We Want Action Double Feature: Rambo (1985) & Predator (1987)

rambo first blood part 2 poster

For the past seven or eight years — pretty much since I got out of college — I’ve been focusing on absorbing as much new entertainment as possible, not necessarily brand new, but new to me. In that time, and going back to my days in high school and college, I’ve also been building up a collection of books, trades, movies and albums that I’ve deemed good enough to keep (or cheap enough to check out). In the past few weeks, though, I’ve been more in the mood to revisit the films and trades I love and own instead of looking for new things to devour. I’m not sure if this is a function of getting older or maybe the result of having my fill of goofy, bad movies seen on Netflix (for the time being).

Whatever the case, when Lu went down for her nap yesterday, I didn’t have the desire to flip through my ridiculously long Netflix Instant queue. Instead, I wanted to watch Rambo: First Blood II. I got a great deal on the Rambo Blu-ray set a while ago which reintroduced me to the fantastic original film, but also the whole franchise which I realized I have a lot of fond memories of.

As I noted after watching First Blood, the Rambo I really remember from my childhood — the shirtless guy with black pants, a headband and a bazooka — actually came from this sequel.  The film finds Rambo’s one time commanding officer Col. Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna) approaching the imprisoned one man army corps (Sylvester Stallone, of course) with a special offer: help us with a mission in the jungles of Vietnam and get a Get Out Of Jail Free Card. Rambo takes the deal and nearly completes the mission before getting burned by the guy who’s really in charge, Marshall Murdock (Charlies Napier). With that, Rambo gets captured and tortured, but thankfully has a friend on the outside in Co (Julia Nickson) who helps him escape, a move that unleashes Rambo’s mighty vengeance on his captors and, eventually, his  betrayers.

The film includes all the bigtime action you’d expect with explosions, arrows through bad guys and even the perfect synergy of both: exploding arrows. But, what struck me once again about a Rambo movie is the fact that Stallone portrays this character with a depth and sadness that my younger self couldn’t understand. This is a guy who was trained to kill and he’s great at it. Now he’s in the real world and he can’t catch a break. A sheriff thinks he doesn’t look right and tries kicking him out of town. A shady military guy dangles freedom in front of him and leaves him high and dry. For him, the war is never over and he’ll probably never get to win, this time or any other. Sure, you can watch this movie and enjoy the aforementioned explosions, but there’s more going on which I can appreciate these days.

predator poster One layer of Rambo I noticed that was completely unintended, though, is its similarity to Predator. Rather, since the latter came out two years after the former, Predator‘s similarity to Rambo. Both movies feature an incredibly well-trained person going into a jungle to do a job, getting betrayed or lied to and going up against an unforeseen challenge that takes all their skills to defeat. For Rambo it’s an army of Vietnamese baddies, for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch, it’s an alien hunter with crazy weapons. Both movies also include a strong female character who plays an important part in the proceedings, a general lack of shirts in the end, super cool “preparing for battle” montages (a favorite genre trope of mine) and even similar dudes-holding-guns posters.

But, I’m far less interested in talking about the similarities between these two flicks than I am about how much I love them both(though someone should definitely do a mash-up). In the case of Predator — a favorite of mine going back to the Family Video rental days on into my Wizard internship when I scored the ass-kicking nickname Dutch after watching the first two Predator movies in a weekend — the film greatly benefits from its extended cast. We’re not just seeing Schwarzenegger in the jungle, but his whole crew, a gang consisting of Dillon (Carl Weathers), Mac (Bill Duke), Blain (Jesse Ventura, before we knew how crazy he is), Billy (Sonny Landham), Poncho (Richard Chaves) and Hawkins (screenwriter and Iron Man 3 director Shane Black). It’s important to have such a beefy group of dudes because they offer the Predator something to fight.

And fight they do! From the scene where everyone just desperately blasts into the jungle hoping to hit what took their friend to Billy making a last ditch effort to try and stop their pursuer, this movie is jam packed with iconic action set pieces all of which lead up to the king-daddy of them all as a mud-covered Dutch does his damndest to kill this thing with a series of cunning booby traps. I have no idea if it was intended or not, but there’s a real “natural versus technological” theme in that last fight in which the one with fewer pieces of tech winds up winning the day over the more “advanced” species.

