We Want Action: Death Wish 3 (1985) & Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987)

death wish 3 french poster As I mentioned when reviewing the 1990 Night Of The Living Dead remake, I did my best to watch as many of the movies leaving my Netflix Instant cue on July 1. There were 20 and I only got through three and a half (I gotta get my hands on Robinson Crusoe On Mars so I can finish that fun 60s sci-fi flick), two of which were these Death Wish sequels.

I’ve talked a lot about how my dad introduced me to a lot of 70s and 80s comedies featuring SNL cast members, but he was also into the vigilante movies of the 70s, specifically Dirty Harry and its sequels. Along the way, I’m sure we talked about Death Wish, but I didn’t have a firm grasp on what those movies actually were until I watched them in the last few years.

Basically, the first two movies are raw revenge-fests featuring a man pushed to the edge by the murder and sexual assault of, first, his wife and second, his daughter. I tried watching Death Wish II in the past year and couldn’t get through it because it’s just so intense and bleak. A lot of that comes from the plots that never really let up, but also from Bronson’s grief-stricken performance. There’s got to be something to earn such mass amounts of vengeance, right?

And then you have Death Wish 3 which is insanely bonkers. In this one, Bronson’s Paul Kersey returns to New York (the location of the first film) to visit an old buddy who winds up getting, you guessed it, murdered by street punks. Turns out, these kids are total psychopaths living on the streets and running their own little kingdom of terror and crime, so Kersey decides to stick around and do his best to clean things up. How does he go about that? By helping his elderly neighbors set up eviscerating booby traps and laying into gang members with the gigantic gun seen in the poster.

The tone of this movie is all over the place. On one hand, there’s the very real and scary nature of being an elderly person trapped in a place that seems to have gone completely wild. The kids playing the gang members — including Bill & Ted‘s Alex Winter — all go over the top, but it fits if you buy into the world being set up, it’s just that we’re being shown an insane world. I’ve got to give huge kudos to Gavan O’Herlihy as gang leader Fraker who is just so darn creepy and charismatic that he reminds me of  Dirty Harry‘s excellent villain turn by actor Andrew Robinson.

And then there’s Bronson. I think my love of him as an actor is pretty well documented in my reviews of The Mechanic, Mr. Majestyk and 10 To Midnight, but there’s just something off in this one. He seems almost deranged at times as he cracks jokes about murdering teenagers, evil as they may be. I guess it would make sense given how much the character has gone through, but it’s a very difficult attitude to relate to.

There were a few other things that made me shake my head. For one, the soundtrack is by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, one of the greatest guitarists of all times and it’s…just the weirdest. I think his score actually lends a lot to the film’s odd tone because it just doesn’t fit some of the time. There’s also a lot of strange gunplay going on that doesn’t make much sense. Kersey shoots that machine gun into huge crowds with most of the people running away. Other gunfights take place about five feet from each other and no one gets hit, but the worst is when cops roll in, hop out of their cars and stand IN FRONT OF THEM where they can be more easily murdered. Still, compared to the previous two Death Wish films, this is the kind of over-the-top, crazy movie that can actually be enjoyed instead of survived. death wish 4 german poster

That trend continues into the next film Death Wish 4: The Crackdown which is, not surprisingly, about crack and cocaine. In this one, Kersey’s back in LA dating a new woman whose daughter overdoses, sending our hero vigilante on his crusade. This time though, things get more complicated when, after successfully killing the drug dealers, Kersey gets offered the opportunity to take out the larger operation and two gangs in the process thanks to a mysterious benefactor.

This one feels more grounded, but also features a good deal of twists and turns that kept me interested. There are some weird things with the editing. In one scene, Kersey’s infiltrating a factory that doubles as a drug den. One of the thugs sees him snooping around, but doesn’t get to him until AFTER he opens the secret door, shoots a bunch of guys, throws a bomb inside and then runs away. There’s also an added chuckle factor when you see some of the 80s-tastic interiors.

