The Punisher (Throwback Post)

This is a repost of a previously published review. Due to my wedding/honeymoon, as well as hectic grad school scheduling, I’m taking some time off from weekly posts. – Gordon

The Punisher

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Today’s movie is a lesser-known early Marvel comic book adaptation: 1989’s The Punisher.

The Punisher is a character who was initially created by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, and John Romita, Sr. for Marvel, and he was debuted in The Amazing Spider-Man issue #129 in 1974. 1989’s The Punisher marked his first appearance in a film, though not his last: two other high profile movies were created with the character in 2004 (The Punisher) and 2008 (Punisher: War Zone), and a television series starring the character is currently on Netflix as part of the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The writer for The Punisher was Boaz Yakin, who also penned From Dusk Til Dawn 2, The Rookie, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and also directed movies like Remember The Titans and Uptown Girls.

The Punisher was directed by Mark Goldblatt, who is best known as the proficient editor of such movies as Predator 2, Enter The Ninja, Humanoids From The Deep, Piranha, Super Mario Bros, The Howling, Commando, The Terminator, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The Punisher is one of only two feature-length directorial efforts by Goldblatt, the other being the buddy cop zombie flick Dead Heat.

The editor for The Punisher was Tim Wellburn, who also cut the Stuart Gordon flick Fortress and the BeastMaster television series. The cinematographer for the film was Ian Baker, who also shot such movies as Queen of the Damned, Evan Almighty, and Roxanne.

The musical score for The Punisher was composed by Dennis Dreith, who has worked as an orchestrator on movies like The Rock, Jurassic Park, and Misery.

The visual effects for The Punisher were done by one Roger Cowland, who has worked on such films as Babe, The Piano, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and The Howling III.

The Punisher special effects and makeup teams included common elements with movies like The Matrix, The Road Warrior, Street Fighter, Fortress, Crocodile Dundee II, Razorback, and Mad Max, among others.

One of the producers for The Punisher was Robert Mark Kamen, an accomplished action movie writer who penned screenplays for such movies as Taken, The Transporter, The Fifth Element, Lethal Weapon 3, and The Karate Kid.

The cast for The Punisher includes Dolph Lundgren (Masters of the Universe, Dark Angel, Rocky IV), Louis Gossett Jr. (Iron Eagle, Jaws 3-D), Jeroen Krabbé (The Fugitive, The Living Daylights), Barry Otto (The Great Gatsby, The Howling III), Nancy Everhard (DeepStar Six), and Kim Miyori (Metro).

THE PUNISHER, Louis Gossett, Jr., Dolph Lundgren 1989.The plot of The Punisher follows Frank Castle, an ex-cop turned vigilante who hunts down and executes members of the mafia and other criminal figures. After 5 years of his activities, the local criminal scene has weakened considerably, but the vacancy also attracts the interest of a foreign criminal power: the Yakuza. After the Yakuza attempts to seize the remaining operations of the mafia by kidnapping the surviving leadership’s children, Castle winds up making strange allies through his efforts to save the children and put the Yakuza down.

punisher4Reportedly, most of the fight choreography for the film was done with full contact, given professional martial artists were hired for the fighting roles instead of stuntmen. Dolph Lundgren did most of his own stunts for his role as well, given his martial arts background.

The Punisher is one of the best known “Ozploitation” action movies: meaning it was filmed in Australia, and done with extreme violence on an exploitation level.

A sequel to the movie was at one point planned, but the production company (New World Pictures) wound up going bankrupt before it could happen.

The Punisher interestingly did not theatrically release in the United States, due to the aforementioned bankruptcy of the production company. However, it managed to distribute to theaters internationally (at least, in places where it wasn’t outright banned), and popped up on home video shortly thereafter.

The beginning of The Punisher features a thinly-veiled version of John Gotti, one of the most well-known gangsters of the modern era. In 1989 (the year of this film’s release), he was still two years off from his ultimate conviction and incarceration, but was very much a public and recognizable figure as a crime boss. While the character isn’t explicitly named John Gotti in the movie, he is referred to as “The Dapper Don,” a well-known nick-name of Gotti’s.

