The Beastmaster

The Beastmaster

Today, I’m going to take a look at the 1982 cult classic, The Beastmaster.

The plot of Beastmaster is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A sword-and-sorcery fantasy about a young man’s search for revenge. Armed with supernatural powers, the handsome hero and his animal allies wage war against marauding forces.

Beastmaster was both directed and co-written by Don Coscarelli, who is known for other cult favorites like Phantasm, John Dies At The End, and Bubba Ho-Tep.

The cast of the movie is made up primarily by John Amos (Coming to America, Die Hard 2, Lock Up), Rip Torn (Men In Black, Dodgeball, RoboCop 3, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Trial and Error), Tanya Roberts (Sheena, A View To A Kill), and Marc Singer (Arrow, Beastmaster 2, Beastmaster III).

The cinematographer for Beastmaster was John Alcott, who was a frequent collaborator of Stanley Kubrick, shooting The Shining, Barry Lyndon, and A Clockwork Orange under him.

Beastmaster‘s editor was Roy Watts, who also cut movies like Kes, Sinbad and The Eye of the Tiger, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Vice Squad, and 1999’s Beowulf.

The musical score for Beastmaster was composed by Lee Holdridge, whose other credits include The Pack, Mr. Mom, Splash, and Born In East L.A., among others.

The veteran special effects team for the film was made up of Frank DeMarco (Battle Beyond The Stars, The Terminator), Roger George (The Howling, Chopping Mall, Ghoulies, Night of the Creeps, Night of the Demons, Blacula, Humanoids From The Deep, Bloody Birthday), and Mark Sparks (Gremlins 2, Jingle All The Way, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning).

Once it hit television, Beastmaster became such a staple of cable channels that comedian Dennis Miller joked that HBO stood for “Hey, Beastmaster’s On”, and TBS was sometimes jokingly referred to as “The Beastmaster Station.” Its frequent television airings wound up building the film a dedicated cult following, which paved the way for its sequels in spite of mediocre initial box office returns.

Speaking of which, Beastmaster ultimately spawned 2 formal sequels: Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time in 1992, and Beastmaster III: The Eye of Braxus in 1996, followed by a television series adaptation from 1999-2002 called BeastMaster.

Demi Moore apparently auditioned more than once for the role that went to Tanya Roberts, and was reportedly Don Cosciarelli’s first choice for the role. Likewise, Cosciarelli desperately wanted famed actor Klaus Kinski for Rip Torn’s role, but an agreement couldn’t be reached.

The story of Beastmaster is based somewhat loosely on the 1959 book The Beast Master, by Andre Norton, though it isn’t considered an official adaptation of the work. That book spawned four subsequent books, which spanned all the way to 2006.

Director Don Coscarelli sold off his rights for the story and characters of Beastmaster after this first movie in the franchise, so he had no involvement with the sequels or the TV-series.

Beastmaster ultimately took in $14 million in its lifetime theatrical run, on an initial production budget of $8 million. For years, critics and audiences have been divided on the feature: currently it holds a 6.2/10 IMDb user rating, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 42% from critics and 54% from audiences.

The first and most obvious issue that I have with Beastmaster are the dyed tigers, which appear throughout the movie. First off, they look absolutely ridiculous, and I can’t believe they were given the go-ahead. Secondly, why didn’t they just use them as tigers? Apparently, the dyeing was done because the director specifically wanted panthers, but the trainers informed him that they weren’t easy to work with, and that tigers were much better for what they needed. At that point, Coscarelli should have just used the tigers as is, but someone had the bright idea of dyeing as a “compromise.” The result is one of the cheesiest and cheapest aspects of the movie, and it undercuts every sequence that the cats appear in.

The eponymous Beastmaster, Dar, is kind of a creep, which I have a big problem with. In an early scene, he deliberately puts a woman in danger, and afraid for her life, in order to rescue her and force a kiss. The sequence is ultimately not only played for laughs, but she becomes the love interest for the rest of the film, because his antics were just so charming. Our hero, everyone! My big issue with this whole thing is how it impacts the target audience for the movie, which I assume was primarily adolescent boys. Instilling the idea that forcing romance through violence is a-ok, and even laudable, is absolutely ridiculous, and places some harmful values into the back of the minds of kiddos. A movie is totally fine to be stupid fun, but contributing to real social ills is a pound and a half of bullshit.