Anyway, Predator doesn’t have the depth that Rambo does and that’s fine by me. If I felt for every single action hero the way I do for John Rambo, these things would be a lot less fun, but every now and then it’s good to actually feel something in addition to explosion-fueled excitement.

I mentioned many of the similarities between these two movies above but there’s one more that I think it worth noting: both have had fantastic sequels in the past five years. After mounting a comeback in 2006 with Rocky Balboa, Stallone decided to revisit one of his other famous characters in the wildly intense Rambo from 2008. Meanwhile, the Predator franchise, which has been Dutch-less since the initial outing, came back swinging with Predators in 2010, a film I really enjoyed and want to revisit soon. Heck Stallone even said at one point that he’d like to see Rambo face off against a Predator, but I think he was half joking. In fact, after doing a little research, it turns out Stallone was interested in adapting a book called Hunter which would, essentially, do just that. I fully support this decision!

Halloween Scene: The Last House on the Left (1972)

2008-10-25
7:28:45 pm

I had been warned to actually not watch Last House by fellow horror fan Rickey Purdin (follow the link to check out some of his recent horror related artwork), mostly because of the multiple scenes of rape, sexual assault and violence against women. He actually told me about this moments after Blockbuster sent me an E-mail letting me know Last House was on its way (when I really wanted The Strangers!). I asked if it was worse than I Spit On Your Grave and he said no, so I figured I’d watch it anyway, it being Wes Craven’s first flick and all.

Here’s the thing about the movie, it’s completely all over the place. It starts off as a couple of teens having a good time, then jumps into horror territory as they get snatched by four escaped criminals (killers, rapists, thieves and junkies). You’d think it would stay pretty serious after that, but Craven throws a number of curve balls at the viewer. The most prominent ones to me were the musical choices. You’ve got some pretty intense scenes followed by really upbeat pop music. I’m not sure if it’s there to undermine the mood of the movie or to lighten the mood.

The other curve ball comes in the form of two lazy, bumbling police officers. I thought they would get vindicated when they quickly realize the criminals are in their jurisdiction only to be shown as complete jokes when they run out of gas and later try to get a ride in a chicken truck. Huh? They show up at the very end but all the damage has been done by then.

And by damage I mean that the criminals leave the city with the two girls in the trunk of their car. As they’re driving through the sticks, the car just happens to break down right in front of the main girl’s house. Maybe I missed the reason why they were heading in that direction in the first place, but that just seemed ridiculous. The criminals then do terrible things to the girls in the woods and eventually make their way up to the main girl’s parents’ house where they plan to rob and/or kill them. The parents figure out what’s up and take their revenge on the criminals. All the while the film seems real in the same way that Texas Chainsaw Massacre does with the graininess of the footage. There’s a remake coming out soon, that I’m sure will look like all the other horror movies coming out today. The closest modern filmmakers get to this is shooting on video or handheld digital, but it just doesn’t feel the same. But, hey, maybe in 30 years when movies are implanted directly into our corneas it won’t matter.

Like Rickey, I found the sexual assault scenes to be sickening, but most of them happened off screen. In a weird way, it’s hard to stay focused on any one terrible thing these terrible people do as the mood keeps bouncing around. I wonder if Craven was playing with his audience or just not really sure what he was doing. I’m guessing the former.

The one element of this movie that I did enjoy immensely was the fact that the parents got revenge on their daughter’s SPOILER killer. So often with horror movies, all you get are scenes of the bad guys slaughtering kids and whatnot, with the kids getting away for a short time just to get recaptured or getting away from the trouble. It feels good to watch someone actually get revenge all in the same movie instead of waiting for the sequel.