The reception to The Punisher was generally negative: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 28% (critics) and 32% (audience), along with an IMDb rating of 5.6. However, it has a dedicated cult following in spite of the bad reviews.

punisher3The Punisher has a great grimy look and feel to it, which is definitely a credit to this being an exploitation-style action movie. Honestly, I think this ambiance fits The Punisher as a character better than the other adaptations, though I don’t hate either of those films as much as some people do. As weird as Lundgren’s casting might seem at first glance, I think he nails the spirit of the character pretty well. Also, it is hard not to appreciate that this movie isn’t an origin story, and that the plot the screenwriter came up with is actually pretty cool, and deals with a realistic consequence of the presence of a Punisher-style vigilante.

punisher2I have never understood why so many people vocally hate this movie. The absence of the iconic skull image is certainly notable, but that actually strikes me as pretty minute on the grand scale of things. This movie is over-the-top violence and action, which is basically what the spirit of The Punisher is all about. Dolph even does a pretty good job with his lines, which is likely the result of him being given permission to rewrite them for his comfort level. I feel like it is a real shame that Goldblatt hasn’t directed any other movies, as both Dead Heat and The Punisher are entertaining flicks that have become cult classics.

I definitely recommend checking this movie out, as it is probably the best of the Marvel movies made before the modern era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sony’s Spider-Man flicks, and Fox’s X-Men franchise. I think b-movie and action fans in particular will enjoy this adaptation, perhaps more so than die-hard fans of the comics.

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The Island of Doctor Moreau (Throwback Post)

This is a repost of a previously published review. Due to my wedding/honeymoon, as well as hectic grad school scheduling, I’m taking some time off from weekly posts. – Gordon

The Island of Doctor Moreau

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Today’s flick is the disastrous 1996 adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau, starring Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando.

The Island of Doctor Moreau is based on a famous work by H.G. Wells, which has been adapted a number of times to the screen, dating all the way back to 1932’s Island of Lost Souls. The screenplay for this particular incarnation was written by Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) and Ron Hutchinson (The Josephine Baker Story).

The screenplay co-writer Richard Stanley was initially brought on board to direct, but was ultimately fired and replaced by John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Reindeer Games, Ronin). However, rumor has it that Stanley snuck back on to the production as an extra, specifically made up as one of the background creatures so that he could eavesdrop on the progress of the movie.

The cinematographer for The Island of Dr. Moreau was William A. Fraker, who also shot such films as Vegas Vacation, Tombstone, Street Fighter, SpaceCamp, WarGames, The Exorcist II, Rosemary’s Baby, 1941, and Bullitt, and was nominated for a total of 6 different Academy Awards over his career.

The Island of Doctor Moreau featured two primary editors: Adam P. Scott, who has worked on films like Any Given Sunday, The Insider, Blade, and Matchstick Men, and Paul Rubell, who cut The Cell, Thor, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Collateral, and Battleship. A third editor, Thom Noble (Red Dawn, Thelma & Louise, Alex Cross, Fahrenheit 451), worked without credit on the film.

The makeup and special effects for The Island of Doctor Moreau were provided by the prestigious Stan Winston Studios, led by none other than Stan Winston himself, a four time Academy Award winner. The makeup and special effects teams included common elements with movies like The Thing, The Cell, John Dies At The End, Tremors, Congo, Jurassic Park, Lake Placid, Small Soldiers, The Bat People, Predator 2, Avatar, Iron Man, Hollow Man, Class of 1999, Pacific Rim, Aliens, Leviathan, Dollman, and Dead Heat.

moreau2The score for The Island of Dr. Moreau was composed by Gary Chang, who also provided music for movies like The Substitute, Under Siege, and A Shock To The System.

The three producers on the film were Claire Rudnick Polstein (Austin Powers, Wag The Dog), Tim Zinnemann (Street Fighter, The Running Man) and Edward R. Pressman (Street Fighter, Judge Dredd, Masters of the Universe, The Hand).

