The Punisher

The Punisher

punisher1

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 an upcoming television series starring the character is currently in the works 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.

Advertisements

Bargain Bin(ge): Replays Gameware (Tuscaloosa/Northport, AL)

Tuscaloosa, AL isn’t a particularly big or interesting place. Unless you’re there for football, school, or the unimaginable combination of the two, there isn’t a whole lot to soak in. I would know, because I lived there for a while.

That said, there are a surprising number of used media stores in the area for how modest the population is. I’ve already covered the MovieStop chain quite a bit, which has a prominent location in Tuscaloosa. However, the real gems in the area are two sites of the small franchise Replays Gameware & DVDs, which you will seldom see outside of small towns and modest cities like Tuscaloosa.

replayttown6

While the selection isn’t outstanding, these shops aren’t afraid to hold blowout sales to clear out their stock, particularly for their DVDs (as they are primarily vintage gaming shops).  If you catch them during one of those (as I did), the deals are very solid. There is also something to be said about the atmosphere at these shops: they are far less sterile than many of the larger buy/sell/trade chains, and hold on to the intimate and casual ambiance that a lot of people miss from the days of video rental. For people who are into that, Replays has never failed to deliver that for me.

Getting on to the actual haul, let’s start with the central Tuscaloosa location:

replayttown4

Evolver

replayttown3

Holy shit! It’s my favorite William H. Macy-voiced killer robot: Evolver! I covered this particular flick as part of Killer Robot Week, but this is actually the first time I had come across a DVD copy of it. Of course, I had to pick it up. Why wouldn’t I? If you want to know more, go check out my earlier review of it. Or, better yet, just dig it up on Netflix without any primer.

Action Jackson

replayttown1

Action Jackson is a movie where Carl Weathers (Predator, Rocky, Arrested Development) plays a super-cop, which is all I need to know about it. Also, Vanity of Never Too Young To Die and The Last Dragon co-stars alongside him, in case I needed extra incentive to pick this up (I didn’t). This is another one of those movies that I have just never gotten around to, so when I spotted it on sale, I decided that it should come home with me. I have a feeling that if I throw that movie in my DVD player, I’ll have a mean stew going.

The Thing With Two Heads

replayttown2

Gosh, where can I possibly start with this bizarre b-movie? It is about a racist white man whose (functioning) head is grafted onto a black guy, which results in a movie’s worth of hilarious, action-filled hi-jinks. Academy Award winner Ray Milland did this flick in 1972, the same year in which he featured prominently in the outlandish horror movie Frogs, which I covered here previously. I first heard about this flick when Stuart Gordon did a spotlight on it for Trailers From Hell, and it has been on my to-watch list ever since.  Keep your eyes peeled, because this sounds like a lock for me to cover at some point in the future.

While the Tuscaloosa location did yield me those three much-appreciated finds, the Northport location just outside of town really gave me some fuel for the bad movie fire:

replaynp5

The Crippled Avengers

replaynp1

Martial Arts films definitely aren’t my strong suit, and my knowledge base is admittedly pretty lacking in this department. However, this is a flick that I heard about recently via The Cinema Snob, and I was a little surprised to see it with a DVD release at all given how obscure most of his picks are. I hear that this is actually a pretty decent action flick, but I may just cover it anyway for its cult appeal.

Children of the Corn II / Children of the Corn III

replaynp3

This is a franchise that I have no experience with outside of the original. However, I do know that people hate these two movies with a burning passion, and that I have never seen them. Thus, this was an obvious pickup for me.

The Substitute / The Substitute II / The Substitute III / The Substitute IV

replaynp4

There are three sequels to The Substitute? And they all star the zombie-cop  Treat Williams? There is absolutely no way that these movies are good, and the fact that I had no idea they existed makes me absolutely giddy. I can’t wait to dig into these, and I hope they yield something worth covering here on the blog.

The original The Substitute was featured on the We Hate Movies podcast not too long ago, which made me give consideration to picking it up at some point. I vaguely remember seeing it as a kid, but it was really easy to get confused with The Principal, one of the finest films in the history of cinema. Regardless, I am baffled that this flick managed to spawn so many sequels, which has me deathly curious as to how the story continuity works between them.

