It’s All Connected: Chopping Mall (1986)

After liking Jim Wynorski’s The Return Of Swamp Thing, one film jumped out to me in his filmography: Chopping Mall! It is befuddling to me that I have yet to write about this film on here, though Mr. Dastardly and I did cover it on our short-lived double feature podcast. It’s an easy favorite from this era that I discovered well after the fact. I’m not sure how hard it is to get your hands on the Lionsgate Vestron Blu-ray, but I recommend it!

Continue reading It’s All Connected: Chopping Mall (1986)

We Want Action: Fighting Mad & Moving Violations

For the past few weeks things have been kinda crazy around here. Thanks to a procedure our cat had, the kids couldn’t be in the same house as him for a while so we switched places with my folks (everyone’s aces now). That lead directly into a trip up to New Hampshire to see my wife’s parents and also attend her best friend’s wedding. In other words, I haven’t had much time to sit around and watch movies. Since I’ve got one day working from home this week with the kids gone, I figured I’d make good use of it and check out a double feature! Continue reading We Want Action: Fighting Mad & Moving Violations

Rebel Highway Double Feature: Jailbreakers & Runaway Daughters

jailbreakersA few weeks back I was looking around on Netflix Instant and saw the poster for a Shannen Doherty/Antonio Sabato Jr. movie called Jailbreakers from 1994 that looked very 90s Miramax. Even with all that going for it, it wasn’t the kind of movie I immediately wanted to watch until I looked at the director and saw that it was directed by William “The Exorcist” Friedkin! That was such a bonkers combination that I needed to check it out.

While reading the IMDb trivia page for this movie — something I can’t seem to go 10 minutes without doing after starting anything — I discovered that it was actually part of an anthology series on Showtime called Rebel Highway. The basic idea was to take the title of an old American International Pictures teen movie from the 50s and 60s, give it to a director and have them make a more gritty film with a cast of young up-and-comers. Each project had a $1.3 million budget and 12 days to shoot. Sounds like a pretty rad experiment to me!

So how are the results? Well, not so great in the case of Jailbreakers which suffered from two major problems for me. First off, there wasn’t a frame of this movie that looked like it was from the time period of the story. Actually, that’s not quite the case. More accurately, there isn’t a frame of this film that doesn’t scream, “I was made in the mid 90s!!!” It’s just got that dull look of TV movies from the 90s that, no matter how good your costumes or set dressing are, look like the time it was made in instead of the time it’s supposed to be. I can chalk that up to the low budget and pay cable quality of the day.

The second problem is more, well, problematic and it leads in to the part where I talk about the plot. Doherty plays a high school kid named Angel who was a good girl up until she met Antonio Sabato Jr.’s Tony, a bad boy biker. The two start getting into trouble which leads to them getting caught by the cops. Tony goes to jail while Angel moves with her parents to another town where they don’t know anything about her mistakes. Tony eventually gets out and reunites with Angel only to realize he might be more than just a little bad. Sound familiar? Yeah, it was pretty familiar to me too and hit a ton of notes that I’ve seen before. And, aside from a great performance by Adrien Brody, the tried and true elements don’t get much of a boost from this particular group of actors.

runaway daughters

I had a much better time with another Rebel Highway offering, Runaway Daughters. This one features Paul Rudd and Julie Bowen, though they’re not really the stars 0f this film directed by the always awesome Joe Dante. In this case Mary (Holly Fields) winds up getting together with two of her girlfriends Angie (Bowen) and  Laura (Jenny Lewis who was in The Wizard!) and driving to San Diego in order to grab Bob (Chris Young, PCU), Mary’s baby daddy before he can officially enlist in the army. Along the way they find themselves dealing with crooked cops, crazy preppers and a variety of other problems.

While Jailbreakers took an old story and just did it again with more cursing and violence, Runaway Daughters actually used the framework of this kind of story to get into some actual social commentary. Throughout the film, Laura talks about how ridiculous it is that society shuns young women for having sex when it’s a natural thing. We’re mostly told by TV and film that everyone in the 50s was a buttoned-up square, but that’s a myth. There were plenty of people looking at the norms and realizing some of them were silly.

