Sunday, October 28, 2012


After years of voice work and regularly appearing as the middle square on the bottom row of Hollywood Squares or more importantly attaining a cult success with his character Fred Rated in over a thousand commercials for Federated Electronics, Shadoe Stevens finally decided to grace the world with his leading role debut in "Traxx." As soon as I picked up the box and read the first sentence of the summary I knew I was in store for pure gold.

Shadoe Stevens (who, if you’ve never seen him kind of resembles a lighthearted Klaus Kinski meets Lethal Weapon era Mel Gibson) portrays a mercenary for hire who goes by the name Traxx, but after a brief montage of him single-handedly annihilating enemy forces in Central America and the Middle East he decides that he wants to follow his true passion and go into the cookie baking business. After moving to a small Texas town called Hadleyville, he hits the kitchen to develop the perfect recipe. But soon he discovers that he has no idea how to bake cookies and ends up spending all his money on failed concoctions of various baked sludge. So to obtain capital for his cookie company he decides he’s going to offer his mercenary services to the police department of Hadleyville who is overworked with rampant crime and corruption. Actually the town resembles the New York from "Death Wish 3" more than any small southern town ever; full of brothels, gangs, and a powerful crime lord running the streets the police chief and his bumbling department have no other option but to accept Traxx’s fee for being a self proclaimed “Town Tamer."

Upon his first encounter with fighting some of the towns street thugs he befriends one of them and offers for him to become his sidekick in return for showing him around the seedy underbelly of Hadleyville. Traxx then proceeds to go on an insane rampage of justice, involving blowing up entire buildings and leaving a massive trail of destruction in the streets, yet he still finds time to admire his reflection and work on his cookie recipes. In the aftermath of one of his street cleaning sessions the morning sun is shining down upon a completely demolished city street with bodies of dead criminals strung up everywhere and somehow the geriatric residents are not only okay with this but are thrilled. The mayor(played by b-movie and tv actress Priscilla Barnes) however is not keen on Traxx’s methods and wants him arrested, but upon meeting him turns into a drooling nympho-maniac, practically humping his leg. The mob boss is also not happy about Traxx’s town taming and decides to hire three psychopathic brothers to kill Traxx, however this subplot is one of the least coherent parts of the movie and devolves into nonsensical scenes of them riding around in a car while crossing over the Mexican border.

One of the most bizarre scenes in the movie however is when Traxx pays a visit to the home of the crime boss Aldo Palucci and interrupts him getting a flaccid handjob from his lover. Upon pointing a gun at him he obtains an erection and Traxx leaves, but on the way out runs into a strange frat boy with neon punk hair wearing a diaper who says he is Aldo’s son. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet remains just unaware enough of its self to be incredibly funny on a whole other level and at times resembles the surreal insanity exhibited in his work in the Fred Rated commercials.

The movie ends with Traxx rescuing a kidnapped little league team and opening up a popular cookie bakery in town despite his foul cookie baking skills, complete with a cameo by Wally Amos, better known as Famous Amos, buying some of Traxx’s cookies.

We couldn't find a trailer online, so here's a sample of great scenes from "Traxx."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Man, I don’t know what the fuck happened here, but this turned out to be a brutal let down. It has all kinds of killer ingredients for baking up a fulfilling tale of revenge set in urban New York. In fact, what makes it most disappointing is that it was helmed by director John Flynn, a man considered to be a luminary within the cinema of vengeance for his cult hit “Rolling Thunder.”  This guy of all people knows how to make a movie like this work! After all, we've seen it, and it's one of the ultimate revenge movies! Though "Defiance" begins with a glimmer of promise, it never delivers that moment of excessive cruelty or violence that usually drives films of this nature. In fact, the stakes are pretty low here. You never really feel an unquenchable thirst for vengeance against the antagonists, mainly because they never get the opportunity to make your skin crawl. What actually might be the ultimate death of this movie is that it is so accessible. It is virtually a PG take on the revenge formula.

Jan-Michael Vincent stars as Tommy, a sailor who’s been forced into an extended leave due to a suspension they never bother to really bother to go into. In fact, they never really pierce the character’s mystique. Instead, we’re left to wonder what brought him to this point. Was he smuggling drugs? Did he rape another crew member? You just really never know much about the guy, which makes it difficult to get invested. He could have been a total dirtbag, which honestly would have given the story a little more weight had they gone in that direction. While this vague hardass waits out his punishment, he decides to move into a shitty neighborhood where the inhabitants are more or less forced to acclimate to his no-nonsense attitude. Eventually he meets a girl. Then he crosses a gang. You're probably thinking, "hey, I can do the math real easy on this one," but you'd be wrong. Though putting Tommy’s girlfriend in peril would have been the most logical way to kickstart this mess, the movie is too sensitive to “go there.” As alluded to before, “Defiance”’s primary ailment is that the bad guys never do anything that’s really that bad. Sure, there’s potential for bad things to occur, but the menace stops at mere suggestion. In fact, between the points where they rob a church bingo parlor and smash a roof top garden is when this thing careens into a ditch – and a really clean one at that.

