a little. For instance, where did this alien come from and how did he get here? None of this gets shown, or answered. It’s like the Harts were more concerned with dishing-out lame gags and couldn’t be bothered with the basic foundations for a story. For that matter, why does the alien always spit out the buttons worn on the shirts of his victims after he’s eaten them? Is it because they’re too hard to digest and if so why doesn’t he also spit out their watches and belt buckles as I’d presume they wouldn’t agree with his stomach either.

There’s no special effects to speak of. Normally I’d complain with movies like these that they compromise too much on the gore, but this film doesn’t even attempt to show it. The creature just approaches the victim, exposes his razor sharp teeth, and then the camera cuts away while he eats them, which takes only seconds even though animals that eat large prey can take a long time to chew-up their victims, so having it done so quickly is a cop-out.

I have no idea why Silver would’ve taken on this project as he had already starred-in several Hollywood produced productions, so he didn’t need to do low budget work to make an income. My guess is that he wanted to take a stab at comedy and the Hollywood producers wouldn’t let him, so he had to turn to the indie route to find any takers. The experiment though doesn’t work. Silver just isn’t cut-out to be funny and if anything gets upstaged by the tubby lesser known Ryan who steals each scene he’s in without ever speaking a word of dialogue.

The film’s biggest travesty though is that it features a mime. I was hoping at least that the creature would eat him as retribution to all those who find them universally annoying and yet this stupid movie can’t even do that. Had the mime been killed-off  I would’ve given it higher marks, but when that didn’t happen it cemented this as being a complete dud.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: February 20, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Christopher Hart

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD (Region 4)

Mortuary Academy (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two brothers inherit mortuary.

Max (Christopher Atkins) and Sam (Perry Lang) are brothers who inherit a mortuary from their dead uncle. At first they’re not happy as neither one of them wanted to go into that business, but when they realize how much money they can make they change their minds, but there’s one small catch: they must pass the rigorous mortuary course. This won’t be easy as it’s taught by Mary (Mary Woronov) who’s the lover of Paul (Paul Bartel) who are both aware that they’ll lose the place should the brothers take over, so they try to make the course as hard as possible to ensure that they both fail. Meanwhile, Paul has other issues as he’s into necrophilia and wants to have sex with the latest dead body that has been sent in, Linda Hollyhead (Cheryl Starbuck), a teen who died while chocking on popcorn.

The film was clearly trying to capitalize on the earlier success of the cult hit Eating Raoulwhich also starred Bartel/Woronov and both were scripted by Bartel, but the edginess and satirical elements from that one are missing here. Probably the only surprising thing to take away from this is Atkins who proves he can actually act. He started out as a male model and then got into show business simply for his looks and starring in the hit film Blue Lagoon with Brooke Shields, but his effort to broaden his resume by appearing other movies like The Pirate Movie with Kristy McNichol proved downright embarrassing and like he was just another pretty boy face in-over-his-head, but here he’s his funny facial expressions and inability to kiss women got me chuckling. I came away feeling there was no need for two leads especially since the brothers agree on everything making them seem like one person and without Lang, who’s dull, Atkins would’ve had more of a chance to play-up his goofy nervous looks even more.

The supporting cast, with exception of elderly actress Nedra Volz who’s rants about having her last period 50 years ago are a riot, is what really destroys it. One reviewer on IMDb labeled this as a Police Academy- wanna-be and that’s exactly right. The other students aren’t like real people, but instead stereotyped, benign losers saying and doing dumb things simply for a cheap laugh. The biggest travesty is the appearance of Anthony James, who because of his hawk-like facial features gets once again stuck with a role of a would-be psycho-nut and it’s no surprise that he eventually got sick of the type-casting and left the business for good in order to focus his efforts on artistic paintings some of which were quite impressive.

