1989. Director. Terence H Winkless.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
I have been consuming a stupid amount of 80s and 90s martial arts movies over the past month. I am currently writing a script that throws back to that era of fight flicks and so I am absorbing as much as I can. One of the franchises that I never paid much attention to was BLOODFIST, starring Don "The Dragon" Wilson. When this movie came along there had already been a string of successful films such as BLOODSPORT, KICKBOXER and KARATE KID. Being no stranger to cashing in on popular trends Roger Corman sliced his own piece of the cake with this trashy little movie. When it comes to shitty second-rate films, this is right up there with the best of them. In fact I would go so far as to declare it worse than NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER. But as you know... I am a sucker for bad cinema and for all of BLOOFIST's shortcomings, there's plenty of fun to be had. Straight off the bat it's a blatant knock-off of KICKBOXER and just about every other revenge-fuelled fight movie. A retired fighter travels to Manila to avenge the death of his brother. In order to do so he must compete in a fierce tournament, against merciless brutes. There is nothing new here but the level of hokiness raises BLOODFIST to awesomeness with it's simplistic script, woeful dialogue and z-grade acting (at times you'd swear it was dubbed). Despite being a shit movie, BLOODFIST was seriously profitable in the rental market and spawned 9 more sequels, with Wilson in all but the last. What the film genuinely has going for it is it's cast of actual champion fighters. Don Wilson, Billy Blanks, Rob Kaman and Kris Aguilar were all real legends in the martial art world and brought a level of skill and credibility that many of the other fight films of the time lacked. The other 9 films in the series also boasted professional fighting names too... lovers of gritty, realistic martial arts movies may want to look elsewhere but if you like stodgey sound effects (whack. thump. doof) and every cliche in the book then BLOODFIST is the shiz!
1992 / Director. Steve Barnett.
Review by Justine Ryan.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, humans have been split between living in the Inworld as dreamers, plugged into a virtual reality world called Infinisynth. Infinisynth is anything you want it to be, any reality you can create. The film's lead Judy Apple (Marta Alicia now known as Marta Martin - STAR TREK) is lonely and craves a new experience, something real than being hooked in. Judy is exiled by the systems operator after invading her complacent mothers dream reality, accidently killing her, while trying to find what happened to her father Theodore Apple (Angus Scrimm - PHANTASM, SUBSPECIES), who went missing years before. Judy awakes in the wastelands of the Outworld, where humans have been mutated into savage cannibles known as crawlers, who live underground. After being rescued from the crawlers clutches by the very handsome and charismatic (plus my all time favourite actor) Bruce Campbell (THE EVIL DEAD, MANIAC COP, SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT, RUNNING TIME, WAXWORK II: LOST IN TIME, BURN NOTICE) as Stover, one of the last human survivors in the Outlands. Soon enough Judy and Stover are both captured by the crawlers and Judy is reunited with her father , who has become a seer to the crawlers. Mindwarp aka Brain Slasher was one of many films in my youth that I had hired numerous times on home video on my weekly visits each Saturday afternoon to the video shop with my dad and sister, trolling every shelve and falling in love with many video covers imagining what each film would be like. A long time favourite and stand out scene for me in the film is when poor Stover is locked in a cage in water by the crawlers and painfully screams in agony as he is infested with paracitic leeches ripping into his flesh before incubating him (one of Bruce's best moments on film). Steve Barnett (SCANNER COP II) does a fine job with Mindwarp. It is loads of fun and our three main leads add lots of empathy and depth to their performances that could easily get lumped into just being another mindless horror film. After being only available on VHS, I happily discovered during the week that Mindwarp has been given the Blu-ray treatment by Twilight Time but limited to only 3,000 copies. Snap one up while you can!