Fright Night / Monster High / The Craft / Brainscan

replaynp2

It is hard to resist the allure of a cheap compilation DVD. In this case, cult classics Fright Night and The Craft anchor a couple of lesser-known flicks that leech onto their sides like barnacles. The one that initially caught my eye was Brainscan, which was on my shortlist to cover back during Killer Robot Week. However, I have a hunch that Monster High is going to be the highlight of the bunch, because it sounds absolutely wretched, and holds an unenviable IMDB rating of 3.3.

Gymkata

Gymkata

gymkata1

Today’s feature is Gymkata, a peculiar gymnastics/martial arts hybrid movie that has become a beloved good-bad classic.

Gymkata was based on a novel written by Dan Tyler Moore called “The Terrible Game,” and the screenplay for the flick was contributed by Charles Robert Carner, who is best known for the Rutger Hauer movie Blind Fury and the 1997 remake of Vanishing Point.

Gymkata was directed by Robert Clouse, who was also behind the Cynthia Rothrock action flick China O’Brien, as well as the Bruce Lee classics Game of Death and Enter the Dragon.

The cinematographer for Gymkata was Godfrey Godar, who also served as director of photography on Game of Death and Howling IV.  He is also an experienced camera operator, working on such films as Supergirl and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.

Gymkata was edited by Robert Ferretti, who has cut such action movies as On Deadly Ground, Under Siege, Rocky V, Die Hard 2, Out For Justice, and Tango & Cash.

The effects team for Gymkata included Peter Dawson (Supergirl, Batman), Terry Glass (The Brothers Grimm, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), Marijan Karoglan (Blubberella, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead), Steve Purcell (Lethal Weapon 3, Risky Business), Angelo Mattei (Demons, Touch of Death), and Lamberto Marini (Alien 2: On Earth, The Exorcist: Italian Style, The Adventures of Hercules II, Sacco & Vanzetti).

The music for Gymkata was provided by Alfi Kabiljo, who also provided scores for the 1991 thriller Scissors, as well as the horror-comedy Transylvania 6-5000.

The cast of Gymkata was made up of primarily inexperienced players: Kurt Thomas (a professional gymnast), Tetchie Agbayani (a former Playboy model), fight coordinator Richard Norton (The Octagon, American Ninja, Stealth), Bob Schott (Head of the Family, In the Line of Fire), and stuntman John Barrett (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, American Kickboxer).

The plot of Gymkata surrounds a peculiar martial arts competition in the fictitious nation of Parmistan, of which no one has survived for centuries. The reward for completing the competition is the granting of any request, which catches the attention of the United States government, who wants to use Parmistan as the site for an experimental missile defense program. Agents recruit a young American to compete in the competition, whose father was previously lost within the boundaries of Parmistan. The young hero has to push his limits to survive the competition, and try to discover the fate of his missing father.

Kurt Thomas, the star of Gymkata, was a former championship gymnast, and performed all of his own stunts for the movie. He was a member of the 1976 US Olympic Gymnastics team, and was expected to compete for the gold medal in 1980, but the United States ultimately boycotted the Moscow-held games.

gymkata2The plot of Gymkata references the “Star Wars” satellite missile defense program, which was a real Cold War program that was announced in 1983 by Ronald Reagan, but never really came to fruition. Still, the program became engrained in pop culture, and showed up in many films of the 1980s, like Spies Like Us, Real Genius, and RoboCop.

Surprisingly, the term “gymkata” is never used in the film to refer to the lead character’s fighting style. His unique method of combining martial arts with gymnastics is never really mentioned in the film, bringing into question why they didn’t just recruit a general martial arts master for the mission.

Though Gymkata is a cult classic now, it wasn’t well received at the time. It currently holds a 4.1 rating on IMDb, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 18% from critics and 41% from users. I wasn’t able to dig up a budget for Gymkata, but it managed to gross just under $6 million in its lifetime theatrical run, which I assume was profitable given the absence of stars or complicated effects.

