All in all, I had pretty great luck with newer horror films during 2017, as I wrote about in a post last week. When it comes to older films, especially horror ones, I tend to have lower — or at least different — expectations. If a movie’s off-the-wall bonkers, but made with effort, I’ll probably love it. That accounts for about half of the movies on this list. However, I also discovered a few that I now very much consider new-to-me classics that I hope to watch again and again. To find out which ones, you’ve got to hit that jump!
As I mentioned yesterday, I got to an early start when it came to watching horror movies this fall. So, I’ve got a lot to talk about! First, if you haven’t already, check out a pair of lists I wrote for CBR. One’s about movies and shows to follow Stranger Things up with while the other focused on the best classic horror movies to stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime!
Oh my goodness, you guys. Nightmare Weekend has got to be the most bonkers movie I’ve seen in a good long while. Maybe that’s because it’s the ONLY credit to screenwriter George Faget-Benard’s name or that director Henri Sala mainly seemed to deal in French erotica or the fact that it deals with, well, everything, but Nightmare Weekend is that rare movie that tries to do too much, fails, but still manages to entertain.
You probably want to know what the movie is about. I’ll try to let you know, but there are a surprising number of characters in this movie and far too many of them are brunettes who look very similar. I also don’t remember any of their names and apparently neither does anyone else who’s watched the movie.
So there’s this college girl whose dad is a scientist working on some kind of super computer. She leaves school to visit her pops. At the same time, dad’s assistant (she’s evil) invites one of the daughter’s friends and two others to a seemingly different house to test the computer on (they don’t cross paths until towards the end of the film, so unless it’s an enormous house…your guess is as good as mine). Somehow these tests include taking seemingly innocuous items like a watch and turning them into metal balls that can be programmed to attack various people Phantasm-style. Instead of drilling into the victims, though, they either fly right down the throat or…hide somewhere so they get consumed. If you’re wondering how something like this could cure people, as the assistant claims early on, you’re as confused as I was.
Sound crazy? We’re just getting started. The main girl wants to date this guy in town so she talks to her computer about the best way to get his attention. You’re thinking, “But computers couldn’t do anything cool like that in the 80s!” And you’d be right if it wasn’t for George. George is the girl’s computer, a TV inserted into what looks like a princess castle set from The Land of Make-Believe in Mr. Rogers Neighborhood that can play rudimentary computer games and display text. Oh, that’s right, there’s also a green-haired hand puppet who she communicates with who is basically the interface for the system. No I’m not making this up, I promise. Here’s proof.
You’ve got to wrap your mind around this whole George thing pretty early on, even before the main killings start, so it’s a lot. George can also talk with the dad’s system. There’s one scene where the main character is playing a game in her room, but inadvertently controlling someone’s car in the real world. BUT THAT’S NOT EVEN WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT! It’s about the balls that turn people into crazies who lick spiders, claw people during sex and drown in nearby water.
There are so many crazy parts of this movie! The college girls make it seem like being a scientist is like the best, most respected and wealthiest job in the whole world! George! The arachnophobe practically Frenching a Tarantula! Everyone at the bar! The alcoholic chauffeur! That scene where — I think — two people are getting down in a limo while the driver is trying to fix the tire, the passengers are on a picnic just a few feet away and a random guy on a motorcycle is standing…somewhere nearby dancing to his radio shirtless. You really have to see it all to believe it. I’m still processing it all and should probably watch it again. You know, for science.
Nightmare Weekend was a French film shot in Florida in which all the dialogue was eventually dubbed, which explains some of the off-kilter-ness on display. It also probably explains why Troma decided to distribute this one. There’s a Blu-ray version of the film from Vinegar Syndrome, but I streamed it on Amazon Prime. It’s pretty dark at times so you can’t always see what’s happening, something that’s not helped by the fact that the end of the movie bounces from day to night far too quickly. Still, if you like all-out craziness, then give this one a watch.
Oh and for what it’s worth, as someone who spends an inordinate amount of time at the computer, I’d fully support a system like George. I’d much rather talk to a weird, animated hand puppet than type everything out or talk to Siri.
Several years back I was in the enviable position of being on Shout Factory’s PR list thanks to working at ToyFare. Because of that, I got a lot of interesting DVD sets, some of which I haven’t even watched yet. The Giant Robot Action Pack featuring Robot Wars and Crash and Burn is one such selection that I decided to finally watch over the weekend and I was surprised at the results.