1990 / Director. Charles Band.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Before Charles Band started pumping out movies about demonic toys, murderous puppets, evil bongs and killer gingerbread-men he used to make quality B-movies. Right throughout the 80s and early 90s he produced and directed a heaps of DTV sci-fi thrillers and CRASH AND BURN is one of them. It came towards the end of the whole robo-era that had been exploited following the success of TERMINATOR and ROBOCOP. The movie takes place in a future following an economic catastrophe. Earth lays in tatters and in an attempt to revitalise society all computers and robotics have been banned. Associating with either is punishable by law. When a cyborg infiltrates one of the few TV stations remaining, the employees find themselves in a fight to survive. The premise is very "same-ish" and we've seen it all before (ASSAULT ON PRESCIENT 13 meets CYBORG) , but the beauty of CRASH AND BURN is it's simplicity. With a low budget and pre-CGI attitude, the story is kept tight and it moves along at a nice little pace. The cast are all good with Bill Moseley being the obvious stand out. The poster art is misleading with a giant robot looming over the characters, but the truth is that the only giant robot in the movie itself is one that lays dormant on the ground. Instead the movie uses set up and suspense to pull the wool over our eyes. There is very little action and yet by the end of it you feel like you've seen a fair bit of it. The grungey, industrial set design and atmosphere do wonders in keeping it all together and the ludicrously heightened soundtrack lifts it up into that classic Charles Band B-Movie stratosphere. Upon it's release the title was changed in many territories to ROBOT JOX 2 in an attempt to capitalise on the success of Stuart Gordon's film (produced by Band). There is NO correlation between the two movies and so if you find ROBOT JOX 2 in a box set collection, go ahead and watch it. Heaps of fun.
1989 / Director Lamberto Bava.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Lamberto Bava has made dozens of films but none have been more widely received than DEMONI 1 & 2. They've become cult classics and celebrated by gore-fiends all over the world. When he made a television film called THE OGRE the distributors seized the opportunity to cash in on the DEMONI property and renamed it to DEMONI 3. Of course has has NOTHING to do with those films and there isn't a single demon in sight. Instead, the film tells the story of a family who move to an old castle in the Italian countryside. The wife spent her childhood on the estate and believes she was tormented by a celler-dwelling ogre. Now 22 years later she suffers recurring nightmares of the ogre and she can't distinguish dreams from reality. The story is contrived but for a late 80s TV movie, THE OGRE is actually very good. It moves at a snail's pace but the atmosphere and sense of dread is very strong. The set design and use of locations is effective and the SFX are surprisingly decent. The ogre himself is hokey and laughable but he's rarely seen and the strength of the movie lies in it's build up. To the average movie-goer this would be scoffed at and passed off as shit, but to an avid genre fan there is a lot to sink your teeth into. I would compare THE OGRE to movies like RAWHEAD REX, CASTLE FREAK and SUBSPECIES... all shoddy at first glance yet all have more to offer when you bother to pay attention. It's the type of movie that brings out the inner child in me and I know that 10 year old self would have been terrified and excited in equal measure by THE OGRE.
2008 / Director. Mabrouk El Mechri.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
It's impossible to hate JCVD. This is a fantastic movie and I can only imagine that its detractors are the intellectually challenged folk who refuse to watch subtitled films. As the title suggests, Jean-Claude Van Damme plays himself in a skewed and altered reality. Down on his luck, deep in a custody battle and stuck in D2V-land he returns to his home town of Brussels. On his first day back he walks into a bank at the wrong moment and becomes a hostage in a botched robbery. The authorities on the outside think Van Damme is the ring-leader and a crowd of crazed fans and a media circus fill the streets surrounding the building. The film plays out from various perspectives and often skips back to the beginning, offering repeated scenes with new revelations. This is a gutsy film and there is no way it could have been made in the States. It smacks of Euro and I can't imagine any American studio wanting anything to do with it. Thank God Van Damme is French because it gives the film a fantastic setting as well as a weird and wonderful quirkiness. It's a gutsy movie too and at this point in his career, Van Damme has little to lose. He really gives everything he's got and his performance is brave. It's self-referential and very self-critical. Throughout the film he discusses his career, mistakes he's made and opportunities he's wasted. One incredible monologue midway through the film is quite amazing. He breaks from the narrative and addresses the audience in a heartfelt reflection of his life. He exudes emotion and proves that there's more to him as an actor than just an action hero who can do the splits. He's also in the shape of his life and at the age of 47 is as fit as a 20 year old. The opening action sequence of the film is amazing. One single take, lasting for 10 minutes with every kind of action cliche in the book... it's a moment of endurance and coordination that should be applauded. This is excellent filmmaking.
