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Captain America (1990)
Oh, Captain...my Captain....
Scheduled to be released in the Summer of 1990, to coincide with Marvel's 50th anniversary, Captain America eventually plummeted to American home video and cable in 1992. If you don't remember the movie, it's for good reason, because it is an entirely forgettable film. It's too bad too, because this one could've been okay. Early, on Ahnold, Dolph Lungdren, and Val Kilmer were up for the role of Cap and they were supposed to get a real budget to turn this thing into a Hollywood blockbuster. Instead, Jack Kirby is rolling over in his grave, giving screenwriter Stephen Tolkin the finger.
The film starts out promisingly enough with a group of Nazis that burst in to an Italian villa and start doling out pain via MP40s. They end up kidnapping wunderkind Tadzio de Santis, after wasting his entire family. After being subjected to Nazi experimentation, Tadzio eventually grows into that ugly menace, The Red Skull.
Cut to America where our hero, the young, gimpy Steve Rogers (Matt Salinger - JD's kid!), is gearing up to join a covert US operation that will eventually lead Steve to become the most jingoistic hero of all. He is accepted into the program, and is injected with the super soldier serum, recently imported from Germany. For some reason the governments "secret lab" is inside a diner, and it gets infiltrated by a Nazi spy that kills the only person who knows the formula for the serum, Dr. Maria Vaselli. Dun-dun-dun! Eventually Cap makes his way to Germany, thwarts the Red Skull, and is sent to Alaska via rocket, where he ends up getting frozen in the ice. Fast-forward to modern day, and ol' Ice Cap is discovered and thawed. After he's unfrozen, he goes to find his long lost love, she gets gunned down by the Red Skull's goons, and decides he has to stop him once and for all! First of all, let me just go ahead and say it; this movie sucks. It is an absolute train wreck of a film that suffers from bad direction, acting, action, sets, writing, and production value. It would be hard to find another film that had so much potential that ended up being such a waste. The fights are so badly choreographed, it gives old episodes of the Power Rangers some legitimacy and the cinematograper couldn't have been over the age of 12.
Now, let me tell you why you should watch it. Have you ever wanted to see Captain America putter around the streets of Italy in a really tiny car? Ever wonder what any of these new Marvel films would look like if they had a $72 budget? Want to see what JD Salinger's son looks like? You've found your movie. And those are really the best reasons that I could come up for anyone wanting to watch this travesty. Actually, you don't to see a particularly dastardly Darren McGavin, so it's not all bad.
Unfortunately, if you do want to punish yourself and actually watch this thing, it may be easier said that done. As far as I know, the only home video format that Captain America has been released on is VHS. You can probably find it on eBay or Amazon if you want, but I wouldn't pay more than a couple of bucks for it.
The Car (1977)
A Pretty Fun Ride in The Car
What can you say about a movie like The Car? Well, firstly I guess I want to say that I actually enjoyed this movie. It's 5.2 rating on the IMDb is fairly Indicative of how enjoyable this movie can be. I say that, because it really is a particularly bad movie. And when bad movies get mediocre ratings, that's saying something. The Car has so much charisma that no matter how shitty the acting, how ludicrous the plot, I can't help but watch it.
The Car begins with two youngsters riding their bikes down the road when a very devious looking pure steel, chop-topped black coupe (it's actually some sort of Frankenstein of a Lincoln Mark III and 5 other cars) comes barreling down the road at the kids. We get a POV shot from inside this monstrosity, and we see that the windows are actually tinted blood red. Well, we know that we are off to a good start, because within the first ten minutes two kiddies are bidding their lives bye-bye. That's right, side-swiped and run off the road over a ledge.
Soon after, the car rears it's ugly hood again, this time running over (and repeatedly backing over) a young, hippie hitchhiker. Good call, car! So, things in the nearby sleepy little Southern California town start to get a little hairy. Policeman Wade Parent (James Brolin) and company begin a hunt for the car and its lunatic driver. Soon after, the town's police chief is struck and killed by the car, which ends up getting Wade the promotion to chief.
Of course, we all know that there is no lunatic driver and that the car is possessed(ala Christine, although The Car predates Christine). The demon car ends up taking aim at Wade, his children, and his lovely, Sarah Silverman-looking girlfriend. There some reference to Indian spirits or some such things, but that's never really that important to the story. The Car is not concerned with the "why" of it all, I mean, yeah, there's a timid attempt at it, but the movie is almost entirely concerned with the "how". And that's a good thing, because trying to come up with some plausible solution for this would really come off as stupid.