Plus, while this movie looks the same as Jailbreakers, it does boast a more interesting story and a much better cast. Rudd doing his best James Dean or Marlon Brando impression is a lot of fun. Then you’ve got Bowen playing the instigator perfectly, Dick Miller as a grizzled but also somewhat socially conscious private detective and even appearances by Roger Corman and Joe Flaherty. And those are just the people I recognized. This might be the least Joe Dante movie I’ve ever seen, but it was still an enjoyable outing that adds a nice layer to his filmography. 

Quick Movie Review: Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010)

If there’s one documentary subject I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of it’s filmmakers talking about the good old days of cheaply made schlock shown at drive-ins and grindhouse theaters. And I’m glad that people are not only making these movies, but also that the people who were involved are not only still alive, but also willing to talk about their experiences. While the excellent Not Quite Hollywood focused on these kinds of movies shot in Australia and the not as great American Grindhouse focused on its own obvious subject matter, Machete Maidens Unleashed set its sites on American films that were shot down in the Philippines in the 70s and 80s. I actually just looked and the guy who directed this movie, Mark Hartley, also directed Not Quite and is the man behind the upcoming Canon Video doc which I am really looking forward to.

I actually didn’t even know this was a thing before reading the description on Netflix Instant (I, of course, was first drawn in by the poster image and then the title), but there was actually a full-fledged movie industry in the Philippines at the team that lots of producers and directors like Roger Corman and Joe Dante took advantage of because of the low, low cost. At one point, one of the filmmakers in the doc said something along the lines of “The film was cheap and human life was even cheaper,” referencing the lengths local actors and stuntmen would go to put their lives on the line to get just the right shot. Fight scenes were filmed so that people were actually beating the crap out of each other and a lot of the explosions going off and glass being broken were real. It’s the kind of thing that, today, would create a public outcry for human safety, but at that place and that time, those apparently weren’t big concerns.

There are two aspects of this film that make it so interesting aside from the subject matter itself. First off, it seems like everyone who’s still alive agreed to be interviewed for this flick. Heck, John Landis is there and I don’t even think he shot a movie in the Philippines! That dude just loves to talk about these kinds of movies (he’s also in American Grindhouse). I already mentioned Corman and Dante, but tons of people appear in this movie: Pam Grier, Sid Haig, R. Lee Ermey, Dick Miller, Brian Trenchard-Smith, seemingly every hopeful starlet who appeared topless in those movies and several local filmmakers. Everyone is very open, honest and entertaining when it comes to relating their experiences. The second aspect of this movie that really makes it great and seems to be a trademark of Hartley’s, is the quick and efficient editing of the picture. There isn’t a wasted moment in this flick and, at the same time it doesn’t feel rushed.

If you love bad movies of years gone by, exploitation cinema or are just interested in some of the less glamorous corners of the film business, I highly recommend giving Machete Maidens Unleashed a watch.

Mini Monsters: Gremlins 2 The New Batch (1990)

I love Gremlins 2. I probably shouldn’t but I do. It’s nowhere near as good as the original movie with it’s amazing mix of comedy, humor and horror, but it holds a special place in my heart. I can’t remember if I saw it in the theaters when I was 7 and it hit theaters. I have a feeling I did, but can’t say for sure. Anyway, the sequel is much more over the top and sillier, but it’s also filled with lots of slapsticky site gags and all kinds of mutated Gremlins running around causing all kinds of havoc which makes it perfect for kids. They even had trading cards, an NES game and I would assume toys, though not a full roll out like you might expect. But I can see where that kid focus would put older viewers off. Had I watched this movie for the first time as an adult without any of the nostalgia or love, like I did with, say, Lost Boys, I’m fairly certain I would have scoffed my way through the movie instead of smiling like a damn fool the whole time like I did when I watched it the other day.

Even having said that, I’d say that there are elements to the movie that might be fun for viewers of all kinds. Like the first flick, there’s humor here, but this time around it feels more in the same vein as Naked Gun than something more understated. I also appreciate that the movie has a sense of humor about itself. Not only do you have some control room guys making fun of the three rules from the first movie, but there’s even an appearance by Leonard Maltin as a critic where he slags the movie only to get attacked by Gremlins. You also can’t discount how good the special effects are. Gizmo and the Gremlins look so rad, especially the Bat and Spider ones. Man, they’re creepy.