Personally, my favorite sequence in the film is probably when Rip Torn is shown hoisting a small child over his head, and then throws it into a pit of fire. That is the kind of ballsy action you just don’t get on screen nowadays. While it is true that the child is ultimately saved, we still get a nice shot of him being thrown, and falling into the pit. That, in my mind, is at least worth partial points. In general, Rip Torn is a highlight of the film, and relishes in his mustache-twirling shenanigans. It is a shame that he isn’t in more of the movie, because he lights it up every time he is shown.

The animal footage scattered throughout Beastmaster is a unique mixture of impressive and horrifying. At times, particularly with the ludicrously-dyed tigers, I was reminded of watching Roar, a disastrous movie where most of the cast and crew received serious injuries from the big cats used in the production.

Interestingly, there is a major inspiration for Beastmaster that I haven’t seen mentioned all that much: Shakespeare. There is a fair amount of story elements from Macbeth here: the movie opens with three witches over a cauldron, who then make a fatal prediction to an ambitious man. Then, that man becomes a tyrannical, usurping leader, who is undone in accordance with the witch’s prophecy by a man not born of a woman. Beastmaster is kind of like the story of Macbeth, if it were told from Macduff’s point of view, and Macduff could mind control tigers, and with all of that bothersome inner turmoil and ethical drama drained out.

Overall, Beastmaster is some excellent cheesy fun, but it is definitely a movie for another age. I suspect that there were some serious issues behind the scenes with having so many animals on set, which I shudder to think of. Likewise, Dar’s early romantic antics are, to be generous, antiquated, and to be truthful, assault. As far as a recommendation goes, I can advocate for it as a nostalgic endeavor only, and with knowledge of its faults.

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Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider

Today, I’m going to dive into the 2007 Nicolas Cage superhero movie, Ghost Rider.

The plot of Ghost Rider is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze gives up his soul to become a hellblazing vigilante, to fight against power hungry Blackheart, the son of the devil himself.

The modern incarnation of Ghost Rider first appeared in Marvel Spotlight #5 in August of 1972, created by Mike Ploog, Gary Friedrich, and Roy Thomas. The following year, the character received a standalone title, and has been a staple of the Marvel universe ever since.

Ghost Rider was written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, who both wrote and directed the even less well-regarded Marvel film, Daredevil. He additionally wrote the screenplays for both of the comedies Grumpy Old Men and Grumpier Old Men.

The cast for Ghost Rider includes Nicolas Cage (Con Air, Face/Off, Vampire’s Kiss, The Wicker Man, Left Behind, Snake Eyes, Bringing Out The Dead, Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation.), Peter Fonda (Easy Rider, The Trip, Boondock Saints II, Wild Hogs), Sam Elliott (Road House, Hulk, Tombstone, The Big Lebowski), Eva Mendes (The Spirit, The Other Guys, 2 Fast 2 Furious), Wes Bentley (Interstellar, Jonah Hex, American Beauty), and Donal Logue (Blade, Zodiac, Terriers, The Patriot).

The cinematographer for the movie was Russell Boyd, whose list of shooting credits includes Liar Liar, White Men Can’t Jump, Master and Commander: The Far Side Of The World, Crocodile Dundee 2, and Doctor Dolittle.

The editor on Ghost Rider was Richard Francis-Bruce, who also cut such films as The Green Mile, The Rock, Se7en, Sliver, The Shawshank Redemption, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and Air Force One.

The musical score for the film was provided by Christopher Young, whose other credits include The Core, Spider-Man 3, Swordfish, Drag Me To Hell, Rounders, Species, Copycat, and A Nightmare On Elm Street 2.

The financial success of Ghost Rider led to a sequel in 2011: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, which once again starred Nicolas Cage in the lead role. However, in May of 2013, the film rights to the character reverted back to Marvel Studios, which effectively ended the franchise as it existed. There are no current plans for Marvel to bring the character back to the big screen, though an iteration has appeared on the television show Agents of SHIELD.

Nicolas Cage is apparently a huge fan of the Ghost Rider character, and actively lobbied for the part when he heard that it was casting. He even had to cover up a prominent Ghost Rider tattoo on his back in order to play the character.