There are other interesting little side stories that lead nowhere and end up becoming red herring of sorts. One of the policeman is a recovering alcoholic, but starts hitting the hooch again once the crap hits the fan, and another one is a Native American that seems like he knows more than he's telling. But don't all Native Americans seem like they know more than you do? Yes.These side plots just kind of fizzle out and are of no real importance. I guess the writers thought about it, and decided had to make a decision: side story about cop struggling with personal demons or more screen time for the demonic Lincoln? Yeah. You would've made the same decision. There are truly a lot of things wrong with this movie, so I'll spare you from pointing out all the little problems and just focus on what's right about the film.
For my money, there are three scenes that make this movie worth seeing by their own merit. The first one is a scene where someone bites it when the car literally jumps through a house, the second is in the cemetery scene when some old hag just randomly shouts out "Cat Poop!" (really), and the last one is the ending which I won't give details on (just in case).
A very interesting, nutty, piece of campy Americana, The Car stands out as a fun film to watch (especially with a group of friends), even while being a pretty big mess of a movie.
Maximum Overdrive (1986)
A Fun Ride
The poster tag "...masterpiece of terror directed by the master himself" may be a little bit of an overstatement. In reality, Maximum Overdrive is one of the campiest, most fun horror flicks of the eighties. And, it's pretty easy to see that it was intentional when the first scene has an ATM calling Stephen King an asshole.
The plot is pretty simple. The earth passes through the tail of a comet and, without warning, all of earth's machines take on a life of their own. Oh, and they are murderous. Can't forget that part. We never actually come into any realization as to why the machines are rebelling, I guess it's technically possible that there are invisible aliens that are driving the trucks around. The main story follows a group of people that are surrounded by circling semi-trucks inside a gas station. These include a pervy Bible salesman, newly wed couple, and a badass ex-con played by the Mighty Duckman himself, Emilio Estevez.
Just look at the poster to get a sense of the overall awesomeness of the film. Yeah, I think it's a picture of a well-bearded Steve King breaking through a trailer holding strings attached to semi-trucks like he was the puppet master of so many marionettes. Then you've got Gordon Bombay holding an M16 like he's gone commando while standing next to the female lead.
The characters are underdeveloped, the plot is so full of holes it's ridiculous, and the gore is fairly light, but dammit, this movie just works for me. It's such a ridiculous premise and the leads play it completely straight, ostensibly to give the terror some legitimacy. But the cheese that spews forth from Emilio playing a hard nosed ex-con taking on both shitty boss Pat Hingle (who is excellent by the way) and an onslaught of nefarious, sentient trucks is just amazing beyond words. If somebody pitched that movie to me, I would green light it faster than you can say Another Stakeout.
At this point, let me go back and address the gore, and say that I have only seen the cut version - word is there is another print of the film that has all the kills in tact. I'm holding out hope that the infamous "little kid run over by a steamroller" kill gets even more awesome in the uncut version.
I also want to discuss a little bit about, at least what I see as, the major plot holes. For instance, why are some machines controlled by the alien force, and some are not. Why does the force not just take over the newly weds car instead of trying to use a dump truck to squash them? It seems like it would be easier. We also know that the force is capable of taking over simpler machines, like guns (as is seen when the rolling machine gun acts as a sentry at the gas station), but in the final act all of our protagonists use guns in an attack against the truck menace. It boggles my mind! I'm assuming that someone of King's caliber recognized this and either didn't feel the need to address it, addressed it and it was cut, or just didn't give a damn.
But, the fact of the matter is that none of these flaws make me like the film any less. In fact, I think they are kind of endearing. In reality, I should think that this movie is pretty shitty, and maybe it is, but I happen to think it's awesome.
Home Movie (2008)
Another Good Found Footage Film
Released at the beginning of the Second Found Footage Wave (my own moniker), Home Movie is just that - a found footage film. But unlike something like Cloverfield, Home Movie is a very, very small film that centers around a family in upstate New York. The family, the father (a priest - played by Adrian Pasdar or, as I know him, Caleb from Near Dark) the mother (a psychiatrist), and two kids, have moved to the rural countryside in order to ease the children's declining mental states.
I don't know how much of a spoiler it is to say that this is a killer kid film, as you can probably gather that by looking at the back of the box. And, let's be honest, who doesn't love killer kid films? From the Bad Seed to Who Can Kill a Child? to The Good Son, killer kid flicks are just great. Mine is still just shy of three months old, so I don't have to worry too much about him, but I wonder if I'll still feel this way when he gets a little older...old enough to wield, say, a hammer?
Anyway, so the two little freakish kids wind up being just a little bit more malevolent than the parents ever thought. That's all well and good, but my absolute favorite part of the film is the filmmaker's propensity to wrap everything up very nicely. At the end of the film (LAST WARNING - SPOILERS AHEAD) when the kids finally best old' mom and pop, they put to use every bit of advice that the dad had given them in attempts to "normalize" them. Here is a list of things that I picked up on that were originally taught to the kids by the parents, and then turned around on them to be used for their demise:
Trash bags for dead things. The dragon/paper mask story. The picking of the locks. The tying of the knots. The ability of the pills to induce comas. The use of a baseball bat.