The action sequences in Gymkata are pretty entertaining, but the surroundings always seem a little too conveniently laid out to be handy for an aggressive gymnast. There is particularly no good reason for a sawhorse to be conveniently sitting in the middle of a penal village filled with zombie-people.

gymkata3 gymkata4To the credit of Gymkata, I can’t say that the movie ever gets boring. The plot and characters are confounding throughout the run time, but there is always enough going on to keep you invested in the parade of nonsense happening on screen.

Gymkata features one of the least believable and most unnecessary twists that I have ever seen in a movie, particularly because it is made irrelevant within minutes of being revealed. I’m not going to spoil it because I absolutely recommend watching this movie, but it is astoundingly unnecessary and pulled out of left field.

Overall, Gymkata almost doesn’t qualify as a bad movie at all. The directing, shooting, and fight choreography is all pretty fantastic, but the story written around it all is just astoundingly nonsensical, and makes this into a wonderful little cult gem that seems to encapsulate all that is beautiful about 1980s action movies. Even the acting isn’t quite as bad as I would have expected, even from people who are essentially non-actors.

As I mentioned previously, Gymkata is a solid recommendation from me. If you want to know more about the film, it has been covered by We Hate Movies, How Did This Get Made, Red Letter Media, and even Cracked.com. However, I recommend watching it first before you dig any further into it, because it is more than worth the effort of watching with as little knowledge as possible.

Suburban Commando

Suburban Commando

suburban1

Today’s feature is one of the few films to star the now-disgraced wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan: Suburban Commando.

Suburban Commando was written by Frank Cappello, who also wrote the films Constantine, He Was A Quiet Man, and No Way Back. The movie was directed by Burt Kennedy, who was also behind the western comedy Support Your Local Sheriff and the John Wayne flick The Train Robbers.

The cinematographer for Suburban Commando was Bernd Heinl, who didn’t have a ton of credits to his name, but shot the movies The Little Vampire and Bagdad Cafe. Likewise, the editor on the film, Terry Stokes, cut a number of horror sequels over his career with Critters 4, Critters 3, The Blob, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3.

suburban2The team of special effects artists on Suburban Commando was made up of Steve Johnson (Dead Heat, Humanoids From The Deep, The Dentist, Leviathan), Dean Miller (Waterworld, Fright Night, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Tales From The Crypt), Bill Corso (Deadpool, Foxcatcher, Dreamcatcher, Galaxy Quest, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie), Thomas Bellissimo (Red State, Dogma, Jackie Brown), Charles Belardinelli (Saw, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Resurrection, Bordello of Blood), Tassilo Baur (DeepStar Six, House), John Calpin (Lake Placid, Small Soldiers, Congo), Joel Harlow (Tusk, Battlefield Earth, The Langoliers, Leprechaun) Brian Sipe (Son of the Mask, Van Helsing), and Mike Smithson (Dollman, Dead Heat, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Tank Girl, Battlefield Earth).

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film PostersThe visual effects team for Suburban Commando included Richard Cross (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, Muppets From Space), Heather Davis Baker (Van Helsing, Wolf, The Master of Disguise), Robert Habros (Theodore Rex, SpaceCamp, Army of Darkness, Leviathan), Richard Malzahn (SpaceCamp, Josie and The Pussycats, Dune, Leviathan), Brett B. White (Puppetmaster, Gremlins 2).

The makeup work on the film was done by Cheri Montesanto-Medcalf, who also contributed to the effects on movies like Tank Girl, Mr. Nanny, and RoboCop 2.

The score for Suburban Commando was composed by David Michael Frank, who also provided music for films like Poison Ivy, Out for Justice, and Hard to Kill.

suburban4The team of producers for the movie included Howard Gottfried (Network, Body Double), Deborah Moore (The Mask, Surf Ninjas, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Heart Condition). Kevin Moreton (Menace II Society), John Marshall (Lawnmower Man 2, Supergator), and the film’s star, Hulk Hogan.