Interestingly, Ghost Rider was the first time Cage played a comic book character, despite being an outspoken fan and collector of comic books (his stage name of Cage is taken from Marvel character Luke Cage). Famously, he almost played Superman in an ill-fated Tim Burton attempt to bring the character to the screen, which was recently chronicled in The Death of Superman Lives.

Sam Eliott’s character in the film, The Caretaker, is based on the original incarnation of Ghost Rider, which is now referred to as The Phantom Rider. This character was more of a western hero: he distinctively rode a white horse, and wore a glowing, phosphorescent mask and uniform.

The pre-production for Ghost Rider surprisingly dates back to the mid-1990s. However, numerous delays and personnel changes kept the film from being completed for roughly a decade. An early screenplay treatment for the flick was apparently cooked up by David S. Goyer, who is known for films like The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, and Blade, and wound up getting credited for writing the film’s 2011 sequel. In front of the camera, Eric Bana and Johnny Depp both nearly wound up filling the role of Ghost Rider over the years, and Jon Voight was attached at one point in a supporting role.

Nicolas Cage received a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for Worst Actor for his role in Ghost Rider, which he ultimately lost out on to Eddie Murphy’s performance in Norbit.

In a strange move, part of the promotion of the film involved the character of Ghost Rider appearing in a Jackson Hewitt commercial, in which a representative helps him fill out his taxes.

The newfound attention brought to the character by the film’s production led to a significant dispute over the ownership of the character. One of the original creators, Gary Friedrich, claimed that the rights to the character reverted to him in 2001, which led to a lawsuit and a long-running legal battle with Marvel and the studios involved in the film, which didn’t formally resolve until September of 2013.

Ghost Rider was made on a production budget of $110 million, on which it took in a lifetime theatrical gross of roughly $228.7 million between domestic and international markets. While this made it a financial success, it didn’t do nearly as well critically. Currently, it holds an IMDb user rating of 5.2/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 26% from critics and 48% from audiences.

There is no way to talk about Ghost Rider without first addressing the national treasure that is Nicolas Cage. It is hard to deny that Cage is consistently a barrel of fun with his over-the-top performances, but he took a lot of criticism for this role in particular. Not only did he take a lot of flak for being too old for the character, but much was made of a scene where he appears to have CGI abdominal muscles. While that sequence is definitely a bit suspicious, my biggest issue with Cage in this movie is that he isn’t quite unchained enough for what I wanted. Outside of his initial transformation, Cage is really subdued in his performance for a man with his head on fire. He is still erratic and fun to watch, but not quite to the degree that I would have hoped for.

Even if you believe that the casting of Nicolas Cage was a bit off-base, it is hard to argue that the casting of Sam Elliott as his predecessor wasn’t pitch perfect.  For the role of a lone-retired vengeful ghost cowboy, Sam Elliott couldn’t have been a more apt choice to play the part. In fact, one of the biggest weaknesses of the film is how little screen time his character gets. In most films like this, his role would have been as a trainer and guide for the protagonist. Instead, he is more of an informant than anything else, and doesn’t do much direct teaching. It is unfortunate, because it would have been cool to watch their relationship develop in spite of their clashing personalities, but that was not to be.

Perhaps the biggest criticism widely leveled at Ghost Rider is its extensive use of CGI, which was less that stellar at the time, and has aged very poorly. Unfortunately, I think the nature of the characters that the story was dealing with didn’t allow practical effects to be much of an option. However, the CGI didn’t have to be quite so ubiquitous: the fact that it is seemingly present in every scene makes the movie as a whole look cheaper and more artificial. CGI is best used as a background tool, but it has a more prominent place in this movie than most of the performers.

One of my personal gripes about this film is its unimaginative and paint-by-numbers screenplay. Nearly everything that happens is predictable, in a way that is even more flagrant than your average blockbuster screenplay. Not only that, but some of the dialogue borders on sounding like genre self-parody, like the mugger saying “give me your damn purse, lady!”.

Overall, Ghost Rider is a fun enough little blockbuster that it doesn’t feel like a waste of time, but it is certainly not good by any means. The character design and his bike are both fun to see on screen, but the effects spoil a lot of the coolness factor there. I still think it is worth catching for Cage and Elliott, but the film as a whole isn’t much to write home about.

