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!
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.
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.