The cast for The Island of Dr. Moreau included David Thewlis (The Big Lebowski, DragonHeart), Val Kilmer (Heat, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Top Gun), Marlon Brando (On The Watefront, The Godfather, A Streetcar Named Desire, Apocalypse Now), Ron Perlman (Pacific Rim, Hellboy), Mark Dacascos (American Samurai, Only The Strong, Double Dragon, Scorcher), Peter Elliott (Congo), Temuera Morrison (Speed 2), and Fairuza Balk (The Waterboy).

moreau3The plot of The Island of Dr. Moreau follows a shipwrecked man who is rescued and brought to an isolated island.  However, the island is inhabited by a reclusive and eccentric doctor, who has been performing experiments splicing genes from humans with animals, and has created a population of hybrid abominations. As the story progresses, the hybrids become increasingly unruly and savage, and ultimately revolt against their creator.

As he did with many of his later movies, Marlon Brando was affixed with a radio receiver in his ear so that someone off-screen could feed his lines to him. However, during The Island of Doctor Moreau, the device received a good deal of interference from local radio frequencies, and lore has it that Brando would frequently read off messages from police scanners  instead of his lines, without realizing his mistake.

moreau1One particularly infamous sequence from The Island of Doctor Moreau, in which Brando plays a piano duet with his small companion (who he insisted on having as part of the production), was famously lampooned in the second Austin Powers movie. The sequence went so far as to even include the stacked miniature piano setup used in Moreau.

In 2014, a documentary was released detailing the troubled production behind The Island of Doctor Moreau, titled Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau.

Val Kilmer tried to get out of the movie before filming began, but was contractually forced to participate. He openly disliked the direction of the film, and was reportedly actively disruptive during the production. Rewrites reassigned many of his lines to Ron Perlman’s character so that his screentime could be further limited, and the director reported said “Cut. Now get that bastard off my set” after the last take with Kilmer wrapped.

Rob Morrow was originally cast as the lead, but left after Stanley was fired from the production. This led to Thewlis being brought in on short notice to take over the role.

Because of numerous rewrites and changes in direction, the screenplay for The Island of Doctor Moreau went through no less than four distinct incarnations over the course of the production.

The Island of Doctor Moreau wound up with six Golden Raspberry nominations, which are given out to the worst films and performances of the year. Outside of Marlon Brando winning for worst supporting actor, however, it wound up getting beat out in the major categories by the Demi Moore movie Striptease.

The popular reception to The Island of Doctor Moreau was quite poor, though it did wind up making its money back at the box office (a gross of $49 million on a budget of $40 million). It currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 23% (critics) and 20% (audience), along with a 4.4 rating on IMDb.

The Stan Winston designed creature effects are pretty impressive, and are probably the biggest reason that this movie is remembered in any kind of positive light. Some of the creatures certainly look more realistic than others, but the sheer amount of makeup work that had to be done to transform so many actors must have been daunting, and it isn’t too outlandish to say that the movie probably wouldn’t have happened at all without Winston’s involvement.

Where the movie really falls apart is with the screenplay, which, as I mentioned earlier, went through a number of rewrites. This was clearly an ambitious project, but it comes off on screen as trying to do far too much, and it lacks an even tone or style thanks to all of the edits and rewrites. Apparently, apart from the full screenplay rewrites, some of the actors also rewrote their own lines, which contributes even more to the bizarre inconsistencies throughout the film.

The one-two acting punch of Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, which should have been a knock-out combo on paper, proved to be an absolute disaster for this production. Not only did both men already have reputations for being troublesome on sets, but both were in particularly bad personal situations during the filming of Moreau: Kilmer was suddenly embroiled in an unexpected divorce, and Brando was mourning the recent suicide of his daughter. Adding to the powder keg, appropriately enough, was an atomic test that was performed near a property owned by Brando, went sent him even further into a dark psychological state. The mixture of all of these elements created two lead actors who wanted nothing more than to be off the production, and gave respective performances that could accurately be described as sabotage.

Overall, this is a legendarily terrible movie, but is another one of those productions that feels like it had some honest potential behind it. The behind the scenes antics are fascinating to read into, and make the movie worth a watch if you ask me. Kilmer and Brando are also hypnotically awful in their performances, despite how little screen time they get.