As far as a recommendation goes, I think Ghost Rider is worth sitting through if you see it pop up on cable, or you just need some background noise to occupy your time. Apart from that, this isn’t something that should specifically seek out, unless you are a die-hard Nic Cage completionist.

The Fantastic Four (1994)

The Fantastic Four


Today, I’m going to delve into the infamous first attempt to bring the comic book team The Fantastic Four to the big screen: 1994’s The Fantastic Four.

The plot of The Fantastic Four is described on IMDb as follows:

When an experimental space voyage goes awry, four people are forever changed by cosmic rays: Reed Richards, inventor and leader of the group gains the ability to stretch his body and takes the name Mr. Fantastic. His girlfriend, Sue Storm, gains the ability to turn invisible and create force fields becoming The Invisible Girl. Her little brother, Johnny Storm, becomes The Human Torch with the ability to control fire, including covering his own body with flame. The pilot Ben Grimm is turned into the super-strong, super-tough Thing. Together they become a team of super-heroes and use their unique powers to foil the evil plans of villains

The superhero team The Fantastic Four was created by famed comic book masters Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and first appeared in The Fantastic Four #1 in November of 1961. Since then, the team has been a mainstay of Marvel comics, and has made the jump to cartoons, video games, and a number of movies.

The screenplay for this film adaptation was credited to Craig J. Nevius (Black Scorpion) and Kevin Rock (Howling VI, The Philadelphia Experiment II).

The director for The Fantastic Four was Oley Sassone, who helmed numerous episodes of the television shows Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.

The cast of The Fantastic Four includes Jay Underwood (The Boy Who Could Fly, Uncle Buck), Rebecca Staab (The Substitute 3, Love Potion No. 9), Michael Bailey Smith (Men In Black II, The Hills Have Eyes), Joseph Culp (Mad Men), and Alex Hyde-White (Pretty Woman).

The editor for The Fantastic Four was Glenn Garland, who has gone on to become Rob Zombie’s go-to film cutter. His credits include 31, The Lords of Salem, Bunraku, The Devil’s Rejects, Retroactive, and both of Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies.

One of the executive producers for the film was Roger Corman, the legendary b-movie producer and director. As legend has it, he was given a small budget, and the job of throwing together a Fantastic Four movie as quickly and cheaply as possible, so that the rights to the property could be retained for another ten years. Thus, in many ways, The Fantastic Four is considered his creation, and is often referred to as Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four.

One of the special effects makeup artists for the movie was Everett Burrell, whose other credits include Castle Freak, Re-Animator, Troll, Ghoulies, DeepStar Six, Harry and the Hendersons, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, and Creepshow 2, among others.

The production designer for The Fantastic Four was Mick Strawn, who has served as a designer and art director on such movies as A Nightmare On Elm Street 4, Kazaam, The Hidden, and Candyman.

In 2015, a documentary by the name of Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four was released, which detailed the story of the movie’s bizarre production, non-release, and ultimate cult status.

Including this iteration, The Fantastic Four has been put to film four times. The other attempts, 2015’s Fantastic Four, 2005’s Fantastic Four, and 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, all met with mixed to negative receptions, leading to a popular belief that there is no way to make a Fantastic Four film work in this day and age.

The hit comedy television show Arrested Development has a recurring, thinly veiled reference to the production of this film that runs throughout the show’s fourth season. One of the main character creates a musical adaptation of an unfinished Fantastic Four movie from the 1990s, in an attempt to circumvent rights issues with Marvel.

Because the movie was never formally released, people only managed to hear about it through word of mouth, and see it on unfinished bootleg tapes. Still, the film’s reputation got around. Currently, it holds an IMDb user rating of 3.9/10, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 29% from critics and 27% from audiences.

Personally, I think that there are a whole lot of things to like about this flicks. The costumes, for instance, look pretty great, and are delightfully faithful to the group’s comic book origins. They may be cheesy and somewhat goofy, but that sort of gels with what this particular hero team has always been.

Likewise, the performances and writing are generally pretty good here. All of the key players put in performances that suit their characters, are there aren’t any weak links among them. In particular, I’m a big fan of Dr. Doom in this movie: he way be an over-the-top mustache-twirler, but that is exactly what I wanted from the villain in this movie.