I don’t have as much to say about this one because it’s a lot more straightforward, but I did get to thinking about Kersey’s psyche. On one hand, we see him have a seeming break from reality in 3. He’s getting a lot of enjoyment teaching old people how to maim and even more from killing (well, as much joy as Bronson lets through his stoney face). But then in 4 he’s back in a seemingly solid relationship and having a nice time with the woman and her daughter. With that in mind, he’s basically the most optimistic guy in the world, right? “My first wife may have been murdered and my daughter may have been murdered and my best friend may have been murdered, but I can still find people to love and care about.” Aside from all the murder, he’s actually kind of a great role model that way.

Halloween Scene: Dolls (1987) & 10 To Midnight (1983)

As much as I’ve been digging 007 lately, dedicating so much time to that franchise–whose movies tend to all hover around the two hour mark–has kept me away from watching other kinds of movies, specifically horror flicks. I still have to finish Die Another Day (almost finished last Friday before running off to New Hampshire) and the Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace, but the missus wants to watch those as well, so it might take a while for me to get to them. Anyway, I had a great time today going through Netflix Instant and checking out three movies (I also watched Dollman, which doesn’t have enough horror elements for me to include it here, but I might do a Quick Movie Review of it). Anyway, I must have been going through the “weird movies that begin with D” on Netflix a while back because Dolls was the next movie on the ol’ queue and I went for it, especially after realizing that Stuart Gordon directed it. I’ve seen embarrassingly few of his movies only seeing Re-Animator once a long time ago as well as Robot Jox which was a lot of fun and the strange/bad Space Truckers. I even had the pleasure of interviewing Gordon once, but I’m sure I’ll post something separate about that sooner or later.

Anyway, Dolls is about a young girl in England with her asshole father and stepmom whose car breaks down so they have to spend the night in a nearby mansion owned by an old couple with a penchant for doll-making. A nice guy played by Stephen Lee (he’s fantastic in this movie) also shows up at the house with a pair of British punk rawk chicks in order to up the body count and give the little girl someone to confide in. As the night–the longest one of the year, or something–the dolls start coming to life and taking out various guests with only the little girl knowing what’s up. Of course, her folks don’t listen to her because she apparently has visions or daydreams or something and is constantly talking about monsters and fairies and whatnot. The only one of these we see is early on when she envisions her thrown-away teddy bear becoming a giant, turning into a real bear and killing her parents. This scene convinced me this movie was worth watching. See here:

I don’t usually like killer toy/doll movies because I’m always thinking “Just crush it.” This movie handles that well by throwing tons of dolls at our house guests. The sheer numbers, not to mention their weapons like tiny knives, overwhelm one person, while another uses a makeshift weapon to wreck shop on a bunch of them, so it’s not like everyone is being taken out wholesale by these tiny things. THEN, things get flipped even more SPOILER when it turns out that the dolls aren’t normal dolls. They have little creatures inside that turn out to be previous guests who proved to be immoral and were thus turned into mini monsters by the couple who own the house who are also witches. It’s a great turn that makes them more dangerous and threatening. A good work around to a pretty great movie, possibly my favorite killer toy movie of them all!

It’s kind of funny how similar Dolls and 10 To Midnight wound up being. Like Stuart Gordon, I haven’t seen nearly enough Charles Bronson movies with some Death Wish flicks, The Mechanic, The Dirty Dozen, Breakout and maybe a few others under my belt. It also wound up being a kind of movie that I don’t usually like–gritty, real life killer in the slasher role–that I wound up digging. Heck, I wasn’t even expecting a horror movie when I selected the movie. It was in my head because my buddy Rickey mentioned it over on his excellent VHS review site Crucial VHS when talking about Death Wish 4 the other day.