One of the benefits of watching the movie on DVD–which I bought a while back, but can’t remember if I’ve actually watched all the way through–was seeing the original “film break” scene in the movie complete with woman complaining about the movie being too scary for kids and Hulk Hogan threatening the Gremlins to let the movie start back up. See, on the VHS version and, I believe, the one they showed on TV, there was a “tape break” instead. I couldn’t tell you what the differences all are, but I like that they went back to the original on the DVD version (I wonder if the VHS scene is on the DVD, I should check).

Anyway, I’m not really sure what else to say about the flick. There were some pretty lame parts like the very roundabout way they took to get Gizmo wet (malfunctioning drinking fountain) and the fact that Phoebe Cates had something bad happen to her on Lincoln’s Birthday too. But with the humor, going in with affection and the ass kicking special effects, I think Gremlins 2 has a lot to offer the right kind of viewer.

Christmas Stories: Gremlins (1984)

I haven’t been doing as many Christmas Stories this year because, frankly, I burned through pretty much all of the regular Christmas movies we watch in last year’s posts. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t more great Christmas themed movies, TV specials and CDs out there for me to talk about, like Gremlins for instance. Joe Dante’s classic is one of those on-a-pedestal movies that thankfully holds up from my childhood. I remember watching this flick on TV whenever it would come on and was a huge fan of the sequel, which doesn’t hold up nearly as well, but was clearly kid candy with all the different kinds of Gremlins. When I think about Gremlins, I don’t think about it as a a horror movie or a Christmas movie or a sci-fi flick, it’s just Gremlins, this perfect, offbeat amalgamation of all those elements.

It had been a while since I watched the movie all the way through. I think I started it last Christmas but fell asleep or something and didn’t get back to finishing, but man, I was incredibly impressed this time through. The movie is SO GOOD and uses the holiday setting as well if not better than John Carpenter did with Halloween. From the story and performances to the special effects, which still look awesome even 26 years later, this movie has it all.

I mentioned above that the movie is offbeat, which is something I really noticed on this most recent viewing. Even though there’s so many horror elements from Billy’s mom kicking Gremlin ass in her kitchen to the asshole cops who won’t believe our hero because his story sounds crazy, I never think of it as just a horror movie. I think that’s because the music is so whimsical at times. You also can’t discount the absolute cuteness of Gizmo, both of which turn even gory moments like Billy’s mom shoving a Gremlin into the microwave where it explodes, seem not as gross as a similar scene in a different movie. I’ve read the Chris Columbus’ original draft of the movie was a lot darker and more violent, but I’m really glad that Dante reined it in a little bit to make it something unique: a Christmas-themed horror movie that the whole family can enjoy.

And how great is the cast in this movie? Zach Galligan nails the regular guy hero role. I know Fast Times fans will disagree with me, but Phoebe Cates will always be the adorable yet deeply damaged Kate. The way she tells the story about her dad is insane. It’s a ridiculous story, but she sells it like Billy’s dad wishes he could sell, well, anything. Speaking of which, Hoyt Axton and Francis Lee McCain as his parents are so great. She the long suffering wife of a dream and he the dreamer trying to make things work. This movie introduced me to the amazing Dick Miller and possibly Corey Feldman as well (can’t remember if I saw this, Goonies or The Burbs first). After poking around the IMDb page I also discovered that Transformers voice actors Frank Welker and Peter Cullen helped voice the Mogwai and Gremlins to go along with Howie Mandel as Gizmo (which I knew).

Speaking of firsts, I believe this is the first movie with rules that I remember, which might make it one of the earliest bits of geek memorization in my life. Then again, who doesn’t know that you can’t feed a Mogwai after midnight, get them wet or put them in the sunlight? I wonder if learning those rules and wondering who created them and thinking about a place where Mogwai are just running all over the place living their lives like squirrels helped fuel my imagination as a kid. Even just thinking about that last bit paints a picture of an epic battle in my head between two sides of the same coin with the Mogwai trying to defeat the Gremlins, many of which are their siblings and family members. It’s pretty intense.

