Saturday, November 27, 2010

NEW STUFF: HAWK THE SLAYER (1980)

I was finishing up a purchase at a local game shop this weekend when I lifted my head and saw an odd shaped box on the shelf behind the clerk. My eyes adjusted, and I probably jumped a little when I spotted the U.S.A. Home Video logo on what was an obvious big box VHS tape. The thing was sitting there, face-out, stuffed between a bunch of odd-duck games. I asked the clerk how much he was asking. He grabbed the box, tossed it on the counter, and shrugged, "two bucks?" Sold, Confederate!

Cain and Abel meet sword and sorcery in "Hawk the Slayer," and Jack Palance plays the heavy. After his brother Volton (Palance) kills his fiancée, Hawk assembles a rainbow coalition of warriors to carry out a mission of vengeance. This is an amazing piece of shit!


NEW STUFF: SAVAGE BEACH (1989)

More Andy Sidaris goodness, featuring "babes, braun, and bullets." "Savage Beach" is the sequel to the incredible "Hard Ticket to Hawaii."

NEW STUFF: PATRICK (1978)

"Who is Patrick? Is he '170 pounds of limp meat hanging off a comatose brain?' Or is he a diabolic force with mysterious powers?"
This has been on my wishlist for a long time, but I'd held out until I found just the right copy. Browsing a local record shop's VHS shelves this past week, I finally ran across a HarmonyVision copy of "Patrick" for just five bucks. Not in bad shape, either. This Australian horror film centers on a sinister comatose patient who manipulates his surroundings through powerful telekinesis. Directed by Richard Franklin, the man behind "Road Games," "Link," and the wildly underrated "Psycho 2," the film features a soundtrack by either Brian May or Goblin, depending on what version you wind up with.


Also available exclusively on HarmonyVision, "STONER!"

NEW STUFF: AMERICA 3000 (1986)

Found an absolutely pristine copy of this Cannon release at a used book store this past week for a whopping two dollars. After America bombs itself back to the stone age, Amazon women rule the wastelands and dudes are relegated to cheap labor and sex. In other words, not much has changed.

GIRLS RIOT (1983)

In spite of what the box art may promise, you will spill no seed to explicit scenes of scantily clad inmates violating lady guards with billy clubs. The closest thing we get to rioting in this film is an artful protest involving white grease paint and down feathers. I can understand why this movie is routinely savaged by cult film fans, but it’s the distributors’ fault for stuffing a lamb in wolf skin. If you don’t hold the film itself accountable for the box's false pretense, you still a get very watchable new wave JD drama.

The story doesn’t take place in a detention center of any sort, but instead focuses on the relationships occurring within a state home for troubled young girls, all of whom have been placed there by displeased parents. There is no solitary confinement. There are no rubber hoses. There are however a few community shower scenes, which might be redeeming if it weren’t for the fact that most of the girls are more distinct looking than they are attractive. In other words, they aren’t quite up to exploitation par. But once again, this isn’t really an exploitation film in spite of its marketing.

After an amusing bout of word association which introduces several of our main characters, the story begins as the girls form a folk singing barricade to permit the escape of young Agnes, who is spirited away by a pimp promising her the sky. During a grittier moment, which is more reserved than it could have been, the pimp takes Agnes to the construction site of what will be their skyscraper penthouse. He takes her to the top of the building, where a horde of weathered construction workers await her, all huddled around a rape mattress. After all is said and done, she gets her cut. That’s about as dark as it gets, and from this point on things brighten up, but remain just as colorful.

The rest of the story follows an ambitious social worker, Andrea, who begins work at the home. While the emotionally troubled head mistress of the school prefers to take a strict and clinical approach to handling the girls, Andrea is far more humane and her gentle nature is often taken advantage of. In fact, one girl in particular, Sonya, mistakes Andrea’s routine kindness for romantic affection, which causes all sorts of complications. Elke, the alpha girl of the group, initially resents Andrea, but over the course of the story they develop a bond.