Honestly, had I not wanted to write about two of the three movies I watched in one post, I probably would have dubbed 10 To Midnight as an action/crime movie. I was going to say that it’s about as much of a horror movie as something like Dirty Harry where you wind up seeing a good deal of the action from the killer’s perspective, but as I write, I’m turning more towards the idea that this is actually a horror movie in the vein of Maniac or something like that. We spend about equal time with the killer–a young man with sexual issues who kills his victims in the nude (there’s a lot of man butt in this movie)–and the cops one of which is Bronson. Plus, there’s a good deal of blood in the kills. From the very beginning we see the face of the killer who actually looks like Josh Brolin, but isn’t and the movie’s kind of a cat and mouse game with Bronson crossing a line and planting evidence which he later admits to. Of course, this pisses the killer off and he winds up going after Bronson’s daughter. It’s interesting because, after the court scene, Bronson actually takes on the role of a slasher, constantly following the killer, calling him at all hours, breaking into his house and even hanging pictures of the killer’s victims at his place of work. That’s another reason I labeled this one a horror movie, though the flick’s never really scary even if it has it’s suspenseful moments.

All in all, I’m realizing it’s nearly impossible to go wrong with a Bronson movie. He’s just so cool and such a badass and he always does the thing that people want to do, but usually don’t thanks to moral or legal concerns. Plus, I love his freaking voice. People always say stuff like they could listen to someone read the phone book, I wouldn’t go that far, but I wish he had had a career as an audiobook reader before passing away because he could make even Tess Of The d’Urbervilles interesting (hate that book). Thanks to Rickey for putting this movie on my radar and Jesse for also encouraging me to watch it. Great pick bros!

Quick Movie Review: The Mechanic (1972)

After watching Breakout a while back, I added every single Charles Bronson movie available on Netflix’s instant watch. One such movie is The Mechanic, which I knew absolutely nothing about and had a great time watching it. I’m guessing the popularity of James Bond movies helped get this flick made. Or maybe the 70s were just filled with movies like these. I guess I should explain. See, Bronson plays a hitman who works for an organization which sends him packages of information on his victims. Early in the movie, he gets a package with the picture of his friend Big Harry who he succeeds in killing. Soon after, he takes on Harry’s son played by Jan-Michael Vincent to train as a mechanic (a.k.a. hitman) for the organization. It’s kind of like Bangkok Dangerous, with an older killer taking someone under his wing and explaining how to do what they do, but, you know, not incredibly lame and boring. Not only do we get treated to some really fun training sessions first with Bronson alone in his cool 70s pad (with full-on knife throwing and a secret wall where he puts all the information on his hits) and later with him and Vincent. And don’t worry, just because it’s got a PG rating doesn’t mean this movie is lame. I would have thought it would be and R or PG-13 (though that rating didn’t exist back then) because of all the deaths (and there are a lot). Now I’m going to jump into SPOILER TERRITORY. I really, liked how this movie ended. After being given a mission that would take him to Italy, Bronson went home to discover that Vincent had actually been given a case file with him in it (so Vincent was assigned to kill Bronson). Knowing this, he prepared himself and the two of them went off and did the mission in style (this is a great couple of sequences). Anyway, at the end, after completing the mission in Italy, Vincent poisons Bronson and heads back to Bronson’s place. Bronson figured this would happen, so he rigged a stress ball that he always used to explode if moved by anyone aside from him and killed Vincent. I liked how bleak the ending was with both killers getting killed. There’s an interesting tone to the movie as it just kind of sits back and lets events unfold without getting judgmental about what’s happening on screen. It also balances really dark moments like when Vincent takes Bronson to this girl’s house where she has threatened to, and then does, slit her wrists right in front of them. Then, you’ve got later scenes with the two kicking ass and taking names. If you need further prodding to check this movie out, it’s directed by Michael Winner who also directed Death Wish 1-3, all classics in their own right. Oh, plus, Jason Statham is working on a remake, so you might as well check this out, so you can bitch about how different they are.

