Since the Video Vortex rental outfit at Alamo Drafthouse Raleigh opened back up recently (and I started working at the theater), I’ve been sifting a bit through their collection. It has given me the chance to catch up on some films that wouldn’t be terribly budget-friendly to get on streaming or digital rentals, and who doesn’t love the nostalgic joy of flipping through countless VHS and DVD cases? One of the first things I knew I wanted to dig up was Eating Raoul, a cult classic dark comedy from Paul Bartel that got a Criterion release a while back.
Eating Raoul is, on paper, a movie I expected to like. I first heard about it when I watched and wrote about the fantastic Chopping Mall many years ago, which features the lead characters from this film in what could probably be called inflated cameos. It popped back onto my radar more recently for a couple of reasons. First, I have been watching through Star Trek: Voyager, and Eating Raoul was the major debut of main cast member Robert Beltran. Second, I recently watched Fresh, a controversial recent feature that treads on some similar conceptual ground.
Eating Raoul is a dark comedy – a genre I usually appreciate – about eccentric characters who snowball into executing an increasingly absurd string of murders to pay their rent. There is definitely a class-conflict, “eat the rich” theme to the screenplay, which is usually fun to see. At first glance, it sounds like it has some common DNA with one of my favorite old-school b-movies, ABucket of Blood: Roger Corman’s skewering of art criticism and culture.
All of that said, to my surprise, I did not particularly enjoy Eating Raoul. The tone of the film is exaggerated and cartoonish, which could theoretically work if it were employed with a conscious purpose, but it doesn’t seem to have one. I expected the movie to have something to say: there is certainly plenty that it could say if it wanted to cut any deeper than than the surface level. It invokes themes like classism and misogyny (its strongest moments are inarguably Woronov’s), but the movie doesn’t dedicate the time to making a particularly coherent statement about these themes through the characterizations or plot. Because none of the characters are grounded in reality, it makes social criticism difficult to weave into them: these people are looney tunes, so what could their actions and experiences say about our tangible world? While it isn’t impossible to use highly exaggerated characters for meaningful critique, it takes some finesse.
Going through extant criticism of the film, I agree with some of Roger Ebert’s musings about it, particularly in respect to its tone and pacing:
“Eating Raoul” is one of the more deadpan black comedies I’ve seen: It tries to position itself somewhere between the bizarre and the banal, and most of the time, it succeeds…Problem is, it’s so laid-back it eventually gets monotonous.”
Honestly, there were more than a few moments where I felt like it leaned a little too hard into the banal to the detriment of the bizarre, which had the runtime flowing like cold molasses. I will say that I liked the performances from Woronov and Bartel, but nothing around them really worked for me. The love triangle that develops isn’t terribly compelling, and the action is all pretty predictable and repetitive. The whole work came off as simultaneously mean spirited and without a directionality for its barbs. It is a sea urchin of a movie, indiscriminately pricking anything that comes into range.
More than anything, I think I was disappointed with the execution of an interesting story concept. Particularly today, when the value of human life is so trivialized, selfishness aggrandized, and economic stratification so pronounced, a film about preying on people to pay the rent seems like it could resonate. I was hoping that this would be more of a prescient gem on a reassessment, but I don’t think time has actually done it any favors.
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).
The 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.
Motel 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.
Today I’m going to take a quick look at a b-movie classic: The Thing With Two Heads.
The Thing With Two Heads was a 1972 low budget movie that was presented by the notorious Samuel Z. Arkoff, and distributed by American International Pictures. The film’s writer/director, Lee Frost, had a long career making exploitation features, including 1975’s The Black Gestapo.
The plot of The Thing With Two Heads is summarized on IMDb as follows:
A rich but racist man is dying and hatches an elaborate scheme for transplanting his head onto another man’s body. His health deteriorates rapidly, and doctors are forced to transplant his head onto the only available candidate: a black man from death row.
The movie primarily stars Academy Award winner Ray Milland and former NFL star Roosevelt Grier as the mismatched central pair.
Effects legend and winner of many Academy Awards Rick Baker appears briefly in the film in a gorilla suit, and apparently did work on the effects as well, though without credit.
The score for The Thing With Two Heads was provided by Richard O. Ragland, who also provided music for Q: The Winged Serpent, The Touch of Satan, and Grizzly, among many others low budget features.