The cast of Suburban Commando was headlined by Hulk Hogan (Santa With Muscles, No Holds Barred, 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain), Christopher Lloyd (Baby Geniuses, Foodfight!, Who Framed Roger Rabbit), Shelley Duvall (The Shining, Popeye), and Larry Miller (Foodfight!, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang).

The plot of Suburban Commando follows an expert interstellar warrior who becomes stranded on Earth, specifically in a suburban community. The hard-nosed soldier has to adapt to the customs of the area while repairing his spaceship, leading to a number of shenanigans.

suburban3Suburban Commando was originally written for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, but they chose to make Twins instead. This decision led to the screenplay being sold to another studio, and then significantly reworked into a science fiction story .

Tragically, a special effects worker (Michael Colvin) was killed in an on set accident involving a faulty trap door, which he was testing at the time.

Suburban Commando features a number of reused props from other productions, including guns from Masters of the Universe and the P.K.E. meter from Ghostbusters.

Suburban Commando was not well received upon its initial release, and it currently holds a 4.3 rating on IMDb alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 20% (critics) and 32% (audiences). Even worse, it only managed to gross $6.9 million in its theatrical run on an estimated budget of $11 million, making it a significant financial failure for the studio.

I like Christopher Lloyd, partially because he always seems to put effort into his roles, regardless of how bad the greater movie might be. Both Baby Geniuses and Foodfight! come to mind, but his delivery of the line “I was frozen today!” in Suburban Commando is the perfect example of how much passion and intensity the man is capable of injecting into absolute nonsense.

Hogan, on the other hand, is about as terrible as he is with any of his acting roles in Suburban Commando. For someone who seems to be a natural showman, and has spent his entire professional life as a glorified stage performer, he has always seemed awkward in from of a camera. I think this has at least a little to do with the lack of a live crowd when filming, which seems to be what actually gives him his motivation and energy to perform. It is kind of weird to even picture him on a quiet sound stage, surrounded by cameras and boom microphones.

Knowing that this screenplay was initially intended for the duo of Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger brings up all kinds of “what if?” scenarios. It is impossible not to picture this movie with the Twins duo after you have the knowledge of this screenplay’s background. That said, I think Lloyd fills in his role just fine, and is probably as good or better than what DeVito could have pulled off. Hogan, on the other hand, just doesn’t have Schwarzenegger’s comedic chops, which is really saying something given his work on Hercules in New York and Jingle All The Way. But, for what it is worth, Schwarzenegger is more expressive than Hogan, and generally seems to have better timing and reactions for a comedic role. As bad as Hercules in New York is, Arnold has come a long way since then. Hogan, on the other hand, hasn’t ever really gotten better at acting since No Holds Barred. If anything, he’s gotten worse, given Santa With Muscles and 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain were actually later in his acting career. He was pretty entertaining as a voice actor in China, IL, but that was more self-parody than anything else. Now that the guy has been outed as a racist, publicly disgraced, and disowned by the WWE, it seems unlikely that he will be getting any more acting roles. Which, really, is for the best.

There is a really perplexing clip from Suburban Commando that has made the rounds on the internet, in which someone in the background of a scene appears to randomly toss their dog into the ocean. It isn’t relevant to the plot at all, and the context doesn’t help, but the image is certainly worth checking out the the sheer bizarreness of it.

suburban7Suburban Commando does have entertaining moments to it, but in general it is a pretty generic family-friendly pseudo-comedy. The plot is silly, the acting is bad, and even the music is pretty atrocious throughout. However, I think it is worth checking out for bad movie fans, at least for the novelty value of it as a Hogan/Lloyd team-up that literally nobody wanted. Also, Larry Miller always seems to be delightful when he shows up in a movie, and certainly doesn’t phone it in here as Christopher Lloyd’s sketchy boss.

The Killer Shrews

The Killer Shrews

killershrews4

Today’s flick is a notoriously terrible creature feature: The Killer Shrews.

The writer of The Killer Shrews was Jay Simms, who also wrote the low-budget b-movies The Giant Gila Monster, Panic In Year Zero!, and The Creation of the Humanoids. The director for The Killer Shrews was Ray Kellogg, who was also behind The Giant Gila Monster, and previously worked as a visual effects artist on movies like The Seven Year Itch and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

The cinematographer on the film was Wilfred M. Cline, who worked on such b-movies as The Giant Gila Monster, William Castle’s The Tingler, and Calamity Jane.