While Gremlins might not be what you think of when you think of a traditional holiday movie, it contains all the hallmarks. You’ve got lots of decorations, a family overcoming adversity, a man trying to follow his dreams and people realizing how important other people are in their lives. Now onto the sequel!

Halloween Scene: Murder Party (2007) & A Bucket Of Blood (1959)

I didn’t really know what I was getting when I put Murder Party to the top of my Netflix queue. I remembered hearing some buzz about it, but nothing specific. The title invokes a pretty clear idea, which turned out to be just a small part of the flick. The plot follows a doofus kind of guy happens upon an invitation to a murder party on Halloween. The invite literally blew up to him in the wind while he walked home from work. Wanting to add some excitement to his shitty life, he creates a pretty impressive knight costume out of cardboard and heads to to the party which seems to be held in some kind warehouse full of boxes and whatnot; it’s way more packed in places than say the one in Reservoir Dogs.

Anyway, the knight shows up and a small group of douchey artists are sitting there, knock him out and tie him to a chair. From there it’s more about him being captured and waiting for them to figure out the most artistic way for them to kill him and the artists waiting for and then talking to this guy Alexander who claims to have a lot of money that he will give them so they can make more art. Towards the end it gets into more slasher/chase horror, but the main genre I’d list this one under comedy because, unless I’m completely misreading the movie, it’s more an indictment of the pretentiousness of artists who don’t seem to have any grasp on reality. All that matters to them is their art. Not human life, not anything else. I’ve seen some reviews that seem to take these characters seriously, as if they’re supposed to be people you don’t hate, but I think that’s a complete misfire on their read of the movie.

I didn’t recognize any of the actors in the movie, but I thought they all did a great job of conveying their characters. I liked how the cardboard knight used his eyes to look around at all the ridiculous nonsense happening around him and how Alexander was such a douche that he made the photographer take off his much better old timey vampire costume because that’s what the far less imaginative Alexander was supposed to be dressed as.

My one complaint about the movie comes from the fact that it seemed like some shots were missing. Even though the gore was surprisingly good at times, you’d see someone pick up a weapon and then the bloody result of the impact but not the actual contact, though you can see the contact in the last scene. It’s like this: man picks up knife, see knifed arm spraying blood, but not the knife hitting the arm. I would think the hardest part is the blood spray not the impact, but what do I know? There were a lot of scenes like that towards the end, which was too bad because there was a lot going on.

The movie reminded me of two other stories I’ve read/seen: Preacher Special: Cassidy – Blood & Whiskey and A Bucket of Blood. I just read and reviewed that Preacher comic in a recent trade post, so it was fresh in my mind, but the pretentious artists seemed related the douchey kids in the comic who want to be vampires. And the whole concept of the movie reminded me of A Bucket Of Blood, Roger Corman’s 1959 horror movie about the beatnik generation. More on that in a second.

I’ve seen Bucket Of Blood three times now since I snagged the MGM Roger Corman Collection in my Wizard days. It’s on the same disc as the atrociously bad Bloody Mama (I guess they were going for a blood theme) and I never once thought of it as a comedy, though it does have humorous moments. According to both IMDb and the poster to the right, it appears that Corman and everyone else involved thought the movie was a laugh riot. I, on the other hand, took it as a subtle look at one man’s accidental rise to a kind of fame and his struggle to keep the relative respect and power that came along with that fame.

The fantastic Dick Miller stars–apparently his is the only time he’s ever been the main character in a flick–as Walter, a seemingly simple bus boy at a beatnik coffee shop called The Yellow Door. Walter is fascinated by what some of the poets and artists who hang out at the place say and do, often quoting those things to himself. He wants to be a sculptor, but instead covers his accidentally murdered cat in clay and calls it “Dead Cat.” Walter takes the cat to the Door and they put it on display. Pretty early on the owner figures out what’s happening and gets slowly horrified as Walter brings in more and more statues. The “artist” does his first full-form man after another accidental murder, but then gets a taste for the love the people he used to wait on showed him and wouldn’t let anything get in his way.