Nowadays, The Thing With Two Heads is regarded as an off-color cheese-ball classic of trash cinema, that certainly has a bit of a cult following. Roger Ebert gave the movie a 1-star review, and IMDb currently has it at an unenviable 4.1/10 from its user base, but it certainly hasn’t disappeared into absolute obscurity by any means.
The Thing With Two Heads is certainly a movie made for its time period. This reminded me in some ways of Bone, and in other ways of the standard field of blaxploitation movies that came out in the 1970s. However, its goofiness kind of defies classification: it is hard to call this anything other than a b-movie, though there are definitely blaxploitation elements. It isn’t what anyone would call progressive in its portrayal of race, but given the time period, it certainly could have been worse.
The movie certainly isn’t good by any stretch of the imagination, but it has some odd value as a silly relic of its time period. For b-movie fans who can stomach lesser Roger Corman movies, The Thing With Two Heads shouldn’t be any trouble, and might be worth checking out. The effects and stunts are in particular pretty hilariously inept, which are almost worth the experience on their own.
Yesterday, I had the chance to catch a pre-release tour screening of the latest film by Kevin Smith: Yoga Hosers. This horror-comedy (or comedy-horror) is a quasi-sequel to Tusk, and focuses on a handful of characters from that movie on a new adventure involving a Canadian Nazi conspiracy. Because this movie hasn’t hit theaters yet, I’m going to preface this review with a SPOILER WARNING.
Yoga Hosers was written, directed, and edited by Kevin Smith, a once-revered Sundance darling and Miramax loyalist who is now known for his sprawling podcast network, oversized hockey jerseys, and nerdy ramblings. However, he has never stayed away from movies for long, in spite of often claiming to be done with the medium. Yoga Hosers is the second in his planned “True North” trilogy: a series of movies set in Canada that was kicked off by Tusk, and will conclude with Moose Jaws at an undisclosed future time.
Smith’s cinematographer for the movie was James Laxton, who previously worked for him on Tusk, and has worked on an assortment of other films like Bad Milo and Nightcrawler.
The music for Yoga Hosers was provided by Christopher Drake, who has primarily worked on DC animated movies and video games like Injustice: Gods Among Us, Batman: Under The Red Hood, Justice League: Doom, and Batman: Arkham Origins.
Yoga Hosers stars Johnny Depp (Donnie Brasco, Black Mass, The Lone Ranger, Sweeney Todd, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, A Nightmare On Elm Street), his daughter Lily-Rose Melody Depp, Kevin Smith’s daughter Harley Quinn Smith, Kevin Smith’s podcast co-host Ralph Garman (Red State, Ted), Haley Joel Osment (Entourage, The 6th Sense), Tony Hale (Veep, Arrested Development), Justin Long (Drag Me To Hell, Accepted), Kevin Smith’s wife, Jennifer Schwalbach Smith (Red State, Jersey Girl), and Kevin Smith himself.
Initial reviews for Yoga Hosers are pretty negative. As of June 13th, 2016, Yoga Hosers has an IMDb user score of 4.9/10 with 499 votes tallied, and a Rotten Tomatoes critic score of 25%, with 20 critic reviews in.
The idea for Yoga Hosers was born on the set of Tusk, when Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Melody Depp were thrown in as minor characters in a convenience store scene on a whim by Kevin Smith. The result, according to Smith and Johnny Depp, was a surprisingly natural performance from both girls, and an impressive chemistry. Upon completion of the film, Smith claims that Johnny Depp expressed interest in reprising his character in the future, all of which planted the seeds for Smith to write a screenplay around the three minor Tusk characters.
The design and tone of Yoga Hosers was intended to imitate the sorts of movies that would run on late night cable during Smith’s childhood. In particular, Kevin Smith has cited Re-Animator, From Beyond, and Puppetmaster as the sort of movies that inspired Yoga Hosers. However, instead of making a movie purely in that vein, he wanted to center the story on teenage girls, once he realized that that demographic wasn’t able to enjoy those same movies he could, due to a lack of representation.
Yoga Hosers, unfortunately, doesn’t quite succeed in its aims. While there is some humor that would probably resonate with young women (primarily centered on texting and contemporary technology), most of the humor in movie is referential. For instance, the biggest laughs I recall from my screening were from cameos by people like Stan Lee and Kevin Conroy, or from direct references to other Kevin Smith works (primarily podcast in-jokes and one blatant Clerks reference). Worse than that, however, is the sheer quantity of tired non-jokes in the screenplay: exaggerated Canadian accents and cultural jokes are milked endlessly, awkward banter with Johnny Depp doesn’t play, celebrity impersonations are almost as prominent as they were in Master of Disguise, and the villainous “Bratzi” minions are a collective high pitched, shouting annoyance.