The biggest issues with the film relate to its financial limitations and time constrictions. The effects, for instance, are inarguably cheesy and cheap. Likewise, the audio isn’t great for some of the dialogue, which isn’t so strange for a movie that was never quite finished, and not meant for consumption. Regardless, I think these issues give the movie an added, curious charm, so it hard to fault the movie for them.

The Fantastic Four is certainly no masterpiece, but it may be the most loyal and genuine Fantastic Four movie that the world will ever see. For fans of the property, it is worth checking out. More importantly, though, this is an absolute gem of a feature for bad movie fans: the performances are goofy, the costumes and effects are cheap, and there’s a great behind-the-scenes story to tie the whole thing together.

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane

Today, I’m going to dig into the 1990 Andrew Dice Clay vehicle, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane.

The central plot of The Adventures of Ford Fairlane is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A vulgar private detective is hired to find a missing groupie and is drawn into a mystery involving a series of murders tied to the music industry.

The credited writers for The Adventures of Ford Fairlane were David Arnott (Last Action Hero), Daniel Waters (Demolition Man, Hudson Hawk, Heathers), and James Cappe (Freddy’s Nightmares).

The film’s director was Renny Harlin, a noted action director whose credits include 12 Rounds, The Legend of Hercules, Driven, Deep Blue Sea, A Nightmare On Elm Street 4, and Cliffhanger.

The cast of Ford Fairlane is headlined by comedian Andrew Dice Clay, with supporting roles filled by the likes of Robert Englund (A Nightmare On Elm Street), Gilbert Gottfried (Aladdin), Priscilla Presley (The Naked Gun), and Wayne Newton (Vegas Vacation, License To Kill).

The cinematographer for the film was Oliver Wood, who also shot The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Child 44, Rudy, The Other Guys, The Brothers Grimsby, The Bourne Identity, and Die Hard 2, among others.

The editor on Ford Fairlane was Michael Tronick, whose cutting credits include The Scorpion King, Straight Outta Compton, Remember The Titans, The Green Hornet, Less Than Zero, Hudson Hawk, and True Romance.

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane earned a number of Golden Raspberry Award nominations, which are given out annually to the judged worst performances and films of the year. It wound up co-winning Worst Picture with Ghosts Can’t Do It, and also taking the Worst Screenplay and Worst Actor awards, the latter for Andrew Dice Clay.

The role played by Robert Englund was initially meant for rock star Billy Idol, but he was forced to drop out after a significant motorcycle accident, prompting Renny Harlin to bring in Englund on short notice.

Despite being a significant flop in the United States, Ford Fairlane has a cult following in a handful of foreign markets, like Hungary and Norway, thanks to some popular foreign language dubs.

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane was made on a production budget of $40 million, on which it grossed $21.4 million in its lifetime theatrical run, making it a significant financial failure. Critically, it garnered mostly negative reviews: currently, it holds an IMDb user rating of 6.3/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 29% from critics and 68% from audiences.

The first and biggest issue with The Adventures of Ford Fairlane is its star: Andrew Dice Clay. Not only is he immensely irritating, but his crass and misogynistic style of humor taints any positive elements of the film. Apparently, he was a significant problem for the cast and crew on set as well, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise given his persona.

Honestly, I like the concept behind the film: the idea of a comedic, self-aware neo-noir has worked for Shane Black more than once. However, the Andrew Dice Clay stink all over this film makes even the more clever quips and sequences unbearable, which is a disservice to a screenplay that seems like it may have had some potential at one point.

Roger Ebert’s scathing one-star review sums up my general feelings about Ford Fairlane pretty succinctly:

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane is a movie about a hero I didn’t like, chasing villains I didn’t hate, in a plot I didn’t understand. It is also loud, ugly and mean-spirited. That makes it the ideal vehicle for Andrew Dice Clay, a comedian whose humor is based upon hating those not in the room for the entertainment of those present.

Basically, this is a movie to avoid. Andrew Dice Clay deserves to reside in obscure footnotes for a bygone era of comedy. Because this movie is so inexorably connected to him, that’s where it belongs as well.