Andrea takes interest in withdrawn newcomer Heidi around the same time thoroughly defeated gang bang bait Agnes returns. Heidi is obsessed with a powerful father figure, which prompts Andrea to take a risk and visit the young girl’s mother, who turns out to be a stripper that’s connected to the pimp that fed Agnes to the construction workers at the film’s start. The pimp apparently has express interest in Heidi as a commodity, and her mother put her in the home to keep her pure. The pimp follows Andrea back to the school to set up a finale where Agnes attempts to lead Heidi into the clutches of the pimp. However, Elke tips Andrea off and the plot is thwarted.

Released under Academy Entertainment's Acorn Video brand, the dub is actually better than average. Well shot, well acted, and with some surreal imagery, “Girls Riot” tastefully attempts to create a social awareness of exactly what is happening to our youth, in the same vein as “Christiane F.” and “Over the Edge,” though it’s nowhere near as good. The bulk of the story focuses on character development. Some of the arcs may seem pointless, but they actually serve to advance the on-screen relationships quite seamlessly. Unfortunately, the film’s finale fizzles and ultimately overshadows what really is some very good character work. So far as teen drama goes, this is a pretty likable movie that doesn’t deserve a lot of the crap it gets.

SKULL: A NIGHT OF TERROR! (1987)

Well, it starts off with some promise. Right off the bat, a naked Nadia Capone molests her ex-city cop husband Robert whilst he twitches through nightmare memories of accidentally shooting a prostitute in peril. Apparently, the killing turned Bob into a bed wetter, and he's since relocate wife and children to a farm house, far away from the "terrible" thing he's done. Robert’s actually a cold skinned douche, presumably altered after taking another life, though this idea is never properly explored. He’s lost touch with his wife, and in his spare time he’s diddling his blowhard deputy partner’s significant other. Prior to learning all this, we’re introduced to Skull, a supposedly badass serial killer with an eye patch who’s absolutely terrified of the dark.

Conveniently, Robert and his partner have been assigned the task of transporting Skull and two of his cronies after a botched prison escape. En route, they spot a female motorist in distress, and since Robert is a philandering asshole he decides to pull over and get her digits. But this scene is just a clever trap schemed up by Skull’s woman, who frees the prisoner who flee in a hail of gunfire.

Skull and company stumble upon Robert and family’s farm and stake the joint out. The deputies make way back the house and get trounced by the convicts. Robert decides to play possum and builds some makeshift armor ala Ned Kelly. From there, he picks off Skull’s lackeys one-by-one, leading up to an ultimate showdown with the one-eyed ringleader.

All in all, this is a fairly painless 70s-styled action revenge flick, with both good and terrible things about it. The bare bones story itself is solid. Skull, with all his twitchy quirks, is an enjoyable update of the film noir villain. Robert’s ultimate armor-clad revenge is well played out. But one of the main problems here is that Robert is almost as unlikable as the men terrorizing his family. Even after he ultimately redeems himself by saving the day there’s still not much to the guy. The bad things about this movie may very well be better than the good things though. This thing is peppered with plenty of “what the fuck” moments. The dialog in particular is so random and inopportune at times that it’s pretty fucking hilarious. For example, as Robert and his deputy Neil make way back to the farmhouse, Neil laments:

Neil: Why the hell’d you have to go and buy a barn so far out for?

Robert: I wanted to be near the hot springs.

Neil: No hot springs around here.

Robert: I was misinformed.

The villains are tapped from the vein of unintentional hilarity. Sure, they may take turns raping and beating their victims like typical “Death Wish” heavies, but their use of James Cagney vernacular makes them seem less threatening. In particular, Skull’s abuse of the word “copper” nearly reduces him to mere cartoon.

Not great, but it certainly redeems itself when things go to hell. Despite whatever the director’s intentions may have been, this certainly will appease connoisseurs of cornball action flicks.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

WISHLIST: BATTLETRUCK (1982)

I would like a Battletruck for Christmas, please. Or just a copy of "Battletruck." Either way.