The Yellow Door is filled with the kinds of characters you’d expect to be at a beatnik club like this: the poet that everyone seems to exalt, the old people trying to live dangerously by walking on the wild side, the undercover cops trying to catch heroine dealers, the burnouts, the pretty girl next door artist and the vapid model. I wonder if it’s an accurate representation of the scene or more of an outsider’s take on it.

Anyway, I really dig this movie, it’s my favorite of the Corman directed movies I’ve seen and the only I’ve watched more than once so far. I think Miller kills it in his role. He might annoy some people with his simplicity, but I think he keeps it even without being too stupid or too cunning. Once he gets the good life, he just can’t let it go, at least not on someone else’s terms. I highly recommend checking out this flick, especially because it only comes in at 66 minutes, though doesn’t seem rushed or wanting.

Halloween Scene: Piranha (1978)

While watching the excellent new version of Piranha from Shout Factory’s Roger Corman’s Cult Classics series, I was pretty excited. I had never seen the movie before, though it started feeling familiar at a certain point which is when I remembered seeing what I thought was the original on TV a few years back and it turned out to be a 90s TV version. Luckily I quit watching that one so my viewing of the original turned out to be a 97% original experience.

Here’s what the movie’s about. A couple 20 somethings go hiking and find what looks like a water treatment place and go swimming. They die. A reporter comes out to find out what happened to them and comes across a local recluse and the pair of them discover that the government had been experimenting on weaponizing piranhas to take out enemies in the Vietnam jungles years ago. They’re trying to warn everyone, especially as the mutant piranhas head to both the recluse’s daughter’s summer camp and a lake where tons of teenagers hang out and have drunken fun (it’s like two horror movies in one!).

Going in, I was worried that the flick would wind up just being a lame Jaws rip-off (to be fair, I think that of any movie about monsters in the water), but they reference Jaws so hilariously in the beginning with the use of a video game that I had already given the movie a pass it didn’t need because, as far as I’m concerned, the difference in plot and execution separated this film enough from the classic, which probably isn’t too surprising when you realize this was one of Joe Dante’s earliest films (Gremlins is awesome). Sure it’s got a vacation spot ruled by a guy in a goody suit (played by the awesome Dick Miller (Walter from Corman’s amazing Bucket of Blood and Murray Futterman from Gremlins) in danger of being put on hold thanks to rabid sea creatures, but there’s so much else going on before it gets to that part that it doesn’t matter (at least to me).

The effects, which let’s be honest is the reason a lot of people will check a movie like this out, are pretty great too. There’s a weird scene with a land-walking fish creature in the lab that doesn’t really play much of a roll in the film but looks pretty good (he’s composed using stop motion) and the kills look pretty good (though it’s hard to do the ol’ “water and blood bubbling up from the water” trick wrong). The crappy inserts of fish painted on a background zooming around only seem to add character to the movie even though they look pretty lame.

My favorite scene in the movie is when the dude is skiing behind the boat with a girl driving and another one spotting (watching the skier to see if he falls or wants to go faster, slower or stop). Now, I grew up on a lake and learned how to ski at a pretty young age and I’ve done my fair of both slaloming and spotting and I can tell you that the scariest part of the movie was how inattentive the spotter was and how ridiculously fast the driver was going. That guy was getting yanked around like crazy and then the spotter chick tells the driver to go faster when the skier makes wild hand gestures. For the record, as I learned it, the universal symbols while skiing are thumbs up for faster, thumbs down for slower and flat hand across the neck for cut it (like a pirate threatening to cut your head off). We also devised a signal where you tap the top of your head and then your back for “head back.” Had this guy gone over the signals before going out and not been randomly pointing in the air (or not gone with a pair of women who clearly have no value for his life) maybe they wouldn’t have cut the engine in the middle of lake only to offer a tantalizing treat to the piranhas. Thus ends the skier safety portion of the blog post.

I haven’t gone through all the extra features on the DVD yet, though thanks to my new found love of the flick, I’m sure I will, so the rewatch value here’s pretty good. Plus, if nothing else, this movie feels like a really good primer for Piranha 3D which I’m super duper excited about (I keep telling myself I will absolutely positively go see this 3D flick in the theater after missing My Bloody Valentine). So, do yourself a favor and check out this new presentation of the movie out, I think you’ll dig it.