"Ooooh! Jan Michael Vincent worked hard on that garden, you hooligans! He’s gonna get you!”

Even more unfortunate is that Rudy Ramos, who plays gang leader Angel Cruz, is probably the best thing about the movie. Not only does he look like a proto-“Parade” era Prince, but he’s an obvious heavy with built-in sympathy, which is a total waste since you never see him do anything really fucked up. There’s little point in going out of your way to humanize the villain if you’re not going to make the audience feel conflicted about connecting with them.

The majority of the movie feels like total filler, with the gang being jerks and the neighborhood beckoning Tommy to join their ranks and fight back. Tommy eventually decides to join their effort after a fairly minor character is murdered off screen by the villains. You get the feeling that the writers were into the idea of that feel-good moment at the end where evil is usurped, but they didn’t want to commit to depicting the sort of rousing nastiness that’s so germane to the payoff they wanted. They knew where they wanted to get to, but they took a really shitty, in-direct, and overly-long way to get there.

The second best thing about this movie is probably Danny Aiello, who plays Carmine. Now older and pot-bellied, Carmine spends most of his time with his cronies at a local watering hole reminiscing about how they used to run the streets. What’s interesting is that these old-school gang bangers really resent the new youth gangs even though they probably weren’t dissimilar to them. Conceptually, the idea of an overweight Aiello stretching out his “Lords of Flatbush” jacket coming out of retirement to teach these new punks a lesson is pure gold. This arc should have been the film’s main focus. Instead, too much time is spent on some limp-dick romance that doesn’t really drive the story anywhere.

There are fine points that could have been expanded upon, making this even more of a bummer. Some say this is a film with heart, but that’s only a misnomer for softness. The tender moments are meaningless due to the astonishing lack of grit, as they are too constant and with little contrast. Glimmers of happiness and soul in the ghetto have more meaning when the dire reality of the environment is given more punch. Instead, this feels like an attempted inner-city “Waltons” with some melodramatic moments that veer into unintentional chuckles. Overall, this was a waste of time for a lot of great actors, including Art Carney, who is basically relegated to playing “old Jewish guy who gets beat up.” This is easily the palest revenge flick of all time.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Anyone who grew up on '80s flicks has a special affinity for the dynamic duo of Monahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the mutant dual backbones of the Cannon Films empire.  They brought us an incredible array of films ranging from insane terrorist action to fairy tales.  They introduced us to Van Damme and Boogaloo Shrimp.  Their influence on my young developing mind is immeasurable.  I have absorbed their films with eager eyes and ears throughout the last two and a half decades. This appreciation has been enabled by two things - HBO in the '80s and '90s, and my last seven years working at a used retail store that carries thousands of VHS tapes.  My search to find any and all of these Cannon titles has lead me to many wonderful films, including this fringe gem of a low-budget cheeseball.

"American Cyborg: Steel Warrior" is one of the lesser-known releases on Cannon Video, being produced by Global Pictures (Globus sans Golan).  The most interesting nerd fact about this movie is that it was one of the few American cinematic releases to be directed by Boaz Davidson, who has produced countless SciFi channel megamonster flicks, but also "The Expendables" 1 and 2 and the "Conan the Barbarian" redux from 2011.  I believe his direction explains why the movie is so enjoyable despite the bad acting and humble budget, which is typical of the final year or so of Cannon Pictures.

The acting is pretty much cardboard.  The two leads look more like catalog models than survivors of a nuclear holocaust, or whatever it is that makes people not have babies (the voiceover prologue doesn't really go into all that).  Mary, our lady protagonist, has kind of an Olivia D'abo thing going on.  She also has three things that make her stand out in this bleak world; a live fetus and big boobs. Austin, our protagonist, looks like Lorenzo Lamas' dumber cousin.  He does, however, deliver one of my favorite lines in a movie in a long while...