Overall, it's an interesting film. That's not to say it's fantastic or anything. The acting is pretty flat, at times it's not lean enough to keep you from wanting to hit fast-forward, and sometimes the camera work can get on your nerves. It's definitely not the best found-footage movie (I'd give that title to Spain's rec), but it is an entertaining, and deeply interesting piece that works, for the most part, on all the levels that it attempts to. It's definitely recommended viewing and a nice find in the onslaught of crappy horror that's produced today.
Blood Diner (1987)
Diamond in the rough!
When someone asks you what the best horror remake is, what do you say? Usually it's going to be The Thing. Some might say Dawn of the Dead. The misguided might say Halloween. But there's one film that rarely, if ever, comes into the conversation, but most definitely should, and that's Blood Diner.
Blood Diner is the 1987 redux of the classic HG Lewis flick Blood Feast. To be fair, if there ever was a film to warrant the term "re-imagining", this is it. If you've seen the Lewis film, you know it can be a little tedious and kind of drag on a little bit. I don't mean to take anything away from Mr. Lewis and his importance to the genre, it's just sometimes difficult to watch. Blood Diner on the other hand is a film meant for viewers with ADD. Or that are on copious amounts of drugs.
The film is a pitch dark comedy featuring two brothers, Michael Tutman (Rick Burks) and George Tutman (Carl Crew) that take on the task of completing the resurrection the Lumerian goddess Sheetar, after their serial killer uncle Anwar Namtut (Drew Goddars) fails to do so (and is killed in the process).In order to resurrect Sheetar,the two brothers must piece together different body parts from nefarious women, and invoke the goddess at a "blood buffet" with a virgin on hand for Sheetar to eat when she awakens. The brothers, all the while, are running the very popular Tutman Cafe, which serves health food that's "too good to be true". Hmm. Two goofball detectives are hard at work trying to track down the brothers the whole time.
I'll be honest with you, this is one of the most ludicrous films I've ever seen. Don't believe me? Watch this clip and find out for yourself. And that's only the half of it, other insane moments in the film include George's wresting match with "Jimmy Hitler" (pictured), a 400 pound health food critic that vomits on all of the patrons of the Tutman Cafe, an insane competitor to the café that talks to and through a life-sized dummy, and a topless cheerleader massacre. And if that's not enough reasons for you to watch this film, wait until you see the party scene in the final act. Pure gold.
I really don't want to spoil the film. Let me take that back, I don't want to spoil the great gags in the film, because you need to see this one relatively fresh. As it was, the first time I watched it I was completely unsure of what to expect. The film starts off innocently enough, two kids at home in the 1950s are interrupted by a bloody, meat clever wielding killer as the play in their homes. Turns out the man holding the clever is none other than the kids Uncle Amwar! Amwar goes off on a small rant about how he had to cut off his own dick and then makes the two kids promise they will finish his work for him. They agree, the cops show up, he goes out to greet them and...well, just watch it.
Finding this film on a home video format would be easier said than done, because the film has only officially been released on VHS. You can maybe find a bootleg DVD on Amazon or eBay every now and then, surely it's just a VHS transfer, but better than nothing. Of course, there's a link at the top of this post that will take you to the film in its entirety on Youtube, if you can stomach watching it in that format. Again, it's better than nothing. And this Blood Diner is a must watch.
It's difficult to find the words to accurately describe Blood Diner. I don't want to give the impression that there is unintentional comedy here, they knew what they were doing when they made this flick. Most of the camp in this film is definitely by design, except for maybe some of the worst acting - namely Detective Shepard. A lot of movies that "know" they are bad, and play that aspect up, end up really sucking (a lot of Full Moon pictures come to mind), but Blood Diner really works. It ain't Re-Animator, but it's a great unheralded gem just waiting to be discovered.
Diagnosis: Death (2009)
Decent Horror/Comedy Effort from New Zealand
Years ago, when Peter Jackson was just breaking in to the film business, it seemed like New Zealand might be poised to be a hotbed, albeit a small one, of horror film activity. Bad Taste and Braindead seemed like the beginning of something major. They were, only they were the beginning of Jackson's long and award-addled career. It didn't really mean too much for New Zealand horror. Just a couple of years ago another Kiwi horror comedy came out and created a bit of a buzz itself, Black Sheep. A horror film about killer sheep? Sign me up! And, it is a fun little movie - one that I recommend you view with some friends and a good sense of humor.
Last year, Affordable Films released New Zealand's latest horror-comedy Diagnosis: Death. They tried to capitalize on the popularity of their country's own Flight of the Conchords and included Brett McKenzie, Jemain Clement, and Rhys Darby. Full disclosure: I love Flight of the Conchords - the show, and the band. The only problem is that these guys are probably in the film for a total of five minutes between them. Yeah, it's a cocktease.
