Having watched Night Of The Comet, I found myself wondering what to watch next for It’s All Connected 2020. Unlike with everything else going back to Return Of Swamp Thing, I didn’t have an instant path I wanted to follow. And then I started going through the excellent Mary Woronov’s filmography and a somewhat new old favorite jumped out at me: TerrorVision!
As soon as I decided to watch my previous entry, Chopping Mall, I instantly knew that I would follow it up with Night Of The Comet, also starring the fantastic Kelli Maroney. Back when I worked at Wizard, a bunch of us would get together for movie nights. For one of them — dubbed Night Of The Living Nights — we watched Night Of The Comet, Night Of The Creeps and Nightbreed, all of which were firsts for me! I’ve seen all three again since then with mixed results. Creeps just is not for me (Atkins’ cartoon detective character is a real bummer) and I just saw the director’s cut of Nightbreed just last year. Now it’s time to talk Comet!
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!
A few weekends back we found ourselves in the enviable position of experiencing a light snowfall without much else to do so we decided to scroll through our On Demand options for a family movie. As it turns out we have free Showtime for a bit and The Rocketeer was on there, so we decided to give it a watch.
I don’t remember if I saw this movie in the theaters when it came out, but we did subscribe to Disney Channel back then (long before it was free) so I remember seeing a lot about it and probably caught it on TV.
Set in 1938, it’s about a stunt pilot named Cliff who discovers a rocket pack in his plane, designs a costume and helmet and fights bad guys including local mobsters (lead by Pau Sorvino) and movie star Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) all while trying to keep things going with his girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelley).
Directed by Joe Johnston who went on to eventually helm Captain America: The First Avenger, the movie not only works as an action-packed superhero film, but also a fun period piece that references a number of classic actors, actresses and other historical figures from the era (including Lost star Terry O’Quinn as Howard Hughes!). Add to that that real-life elements like potential Hollywood stars working with the Nazis and mobsters refusing to do the same and you have a great film that holds up really well aside from a few clunky special effects scenes here and there.
As a kid, I had no idea who the Rocketeer was before the film hit, but now I know that it was an indie comic book created by Dave Stevens in the 80s during that boom. However, I never got around to reading the actual comics until last year when I got my hands on the IDW-published reprint of Stevens’ entire run, though I was more interested in the pictures. You really don’t need to read the words because the art is just so crisp, clear and expressive. Plus, the colors in that book are just amazing. I don’t know how they compare to the original, but imagine they’re much better given IDW’s reputation for doing super high quality reprints and today’s far better printing techniques.
While scrolling through the options to get to The Rocketeer, I also saw Dick Tracy as an option. I LOVED this movie as a kid and realized that, given the obvious similarities, it would make for an excellent double feature mate with Rocketeer.
Based on the classic comic strip created by Chester Gould in the 1930s, Dick Tracy was directed by and starred Warren Beatty as the yellow-clad copper. He’s joined by Charlie Kormo’s The Kid, Madonna’s Breathless Mahoney, Al Pacino’s Big Boy and a variety of others as Tracy attempts to bring the mob boss down while keeping his relationship with Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly) together and figuring out what to do with his new ward.
The beauty of this movie is that Beatty went full boat when it came to recreating the look and feel of the comic strips on the big screen. The suits and cars are all wildly colorful, matte paintings give the world an ethereal feel and the bag guy make-up brings characters like Little Face, Flat Top and Pruneface fully to life. Add in the idea of a kid trying to constantly get in on grown-up cop action, the pseudo love triangle with Breathless and the mystery of No Face and you’ve got a super fun and compelling movie that doesn’t get enough kudos from the comic-loving crowd.
As I mentioned, I was a huge fan of this flick when it came out. I definitely remember seeing it in the theater and as scenes appeared on my TV I remembered them from that viewing experience as well as moments captured by the trading card set. That feeling has lingered to this day when I basically want an Apple Watch just so I can feel like Dick Tracy (anyone else remember the wrist watch walkie talkies they sold?).
My four year old daughter slept through most of the first film and was looking at Disney princess dresses during the second, but I’m not sure if I’d recommend these for kids her age. Given the presence of mobsters, shooting, concrete and Madonna’s crazy dresses, it might not be appropriate.