The plot unfolds quickly and goofily, but the flow of the action scenes is consistent with everything I've come to expect from a Cannon film.  The cyborg villain played by John Ryan ("Delta Force 3") is creatively menacing, never simply killing someone but usually painfully inconveniencing them until he needs to move to the next scene.  His ruthlessly inhuman prowess at enforcing the harsh directives of "The System" would be far less enjoyable if he could run.  Fortunately for the viewer, in this dystopian future, bad guy cyborgs can't run, but they do walk upstairs two-at-a-time and fairly effortlessly.

This movie could have had a better beginning and ending when it comes to the story, but it doesn't need those to be a good watch.  Aside from the very decent action and laughable dialogue there isn't much here, but I found it entertaining and an interesting piece of Cannon history.  I would definitely watch this again with some buddies.


Monday, October 8, 2012


I didn’t realize I had a VHS collection until it had reached a modest size. In fact, it was a completely accidental thing. Some folks have comfort foods, and well, I have comfort films. Initially, all I really wanted was to have access to all the movies I had fond recollections of seeing on local TV as a kid. That eventually expanded to include all the flicks with haunting box art that I was never allowed to rent as a child. Then there came my desire to find a lot of the brutally edited-for-television flicks I enjoyed as a teenager on USA Network’s Up All Night. It was a good hobby in that it was cheap and easy to track a lot of this stuff down. Places like Hollywood Video and Blockbuster, which had absorbed cool libraries from the mom and pop shops they had taken over years before, were dying off and getting rid of this stuff for pennies, literally. It also brought to me a sense of warmth and nostalgia from a secure point in my life. The fact that I had purchased a lot of these titles on VHS wasn’t intentional either. It just so happened that a lot of these movies never made the leap to DVD. Collecting sort of took on a historical precedence as I became aware of exactly how many films were likely going to slip through the cracks as schools of VHS-only, out-of-print tapes were being tilled into landfills across the country. You know how they have those statistical ads on television that tell you how often a burglary or sexual assault occurs? Well, just as horrific to me was the fact that a lot of films were dying, potentially never to be rediscovered, around the clock. So, my collecting criteria expanded to include a lot of stuff I’d never even heard of. It has become less about nostalgia and more about actually discovering lesser known titles and preserving them by sharing through screenings. It’s viral magic.

As with any hobby, there are probably people out there who collect based purely on the “obscurity” of the title. When you’re collecting, it’s good to be aware that there are two brands of obscurity. The first and most commonly sought-after type of obscurity is the kind that is brought upon by the rarity of the item. This is perhaps the most dangerous type of obscurity because a lot of people will celebrate a title for its sheer rarity even if it happens to be a total piece of shit. It can create a deceptive hype around an ultimately disappointing title. The second kind of obscurity is when there is a title that is relatively common and yet is not very well known. This can be equally deceptive, as it can cheat you out of seeing a lot of great stuff. However, there’s also the other side of the coin, where something might be obscure because it is a total piece of shit that fucking sucks soooooo bad – and this brings us to “King Frat” on the All American Video label, a subsidiary of Mogul.

This movie is most often referred to as an “Animal House” Clone, though it is nothing of the sort. The process of cloning something would imply some sort of sophisticated process, whereas “King Frat” is about as scientific as shitting into an empty bottle of Old English; instead, it would be more fair to call it a blatant ripoff, and it’s a complete fucking mess. Don’t let people fool you with that “so bad it’s good” bullshit, either. It’s actually so bad it’s sobering. The night I decided to watch this, I was actually totally trashed, so I was in the right frame of mind to enjoy a sophomoric comedy, but it completely assailed my buzz and left it for dead. 

There’s nothing to synopsize in terms of plot because there isn’t any. There is no real dilemma, nor is there any adversity for the characters to go up against. It’s basically just a bunch of crap that happens. In fact, there aren’t even any characters really. Instead, you get a handful of people who are just consistently on screen. About the most development we get is for some 50 year old Native American dude who gets dumped from the movie about a quarter-way in. Other than that, there are no arcs. The only guy who stands out is 41 year old John DiSanti as JJ “Gross-out” Gumbroski, who is essentially “King Frat”’s Belushi, only DiSanti comes across like a far less charismatic Joe Besser.  You don’t even really get the sense that these guys are rebelling against anything so much as they are just being assholes since the movie doesn’t really have a main antagonist that’s out to get them. Instead, we just have a bunch of loosely strung vignettes with them carrying out unlikely pranks, such as putting smoldering weed in a funeral home’s air vent so the service turns into a laugh riot. After that, Gross-Out appears in a fart contest to get beer money. At some point some dipshit in a gorilla suit gets his penis stuck in a girl, which really makes no sense. Then, the movie concludes when the barely present token black guy gets beat up by the square white guy frat. Otherwise, the jokes are impotent, the nudity is scant, and the annoying theme song is wielded with maddening repetition.