I first saw this  movie when I was pretty young, when it got a lot of airplay on the Sci-Fi Channel, and it made a significant impression on me. I remember being particularly baffled by Kilmer’s drug-fueled Brando impression in particular, which might be the highlight of the whole film. If you happen to come across this one, it is worth picking up, particularly if you are a fan of movie trivia. I also recommend giving a watch to the documentary about it, Lost Soul.

Motel Hell (Throwback Post)

This is a repost of a previously published review. Due to my wedding this month, as well as hectic grad school scheduling, I’m taking some time off from weekly posts. – Gordon

Motel Hell

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Today’s feature is a cult favorite horror comedy from 1980: Motel Hell.

Motel Hell was directed by Kevin Connor, who spent most of his career directing television movies and television series. The screenplay for the movie was written by brothers Robert Jaffe (who penned screenplays for Nightflyers and Demon Seed) and Steven-Charles Jaffe (producer of Star Trek VI, Near Dark, Ghost, and Time After Time), who also served as producers for the film.

The plot of Motel Hell is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A seemingly friendly farmer and his sister kidnap unsuspecting travelers and bury them alive, using them to create the “special ingredient” of their famous roadside fritters.

The cinematographer for the film was Thomas Del Ruth, who went on to shoot Death Wish II, The Breakfast Club, Stand By Me, The Running Man, The Mighty Ducks, and numerous episodes of The West Wing.

The editor for Motel Hell was Bernard Gribble, who also cut Caddyshack II, Death Wish, Top Secret, White Dog, and Aces: Iron Eagle III.

The music for the film was composed by Lance Rubin, who also provided music for the film Happy Birthday To Me, as well as the television shows King of the Hill and Fantasy Island.

The primary cast of Motel Hell was made up of Rory Calhoun (Night of the Lepus, The Texan), Paul Linke (K-PAX, Parenthood, Chips), Nina Axelrod (Critters 3, Roller Boogie), Wolfman Jack (American Graffiti), and Nancy Parsons (Sudden Impact, Porky’s, Steel Magnolias).

motelhell4The chainsaw duel that takes place during the climax of the film took multiple days of shooting to complete, and wasn’t even featured in the initial screenplay for the movie.

Speaking of, the screenplay of Motel Hell went through a number of rewrites and edits over the course of production. All in all, it took three years from the completion of the screenplay for the movie to hit the screen. The ultimate result was a far more comedic movie than what the original concept had been, which was at the behest of director Kevin Connor.

Motel Hell took more than a little influence from the hit 1974 horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, including the prominent featuring of chainsaws and backwoods cannibalism in the plot. Tobe Hooper, who directed the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was even at one point interested in directing the movie. Interestingly, the 1986 sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 bears some notable similarities to Motel Hell, and adopts its somewhat lighter tone.

motelhell3Motel Hell currently has an IMDb user rating of 6.1/10, and Rotten Tomatoes scores of 68% from critics and 49% from audiences. It was made on an estimated production budget of $3 million, on which it grossed just over $6.3 million in its domestic theatrical release.

Personally, I think Motel Hell is a weird little movie with a strange sense of humor, but it does feature some undeniably creepy images. The “farm” is the best example of this: a plot of land where the lead characters bury living victims up to their heads, then remove their vocal cords. The result is a small field dotted with heads that flail, writhe, and gasp helplessly as the victims are force-fed over days, and eventually harvested. Likewise, the iconic chainsaw fight, in which Vincent dons a pig’s head as a mask, is probably the most lasting image from the film, and is genuinely upsetting (despite being a bit goofy).

The idea of a story built around a successful, cannibalistic food business isn’t new by any means: there’s Sweeney Todd, Soylent Green, and The Corpse Grinders, just to name a few. However, I think Motel Hell shows the most detail of the process, and the way it is depicted is a bit more creepy than other, similar stories.

That said, Motel Hell is far from flawless. It wasn’t written initially as a comedy, and it definitely shows. Humor is a hard thing to inject after the fact, and I can’t think of anything that was honestly funny about the movie, though it definitely tried to establish a humorous tone.