While there is nothing necessarily wrong with any of this (it is all a matter of preference, I guess), I have trouble believing that any of these elements would really appeal to tween girls, as Kevin Smith apparently intended. All of these things seem far more geared to appeal to middle-aged (and stoned) Kevin Smith fans than anyone else.
The thing that seems almost beyond belief to me is the fact that Johnny Depp gives the worst performance in a movie with two non-actor leads. Honestly, the Depp and Smith offspring do have good chemistry, and are generally ok with the load they were given. Depp, on the other hand, is just as jarring and unfunny as he was in his first turn with the character in Tusk. Apparently, his fascination with the character stems from, predictably enough, an obsession with facial prosthesis. Much like Eddie Murphy, Depp seems to have fallen into a trap in which he needs to be behind some sort of mask to give a performance. Even in Black Mass, in which he is quite good, he is transformed with makeup into another person. The manhunter Guy Lapointe is, as Smith tells it, a way for Johnny Depp to wear a prosthetic dick on his face (that was, apparently, VERY intentional), and use a fake accent that has annoyed the people closest to him for years. Now, Depp has a platform to annoy the movie-going public with it as well, or at least whoever actually shows up for Yoga Hosers.
The effects work in Yoga Hosers honestly perplexed me. I’m not sure if the green screen work was intentionally bad as a sort of homage, or if it was just shoddy. To Kurtzman’s credit, the sausage monsters are unsettling, but the use of CGI gore (well, saurkraut) looks absolutely unforgivably awful. The thing that stood out most, though, was the centerpiece of the film: a Nazi-crafted Golem built out of human remains and bratwurst in the shape of a hockey goalie. Looking past the obvious insensitivity of including a Nazi-built Jewish folkloric figure, the monster looks implausibly fake. Again, this might have been homage, but I couldn’t get past how clearly rubbery the texture looked. Compared to his work on Tusk (or any number of other films), the “Goalie Golem” just looked bad.
What really annoys me most about Yoga Hosers is that the parts are so much better than the product. Johnny Depp is a capable actor, Robert Kurtzman is a wizard, Kevin Smith is a decent director (and far better writer), and the stated motivations behind this movie are fantastic. I am a huge fan of the same kinds of movies that drove Smith to make Hosers, and I am also in agreement that women and girls need more representation in popular fiction. Yoga Hosers, in theory, is a movie that needs to me. That is why I feel so disappointed that it isn’t actually that movie.
Lastly, there is a big problem underneath this movie that seeps out in some not-so-subtle ways. Kevin Smith has a long-standing chip on his shoulder with the very concept of film criticism. For as easy-going, likable, inspiring, and positive-natured as the man usually is, Smith has nothing but contempt for those how would dare to point out flaws with a Kevin Smith movie. From what I can tell, this dates back a long way, at least to Jersey Girl, but really went into meltdown after Cop Out. In Yoga Hosers, he goes so far as to give the villain a distinct motivation: a desire to execute all art critics, which sets up a number of tired critic jokes. This reminded me a lot of the 1998 Godzilla, in which Roland Emmerich included a character based on Roger Ebert in order to mock him. The result, as you might expect, is that Emmerich looked like a petty jackass. Now, Kevin Smith has sunk roughly to the same level, which is regrettable to say.
The thing is, I generally like Kevin Smith as a personality and nerd pundit. The screening of Yoga Hosers I went to took nearly 5 hours, but the movie itself was only a fraction of that time. Kevin Smith knows how to talk and endear himself to fans: he is honest and candid in a way that should doom him in the confidential land of Hollywood, but the admiration he has endeared has kept him afloat for years. Just the experience of listening to him talk has brought people out to theaters across the country, and his audience online likely dwarfs even that. As a public figure, Smith makes people laugh, and inspires lots of people to create. Honestly, that seems to be his true passion at this point. Unfortunately, his movies just aren’t as compelling as he is. There is a reason his tours are more Q+A than movies now: on a deeper level, people really want to hear him and experience him, not watch his movies.
All in all, I’ve been pulling for Smith to resurrect his film career. I really liked Red State, and thought that Tusk had some good highlights. Yoga Hosers, though, is a huge fall. It is everything negative that I feared it might be from the time it was announced. That said, I’m optimistic about Kevin Smith focusing on television: I think it might just suit him better at this point. As for Yoga Hosers, this is really only watchable for Kevin Smith fans, and even then, it is a toss-up. My advice is to skip this one.