1988 / Director. John Carl Buechler.
Review by Justine Ryan. (Contains mild spoilers)
Cellar Dweller is a fun B grade horror film in the style of EC comics, directed by John Carl Buechler (TROLL and FRIDAY THE 13th PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD), written by Kit Du Bois (CHILD’S PLAY’S Don Mancini using a pseudonym), with special creature effects by Buechler himself.
The film begins with Colin Childress (Re-Animator’s Jeffrey Combs), creator of the comic book Cellar Dweller, who is given license through a book of spells that whatever he draws in his comic strip will bring to life the murderous beast with an unquenchable thirst for blood: “He who has wisdom, wonders not of the beast, for nothing in hell lives without man’s consent. Woe unto you that gives the beast form. To contemplate evil is to ask evil home”.
Cut to 30 years later, a cartoonist and Cellar Dweller devotee Whitney Taylor (Debrah Mullowney), has been accepted as a resident at an art academy which was also Colin Childress’ house before his death. As the film progresses we discover that Childress was Whitney’s hero as a child, and she now wants to create a new comic book in the tradition of Cellar Dweller.
Though it seems Whitney is doomed to repeat history , as she finds the book of spells and once again the creature of Cellar Dweller is unleashed in every comic strip she puts ink to paper. In the last frame the creature proclaims: “Wherever there is imagination….I will dwell!”
Cellar Dweller was released for the first time on region 1 DVD on 29 October 2013, along with THE DUNGEONMASTER, CONTAMINATION 7 and CATACOMBS as part of Scream Factory’s All Night Horror Marathon series: Volume Two. It will also see a region 2 DVD release on 5 May 2014. Any fan of the horror genre should give this flick a whirl. It’s light on blood and gore but is a fun little ride throughout its 77 minute running time. I shelve this under one of the better titles to come from Empire Pictures. Now is as good a time as any to rediscover this!
1978 / Director. Colin Eggleston.
Review by Glenn Cochrane
Today I attended the memorial service of Everett DeRoche. It was a remarkably uplifting farewell and served as a wonderful celebration of his life. And so tonight with a heavy dose of nostalgia I decided to revisit LONG WEEKEND. This was Everett's first feature script and remains one of his most potent and original. It tells the story of a couple who travel to the beach for a long weekend away as a means for them to reconnect after a personal tragedy. Along their way they frivolously trash nature by flicking cigarette butts, discarding rubbish and killing wildlife. With a total disregard for the nature around them, the nature itself begins to taunt them and their weekend turns into a nightmare of building tension. It's a remarkable film and watching it 35 years later it's amazing how well it stands up and how relevant the message holds. What a testament to Everett's writing and imagination. Aside from Hitchcock's THE BIRDS I cant recall another film quite like it. Without a villain to account for, he has crafted a chilling thriller that relies on suspense and atmosphere. The cinematography is so good too with awesome, sweeping pans and tight close-up tracking shots. The film was remade in 2008 by director Jamie Blanks and while I admit that it is also a solid thriller, nothing compared to this original and unsettling classic. Do yourself the favour and turn off the lights. Turn up the volume and take a trip to the beach with John Heargreaves and Briony Behets in LONG WEEKEND. An outstanding thriller!