Bartel and Woronov help a bit playing the exact opposite of the couple they did in Eating Raoul where they killed-off those that were into kink, but here they’re the kinky ones. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work. Bartel’s attempts at sex with a dead body, particularly the scenes at a beach we he momentarily loses her via the incoming tide to a group of frat boys, are funny, but some of their other shenanigans fall flat. Woronov is amusing when she plays a nefarious person, but when she transitions to a good guy and becomes a part of the team, she gets boring.

The biggest issue is the humor, which isn’t dark enough and far too good-natured. The script is gag driven and the special effects poor and tacky. Some would say that because this was a comedy it shouldn’t be gory, but that’s the old-way of thinking as movies like Shaun of the Dead and Evil Dead have proven over-the-top effects actually make it funnier, which is what this film should’ve done. Instead it takes a middle-ground approach making its edgy premise lose all of its zing and only half as good as it could’ve been.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 20, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Schroeder

Studio: Taurus Entertainment Company

Available: DVD

Deadly Weapon (1989)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Geek acquires lethal laser.

Zeke (Rodney Eastman) is a high school student frequently picked-on by his jock classmates as well as an abusive alcoholic father. As a refuge he imagines that he’s secretly an alien from another planet and writes stories about it. One day he comes upon a military weapon in a river bed near his home that landed there when the train it was being carried on crashed. He takes it home and begins using it to scare away all of those who harassed him and this catches the attention of Traci (Kim Walker) who used to date the jocks, but now finds Zeke and his newfound laser gun far more interesting. However, Lieutenant Dalton (Gary Frank) is the military official assign to retrieve the weapon and he’ll stoop to any low ball tactic to get it back.

This was another Charles Band production who was notorious for making a lot of low budget sci-fi/action flicks during the 80’s/90’s that were of a dubious quality. This was originally intended to be a sequel to Laserblast, a much maligned bottom-of-the-barrel stinker from the 70’s, but budgetary reasons caused them to pull back on that idea and turn it into a separate story. For what it’s worth this is far better than that one and surprisingly has enough of a budget to mask its shortcomings and even comes-off like it could’ve been Hollywood studio produced. There are though some over-the-top moments like a one-eyed vice principal who beats Zeke with a paddle inside his office and a cliched drunken father who acts like a stereotypical hayseed straight out of the local trailer park that made it seem like it either wanted to be a campy comedy, or unintentionally funny, but it’s hard to tell which one.

The script isn’t realistic as the kid is able to open up the crate that houses the gun with his bare hands without having to use a crowbar even though you’d think such a dangerous weapon like this would be packaged more securely and not so easily accessible to just anyone. Zeke is also able to figure out how to operate it much too quickly. Again, such a dangerous weapon should have a safety feature to make it difficult for unauthorized personal to use, such as having to put in a secret code before it’s operational.

The segment where Zeke and Tracy force four men into the trunk of their car and drive around with them as hostages is kind of funny, but the two able to open the trunk door from the outside too easily. If the men are truly locked into the trunk then a key must be placed into the keyhole to open it, but instead they’re able to raise the door open with their hands and not having to bother to unlock it, which means the men inside should then be able to easily kick the door open and escape.

The film is mostly known for the two stars who are more famous for their appearances in two other cult hits. For Eastman his best remembered for playing Joey in the Nightmare on Elm Street series while Walker’s signature role is that of the snotty Heather Chandler in HeathersWalker is the more interesting of the two as she performs her role in a duplicitous fashion where you’re not sure if she’s a genuinely nice person trying to help Zeke, or just a narcissistic brat looking for attention and escape. Her character though is poorly fleshed-out as she sees Zeke blow-up a building with his gun, which scares off the other jocks, one of whom she is dating, but she then invites Zeke into her car, but how would know she could trust him and he wouldn’t use the gun on her? Why too would this beautiful teen be into a geek like Zeke anyways? To have it make more sense she should’ve been a nerd, who had been bullied by the cool kids and now connected with Zeke’s need to ‘get back’ at them.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s best moment is the ending, which has a surprisingly surreal vibe as Zeke sees the lights of the military vehicles and thinks it’s from the mother ship of some outer space aliens and goes towards it like they’re going to ‘take him home’ and away from earth where he doesn’t feel he belongs. While this intriguing theme has strong similarities to Liquid Sky and Shirley Thompson versus the Aliens it doesn’t fully gel. Had it been approached with a better realized manner of what genre it wanted to be (satire/sci-fi/action/dark comedy) then it might’ve succeeded, but trying to juggle all four genres together gives it a convoluted feel that’s not quite able to cross the finish line and be fully satisfying.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Michael Miner