Halloween Scene: Scream (1996) & House Of Wax (1953)

Even amongst all this Christmas craziness, I still find some time to check out the occasional horror movie (though not as much as I would like). I made a double feature out of the mostly unrelated Scream and House of Wax on the NetBox the other night and had a good time with both.

I saw Scream back when it came out. I don’t think it was in the theaters, more likely at a friend’s house. At some point, I bought it on VHS andkept it secret from my parents. I wasn’t very well versed in horror at the time, but I liked it a lot, especially Matthew Lillard and Jamie Kennedy (what 13-year-old didn’t?) even though I got almost none of the horror references. I watched it again a few years back with Sam and Megan along with Hostel before heading down to Wizard World Philly the next day. We were all pretty freaked out and  I remember thinking that Scream held up pretty well. After watching it again with even more horror movies under my belt, I’m not sure if I like it as much. It was still enjoyable, but I didn’t buy into it as much this time around. I was left with a lot of head scratching “that doesn’t make sense” moments. For instance, how does Rose McGowan not open the door back into the house from the garage one moment and the killer does the next? Also, what kind of garage doesn’t have a side door? Also, upon further viewing, I don’t really buy Skeet Ulrich and Lillard’s explanation at the end of the movie for why they did it. I know it’s a joke throughout the movie that you don’t really need a motive anymore to be a killer, but why the hell does Lillard’s character do it? I can buy Ulrich’s motive, but Lillard literally says he’s doing it because he’s seen to many movies. Really? You’ve decided to plunge knives into your classmates because you’re seen too many movies? I’ve seen a butt load of horror movies and I don’t feel the need to kill anyone (that’s what video games are for).Plus, it’s funny to hear about how expensive cell phones are, with the cop yelling at Ulrich something like “How can a KID afford one of these?!”Hehe.

Those minor problems aside, it’s still a really enjoyable movie and changed the game for horror. Up until that time, horror was in pretty dire straights after a late-80s slump. Scream brought some heft to the table with a fairly solid story, a fun premise,”master” horror director Wes Craven, a script by the Dawson’s Creek guy, a stable of great actors (I think they all kill in this movie, except for Ulrich who’s channeling Johnny Depp a bit too much for my tastes), plenty of nods to horror fans and, of course, presenting us with “the rules.” Sure, older horror fans knew that you never screw, smoke, do drugs or say “I’ll be right back,” but those of us who were more impressionable at the time hadn’t figured it all out. I will say that, while I didn’t remember many of the scenes and movies referenced in Scream, I always remembered those rules. Heck, I actually wanted a few more. Maybe Craven, Williamson and Kennedy can get together and write a book/make a few YouTube videos. They’re making a fourth Scream right? I smell a potential tie-in! For some reason (and I hate when they do this), only the first Scream movie is available for instant watch on the NetBox, which is a bummer because I want to watch 2 and 3 again. It’s been a while since I’ve seen 2 again and I’ve only seen 3 one time (gotta love the Jay and Silent Bob cameos).

Up next was the original House of Wax movie, starring Vincent Price. I had seen the 2005 remake which is most well known for murdering Paris Hilton (for what it’s worth, I think she actually did a good job in the movie), but the two movies are completely different. The original stars Price as a man who runs a wax museum. His business partner burns it to the ground and Price is assumed dead, only to return with a much more macabre-oriented museum with wax figures that look suspiciously like people from the neighborhood. The remake revolves around a bunch of kids whose car breaks down in a town seemingly overrun with wax figures. Anyway, I’m a fan of anything Vincent Price is in, I’m still making my way through the MGM Vincent Price DVD box set I was given when I was still a lowly researcher at Wizard. We’re also fraternity brothers in Alpha Sigma Phi, so there’s that. I even included the man in one of those “What three people would you like to have dinner with?” essays that helped me get into college (Jimi Hendrix and Chicago columnist Mike Royko were the other two, for what it’s worth).