1994 / Director. Albert Pyun. Movie #18
I love the KICKBOXER series and Albert Pyun's KICKBOXER 2 is my favourite of them. It is also arguably the best instalment... that movie introduced Sasha Mitchell as a new leading action man and tailored a new narrative, while remaining true to the set-up of the original. Sasha Mitchell then returned for part 3 and that film, while solid enough as a stand-alone, was hard to take as a KICKBOXER story. It was almost devoid of martial arts and relied heavily on gun fights, chases and explosions. It was a different type of action movie... and so then Albert returned to the franchise with part 4, which ignores the previous film and continues David Sloan's story following part 2 (ya with me?). THE AGGRESSOR sees Sloan in prison after he was stung by a botched undercover operation for the feds. In the mean time his wife is kidnapped by the infamous Tong Po (from the first two movies) and he is released from jail on the provisor that he goes undercover once more to infiltrate an illegal fighting tournament held by Tong Po at his remote Mexican ranch (also an opportunity to rescue his wife). Being a fan of the franchise, THE AGGRESSOR is a tough one to swallow. On the up-side, it is a return to the original themes and puts it's emphasis on the fighting... but there are a lot of shortcomings that ultimately bring the movie undone. The story seems far more convoluted than it needs to be and the fight sequences are laboured. The biggest weakness is the character of Tong Po. He is a movie villain that has become iconic thanks to his deep voice, cool name and trademark ponytail... and in this sequel his entire character has been sullied. Michel Qissi didn't reprise the role and Kamel Krifia stepped into his shoes. The unfortunate consequence of this is that Po's deep gravelly voice is now high-pitched and whiney. He looks like a weakling and not the brutal barbarian we've come to know. His make-up is also unforgivable. So poorly done are his prothetic Asian eyes that at times he has two sets of eyelids when he blinks... and then there's his wrinkled bald-cap which becomes displaced several times throughout fight sequences. All of the movie's foibles are unfortunate because it is still fun to watch Sasha Mitchell kick ass and the concept had the potential to be a welcome addition to the franchise. The frustrating part for me is that I still enjoy watching KICKBOXER 4. It's a lot of fun, but I wish I were enjoying it as a good sequel rather than a hokey 90 minutes of cliches. There are far worse fight movies out there and this one's simply good for shits 'n giggles.
2013 / Director. Kimberly Peirce.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Another fucking remake of a classic and I don't really know how to respond. "Pointless" is the first thing that comes to mind. Rather than adapting Stephen King's novel, the film mimics Brian DePalma's classic 1979 original. It's so blatant that it's almost verbatim, with the exception of iPhones and computers thrown into the mix to make it relevant. Chloe Grace Motetz stars as the title character and it's a terrible piece of casting. Firstly she is far too attractive to represent the character as written in the book and secondly she delivers a Sissy Spacek impersonation. There is no original take on the character but rather a forced imitation. Juliane Moore is effective as the hideous Margaret White but her performance alone can't save the film. I have a 14 year old daughter who has seen both versions and she even agrees that the original is much better. It's a testament to it's strength and goes to show that some things are better left untouched. As a stand alone movie, CARRIE '13 is adequate and deals with the themes of teen bullying in a way that may resonate with many dim-witted teens but no more effectively than the 79 film did. As far as remakes go, it's practically identical to the original and has no real purpose. Watch for shits & giggles but avoid if you're looking for something powerful.
1987 / Director. Stuart Gordon.
Review by Justine Ryan. (contains spoilers)
Dolls was the stuff of nightmares for me as a child. I first encountered this film a few years after it was released on home video, while over at my aunties house. She had hired it over the weekend and on this particular Saturday night, a bunch of my cousins and I decided to watch it. I don't think my young self could anticipate the feeling of true spine tingling terror I would feel until that screening (Sam Raimi's THE EVIL DEAD and David Schmoeller's TOURIST TRAP were two other films that also had the same effect). I crapped myself!, and it wouldn't be for another 10 or so years later, that I would have the courage to return to it on video a couple more times in my middle and then late teens before my undying love was sparked.
Stuart Gordon fresh off his directorial debut Re-Animator (1985), followed this up as his second feature. Before any script was written, Executive Producer Charles Band had only a poster made up with the title THE DOLL. Screenwriter Ed Naha (TROLL) came on board and wrote a truly entertaining horror film with plenty of heart, channeling The Brothers Grimm fairy tales.
The film begins with young Judy Bower (Carrie Lorraine), her mean father David (Ian Patrick Williams) and wicked stepmother Rosemary (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon) stranded during a storm as they seek shelter in a nearby mansion owned by elderly doll maker Gabriel (Guy Rolfe) and his wife Hilary Hartwicke (Hilary Mason) whom by the films end are revealed to be witches. Soon three more guests arrive, to wait out the violent storm. Ralph Morris (Stephen Lee) and two british punk rocker hitchhikers named Isabel (Bunty Baily) and Enid (Cassie Stuart).
Soon enough the night does turn into the longest night in the world for our 6 guests as they soon start getting dispatched in delightfully gruesome ways by Gabriels creations which include a Punch doll, some very creepy victorian dolls, puppets, soldiers, ballerinas and cowboys, whom we discover by the films end, that inside each doll are decaying corpses of people that must have been previous guests at the Hartwicks.