That reminds me. I’m not a fan of Madonna’s outside of this movie and A League Of Their Own, but man, she just KILLS it in this movie. I’m sure I was dazzled by her sheer dresses as a kid, but this time around I really found myself feeling bad for her when she was ever so desperately trying to convince Dick Tracy to love her. Her character adds an interesting intensity to this film that just adds to the overall unique nature of a project that could have easily become what all the terrible late 90s comic book movies turned into: exaggerated cartoons with no concept of what made the source material work.
So, while these might not be the best movies to show a couple of kids (like we did), they are a ton of fun and act as a kind of vanguard for quality comic-based films that would come a decade or so later.
I’ve seen Night Of The Comet once before, but it was at a Manly Movie Mamajama (also featuring Night Of The Creeps and Nightbreed) with a bunch of pals, so I didn’t remember much about it beyond the basic premise: a pair of sisters happen to live while most of the world is taken out by a comet, also there’s zombies. See, the MMMs revolve around a bunch of dudes drinking beer, eating greasy food, watching movies and cracking jokes, so it’s probably not the best place to see a movie for the first time. Having watched it again on October 2nd, I was surprised that some very unusual elements from the movie remained in my head like how huge and weird the radio station was and one scene in a mall where one of the girls puts down an Uzi-type gun and picks up a shoe.
To elaborate on the plot a bit, sisters Regina (the older, more responsible one) and Sam (the immature one) survive when a comet passes by because they happened to be in lead-lined rooms at the time. Neither of them quite catch on to the fact that everyone’s dead or turned into a zombie right away, but after they do they head to one of the most opulently decorated radio stations around (by 80s standards) where they meet a dude named Hector. They split back up and the girls go to the mall where some geeks from a think tank come to pick them up, but there’s something sinister going on.
I don’t want to give too much away because I want you guys to see this movie. When I watched it the first time, so many jokes were being thrown around that it was hard to really focus on the movie. Plus, some of the performances and costumes are so over the top that it can be hard to take them seriously, but there’s some real meat on the bones. Both Regina and Sam have some real moments of clarity and sadness to their performances. Plus, I give huge credit to any production that can make a big city look deserted. I also have an affinity for big, empty mall scenes where people run free and take whatever they want, but that’s a solid tether to my love for Dawn Of The Dead.
Another element of the flick I really dug was the characterization of Regina, mainly because she was written exactly like every slick 80s friend in every movie I can remember. Think Styles from Teen Wolf (the movie, haven’t seen the show), but a girl and you’re pretty much in the right headspace. She loves playing video games to the point where she gets crazy pissed that somebody wormed their way onto the top score of the game she plays while goofing off at her movie theater job. The actress pulled it off and made a million dudes wish they could pal around (and make out) with her.
Night Of The Comets is like a Godiva chocolate covered in an M&M shell, it’s slick and colorful on top, but when you get bellow the surface, there’s really something there to sink your teeth into. Okay, maybe not a Godiva chocolate, but something better than you’d expect inside of an M&M. It’s not a Halloween or Jaws by any means, but it’s more than you’d expect from the flick.
Technically I didn’t watch Dollman and TerrorVision on the same day, but I still think it would make an excellent double feature. Both movies start off on other planets with important characters winding up on Earth, which technically makes them both alien movies. While Dollman sticks more the action genre though, TerrorVision decides to mix all kinds of stories, genres and moods, but was still a surprisingly entertaining and supremely weird movie.
Dollman is actually Brick Bardo, something of a hero on his planet which looks kind of like Mega City in the RoboCop movies (read: shitty and poor, but surprisingly filled with fat people). He’s a sort of Dirty Harry type, the guy they call in for the crappy gigs. Anyway, after an opening scene that doesn’t really matter much, he winds up in a stand-off with his enemy who takes off in a spaceship. Bardo follows and the two wind up on Earth where it turns out they’re about a foot tall. It’s a pretty cool concept and one that’s not hinted at by any means in the early scenes which makes it kind of a surprise if you had no idea what you were watching. Anyway, Bardo winds up being taken home by a woman trying to keep her block safe for her son while the bad guy winds up convincing Jackie Earle Haley that he can rule the world. Or something. Anyway, it winds up being a face off between Dollman and the bad guys for the safety of the woman and the block.