I’m happy to say that I will be attending the 2016 B-fest on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, IL next weekend (January 21-22).
For those that aren’t aware, B-fest is a 24 hour b-movie festival held annually on the Northwestern University campus, and has gained a significant amount of acclaim over the years since its 1981 inception. The lineup for this year’s festivities was just announced recently, and I’m pretty excited, primarily because I don’t know many of the features.
I’ll have some coverage of the event on the blog once I’m back, not unlike what I did for Gateway Film Center’s Groundhog Day Marathon last year. Sadly, I’ll be missing the 24-hour Groundhog Day event this year, but I highly encourage curious people to check it out.
If any of you bad movie enthusiasts happen to be attending B-fest this year as well, let me know! Feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a message at email@example.com.
The cinematographer for Space Warriors was Robert Hayes, who shot two of the lesser sequels to Baby Geniuses: Baby Geniuses and The Space Baby and Baby Geniuses and The Mystery of the Crown Jewels.
The editor on the film was Jeff Canavan, who has worked on features like Bratz, Save The Last Dance, Lawnmower Man 2, Homeward Bound II, Star Trek: Insurrection, Garfield, and The Shawshank Redemption.
The musical score for Space Warriors was composed by Larry Brown, who provided music for the infamous Joe Don Baker movie Mitchell and the television series The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest.
The cast of Space Warriors includes Danny Glover (Saw, Predator 2, Lethal Weapon), Mira Sorvino (Mimic, Quiz Show, Reservation Road), Dermot Mulroney (Young Guns, Zodiac, Copycat), Ryan Simpkins (Twixt, A Single Man, Revolutionary Road), Thomas Horn (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), Josh Lucas (Stealth, American Psycho, Poseidon), and Grayson Russell (Talladega Nights, Diary of A Wimpy Kid).
The plot of Space Warriors is summarized on IMDb as follows:
A group of kid space cadets must help in the rescue of three astronauts whose ship got stranded in space.
Space Warriors was filmed at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL, which is home to the original location of Space Camp, and was also the primary filming location for 1986’s SpaceCamp.
Space Warriors currently has a 4.4 user rating on IMDb, along with a 34% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
It is impossible not to compare Space Warriors to 1986’s SpaceCamp: though it isn’t technically an official sequel or remake, there are undeniable similarities between the two features. The biggest changes for Space Warriors are all actually pretty sensible: the child actors are all the same age, instead of a mix of teenagers and children, they aren’t shot into space, and the hyper-intelligent robot sidekick plot is totally nixed. Unfortunately, the lack of any of these peculiar elements of the first movie leads to a far less charming end product. The fact of the matter is, real Space Camp isn’t all that flashy or glorious, and that is (at least partially) reflected in this movie.
The other big drawback for Space Warriors is that the primary cast is made up of a lot of children, which is a recipe for disaster. Child actors with any modicum of talent are rare, and the odds of finding multiple ones for the same production are astronomical. Even Joaquin Phoenix, who grew into a fine actor with age, was not particularly good in SpaceCamp. In Space Warriors, the child actors are awful. Just awful. Even worse, all of the action of the movie surrounds them. At least in SpaceCamp, Tom Skerritt and Kate Capshaw offered some slight respite from the childish shenanigans of Max & Jinx. No such luck is to be had in Space Warriors: it is (with little exception) all kids, all the time.
One of my favorite things about Space Warriors is the recruitment montage at the beginning, which features Josh Lucas wandering around the world with an inflatable astronaut companion, hunting down brilliant children to bring them to Space Camp. Honestly, I would watch an entire movie that focuses just on the road trip shenanigans of Josh Lucas and his inflatable astronaut buddy. That would undoubtedly be more interesting than Space Warriors if you ask me.
I mentioned in my review of 12 Rounds that the movie comes off like a tourism advertisement for the city of New Orleans. Likewise, Space Warriors is packed with shots of both the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and Huntsville, AL. It might not be excessively noticeable for someone not from the area, but for me, the constant shoehorning feels downright oppressive. Likewise, Space Warriors gives off the slightest whiff of desperation: there was clearly an intention here to re-inspire a rising generation to care more about exploration and space travel, in an era where the interest seems to be at an all-time low. However, I don’t think Space Warriors is going to ignite any flames of inspiration like The Martian or Interstellar, given it is pretty much a pile of garbage. Then again, I’m not ten years old. Maybe kids love this shit.