PHANTOM OF THE MALL: ERIC'S REVENGE (1989)

I haven’t slept in nearly twenty-two hours, so you know this review is going to be super clean. My brain and eyes are infested with the fog of sleep deprivation, but there is no more proper state of mind for revisiting “Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge” than this one. This cinematic orphan bastard is probably only really familiar to the 90s breed of Jolt-addicted insomniac masturbator, and they were probably introduced to it via Rhonda Shear.

Over the last century, Gaston LeRoux’s depressive tale of revenge has been splayed out and re-imagined countless times by producers who’ve taken absurd liberty with the material, but seldom with any variation on the setting or period. You can stomp on this movie’s head all you like, and the concept of transplanting the vengeful Eric from musty old Opera house to a staple of modern American life may seem cheesy if not blasphemous to some, but it is at least an original twist.

After scoring a job during the Midwood Mall’s soft opening, average teenager Melody is recognized by sleuthing photographer, Peter, who places her as the victim of a grizzly arson the year prior. Melody’s boyfriend, Eric, perished in the insidious inferno, and despite the fact that she described the attacker responsible for setting the blaze, there was never any real investigation into the matter. Peter is not only interested in Melody’s case, but in Melody herself as well. However, she’s still kind of getting over her ex.

Shortly after starting her job, Melody starts receiving strange gifts which suggest that Eric might have survived the blaze. At the same time, the mall’s sleazy owner, Posner, averts catastrophe by covering up the grizzly murders of several security guards at the hands of some shadowy slasher. For this, Posner has a left hand man he plants on security staff, who also happens to be the arsonist Melody saw torch Eric’s place.

It doesn’t take a brain trust to realize what happened the previous year. Eric’s parents were apparently the last hold outs in the neighborhood where Midwood Mall was eventually built. When they refused to move, Posner had the place torched. Eric somehow survived the fire and is back for revenge, hence the movie’s unnecessary sub-title.

Now, I’m not gonna lie to you good people: this thing’s plot holes are so gaped they could pass another twenty Duggar kids. But I just can’t comprehend the wrath people feel toward a film of this nature’s problems. Really, how dignified can a movie called “Phantom of the Mall” be? A respectful treatment of this concept would amount to putting a jet pack on a mongoloid. Jet packs are cool, but it's a retard, so what would be the point anyway? I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that the people who made this movie knew that the very foundation of this whole thing was absurd. Would anyone have given them kudos if they’d gotten all Coppola on this thing? Movies like these don’t benefit from a more austere approach. They’re just supposed to be fun in much the same way Looney Tunes are fun. Do these same nudniks whine about the lack of realism when it comes to Elmer Fudd’s injuries, too? Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the whackiness.

There ARE a few things that really bother me about the movie, but it has more to do with the actual packaging than the film itself. Mainly it relates to the box art. Did they REALLY need to super impose Eric’s burnt-up ass right on the front of the box? A major selling point of any Phantom film is eventually seeing just how fucked up he is under that mask. You don’t give away Rocky Dennis on the poster when you can charge the yokels a nickel a gander to get inside. Another thing that bugs me is the bullshit cliff notes sub-title, which I’ve already mentioned: “Eric’s Revenge”… yeah? No shit? Thanks!

All the other stuff which seems to piss most people off really makes the movie great for me, though. Eric almost comes off as a proto-Darkman in this movie. He’s half-Batman, half-slasher. One of the more absurd elements of the movie is Eric’s lair located under the mall, where he does Tae Bo and lifts weights. Apparently, this cave was where he kept all his gym equipment prior to the fire, and the land developers just never really noticed. He has since outfitted his lair with a plethora of security monitors, which he uses to spy on Melody. You get the impression that most of his resources are gleaned from night time mall scavenging, but that doesn’t quite explain where he gets a lot of his stuff.

One of my favorite things about this movie is the Latin piano player in the mall. We see him in the background of several scenes, serenading latte slurping trophy wives. Late one night, when leaving work, Melody is attacked by a ski-masked rapist, whom Eric wounds with a crossbow. A little later on in the movie, the piano player takes a bathroom break and reveals the cross bow wound. It ties together nicely. But then Eric kills the dude with a king cobra. Where the fuck does he get a king cobra? No idea, but I’m not going to complain.