I’ve actually tried to watch Robot Wars — directed by Albert Band and released in 1993 — a few times, but never really made it through for various reasons. This time, I was set to watch the film and actually succeeded. A kind of sequel to Stuart Gordon’s Robot Jox — which is also getting the Shout Factory treatment — this movie takes place in a future world where one scorpion-like robot carries people from a protected city to one that was abandoned and preserved in 1993. After terrorists take over the robot, it’s up to our brash hero, his co-pilot, a reporter and an archaeologist to find another robot and save the day.
Though the title is pretty misleading — two robots fighting does not a war make — I had a lot of fun with this film. The stop motion on the robots looks better to my eye than the bad CGI that would be used today and the characters, while broad and oftentimes goofy, are charming and fun to watch (it wasn’t until this latest viewing that I realized the reporter is actually Lisa Rinna in an early role).
While this is far from the best giant robot movie I’ve ever seen, I appreciate that everyone involved seemed to be doing their best and trying to create something fun and interesting. Full Moon would sometimes swipe heavily from other projects, but this felt pretty original to me. That might not sound like the most thrilling endorsement, but it went pretty far for a low budget 90s sci-fi action film. It helps that my experience with huge robots doesn’t extend much past loving Transformers as a kid and loving Pacific Rim.
The other film on the set — Crash And Burn — is another kinda-sorta-not-really sequel to Robot Jox (they were marketed as such overseas, but share nothing in the way of continuity). This one actually really surprised me because it was such a mix of genres and movies that I love.
It starts off with a guy on a futuristic motorcycle traveling through the desert to visit a factory-turned-TV studio run by a rebellious old man who rails against the corporation that runs everything (and also employs the motorcycle driver). Once there, we meet an eclectic cast of characters that includes Bill Moseley, the old man’s granddaughter played by Dark Skies‘ Megan Ward, blowhard talk show host and a pair of women who…are there for some reason. Soon, an important character is murdered and the search is on to find out what happened. It just so happens to involve killer (human sized) robots and a huge robot outside that doesn’t work (BUT IT WILL!).
So, with this one movie you’ve got the seclusion of the desert with the post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland-type set up mixed with the group-of-stranded-strangers motif (because there’s a radiation storm of some kind) plus the whodunnit mystery (though it’s pretty clear who the killer is if you pay attention to footwear), the someone-isn’t-who-they-seem thing AND THE ROBOTS.
Let’s jump into SPOILER TERRITORY for this graph because I don’t want to ruin an old movie I do actually want you to check out. I tried to paint with broad strokes above, but here’s the deal. If you happen to notice the murderer’s ridiculous boots and then wait about five minutes until you see the cast together once again, you’ll know who the murderer is. Of course, it’s not revealed until AFTER they do a take on the test from The Thing that doesn’t quite go as planned. But once the killer is revealed, it’s a damn delight to watch him go absolutely bonkers, knock off a few randos and then have a big fight at the end that eventually involves the big robot.
All in all, it’s a perfectly crazy movie. While I appreciated Robot Wars for being better than I expected, Crash And Burn actually surprised me by being more aware of what it was and playing with the audience before finally giving them what they wanted in ways they might not have known that they wanted it. I can’t think of another movie I’ve watched recently where I had little-to-no expectations and yet was so pleasantly surprised.
Johnny Mnemonic‘s one of those 90s sci-fi action movies I saw once in high school and didn’t really think of much between then and when it popped up on Netflix Instant fairly recently. The movie finds Keanu Reeves’ title character working as an information courier. Instead of carrying the data in a briefcase, though, he gets it uploaded into his head. When mobsters attack as he’s getting the upload, things start going south for the guy who wants nothing more from life than to live the typical 80s yuppie lifestyle. Too bad for him, though, it turns out that what’s in his head is not only killing him, but could also save the lives of millions of people in this dystopian technofuture created by William Gibson, the godfather of cyberpunk.
I thought this was a pretty fun little action movie. In addition to Reeves you’ve got Ice-T playing a kind of resistance leader named J-Bone, Henry Rollins as a tech expert going by Spider and Dolph Lundgren as a crazy street preacher named Street Preacher. Oh and 90s That Lady Dina Meyer is Jane, Johnny’s bodyguard. She was in a few episodes of Friends and also Starship Troopers around this same time. The cast is pretty far from perfect, but the biggest bonus of this film is that you get to see Dolph Lundgren fighting Henry Rollins (or at least their stunt doubles going at it).