House of Wax continues my huge levels of enjoyment whenever seeing Price on screen. He plays his usual awesome self, you know, the seemingly normal guy who’s going a little bit crazy. This time around SPOILER WARNING, Price uses his thugs-turned-artists (one of which is Charles Bronson) and his own skills to kill people so he can cover them in wax and put them up in his brand new chamber of horrors (he doesn’t have good use of his hands since the fire). He killed the guy who tried to burn the place down and goes after his girlfriend. That’s where things get troublesome, because that woman’s roommate recognizes her dead friend in the museum. Eventually the cops catch on and there’s a manhunt. While watching it, I was continually struck by how similar this movie is to Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood (1959), though the characters’ motivations for turning corpses into art are completely different.

You might have noticed from the poster that the movie was originally filmed in 3D and much like my viewing of the My Bloody Valentine remake, I watched it without the aid of the third dimension. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the movie because it would have too many “whoa, look what’s flying at the camera NOW” moments, but those are few and far between. I actually forgot the movie was even originally in 3D until the opening of the new wax museum where there’s a dude smacking those paddleballs around at the audience. I bet that was pretty cool in 3D, but you’re not really missing much (not like, say Friday The 13th 3D, which is a bummer when not in 3D). Also, just check out how rad that poster is? This one’s definitly worth a look and makes me want to open a movie theater like The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin or The New Beverly in LA so I could show movies like this as they were originally intended. Anyone looking to hook that up in Orange County NY? I’ll be your manager, no probs.

Six Movies I’ve Seen Recently

Even with all the Halloween Scene posts I’ve been doing this month, I still watch non blood and guys flicks, I just don’t necessarily have the time or energy to do lengthy posts about all of them. So let’s just jump right into it. Let’s just assume there are SPOILERS in all these reviews.

SPECIAL (2006)
I remember hearing about this Michael Rapaport movie about a guy who gains superhero-like powers a while back and thinking it sounded interesting. I dig superhero movies, even when they’re not about known characters and I like Rapaport. Movies like this can be an interesting take on elements of comics and superheros that norms might not have experienced before, but geeks like us have. Special does something like though. See, in Special, Rapaport is a comic book fan who takes part in a pharmaceutical study. He thinks it’s giving him super powers, when really it’s just messing with his mind. To be honest, I turned it off with about 20 minutes left because it was crazy-depressing. Rapaport is such a sad sack lunatic, that he’s hard to watch. For a while you’re not sure whether he really does have powers or not, but by the time I turned it off, after you’re convinced he’s just nuts, I’m not sure how things are supposed to make sense. For instance, when we see him in a chase scene, are we seeing the whole thing through his mind or not? Or the invisible fight? How did these work in real life? I don’t often go in for the “comic book readers as a community” thing, but I do feel like this movie doesn’t help paint comic book fans in any kind of positive light. Eh, moving on.

THE TV SET (2006)
After being disappointed with Special, I wanted to watch something I had heard good things about recently. When I was still at ToyFare, Justin, just told me he watched The TV Set and dug it. See, it’s written and directed by Jake Kasdan who was a director and producer on Freaks & Geeks and is about a producer trying to get his show off the ground only to find his vision being trampled on at every turn thanks to TV executives. David Duchovny is the producer while Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd) are the execs giving him trouble. There’s even a brief appearance from Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg (Howard). As a creative person who likes the idea of creating art and just letting it speak for itself, it was hard watching a man’s vision get picked apart and seeing him try to fight for his ideas, but ultimately losing. But unlike with Special, the downer tone didn’t bother me because it reads like a cautionary tale. Not necessarily one that says “don’t get into TV because THIS can happen,” but more along the lines of “hey, heads up, this friggin happens.” The TV Set should be required viewing for anyone looking to get into the TV business and also is kind of a perfect meta bookend for Freaks & Geeks fans.