Overall, I think the movie was built on an interesting concept, but the writers struggled to create an actual story out of it. It bogs down a bit in the middle, and despite a handful of highlights, is kind of dull on the whole. I definitely like the design and concept of the movie far more than I liked actually watching it, as I could never really wrap my head around the characters.  The cartoon reality and exaggerated characters presented were just a little too far removed from tangibility for my taste. That said, a lot of people seem to enjoy this one, so bad movie fans and people who like cult films should at least give it a chance.

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Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (Throwback Post)

This is a repost of a previously published review. Due to my wedding this month, as well as hectic grad school scheduling, I’m taking some time off from weekly posts. – Gordon

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats

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Today, I am going to take a look at a famously bad movie with a unique cult reputation: Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.

The simple plot of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is summarized succinctly on IMDb as follows:

A bed possessed by a demon spirit consumes its users alive.

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats was directed and written by George Barry, and to this day has proven to be his sole film. However, a handful of the cast and crew went on to notable careers. William Russ, one of the actors, later appeared in Cruising, The Right Stuff, and wound up on the sitcom Boy Meets World. Editor Ron Medico went on to cut the cult creature feature Alligator, and had a significant career editing for documentaries and television after that. Cinematographer Robert Fresco wound up working on the 1980s revival of The Twilight Zone, and wound up working on a handful of documentaries as well. Last but not least, the special effects worker, Jock Brandis, went on to have a long career as a lighting technician and gaffer, working on movies like Videodrome, Scanners, The Brood, The Dead Zone, Maximum Overdrive, Blue Velvet, and Serial Mom, among others.

Famous comedian Patton Oswalt had a popular bit on his album Werewolves and Lollipops in which he obsesses over the inherent absurdity of the concept of Death Bed, and speculates what the inception process was like for the screenplay.

In 2002, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats received a remake in the form of Deathbed. The movie stars Joe Estevez (Soultaker) and was directed by Danny Draven, who has spent most of his career editing movies like A Talking Cat!?!, A Talking Pony!?!, Evil Bong, Ice Spiders, and The Gingerdead Man.

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats did not have an official release of any kind until 2004, over 25 years after its completion in 1977. Before that DVD release, Death Bed had been widely circulated online and via pirated VHS tapes, and developed its cult reputation. George Barry, the movie’s director and writer, allegedly forgot he had made it until he saw it online, and only decided to officially release it after seeing how much people enjoyed it.

Rumor has it that the lion’s share of the action in Death Bed was filmed on Keelson Island in Detroit, specifically in the infamous Gar Wood Mansion. The mansion was originally built by inventor Gar Wood in the 1920s, but sat empty for many years after his retirement. Starting in 1969, it became a renowned partying location, becoming a combination of a music venue and a counter-culture collective until it was shuttered in 1972. Only a handful of years later, the mansion suffered significant fire damage, and was eventually razed in the 1980s.

The company Cult Epics, which specializes in restoring and transferring cult movies to DVD and Blu-ray, released an updated Blu-ray version of Death Bed in 2014, which boasts a full commentary track with writer/director George Barry.

Recently, I had the rare experience of getting to see the officially restored Blu-ray version of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats in a theater, as part of a fundraiser for Cult Epics. Previously, I had only seen some rough clips of the movie online, and I was shocked at how clear the movie wound up looking on screen.

As you could probably gather at this point, Death Bed is pretty far from a cinematic masterpiece. That said, there are definitely some positive aspects to it: first and foremost, the effects. For each of the scenes where the bed consumes something/someone, there is a cut away to an amber-colored tank, which stands in for the bed’s interior digestive system. I’m not sure exactly how they did this, but I suspect they filled this tank with some sort of highly corrosive fluid, and dipped in objects on fishing line to show them digesting inside of the bed. At first, these shots are of things like an apple and a bucket of chicken, but the movie’s climax features a character’s hands disintegrated in the fluid, which actually looks pretty cool.

Outside of those effects shots, however, there isn’t much positive to say about Death Bed. Almost all of the dialogue in the movie is done in voice over, and is delivered in a sort of trance by a multitude of perspectives and narrators. The overarching plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, and is poorly conveyed to boot. The performances range from sleepwalking to possibly comatose, as most of the characters show no range of emotions or exhibit any kind of sensible reactions to the events around them. I’m pretty sure that fault doesn’t lie with the actors, though: the strange reactions and woozy behaviors were almost certainly part of the directorial intent, which was apparently to re-capture the surreal atmosphere of a dream. However, I don’t think it comes across quite as he wanted it to.