Last House is not the kind of movie I’d watch over and over again, but I am glad I saw it, if for no other reason than I want to see all the works of Wes Craven. I also can’t really recommend it, unless you too want to see what Wes Craven was working on 24 years before he did Scream and 12 years before Nightmare on Elm Street. Next up on the Craven train will probably be Last House on the Left unless I break down and buy the new Nightmare on Elm Street four packs this Halloween season.

Sometimes They Come Back for a Death Race…2000

2008-08-12
3:55:02 am

Okay, so I’m CLEARLY reaching for a title on this one. Probably because the two flicks I watched have little-to-nothing to do with each other. They were the Steven King-based TV movie Sometimes They Come Back and the Roger Corman, soon-to-be-remade Death Race 2000.

Sometimes They Come Back (1991)

Written by Stephen King, Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal (Beverly Hillbillies, Superman IV)

Directed by Tom McLoughlin (Jason Live, Freddy’s Nightmares & the Friday the 13th series)

Starring Animal House’s Tim Matheson and a bunch of other people I didn’t recognize

I’m going to keep these two review brief, so here goes. The basic story is that Matheson’s brother was killed by some greasers back in the day, but now he’s moved back to his home town (a common thing in King’s work that I’ve read). He’s a teacher and it turns out that the ghosts of the greasers (they were killed when a train ran over them after they killed his brother) show up in his class room. He understandably goes a bit crazy as these dead kids threaten him and his family.

When I grabbed this DVD I didn’t realize it was a TV movie, I was just looking for another movie to check off in my copy of Creature Features by John Stanley (the best horror/sci-fi/fantasy book in my book, too bad there hasn’t been an update since 1999/2000). I was a little bummed that there wouldn’t be any gore or over the top violence, but I’ll tell you what, it was a pretty creepy little movie. All of the actors I’ve never heard of did a good job of coveying the creepiness of the situation, especially Matheson (who I’ve obviously heard of). It was nice to see him playing against type.

Anyway, these are the types of stories that freak me out the most; the kind where something really bad and crazy is happening to you, but it’s so crazy and bad that no one will believe you. How do you function in life if your parents/wife/friends/family don’t believe you’re going through these terrible things? Beats me, that’s why everyone should set up a code word for when they’re being extra serious.

Anyway, good on everyone involved for treating me to a surprisingly good and creepy movie about the undead (even if the are over-the-top greasers). The real clincher for me was the fact that Matheson actually inadvertently killed the guys, adding an added layer of guilt and weirdness to everything. That and the scene where Matheson gets to talk to his dead brother’s ghost. It’s pretty intense, but maybe I’m just a big softy.

You know who’s not a softy? Roger Corman.

Death Race 2000 (1975)

Written by Ib Melchior (original story), Robert Thom (the awful Bloody Mama) & Charles B. Griffith (the fantastic Buckets of Blood)

Starring David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone and others

In the future, there’s this race about death where you get points by killing people. Um…that’s about all these is to the plot of this Roger Corman-produced flick. David Carradine stars as Frankenstein, a driver who’s supposedly had most of his limbs broken, smashed and then replaced, but still looks just like the dude from Kung Fu. Stallone’s in it too as a crazy, Tommy gun-toting driver.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t really pay much attention to the plot of this flick (something I don’t think would bother Corman). There’s a subplot about people who are against the race because of its ties to the government, so they help by adding more explosions. There is a pretty good fist fight between Carradine and Stallone, with Carradine winning (as you would expect as this predates Rocky).

Basically, the cars are cool and you can tell they’re really traveling as fast as they seem. There’s lots of explosions, people getting hit and blown up. It’s great stuff. Plus it’s around an hour and a half, so you don’t have to put too much time into what’s basically another death-as-sport metaphor flicks. Though unlike Rollerball or Running Man, I gotta admit, Death Race had a lot more satire and chuckle-worthy moments (like the government constantly blaming the French for all the bad in the world and the lady commentator being called Grace Pander). Oh, there’s also a lot of hot 70s chicks who don’t always wear there clothes, so, you know, bonus if you’re into that. Oh, plus I get to check it off in my Creature Features. I’m really just a simple creature folks.