The editor for the movie was one Aaron Stell, who also cut highly acclaimed films like To Kill A Mockingbird and Touch of Evil, along with b-movies like The Giant Gila Monster, Silent Running, and Creature With The Atomic Brain.

The music composers for The Killer Shrews were Emil Cadkin and Harry Bluestone, a frequent composition duo. The latter of the two was a noted violinist who has had compositions featured in movies like Night of the Living Dead, Frida, and The Ladykillers.

The cast of The Killer Shrews included James Best (The Dukes of Hazzard), Ken Curtis (Gunsmoke), Baruch Lumet (The Pawnbroker), and the film’s producer, Gordon McLendon.

The plot of The Killer Shrews follows a group of people on a remote island, where a series of scientific experiments have created a species of giant, aggressive shrews with venomous bites. During a hurricane, the group of terrified people are put under siege by the shrews, and have to struggle to survive and find a way to escape with their lives.

The Killer Shrews wound up featured in a season 4 episode of the cult hit television show Mystery Science Theater 3000, which was dedicated to mocking many of the worst films in history.

Depending on the shot, the eponymous killer shrews that appear in the film are either portrayed by hand puppets or dogs in vaguely shrew-like costumes, which you can see in screenshots below.

killershrews2 killershrews1The Killer Shrews notably received a colorized home video release in 2007 along with its companion film, The Giant Gila Monster. Personally, I don’t think the colorization really adds anything to the movie, but it is available if that is the sort of thing you are interested in.

Astoundingly, a sequel to the movie was made in 2012,  over 50 years after the original’s release, called Return of The Killer Shrews. The follow up follows a documentary crew that stumbles across the island decades after the events of the first movie, where the shrews have developed significantly over the years.

The Killer Shrews is widely regarded as a terrible, yet classic, b-level monster movie. It currently holds a 3.7 rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 50% (critics) and 25% (audience).

The Killer Shrews was made on an estimated budget of $123,000, and grossed roughly $1 million in its theatrical run on a double bill with The Giant Gila Monster. Both of the movies were made back to back outside of Dallas, TX, with much of the same crew involved. Both films are now regarded as b-movie classics for their respectively memorable monster effects.

Almost the entire plot of The Killer Shrews takes place over the course of a siege, with the characters barricaded into a compound and surrounded by the eponymous shrews. While there are plenty of good movies that use sieges effectively, it is really easy for movies with this device to become boring, because there is no natural motion or progression for the story in a physical sense. Movies like Assault on Precinct 13 use the small confines to create tension, and hone in on the psychological developments of the characters as the siege proceeds, and they are forced to bond and interact with each other. Unfortunately, The Killer Shrews doesn’t quite grasp how to do this, so most of the movie is just characters sitting around waiting for things to happen, and they never seem to really bond effectively.

The thing that really makes this movie memorable, however, are the effects. The shrews are some of the most silly movie monsters of all time, in both their puppet and dog forms. The hand puppets actually look kind of menacing, but they are still recognizably just hand puppets, and are about as intimidating as a herd of stuffed weasels. The dogs, on the other hand, just look adorable, and their outfits make them look all the more ridiculous. On screen, they look like they are just having a good time running around, but the actors have to try to make them seem terrifying with their reactions.

killershrews3Overall, this is a fun little monster movie that has managed to last through the years. There is certainly nothing groundbreaking about it, but the effects are just silly and charming enough to make this worth sitting through. The ending, in which the survivors essentially use a phalanx formation to get past the shrews, is also pretty memorable in how ridiculous it is. If you like classic low-budget monster flicks, this one is worth checking out. It is far from the worst of the bunch out there, and I actually enjoy it more than most of its peers because of how earnest it seems to be from beginning to end. Fortunately it is in the public domain, so it isn’t a hard one to get a hold of.