For me, this is the biggest question about Death Bed: how serious were they about this movie? While there are brief moments of knowing humor scattered throughout, including a sequence where the bed ingests a bottle of pepto-bismol, most of the movie plays as serious as a heart attack. It clearly isn’t as hammy as the name implies, and is a pretty far stretch from any kind of Troma or Full Moon b-movie. I usually describe this as one of the worst-executed art movies of all time: the atmosphere is way too self-important for it to fit in with the usual lot of b-movies and horror fare, and it certainly isn’t smartly profound or well-crafted enough to land in the Criterion collection. It is a unique little oddity that is unlike pretty much anything else out there, and worth giving a shot for that reason alone. While it can be a little dull at times, I think the ride as a whole is worth a ticket, particularly for b-movie and cult movie fans.

Evilspeak (Throwback Post)

This is a repost of a previously published review. Due to my wedding this month, as well as hectic grad school scheduling, I’m taking some time off from weekly posts. – Gordon

Evilspeak

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Today’s feature is a 1981 horror movie headlined by Clint Howard: Evilspeak.

Evilspeak was produced, co-written, and directed by Eric Weston, who has been behind a handful of low-budget flicks over his career, including Hitters, Cover Story, Pressure Point, To Protect And Serve, The Iron Triangle, and Marvin & Tige.

The cinematographer on Evilspeak was Irv Goodnoff, who also shot the movies Xtro 3, Shatterbrain, and The Van, among others.

The editor for the film was Charles Tetoni, who also cut the films Halloween 5 and One Dark Night, and was an associate editor on Capricorn One and The Star Chamber.

One of the producers for Evilspeak was Sylvio Tabet, whose other credits include The Cotton Club, Dead Ringers, The Beastmaster, Beastmaster II, and Beastmaster III.

evilspeak3The music for Evilspeak was provided by Roger Kellaway, who composed scores for 1976’s A Star Is Born, Satan’s Mistress, Jaws of Satan, The Dark, and The Silent Scream, and conducted for 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Invictus.

The effects work for the movie was done by a team that included Peter Knowlton (Flipper, Cool as Ice, Beethoven, The Creature Wasn’t Nice), Allan Apone (Going Overboard, CHUD II: Bud the Chud, Deep Blue Sea), Robert Clark (Starship Troopers, Mimic, The People Under The Stairs, Fortress, The Pit and The Pendulum), Francisco X. Pérez (Hesher, Con Air, Waterworld), Douglas J. White (CHUD II: Bud the Chud, Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders), John Carter (Maniac Cop 2), Harry Woolman (Laserblast, Dolemite), and Robert Bailey (Throw Momma From The Train, Killer Klowns From Outer Space).

The cast of Evilspeak includes Clint Howard (House of the Dead, Blubberella, Night Shift, Carnosaur, The Dentist 2), R. G. Armstrong (Children of the Corn, Predator), Joe Cortese (American History X), Don Stark (Santa With Muscles, That 70s Show), and Charles Tyner (Cool Hand Luke, Harold and Maude).

The plot of Evilspeak is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A military cadet who happens to be a social outcast taps into a way to summon demons and cast spells on his tormentors through his computer.

evilspeak5Evilspeak was one of many features to make the infamous “video nasty” list in the United Kingdom, meaning it was outright banned for many years due to its violent and Satanic content.

Anton LaVey, who was a noted author and the founder of the much-stigmatized Church of Satan, was apparently a fan of Evilspeak, and of how it portrayed Satan and Satanism.

The budget for Evilspeak was somewhere between $900,000 and $1 million. I wasn’t able to dig up any theatrical numbers, which were almost certainly affected by the controversial nature of the film’s plot. Regardless, it has become a cult favorite among die-hard horror fans. Currently, it holds an IMDb rating of 5.6, alongside Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 46% from critics and 37% from audiences.