Space Warriors isn’t a movie that was aimed for general audiences like SpaceCamp was: it is unapologetically a kids movie. As is the seeming standard for children’s entertainment, the humor is low-brow, the acting is bad, and the whole thing looks and sounds like garbage to anyone who is older than 12. However, I have trouble blaming that entirely on the movie, as much as it is a plague of the genre in general.
I’ve never understood why children’s entertainment isn’t held to a higher standard: it seems like there is essential no quality test for anything in the genre. Children’s movies should be aimed to inspire and educate while also entertaining, like Wishbone. It doesn’t need to be a compilation of loud noises, farts, and pratfalls like The Garbage Pail Kids: that’s actually the worst possible thing that we as a society could be forcing children to consume. That how you wind up with a generation of Adam Sandler fans if you ask me. To Space Warriors‘s credit, its heart is certainly in the right place in this regard, in spite of some lapses here and there. I don’t want to be excessively hard on it, but I’m also certainly not going to recommend it to anyone. Unless you are a big fan of SpaceCamp and are curious about this re-imagining, then skip it.
Today’s feature is the most famous bad movie to come out of my home town of Huntsville, AL: 1986’s SpaceCamp.
The credited writers for SpaceCamp include producer Patrick Bailey, Larry B. Williams (Friday’s Curse), Clifford Green (The Seventh Sign, Bless The Child), and someone named Casey T. Mitchell, who has very few other credits.
SpaceCamp was directed by Harry Winer, whose credits include a handful of Veronica Mars episodes, a documentary called The Legend of Bigfoot, and House Arrest.
SpaceCamp had two credited editors: John Wheeler (Rocky IV, Star Trek: First Contact, Rhinestone) and Tim Board (Ladybugs).
The music for SpaceCamp was provided by the one and only John Williams, who is perhaps the most recognizable film scorer in the history of the medium. On top of his astounding five Academy Award wins, he has countless Academy Award nominations spanning from 1968 to 2014.
The special and makeup effects team for SpaceCamp was made up of Zoltan Elek (Timecop, Double Team, Street Fighter, Leviathan), Katalin Elek (Double Team, Rocky V, Legend, Leviathan), and Chuck Gaspar (Waterworld, Mitchell, The Exorcist II).
The cast of SpaceCamp includes Kate Capshaw (Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom), Tom Skerritt (Alien, Top Gun, Poison Ivy), Terry O’Quinn (Lost, Primal Fear, Tombstone), Lea Thompson (Howard the Duck, Back To The Future, Jaws 3-D, Left Behind), Kelly Preston (Jerry Maguire), Larry B. Scott (Iron Eagle), and Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator, 8MM, Inherent Vice, The Master, Walk The Line, Her), credited under his childhood name of “Leaf.”
The plot of SpaceCamp is summarized on IMDb as follows:
The young attendees of a space camp find themselves in space for real when their shuttle is accidentally launched into orbit.
On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger tragically broke apart barely a minute into its flight, killing the entire crew aboard. At the time, SpaceCamp, which prominently features the looming threat of a shuttle disaster, was scheduled to release within weeks. Wisely, the studio chose to delay the film’s release to the summer, but it flopped at the box office none-the-less.
In early drafts of the story, SpaceCamp was to have a Rocky IV-style ending, in which a Russian shuttle (piloted by children) is dispatched to rescue the American kids stranded in space, signifying a new, post-Cold War era of peace and harmony.
SpaceCamp was the feature film debut of Joaquin Phoenix, whose older brother, River, broke out due to his role in Stand By Me, which also released in 1986. Joaquin is credited under the name “Leaf,” which he took on early in his childhood, but shed in his teens.
The budget for SpaceCamp has been estimated to have been between 18 and 25 million dollars, on which it only took in less than 10 million dollars on its lifetime theatrical run. The reception to the film was less than glowing: it currently holds an IMDb user rating of 5.6, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 40% from critics and 50% from audiences. In spite of the poor returns and reviews, SpaceCamp received a spiritual remake in 2013 in the form of Space Warriors.
The Huntsville, AL location of Space Camp (The US Space and Rocket Center) that features in the film doesn’t have an actual space shuttle or a launch pad: it only has a mock up (Pathfinder) that was used for basic testing purposes. Even then, it wasn’t on display at the Space and Rocket Center until 1988: two years after this movie’s release. This makes the entire premise of the plot of SpaceCamp even more impossible that it was to start with.