Time Travel Shenanigans

This Sunday was kind of an unusual night now that I think about it. As a complete coincidence I ended up watching three movies that night dealing with time travel in in form or another: Terminator (1984), Primer (2004) and Next (2007). And oddly enough, I watched them in chronological order. Weird.

I actually didn’t watch Terminator alone as I usually do with rad movies from the 80s. Thanks to the sick looking trailers for the upcoming Terminator Salvation, Em wanted to check out the Terminator flicks. I had recently added the movie to our Netflix Instant Queue, so we finally checked it out.

The first Terminator movie I ever saw was T2 on TV with my parents. I remember them letting me stay up late and watching the end of the movie in their bedroom. Later, when I got my Family Video membership, I checked out the original and wasn’t too impressed. Stupid kid. Even though some of the Arnold masks don’t look that great, first off he’s a robot and second off it was ’84. And damn those exoskeletons and robots look real, even if the stop motion gets a little shaky. Plus, I like to think that Linda Hamilton’s crazy hair is a special effect all its own.

[Potential LOST SPOILER coming up if you haven’t been watching this season.] It’s actually kind of funny that the time travel mechanics are very similar between Terminator and Lost. You’ve got people heading back in time and affecting the future. Reese heads back and fathers John Connor. He always did that, he just didn’t know his role yet. It’s the “Whatever happened, happened” idea (which I have to toot my own horn and say I voiced a few weeks before the saying popped up on the show).

From there I went on to finish Primer, a low budget (supposedly made for $7,000) time travel movie that I heard about on both Horror Movie A Day and The Totally Rad Show. I won’t pretend like I understood the movie (I had to look it up on Wikipedia to get a better idea of the plot and mechanics), but it made me feel like I did when I was 16 working at Barry’s and Drew (whose last name I don’t know and haven’t seen in almost 10 years now) told me about Reservoir Dogs and The Usual Suspects and then later when I saw Lost Highway and Clerks and some other flicks. Aside from feeling incredibly original and new, Primer showed me you can make an amazing movie that doesn’t talk down to its audience. Now, the above-mentioned movies don’t seem to have much in common on the surface, but the all showed me different ways of looking at movies, from a story standpoint and general presentation to how much you need to let your audience know.

Primer’s beautifully confusing (there’s so much jargon and science in there, it’d make my freshman year roommates jump for joy, what’s up Bryan and Hatem, you guys especially should check this one out). One piece of advice I’d give anyone trying to watch Primer (and understand it), is, don’t drink too many beers and try not to fall asleep halfway through. I fell asleep and then tried watching it a week or so later and had an even hard time remembering the whole story. I can’t wait to check it out again.

I will not, however, be watching Nic Cage’s Next again. As I’ve mentioned again and again I have a strange relationship with Nic Cage movies. Sure The Rock and Con Air are awesome, but somewhere along the lines, Cage seemingly went crazy and has been playing a kind of caricature of himself since then. Or has he? Maybe I’m the one that expects him to be crazy (there’s good crazy like in the National Treasure movies which I love and bad crazy like the amazing Whicker Man YouTube video).

Well, the last two Cage movies I’ve watched from the past few years (Next and Bangkok Dangerous) have just been boring. Even Cage’s craziness can’t save a fairly boring movie with some really bad CGI effects that breaks my cardinal sin of storytelling: don’t make everything I’ve just seen pointless, even if it is a tale of what could happen.

You might be wondering how this fits in with the time travel theme and it kind of doesn’t. But it kid of does, because, as Cage explains early in the movie, he can see a few minutes into his own future and just by seeing the future you’re changing it. Sure, it’s a tenuous connection at best, but it’s there.

Now I’ve just got to get Em to watch T2 which I have on DVD. But the last time I tried watching it, I wanted to rip Edward Furlong’s squeaky vocal chords out of his throat and feed them to the T-1000. Ah well, I’m sure I’m a lot more mature now (eh, not really, this was only a few months ago). Also, I might mine these flicks for a Live Blog post or two as I took copious notes.