Personally, I think that Clint Howard is solid in his lead role in Evilspeak. He is certainly not someone who is often tapped for lead roles, but this particular character needed someone who could portray a pathetic loser and also garner sympathy, and he pretty much nails that with his performance. The other characters aren’t nearly as well done, and suffer a bit from being exaggeratedly evil, particularly the bullies and some of the school staff. A number of people point to this film as a Carrie ripoff, and I think these excessive portrayals of the “bad guys” is where that influence is most evident.

evilspeak4For being so low-budget, the effects in Evilspeak are at least pretty entertaining, and are nothing if not ambitious. There are a couple of decapitations, a murder via a pack of pigs, and a handful of other creative / gruesome deaths that don’t shy away from any kind of effects challenge.

If there is anything I really don’t like about Evilspeak, it is the conclusion. Essentially, it ends on a note that is at once an anti-climax and a pathetic sequel setup: after the murder spree is over, the movie just fades to black, and text comes up confirming that Clint Howard survived, and then teases his potential return. My problem with this is that he already got his revenge, and there wasn’t anything else particularly intimidating about the guy himself. The demon computer is a different case, but it doesn’t necessarily need Clint Howard’s survival to be a threat.

evilspeak2Overall, Evilspeak is a fun little piece of grind house horror history. It is certainly a low budget horror deep cut, though it is now available on blu ray after a Shout Factory release last year. Clint Howard is really interesting to see in a lead role before he turned to self-parody, the outdated technology at the center of the plot is hilarious, and the deaths are everything you could hope for from a movie like this. For horror movie fans, this is more than worth digging up. Likewise, bad movie aficionados are bound to get a kick out of this flick.

For more thoughts on the Satanic escapades of Clint Howard, I highly recommend checking out the We Hate Movies episode on the movie, Dread Central’s coverage of the recent blu-ray release, and the retrospective review from Daily Grindhouse.

Class of 1999 (Throwback Post)

This is a repost of a previously published review. Due to my wedding this month, as well as hectic grad school scheduling, I’m taking some time off from weekly posts. – Gordon

Class of 1999

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Today, I’m going to take a look at Class of 1999, a film about a team of cyborg teachers cracking down in an unruly, seemingly post-apocalyptic high school.

Class of 1999 was written and directed by Mark L. Lester, and was envisioned as a follow-up to his 1980 cult film Class of 1984. Lester is best known for his extensive work in action and horror movies, in particular Firestarter and Commando. Recently, Lester appears to be focusing more on the producing side of B-movies, doing work on such films as Dragon Wasps, Toxin, Dragons of Camelot, and Poseidon Rex.

The executive producer on Class of 1999 is the somewhat infamous Lawrence Kasanoff, who is known for producing such B-films as Blood Diner, Chud II, and both Mortal Kombat films. However, his most recent abhorrent credit is as both writer and director on 2012’s Foodfight!, one of the most abysmal films released in years, and perhaps the worst animated feature of all time.

Mark Irwin, the cinematographer on Class of 1999, has had a significant career working on a wide range of features. He has credits on well-regarded films such as The Fly, Scanners, The Dead Zone, Scream, and Robocop 2, but has also had some less-than-lauded works: Deck the Halls, Big Momma’s House 2, The Last Godfather, and Super Buddies. He is still active today, and his most recent notable credit is on the Adult Swim show Black Jesus. However, the rest of his recent credits lead me to believe that he’ll be working on Tyler Perry productions before too long.

The cast of Class of 1999 includes a number of well-regarded character actors, led most notably by Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, Time After Time, Caligula) and Pam Grier (Jackie Brown, Coffy). The rest of the cast includes Stacy Keach (American History X), John P. Ryan (It’s Alive, Bound), and Patrick Kilpatrick (Minority Report, Eraser).  Given the setting of a high school, the lead roles in the film were given to younger, less experienced actors: Traci Lind, who popped up in a handful of movies (Bugsy, My Boyfriend’s Back) afterwards before falling off of the screen in the late 1990s, and Bradley Gregg, who has recently resurfaced after only a handful of credits in the new millennium.

class199910The story of Class of 1999 takes place in the distant future of 1999, in which numerous major cities have been overrun by drug-addled youth gangs. In an attempt to salvage the public schools in these areas, the “Department of Educational Defense” pilots a program to use robotic teachers to run classes in the most hostile school environments. The plot follows a handful of students at the first school to use these robot teachers, and shows the robots’ violent decline as their programming (of course) begins to go awry.