Studio: Empire Pictures

Available: dvdlady

Fandango (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The privileges of youth.

Gardner (Kevin Costner), Phil (Judd Nelson), Kenneth (Sam Robards), Dorman (Chuck Bush) and Lester (Brian Cesak) are five college friends from the University of Texas in 1971, who are getting ready to celebrate their impending graduations when Kenneth announces that he’s been drafted into the Vietnam War and Gardner has too. To help lighten the mood the boys decide to take an impulsive road trip where they travel to unique areas of Texas, including searching for buried treasure in the Rio Grande, sleeping under the stars at the old filming site of Giant, and even taking part in parachute jump near Pecos.

This film is based on a 24-minute film that Kevin Reynolds directed while attending the USC film school. In that movie the boys were all from Baylor University and traveled to Pecos, Texas in order to test the courage of their most frightened member and use the help of eccentric flight instructor Truman Sparks, played by Marvin J. McIntyre, who reprises his role in this one, to teach and train the young man on how to jump from a plane. The student film managed to catch the attention of Steven Spielberg, who was so impressed with it that he offered Reynolds the chance to turn it into a full-length movie. Unfortunately once it was completed Spielberg for whatever reason disliked it and had his name removed from the credits while also refusing to help distribute it forcing the film to suffer a limited engagement though in recent years its cultivated a cult following.

The movie does have many funny moments including the opening bit where Phil’s parents (Stanley Grover, Jane A. Johnston) visit his frat house during one of their raucous parties. The sky diving sequence, which gets copied shot-for-shot from the original is quite engaging as is their attempts to hook their disabled car up to a speeding train. Costner is also very amusing, he had actually auditioned for the student film, but lost out, but when he found out it was going to be remade into a feature film he re-auditioned. I’m so used to seeing him play serious roles that I didn’t realize he had such great comedic timing, but for the most part, he’s the life of the movie.

Where the film fails is that it’s too unfocused. The setting is supposedly 1971, but you’d hardly know it and very little effort is made to give it a feel of that era. Even the opening song sung by Elton John that gets played by over the credits was released 2 years after the events in the movie supposedly took place, so to keep it accurate with the time setting only songs that came out in 1971, or before should’ve been used.

The side-story involving Gardner having dated Kenneth’s fiancee, played by Suzy Amis, seems unneeded and really doesn’t go anywhere. Normally, in most real-life friendships, having a friend date and ultimately marry one’s former girlfriend could be a deal-breaker that would lead to a lot of jealousy and potential anger. I’m sure there’s a minority of friendships where the participants would be mature enough to overcome this issue, like here, though this isn’t interesting, so why bother introducing this wrinkle if its dramatic elements aren’t going to get explored?

The part where it really jumps-the-shark is during the planning of the wedding, which is too full of logic loopholes to be able to buy into even on a whimsical level. It features Gardner and Phil being able to pull off his massive wedding ceremony in the town’s square on very short notice by conning too old guys sitting on a nearby park bench into agreeing to help out, which leads to more people getting involved until the whole town, even the mayor, takes part in a wedding ceremony, and its preparation, of people they don’t even know. If anyone can show me an example in the whole history of the world of when this has ever happened in reality then I’ll take it back, but otherwise I found it ridiculous.