breakout posterBREAKOUT (1975)
Sometimes I go through the Netflix Instant Watch movies and just look for a certain actor. One of those actors is Charles Bronson, because he’s a badass. One of those movies is Breakout, which gives us the story of a woman trying to get her husband (Robert Duvall) out of a Mexican jail with the help of Bronson and his right hand man Randy Quaid. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t paying a ton of attention so I missed a lot of the intricacies of the plot. See, Bronson cons a bunch of people in order to pull off this prison break, with all kinds of twists and turns that I didn’t get all of. I will say that Bronson is the man, no doubt about that and it was a lot of fun seeing such a young Quaid and I didn’t even recognize Duvall as I’ve probably never seen a movie where he was this young. Anyway, you can do a lot worse when going through movies from the the 70s starring badass mothers.

FAME (1980)
As I’ve talked about before, I’m a big Kevin Smith fan and love listening to his Smodcast podcast. And, Smith is a big fan of Fame, having talking about it on several occasions. That combined with the new movie coming out and the fact that I’ve been hogging the Netflix DVDs with horror junk, I thought it’d be nice to put Fame at the top of the list so we could watching something on Tuesdays when you don’t watch anything else. And man, what a weird movie this is. You’ve got the message of how hard the life of a performer can be (graduates as waiters instead of actors, photographers looking to take advantage of girls, alcohol) mixed with these over-the-top dance sequences that flow out into the streets of New York or completely take over a lunchroom. Now, I know that performing arts kids can be dramatic, I did musicals in high school and knew plenty of them in college too, but this is just nuts. Though, I do appreciate the fact that it’s a practical musical, one in which the singing and dancing can practically take place in real life. In the end I liked the movie and was glad I had heard Smith talk about it so I wasn’t so surprised by all the intense craziness so I was ready for it, but I did find it a little unfocused. I didn’t have a grasp of who our main characters were until the fourth year and I feel like some of the characters were dropped as it did zoom in on our few main characters. Ah well, good stuff. I’m guessing the remake isn’t as hardcore and the new version of the theme song sucks all the energy and life out of the original. Fail. Oh, also, Alan Parker, who directed Fame also directed Pink Floyd’s The Wall, weird right?

AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS (2001)
Remember how I said I hog the Netflix? I do, it’s a fact. But anytime Em and I try going through NetBox to find something to watch, it takes FOREVER. It’s not that our taste in movies is so wildly different, it’s just that the movies on Instant Watch tend more towards my weird tastes than hers. So, when we came across America’s Sweethearts starring John Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Julia Roberts and Billy Crystal. The idea is that John and Catherina are big time movie stars who break up and break down, essentially, but they still have a movie premiering that they need to do press for. Like The TV Set, Billy Crystal co-wrote the story based on his experiences in Hollywood, so it’s another kind of insider look and seems to gel with things I’ve read. Crystal plays John’s agent while Julia is Catherine’s sister/assistant. It boils down to a romantic comedy, but it was a good enough one to pass some time. Plus, as you know, I love me some John Cusack.

side out posterSIDE OUT (1990)
Are there any other sports movies about volleyball? It seems like the people behind Bring It On and Stick It should be working on one right now, though stay away from Ultimate Frisbee, I’ve got something in the works (ie, I want to eventually make something). Anyway, I had heard about Side Out before somewhere, saw it was available on the NetBox and just decided the hell with it, I’m doing this thing! And, it was just okay. I’d still rather watch Bring It On or Stick It. The story follows C. Thomas Howell as a guy working for a bank or something (I can’t even remember what the actual job is). He’s serving papers to a rad beach dude and ends up playing volleyball with another guy. They get their asses kicked, then train and get pretty good, but the other guy gets hurt and the rad beach dude takes his spot. You’ve absolutely seen this kind of movie before, but this time you get Howell and Courtney Thorne-Smith and even Kathy Ireland for a few seconds. Good enough for a few beers and a watch, but I’m not counting the days till I watch it again.