The film portrays school violence, drug use, and gang activity amplified to an absolute maximum, which fits with the generally over-the-top tone and concept of the film. The robot teachers, in contrast, are designed on very traditional stereotypes, and instantly clash with the student body. This, of course, results in a significant amount of friction, which culminates in the liberal use of flamethrowers and high explosives on school grounds in a grand showdown of a conclusion.

class19997“Class of 1999” currently holds a 5.7 rating on IMDb, as well as a 52% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. That doesn’t look so great, but you can only expect so much of a positive reaction to this sort of B-movie. BoxOfficeMojo.com reports that the movie’s total gross was just under 2.5 million, and I’ve found estimates that put the budget at well above 5 million, making it an overall financial loss. Despite all of this, the movie bizarrely received a direct-to-video sequel, Class of 1999 II, in 1994, without the involvement of Mark Lester.

For me, the most memorable aspect of “Class of 1999” are the hammy performances by the assorted villains. The robotic teachers, for instance, are constantly dropping one-liners, as if it was written into their programming. Perhaps even better than the teachers themselves is their overseer, Dr. Forrest, played by Stacy Keach. His constant leering and over-the-top menacing presence is only outshone by his bizarre appearance in the movie. Just take a look at this guy:

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class199913 You can’t do much better than that.

Something that I never quite understood about the concept of Class of 1999 is why a group of kids in an officially lawless territory bothered to show up to a public school at all. There isn’t anything binding them to the school, and the students seem to flow in and out of the classes without aim anyway. Also, if the area is deemed too dangerous for police, then why is the government still putting teachers at risk to keep a public school open in the dead center of the area? It just doesn’t quite make sense to me.

class19999For a movie released in 1990, Class of 1999 may seem notably (and unrealistically) pessimistic about the near future. It is worth keeping in mind the context of the time: 1989-1990 was arguably the height of anti-drug panic, anxiety over a perceived rise of violence in schools, and public fears about gang violence. “Class of 1990” hones in on all of these fears, and inflates them as much as possible to create a dramatic (and ridiculous) vision of a worst-case-scenario for the new millennium.

In the opening sequence of Class of 1999, while a robotic voice-over is laying out the background for the story, a map pops up on screen showing the major urban areas in the United States that have been overrun by gangs. It might be a bit of a minor detail, but I couldn’t help but notice how dramatically misplaced Cleveland is. Check it out:

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For those who might not be aware, Cleveland is on the shore of Lake Erie, on the northern boundary of Ohio:class199911I decided to check out Google Maps to see where Cleveland had been relocated to in this outlandishly depressing vision of 1999, and the closest place I could come up with is a small town called Cambridge, OH. Last I checked, Cleveland has not yet moved there in reality, though, but let’s keep our eyes peeled on that.

Something that is impossible not to note in Class of 1999 is that it, along with countless other killer robot films, uses the same explanation for the robot’s sinister behavior. As with Small Soldiers, Red Planet, and Evolver, the teachers in Class of 1999 are re-purposed military prototypes that revert to their original field programming. It isn’t necessarily a bad way to set up the background for the robots, but it has clearly been done now. I can’t particularly blame Class of 1999 for this, given it was made in 1990, but writers of potential robot flicks should probably take note of how often this mechanic has already been used.

Overall, Class of 1999 is a fun, good-bad flick. The acting is perfectly over-the-top, the premise and setting are ludicrous, and the deaths and effects certainly don’t disappoint. If you are looking for a bad movie to watch with friends, this is one worth putting on your list.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Throwback Post)

Happy Halloween, loyal readers!

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to write up a new post worthy of the occasion, thanks to both graduate school scheduling and my upcoming wedding. So, instead, check out my old Plotopsy Podcast episode on my favorite flick for the creepy season, Halloween III: Season of the Witch!

 

Reviews/Trivia of B-Movies, Bad Movies, and Cult Movies.

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