The ending is way too abrupt. The whole reason Phil agreed to go on the parachute jump was for Kenneth and Gardner to agree to not dodge the draft, but whether they withhold their end of the bargain is never shown. Everyone just basically wanders off like they have better things to do, which is how the viewer, despite some fun moments, ends up feeling about the movie, which would’ve had more impact had it chucked the whimsy and had a little more serious drama.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 25, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Kevin Reynolds

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Whole Shootin’ Match (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to get rich.

Frank (Sonny Carl Davis) and Lloyd (Lou Perryman) are lifelong pals who’ve never been able to get over the financial hump. Both harbor starry-eyed ideas of getting rich, but Lloyd’s inventions never attract the interest of any investors. Then one day while driving his car through the local car wash Lloyd is inspired to create a type of mop that he coins the ‘Kitchen Wizard’. They’re able to sell the rights  and make a thousand dollars with the promise that more money will be on the way, but when the patent gets stolen by an unscrupulous company it sends the normally stoic Frank over-the-edge in which he begins to ponder suicide as the only answer to his despondency.

This film, produced on a minuscule budget where the cast and crew agreed to work for free, became the forerunner of the modern-day indie film movement that not only inspired cult director Richard Linklater to get into movie-making, but also gave Robert Redford the motivation to start-up the Sundance Film Festival. Director Eagle Pennell, who was born as Glenn Irwin Pinnell, even attracted the attention of Hollywood studios after the film’s release, which lead to him getting a development deal with Universal, but when this failed to get any of his movie ideas produced he came back to the Lone Star State feeling as disillusioned as the characters in this movie. Eventually it lead to alcoholism and homelessness where he ultimately died while living on the streets of Houston at the age of 49.

This movie works much like Jim Jarmusch’s 1984 indie hit Stranger Than Paradise, which was also filmed entirely in black-and-white and featured mainly static shots of people having extended conversations. While some of the scenes are funny there are also a few dramatic ones particularly Frank’s dealings with his wife Paulette, played by Doris Hargrave. There are also some moments that don’t work at all. The one featuring Frank and Lloyd conversing while supposedly riding inside a pick-up is particularly problematic as it’s quite clear to the viewer, despite Pinnell’s attempts to camouflage it by editing in shots of traffic, that the vehicle is stationary. The dream sequence where Frank has a nightmare about going back to the company that stole their mop idea is interesting, but then ultimately gets defeated by repeating it almost exactly in real-life, which gets redundant and the music becomes intrusive as we’re unable to hear what anyone is saying as they confront each other.

The characters are not appealing especially Frank who’s quite controlling and possessive towards his wife despite cheating on her. The two lead’s personalities flip-flop near the end where Lloyd, the perpetual optimist, suddenly turns dour while Frank manifests into Mr. positive, which to me didn’t seemed earned, or believable.

For patient viewers the third act is a payoff as it takes place in the Texas Hill Country where the foliage of the forests are quite different than those in the Midwest with trees unique only to central Texas and thus giving the sequence a surreal vibe like the two have traveled off to a strange and exotic place. I also liked the fact that the phony sound effects used in most other movies are non-existent here. This comes into play when a crotchety old man, played by James N. Harrell, shoots at the two from his porch with a rifle, but instead of a loud cannon sound like in most films, it’s more of a realistic fire cracker noise. The fight inside a bar works the same way as there’s not that annoying loud smacking sound when the punches hit their target making this tussle seem more organic.

This also marked only the second movie to be filmed in Austin, Texas with the first one being Outlaw Blueswhich was released 2 years earlier. If you’re an Austinite, such as myself, living in the city now you’ll not recognize the old Austin that gets shown here. No tall buildings, or cosmopolitan look. In fact after watching it you’d be convinced Austin was just a back woods cow town without even a hint of the bustling metropolis that its become.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 19, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Eagle Pennell

Available: DVD, Fandor