At a brisk 79 minutes on Netflix Instant, I’d have trouble not recommending this movie to my fellow bad movie fans. The actors all take their jobs seriously, which adds to the flick a lot. Unfortunately the execution of some of the small scenes isn’t so good. When Dollman first lands on Earth he’s standing in front of some rocks that look pretty big to him, but then when the perspective changes and we see normal sized people they look the same size. They make good use of some projected effects and I love how the woman’s kid thinks Bardo’s spaceship is a toy. It really does look like the kind of vehicle you’d dream of for your action figures. On the other hand, I thought the special effects used to make the alien bad guy look like a totally creepy monster were pretty solid. The real joy for me in this movie was watching Haley and Tim Thomerson as Dollman. Haley of course has gone on to be both Rorschach and Freddy Krueger, but Thomerson was in one of my all time favorite movies as a kid: Who’s Harry Crumb? which I just watched with my folks and the missus when we were in Ohio a few weeks back. He’s a villain in that movie, so it’s fun to see him playing a hero here.
I don’t think I could describe TerrorVision as a good movie, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a good time watching it. Unlike Dollman, no one involved in this flick seemed to take it seriously. The dialogue is crazy, the characters are all extreme versions of normal people (the completely 80s daughter, her metal boyfriend, the swinger parents, the paranoid grandpa) and the tone switches around like crazy, going from camp to violent death scenes to an ET-like section and on from there. I’m guessing this was the intent from the beginning because the writer Ted Nicolaou also directed.
The idea is that another planet gets rid of their criminals by sending them out into space. I think it’s supposed to kill them, but this giant, shape shifting thing with one giant eye, one on a stalk and a tinier one winds up getting received by the swinger dad’s brand new satellite dish (it struck me during the watching of this movie that a great deal of things would have to be explained to a kid watching the movie today). The parents head out to meet a couple from a personal ad leaving the main boy home with the crazy grandpa whose room is a bomb shelter essentially. The pair realize the alien can pop out of the TV and is coming after them. SPOILERS AHEAD. Then, out of freaking nowhere, Grandpa gets his head crushed and disintegrated so the monster can absorb him. Once absorbed, the monster can recreate that person visually and sonically. It’s nuts.
More people keep showing up for the monster to kill. Next up is the parents who want to swing with this other couple in what the dad keeps calling the pleasuredome. This reminds me, the house itself looks like a cartoon (which fits the one dimensional characters and the soundtrack to a tee) with lots of pink and some strangely sexual artwork in the living room, my favorite of which was an iron with boobs sticking out of it. So strange. Anyway, the mom yells at the kid who apparently is on meds for talking about monsters–he’s also gotten in trouble in the past for prank phone calls–both of which are supremely unfortunate considering his current status. Mom’s pissed and wants to score with the Greek guy they just brought back so she locks him in grandpa’s room where the monster is hanging out! But it seems the monster is back in the TV.
Goodness, I really could go on and on about the movie, but you might as well just watch the 83 minutes of weirdness on Netflix, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Okay, I’ve got to mention a few more favorite parts. The kid thinks his parents and grandpa are dead, but his sister (who was out and just came back) doesn’t believe him, so she opens the door to their bedroom to see alien-created mom and dad in bed with the two swingers AND GRANDPA! It gave me chills, the sister said it was gross and they moved on, assuming their parents were alive, swinging and incesting all night long in their room. After THAT, the sister, metal boyfriend and the boy wind up treating the monster like a pet and making friends with it. Now, that might seem strange considering it killed their family members, but the kids don’t know that at the time.
If you’re a fan of 80s horror or monster flicks where kids take center stage like The Gate or Troll 2, then I highly recommend this movie. It’s as silly as the supposed Best Worst Movie, but the monster/alien effects and kills are surprisingly violent and cool. I really can’t recommend this flick enough, even moreso after watching the last few minutes again for this post. It’s even got a great poppy theme song! Do yourself a favor and watch TerrorVision, it’s one of the most enjoyable bad movies I’ve seen in quite a long time.
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.