Another great moment comes when Peter decides that the only way to prove Eric is alive is by digging up his grave. So of course, he and Melody head on down the local cemetery, dig about four feet down and discover that Eric’s casket is indeed empty. Why a family that could afford a plot and headstone would bury an empty casket without a body in it is beyond me, but fuck it, let’s just go with it.

The film’s finale revolves around a demolition bomb planted in the bowels of the mall. At this point, I’m starting to wonder if Eric works for the CIA. How else are you going to fake your death and wind up with a bunch of plastique? Still, my favorite “what the fuck” moment in this movie is when Eric, faced with Posner, the man responsible for burning his house down, pulls a fully operational flame thrower off of a sporting good’s store wall and torches the dude.

But these aren’t problems for me. These are accents. This is some gourmet shit. A real problem for me is why they cast Kari Whitman as Melody instead of the much hotter Kimber Sissons, who is relegated to the supporting role of friend. Whitman’s not that pretty and they use a body double for all her nude scenes. One look at Kimber, though, and you know she’d do nasty things for money, least of all show us her cans. You see, the beauty of a woman is naturally in proportion to just how batshit crazy she is. This is a scientific fact. The more beautiful a woman is, the more terrible she is, and the more likely she is to do really freaky shit.

Melody’s character also turns out to be a pretty shallow bitch. She spends a majority of the movie incessantly emphasizing how she isn’t quite over her ex yet, but she abruptly develops feelings for Peter the minute she sees just how fucked up Eric's face really is. Sure, Peter may have less scar tissue, but Eric knows kung fu, has a Batcave, and a killer hook up at the mall. He was obviously into her, as he spends most of his time pillaging gifts and saving her ingrate ass from inept rapists. Meanwhile, Peter the photographer is kind of a dick. For example: Eric and Peter have a physical altercation during which Melody reveals that she loves Peter. Upon hearing this Eric stops kicking Peter’s ass, and he conveys a glimmer of understanding and sympathy toward his ex-girlfriend. Of course, Peter takes advantage of this vulnerable moment by knocking Eric’s skull into a coffee table. What an asshole.

Here’s another example of Peter's douchebaggery: at the end, the mall blows up, and Melody and Peter watch it burn while in each other’s arms. Check out Peter’s dickhead remark.

Melody: Looks like Eric got what he wanted.

Peter: Yeah? I did better than that. I got you.

What is this, a competition all of the sudden? Seriously, what a smug prick this guy is. I was almost waiting for him to suggest that the best medicine for getting over a murdered boyfriend is by taking nude photos.

There's also a surprisingly strong car chase scene which takes place in the mall's parking garage. I'm pretty sure they killed a bystander while filming the sequence, which is probably where most of the budget went.

Of course, this film is probably most noteworthy for featuring a young Pauly Shore as Buzz, a frogurt clerk who uncovers an inconsequential "They Live" style conspiracy plot involving subliminal messages hidden in the mall’s muzack.

Morgan Fairchild also appears as the mayor of Midwood, while genre enthusiasts will appreciate "Dawn of the Dead" alumni Ken Foree’s return to a mall setting. Since I’m insane, I was more excited about the fact that Tim Fridley, who plays Cort in "Friday the 13th part 6: Jason Lives!” appears as Posner’s fuckface son.

This film is also notable in that it features the relatively obscure piece of shit song, “Is There A Phantom In The Mall” by The Vandals, who sound like they're doing their best to imitate The Damned. The song, which is bad to begin with, is really ill-placed, too, which makes for a seemingly abrupt and unintentionally hilarious lead into the credits.

This movie is pretty much the cinematic equivalent of mini-golf. It’s just too innocent to hate. If you’re one of those assholes looking for a real nine-hole game, stay away from the wind mill on top of astroturf. It’s just that fucking simple.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

CALL FREDDY!

Not exactly VHS related, but completely in the spirit of my VHS Summers. Did anyone else rack up a phone bill that got their ass beat as a kid by calling this number?