Reefer Madness

Reefer Madness

reefermadness1

Today’s feature is one of the most infamously terrible cult movies of all time: Reefer Madness.

Reefer Madness was directed and cowritten by Louis J. Gasnier (Parisian Love, The Perils of Pauline), with the screenplay being provided by Arthur Hoerl, who wrote numerous low budget movies over his career, including The Lost Tribe, Texas to Bataan, and Mystery in Swing.

The cinematography and camera work on Reefer Madness was provided by Jack Greenhalgh, who also shot Robot Monster, Dead Men Walk, The Mad Monster, and Lost Continent.

The musical director for the film was Abe Meyer, who also worked on such movies as Revolt of the Zombies and another famous anti-marijuana flick, Assassin of Youth.

The editor for Reefer Madness was Carl Pierson, who also cut movies like The Ape Man, The Dawn Rider, and Blue Steel.

The cast of Reefer Madness includes Dave O’Brien (The Red Skelton Hour), Lillian Miles (The Gay Divorcee), Carleton Young (Kansas City Confidential, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), and Dorothy Short (Assassin of Youth).

The plot of Reefer Madness follows a group of teenagers who become corrupted by nefarious dope fiends, who get them addicted to “the demon weed,” marijuana.

Reefer Madness inspired a loose musical remake in 2005 starring Alan Cumming, Kristen Bell, and Neve Campbell, which was based on a 1992 musical play inspired by the original film. The movie was produced by the Showtime television network, and debuted at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

The plot of Reefer Madness is based loosely on the highly publicized case of Victor Licata, who murdered his family in 1933. Anti-drug activists claimed that his crimes were influenced by the use of marijuana, and the case was used to propagate the idea that marijuana could cause people to become violent. However, the idea that his marijuana use had anything to do with his violent behavior has been highly criticized, given we was found to have psychological conditions that left him prone to violent outbursts.

Reefer Madness has built up a significant ironic cult following among marijuana enthusiasts, which has grown after years of being held as a midnight screening staple.

Reefer Madness was originally titled Tell Your Children, and has been billed under a number of alternate titles over the years, including The Burning Question, Dope Addict, and Doped Youth.

reefermadness3The film is officially in the public domain, though the title card claims that it was copyrighted. The production of the movie is unclear, but popular belief is that it was written and produced by a religious group as anti-marijuana propaganda, but no one has ever come forward with a legitimate claim to the copyright. The version of the movie that most are familiar with is the result of a re-release, which inserted additional footage so it could be billed as an exploitation movie.

The reception to Reefer Madness has been traditionally negative, though it has become a cult movie staple for its transparent agenda and unrealistic plot. It currently holds a 3.7 rating on IMDb, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 46% from critics and 38% from audiences. It is worth noting that due to the movie’s cult status, there are a number of ironic positive reviews on both sites that have artificially elevated the scores.

The acting in Reefer Madness is of course way over the top, which fits perfectly with the exaggerated writing throughout the movie. The fact that it is obvious that no one in the production had any idea of how marijuana works definitely adds to the effect of the movie as a whole. Now that marijuana is on track for widespread legalization in the United States over the next few years, it is a good time to go back and look at the history of the public perception of the drug, which Reefer Madness showcases quite well.

The popularity of Reefer Madness as an ironic bad movie helped launch an entire subgenre of b-movie, specifically focused on the stoner demographic. I think that it is fair to say that movies like Evil Bong wouldn’t exist without the cult reputation of Reefer Madness.

reefermadness2Reefer Madness is certainly deserving of its reputation, and is a blast to sit through. I am a total sucker for these old social hygiene films, like I Accuse My Parents, and always get a kick out of seeing the sensationalized realities depicted within them. Reefer Madness‘s depiction of the effects of marijuana is one of the funniest things that I have ever seen in this kind of movie, just because of how wrong it is, and how much the actors desperately try to sell their performances. Reefer Madness is a solid recommendation from me, and I feel like every b-movie fan has an obligation to watch it at least once, because of its cultural relevance if nothing else.

The Island of Doctor Moreau

The Island of Doctor Moreau

moreau4

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 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.