About the only kind thing I can say is that it is competently shot. Other than that, the actors and script collide to create a soulless vacuum. The gross-out humor is “Garbage Pail Kids: The Movie”-caliber - pathetic when you consider "King Frat" only meets a bench mark set by a film designed to appeal to stupid little kids. The most debilitating absence is that of a legitimate trial or tribulation, and the conclusive "triumph" is just sort of tacked on. These are supposed to be misfit characters, and yet there’s never any downside for them to bounce back from. However, this isn't to say that this film couldn't have been good somehow. There are plenty of films in this vein that have virtually no plot, and yet kick copious amounts of ass because they're witty and have great performances. Films such as "Hot Moves" and "The Party Animal" prove this. Unfortunately there is noone on Michael Zorek's level anywhere in this film. Overall, this is an uneventful bag of shit that deserves to remain obscure. Consider this a head on a pike and ignore the hype.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


The dirty, screaming stench of a city coursing with cynicism, hypodermic needles and widespread poverty, gay men rendezvousing in abandoned warehouses, hookers, muggers, rapists and the kind of on-screen halitosis one can usually only find in gritty portrayals like Maniac... ahhh 1970s New York, where $200 could commission an art piece and buy you an abortion. There's really nothing like an Abel Ferrara film to make you never want to move to New York City. Driller Killer is reeking of punk, sex and death. A New York City that few like to remember. One of seedy vulgarity with vile woman of ill repute, crawling out of disco and into broken glass.

Abel Ferrara seems to almost pull off the greasy, devastatingly nihilistic sleaze we see in his later work, here directing and playing artist turned bum-murdering fix-it man, Reno Miller in Driller Killer. Widely noted as Ferrara's debut film, though considered just as shameful by Ferrara himself as his actual first feature Nine Lives of a Wet Pussy (1976), Driller Killer is the sordid tale of a discontented New York artist (Reno), his annoyingly inane girlfriend Carol (Carolyn Marz) and her lover Pamela (Baybi Day) trapped in the sort of Lustigian hell only New York could offer. Not quite as admired as Taxi Driver nor as masterful as Ferrara's follow up Ms. 45, this film does offer a lot of the same crushing, social injustice but with more blood and more lesbians.

The depravity is set in motion when Reno runs into an old, degenerate bum reminiscent of his father while repenting his sins in a Catholic church. This, combined with Reno's struggle to pay the rent and his girlfriend and her lover's long distance phone bill, is seemingly the only justification for the string of homeless men he then sets out to drill in the hands, chest and face. The struggle of living in crime infested Union Square and his fear of becoming indigent like his father, bleed dry his last ounce of humanity. Another standout feature of the film would be the often idealized, highly influential music scene in New York at the time, represented by neighboring, no wave punk band The Roosters and front man Tony Coca Cola, who move into a nearby scum-infested apartment driving Reno insane with their laborious "practices". No drugs, no money, no dope, no friends, just television and a heart full of broken dreams. A man beside himself, his pet rabbit and his artistic masterpiece... a poorly received painting of a buffalo. The obvious solution? A porto-pak and a power drill.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Clowns aren't funny. They are horrible, terrible monsters deserving of our disgust and contempt. Their twisted faces have produced nightmares in the dreamstates of the innocent for decades. The filmmakers behind "Funland" have found a solution to this problem which allows them to succeed in making a clown humorous. Mental illness! David L. Lander (Squiggy from "Laverne & Shirley") plays Bruce Burger, the mascot for the local Funland amusement park. Bruce shows a level of commitment to his job that borders on the pathological. When a new owner takes over the park and starts making changes it sends him into a downward spiral. Bruce has conversations with imaginary people, many of whom have been dead for many years. His evenings are spent with everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Humphrey Bogart, not to mention the recently murdered former owner of Funland. As the park prepares for reopening, his plans turn towards homicide. 

 The screenplay comes from power duo Bonnie and Terry Turner, years before they would have their careers launched by scripting studio comedies like "Wayne's World" and "Tommy Boy." There is a mean streak and a subversiveness here that disappeared completely from their work after this point. The grossly bottom-line driven mentality of the corporate world is savaged throughout the runtime, something that probably proved difficult to do when writing for a major television network during their time on "Third Rock from the Sun." Nonetheless, it is fortunate for all of us that they were unleashed and raging hard at this point. The result is a comedy that has a certain amount of heart and warmth without sacrificing the sting of its bite.