After giving this movie another watch, I get why I hadn’t thought much about it since the late 90s. While it is fun and Reeves gives a solid performance, it just doesn’t feel all that groundbreaking. Sure, it seemed to have a better budget than most of the other 90s dystopian action movies I’ve seen, but then you’ve got Rollins’ not-so-great acting and then there’s a cyber dolphin and, while I love Dolph, his character’s about as one note as you can get. Plus, when you think of Keanu Reeves sci-fi movies from the 90s, it’s really hard to think of anything past…
I mean, come on. This movie wasn’t just big, is was revolutionary. From the way it handled computer based worlds to those mind-bending action scenes, The Matrix very simply changed the game of big budget sci-fi action films. And all of that is thanks to Andy and Lana — then Larry — Wachowski and their insanely big vision for this film and it’s pair of sequels.
I often wonder about the impact of 90s cinema on pop culture outside of my generation. There were so many movies that were huge when I was growing up that don’t seem to get talked about anymore. Backdraft and Forest Gump are two that come to mind and I hope The Matrix isn’t like that. But, watching it again for the first time in maybe 10 years, I can see how it might seem dated to younger viewers and I’m not talking about the special effects. All that leather and those glasses and just about everything everyone wears just seems so 90s/early 00s, but maybe that’s because this movie was just so damn influential. In other words, is it a “what came first” scenario?
On the other hand, I wonder how much teenagers know about what was going down 20 years ago in general. When I was growing up in the 90s, the 70s were huge again and seemed very well documented all over the place. The nostalgia loop I mentioned when reviewing 54 had a lot to do with that, but I also don’t know how culturally impactful the 90s are to kids today, so maybe they wouldn’t think of those outfits as dated and could just get lost in the movie’s crazy world.
If you don’t remember — or you happen to be younger and aren’t familiar — The Matrix takes place on an Earth overrun by intelligent machines who now use humans incubating in egg-like pods for food. To keep the human brains occupied they built a computer simulation that allows them to live out their daily lives never knowing what’s really going on around them. Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, gets selected by a man named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) to learn about the true reality and help fight the machines. Morpheus believes Neo to be the chosen one, an idea that gets backed up when he takes to manipulating the Matrix incredibly well as the film progresses.
While there is a certain amount of affectation to the proceedings, I still really enjoyed this movie. And, since it had been long enough since I watched it, I was surprised by some of the smaller moments, though most of the larger ones are etched in my brain. This movie came out when I was 16. I remember seeing something else while my buddy Chad went to see this at the huge theater out in Maumee that’s actually closed now (it was one of the first stadium seating megaplexes in our area). It was a much longer movie, so we waited a while for him to come out and when he did it looked like he’d seen the face of the creator. He was blown away. As we did at that time, we promptly made fun of him and then saw the movie ourselves and loved it. I had a poster on my wall and the VHS tape when it came out. And I remember seeing at least one if not both of the sequels in IMAX. This was a huge franchise for my generation and came along at the perfect time for me personally because it was the beginning of my more grown up movie going career.
I know the sequels got a lot of flack for being difficult to understand, which I can’t speak to because I don’t remember much about them, but this movie stands as its own wonderful thing that got me excited about movies when I was a kid and had much the same effect for me as an adult. Hopefully I’ll get around to the sequels in the relative future and see if I can make sense of them. No promises though considering it took me several tries to watch both of these movies as I am a very tired old man these days.
After watching Cyborg again fairly recently, I fell down the rabbit hole that is director Albert Pyun’s filmography. While poking around, I spied a film called Arcade that sounded like something I wanted to check out. I actually had this disc from Netflix on hand when I watched Evolver last week, but the disc was cracked and I couldn’t watch it until they sent me a new one.
Before getting into the plot of this movie, I’ve got to talk about it’s pedigree a bit. Not only is Arcade directed by 90s straight-to-video maestro Pyun who did a lot with not much all the time back then, but also features a script penned by David S. Goyer and Charles Band who also acted as producer. You’ll recognize Goyer’s name from little films like Batman Begins and Man Of Steel. And then you’ve got the cast which includes Megan Ward (Dark Skies, Encino Man), Seth Green (Buffy, Dads), Peter Billingsley (Christmas Story) and even Don Stark (That 70s Show). Needless to say, I got more and more excited as the credits rolled on this film I knew almost nothing about.