We learn by the film's end that Gabriel and Hilary believe that toys will be around for as long as children want them. They are the heart and soul of childhood and that the bitterness people feel as adults can turn to love if they surrender to the good will toys provide. They give everyone a sporting chance, but for people like the David and Rosemary Bowers and the Isabel and Enids of the world, well they must start over as toys.
Now for those horror buffs that have not seen this gem and in my eyes a classic, please do yourself a favour and track this film down and the rest of Director Stuart Gordon's back catalog of goodness. Highly recommend!
1997 / Director Albert Pyun. Movie # 28
How does one explain the mid 90s when it comes to Albert Pyun's career? In '95 he directed 3 films. In '96 he directed 5 films and in '97 he directed another 3. Thats astounding! The quality of each did vary but it's fair to say that for the quantity of films being pumped out, the standard is very good. BLAST is by no means the best of them but it still remains a perfectly passable action thriller. The story is presented as a "what it?". We are told of a real life terrorist plot that was intercepted prior to the Atlanta Olympic games and the film proceeds as though that threat was never detected. A terrorist group penetrates the security of the Atlanta Aquatic Centre where they take an American female swim team hostage. With FBI recon surrounding the facility, the pressure mounts and it's left to one lone janitor to take down the bad guys. This is more or less a poor man's DIE HARD which exploits all of the conventions and cliches, while still maintaining enough suspense to hold the viewer's attention. The film is strengthened by a good cast including Rutger Hauer, Andrew Divoff, Tim Thomerson, Thom Mathews and my favourite Pyun staple, Norbert Weissner. Albert's long time music collaborator Tony Riparetti delivers a beefed up score that probably over does it but lends the film an impression of urgency. Where the movie flounders is in it's bare-bones, low budget setting. The story takes place during the Olympic games and yet there no crowds, media or hype surrounding these events. Obviously budgetary restrains present that kind of production value but it does disconnect the viewer to an extent. The same minimalism was used in Pyun's MEAN GUNS and in many ways the two movies are very similar. I actually believe that BLAST is references in MEAN GUNS. It's a bit of nonsense but good fun if you're willing to go with it. If you decide to tack this one down then purchase the Spanish dvd release. It's presented in proper widescreen and the picture if pristine. Most other regions released the movie in 4:3 with a sub-par transfer.
2013 / Director. Bill Condon.
In THE FIFTH ESTATE Laura Linney's character questions how history will judge Julian Assange. Even now in 2014 while he is still holed up inside the Ecuadorian Embassy, her question is valid and is fundamental to Assange's platform. Some consider him a hero while others condemn him as a traitor but only time itself will reveal which he is to be... and THE FIFTH ESTATE comes along and paints him in a very poor light and it's very difficult to swallow (for me at least). Firstly it's an American film and the USA is Wikileaks' enemy #1 and while Assange is at first portrayed as a commendable champion of freedom the film gradually takes him on a downward spiral that reduces his figure to little more than a mentally retarded lunatic. I took exception with this. I am personally undecided on my opinion of Julian Assange but I know from the media and interview coverage I have seen that his is not the same personality depicted here. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Assange and he gets full props for his exceptional Australian accent. He nails it. But his whole persona is off kilter. I didn't buy this depiction one bit. Daniel Brühl, on the other hand, is brilliant. Of course I am not familiar with the real life character of Daniel Schmitt and so my praise is purely from his on-screen resonance. I also found the script very plonky... that is to say that it's scattered and simplistic. Director Bill Condon uses a continuous series of fantasy images to depict the mysterious entity of Wikileaks itself and I found these elements to be really contrived and manipulative. He also refers back to Assange's childhood experience with a dangerous cult, which seemed desperate to me. The whole cult thing as Assange's "reason" is absurd and for a better look into that chapter of his life, the Australian film UNDERGROUND is a much better examination. This film does not seem like a fair portrayal of someone as culturally and historically significant as Julian Assange and it plays out more like a collective point of view from an angry America. THE FIFTH ESTATE may as well have been produced by Fox News.