The film itself, a horror-comedy, is surprisingly light on both horror and comedy. It stars Raybon Kan (apparently he's a New Zealand stand-up) as a school teacher that is stricken with a rare form of cancer. He goes to a weekend drug trial to test out new, experimental drugs that may be able to cure him. Sounds reasonable enough, but wait, there's more. It turns out this hospital used to be...wait for it...a MENTAL INSTITUTION! dun-dun-dun. And, as if that wasn't enough, some famous author supposedly killed herself and her child in this very same ward! The movie is basically a ghost-story-mystery thing disguised as a comedy. The laughs are few and far between, the revelation at the end is predictable, and the horror is cheap and stupid. That said, the two minutes of screen time that are alloted to Rhys Darby had me rolling - he's basically playing Murray as a doctor. I was able to watch it with a friend and we managed to enjoy ourselves by adding our own, MS3TK-style commentary to the film and rewinding the Rhys Darby's final scene (he gives a great look at the end of it) multiple times. Fortunately, they keep things fairly light and every once and a while the jokes will land so you should be able to get through the film.
Because we were able to enjoy ourselves while watching, I'll give it a 5 out of 10, but it really doesn't deserve anything higher than that. I advise you not to buy this one. It may be worth a rental if you are a big Conchords fan or would like to watch something light and silly with some buddies on a weekend. I advise against watching it by yourself, too, as you'll have no one to crack wise with.
A Send Up to Sleaze That Works
Eli Roth's send up to sleaze ain't bad. It isn't just terribly good in its own right, but I love the fact that he's making hard-R-rated horror. For an "exploitation" film it's tame. You're not gonna get your frills here if you cut your teeth on stuff by Deodato or even early Peter Jackson, but you can still appreciate the fact that Roth is making an effort to put the umph back into mainstream genre pictures. Is Roth the wunderkind savior of horror? No. But, he's trying.
And, you know what, it is a decent little picture. Odes to Suicide Club, Takashi Miike's cameo, etc. aside, you can dig the film as an okay addition from Roth. Lots of t'n'a and a decent amount of gore and an okay story make it at least worth a watch.
Alpha Dog (2006)
Alpha Dog Has Teeth
The film, which closed out the 2006 Sundance film festival, is based on the true story of twentysomething drug dealer Jesse James Hollywood and a kidnapping that goes sour. After a deadbeat (Jake Mazursky - played by Ben Foster) doesn't pay up, drug dealer Johnny Truelove (Hirsch) attempts to "rough him up". However, he falls short in getting his message across and Mazursky retaliates by later breaking into Truelove's home. In the escalating cycle, Truelove kidnaps Mazursky's brother and that's where the story really takes off. Featuring powerful performances by Sharron Stone and Ben Foster (and a surprisingly solid one from Justin Timberlake), I found the movie to be a pretty fun ride and a well-done indictment of the selfish mentality that befalls a generation of kids with too much money and time on their hands that watch too much MTV.
The biggest qualm the critics seem to have is how exploitive the film is, with its rampant drug use and t'n'a, even calling the film an "LA Exploitation Film". However, these types of comments, while not exactly unfounded, are misplaced. These "exploitive" elements are actually quite integral to the story, as they show the depravity of these kids, so I have to disagree with them.
Anyway, I liked it.
Oddball Documentary Does Its Job
The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr. isn't a particularly good documentary. Aesthetically, it's lackluster and cheap looking, the people in it go off on tangents which make it very unfocused and in-cohesive, but this adds to it's charm. I say this because it's a documentary about an oddball that made oddball pictures and surrounded himself with fellow oddballs and, as such, there's really no other way to document the life and career of the man and his crew of misfits. There are some glimpses of insight into both the genius and the ineptness of Wood, and the portrayal of both qualities is a credit to the genuineness of the documentary. Overall, it's worth a watch for the Wood fan and those of cinema in general, but don't expect brilliance here. Expect a documentary made after Wood's own heart.
Pork Chop Hill (1959)
A Fine War Film
One of the few classic films about the Korean war, Pork Chop Hill is a genuinely good specimen of a nitty gritty war film in the pre-blood and guts era. What the movie lacks in realistic language and violence it more than makes up for in intensity. Peck is amazing, as usual, as Lt. Joe Clemons, the man leading the charge on the hill. His performance of a man on the edge is very believable. Sympathizing with his plight to try and get reinforcements or the heck outta there is an easy task. The early civil rights-era film seems to also touch on some social issues, showing a camaraderie between all ethnicities. Overall, this is a fine example of a classic war film with one of the finest American actors of all time in the lead role...you can't go wrong.