Plotwise, this film follows Alex (Ward) and Nick (Billingsley) as they try to figure out what’s going on as the terribly named new virtual reality arcade game Arcade and it’s console cousin seem to be absorbing or destroying their friends. Much like Evolver, the kids wind up heading to the game company — good thing they live in California, I guess — and then using that knowledge to confront the game and save their friends and family.
It would be pretty easy to write this movie off as another Charles Band cash grab, but I’ve got to say, I found it pretty absorbing. I liked how the main kids all seemed like they could be in high school and were outsiders, but not complete degenerates. Even though you don’t see them together a ton, you get the feeling that there’s a lot of history in their crew. I also thought the plot itself was solid and included some pretty heavy elements. The movie opens with Alex remembering when she found her mom post-suicide and we eventually learn that the video game company used the brain cells of a murdered boy to help create the game’s villain. Plus, how great is it to see one of these kids-against-something-crazy movies with a female lead?
As it turns out, Band and Pyun weren’t happy with the first batch of CGI special effects and had everything redone. Those results can be seen in the trailer posted above while the original graphics can be seen below.
All in all, even though the CGI is pretty distracting for the modern audience, I had a really good time with this imaginative, sometimes scary adventure story revolving around the rad world of video games. I’ve also got to admit that I was relieved by the plot of this film because I’ve been kicking around an arcade-based story idea that is not similar to this at all. It’s always relieving to find out your not accidentally treading old ground.
I usually start these more obscure film reviews off by saying how I came to watch the movie in question. With Evolver, it’s a pretty simple (boring) story. I saw this goofy poster on Netflix, looked a bit closer, realized it was from 1995 and starred Ethan Embry. That’s pretty much all it took. A killer video game/robot movie starring one of my favorite young actors of the era — I love Empire Records and Can’t Hardly Wait — is a particularly precise brand of movie catnip that works on me every time.
Embry stars as Kyle a kid who’s really good at a virtual reality (remember when that was a thing?) arcade game to the point where the company gives him the home version. Basically Evolver’s a three foot tall robot that plays Laser Tag with you. You’ve got guns and aim for those circles on his chest while he shoots NERF bullets at you and keeps score. But this being a movie, the fun doesn’t last as Evolver starts trying to really murder his opponents.
In the past few weeks I’ve watched two movies that give machines a LOT of human characteristics. Between Evolver and Chopping Mall, it’s pretty hilarious how evil and mean screenwriters in this era thought machines could or would be. Both films include machines designed to kill or hurt at the very least and they not only have crappy aim (which I’m pretty sure wouldn’t happen) but also take their time in hunting down and murdering human beings.
It would be one thing if, say, Evolver was programmed to play the game, but his creators switched out his safe ammo for deadly items, but in this case, there’s a vindictive nature inherent in the robot that leads him to go out of his way to kill these people. Hell, he doesn’t even just use his own weapons, but picks items he finds out in the field to make the process even more painful. He loads steak knives into his cannon! Mind you, he doesn’t really need to do any of this because his hand is also a high powered taser. As an added bonus, he learns how to insult and demean people before trying to kill them. This isn’t a bad robot, it’s a psychopath!
Problems with computer programming aside, I actually really enjoyed this movie. It takes the Embry I know and love and puts him in a video game/geek/horror setting that’s a lot of fun, while also mixing in elements of another favorite subgenre: E.T. take-offs. Before he goes nuts, Evolver wanders around with his human companions and learns things from then, just like the beloved alien or Johnny 5 (I really need to rewatch Short Circuit).
The more I think about it, the more I’m confused by the overall story of the film though. It’s revealed that Evolver’s creator Russell Bennett (John de Lancie) originally built the bot to infiltrate and destroy enemy camps. How he got the bot away from the government, brought it to a toy company and then turned it into not just a home game, but also a video game. Also, I get that Bennett falls into the mad scientist realm of craziness, but to knowingly send this robot that he knows can and will murder people into a home with two kids is pretty reprehensible.
Even though it might have its problems, I think there’s actually a lot of good fun to be had in Evolver. Actually, it’s closer to bad fun, but what do you expect from a robot that will swear at you before wielding a buzz saw blade with lethal intent?