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 Evil (1978) & Twice Dead (1988)

Well, I didn’t manage my time very well yesterday and wound up finishing the second movie of my double feature after midnight. I’m aiming to have two double features up today, but we’ll see, there’s a lot going on. These two picks were easily chosen for me my Shout Factory’s latest Roger Corman Double Feature. There’s a fun feature on the DVD where you click on it, it plays some trailers and then gets into the first movie. After the first one, there are some more trailers and you get the second. I appreciate that kind of efficiency on a disc even if the movie theater lobby images are a little too Reboot.

As it turned out, both The Evil and Twice Dead are haunted house movies after a fashion which, anyone who read my review of the original Amityville Horror knows, is not a genre I enjoy. But these two movies offered up takes that were different enough to keep me from groaning through the whole movie.

The Evil is about a couple who buy an old house and want to turn it into a rehab facility, so they invite some friends to come help with the remodeling. Soon enough the dog starts freaking out and the main blonde woman starts seeing things like a ghostly figure luring her to a book with some mysterious writings. Luckily it doesn’t take long for the house/demon/ghost to get mad and lock everyone inside. There’s lots of talk about what’s happening but soon enough dudes are cutting their own hands off and enjoying it, women are getting chased around by ghosts and dogs go after people sounding like an X-Wing or TIE Fighter flying through space.

While watching the movie I was thinking “Man, this is a pretty big Evil Dead rip off” what with the group of friends in a remote location, the inclusion of a book, invisible forces going after them. I noted that it’s like the Sam Raimi flick in a bigger house, but as it turns out The Evil came out three years before Evil Dead. Weird, right? Anyway, it’s an okay movie with some goofy acting, especially in the scenes when the whole house shakes. Some people stumble around like they’re drunk while others flip around like it’s Cirque du Soleil. Also, the end is just kind of weird. The main guy goes down into the hatch you see on the poster and winds up in a white room talking to the demon who looks like a cross between Santa and Grandpa Munster. I couldn’t tell if the ghost and this demon were the same guy or what, but then again, I was half paying attention and I have to keep the volume low so as not to wake the missus. Anyway, the scene reminded me of Neo meeting God or whatever in the last Matrix movie or the Tall Man’s room in Phantasm. Either these things are all coincidental or The Evil is one of the most influential movies in horror. I’m guessing it’s the former.

Oddly enough, I couldn’t find a poster for Twice Dead, so I just went with the Cult Classics Double Feature box. This is one weird flick. A family with two teenagers moves into an old house that a 30s film star killed himself in a long time ago and a group of teenage punks has turned into their hang out and don’t want to give up. Right off the bat, the dad tells his son to grab his shotgun and shoot these douches, but the cops come and they bail. As much as I wish the movie followed the dad kicking ass, he and the mother go out of town leaving the two kids at home. The gang tries to attack them and they seemingly get slaughtered, but it’s really just the two kids who live there using gags from the special effects class at school (?!) playing a big prank. The gang doesn’t take kindly to this and come back to attack the kids again. This time, though, the ghost of the movie stars kicks their asses in increasingly bloody fashions (hence the slasher tag).

It’s a weird little movie that takes some pretty big leaps when it comes to logic. Like, why do the punks even care about the house? Why do the main kids think that pretending to kill the punks will have zero repercussions? And, in general, why are the punks so crazy that many of them are willing to kill, including poor Todd Bridges who was pretty good in the movie and then got iced.

But, overall, I liked the flick. The strangeness of the special effects prank angle was fun as was the idea that the ghost is an old movie star who winds up helping the people who live in the house, gave it enough originality within a pretty tired genre. The effects were pretty good both in the story and in the movie overall, plus it’s got some funny moments (“What is that a penisaurus?”). Overall, I don’t think I could say that Twice Dead is a good movie, but it’s definitely a fun one.