Obviously, the plot of SpaceCamp is beyond preposterous. NASA didn’t have any hyper-intelligent robot friends in 1986, Space Camp attendees aren’t the same thing as astronaut trainees (and go nowhere near functioning shuttles), and, in spite of a mixed track record, we’ve never accidentally shot a shuttle into space. All of that said, SpaceCamp seems to relish in its obliviousness, and seems shocking uninterested in the fantastic reality of space flight, choosing to substitute in a bizarre, fictitious world in its stead. I can only imagine how disappointed an entire generation of kids were when they discovered that Space Camp doesn’t turn children into astronauts, and no adorable robot companions were included in the program.
Thanks to the utter ludicrousness of the screenplay, SpaceCamp holds up as a charmingly inept love letter to a scientific pursuit that was far beyond the writers’ comprehensions. I would pay good money to watch this movie with a panel of physicists and astronomers (cc: Phil Plait), because I can only imagine the mix of guffaws and exasperated head-shaking this screenplay would incite from them.
SpaceCamp is an under-appreciated bad movie classic if you ask me. You don’t see it covered very often by the big b-movie reviewers, but this flick is the perfect mix of a financial failure, a recognizable cast, an utterly inept screenplay, a high dose of nostalgia, and maybe the worst cultural timing of any movie release in history. I might be a little biased given it is a hometown feature for me, but I implore any detractors out there to give this movie another look. Watch this film today, and try not to laugh at it. I dare you.
Today’s feature is the 2012 remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night, which goes by the simplified title of Silent Night.
Silent Night was written and produced by Jayson Rothwell, who also penned screenplays for flicks like Second In Command, Malice In Wonderland, and Blessed.
The director for the movie was Steven C. Miller, whose other credits include Under The Bed, Automaton Transfusion, and The Aggression Scale.
The cinematographer on Silent Night was Joseph White, who has shot a variety of horror movies, including the cult favorite Repo! The Genetic Opera, Fear Clinic, 11-11-11, Shelter, and the 2010 remake of Mother’s Day.
The editor for the film was Seth Flaum, who has primarily spent his career cutting comedy features like Vegas Vacation, High School Musical, Juwanna Mann, The Great Outdoors, Grumpier Old Men, Fanboys, The Replacements, The Country Bears, and The Whole Ten Yards.
The team of producers for Silent Night included Joe Laurin (ATM), Richard Saperstein (Lost In Space, Hancock), Patrick Murray (Kill Me Three Times), Kevin Kasha (The Butterfly Effect 2, The Howling: Reborn), Adam Goldworm (The Black Cat, Pick Me Up, Dreams In The Witch House), Aaron L. Gilbert (Daydream Nation), James Gibb (Whiplash, Drive), Brian Witten (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Spawn, The Wedding Season), and Phyllis Laing (Heaven Is For Real, The Haunting In Connecticut).
The music for Silent Night was provided by Kevin Riepl, who has primarily worked on scoring high-profile video games like Gears of War and Unreal Championship.
The Silent Night makeup effects were provided in part by George Frangadakis (Sushi Girl), John Wrightson (The Dog Who Saved Christmas), Josh Wasylink (The Taking of Deborah Logan, V/H/S: Viral), Gregory Ramoundos (Dogma, Frankenhooker), Doug Morrow (Capote, Wrong Turn 4), Vincent J. Guastini (Thinner, Super Mario Bros., The Toxic Avenger Part III, The Langoliers), and Andrew Freeman (Battle Los Angeles, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters).
The special effects unit for Silent Night included Evan Campbell (The Faculty, Elves, Spawn, Darkman II, Darkman III), Tim Freestone (Curse of Chucky, Home Alone: The Holiday Heist), James Kozier (White Noise, The Core), and Paul Noel (X-Men 2, X-Men: The Last Stand).
The visual effects work for the movie was done by a team that included Conrad Dueck (Swordfish, The Core), Michael Shand (Catwoman, Paycheck), Scott Purdy (88 Minutes, The Wicker Man), and Tyler Hawes (Superman Returns).
The cast of Silent Night includes Malcolm McDowell (Suing The Devil, Caligula, A Clockwork Orange, Class of 1999), Jaime King (Sin City, The Spirit), Ellen Wong (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), and Donal Logue (Gotham, Terriers, Reindeer Games).
The plot of Silent Night is summarized on IMDb as follows:
The police force of a remote Midwestern town search for a killer Santa Claus who is picking off citizens on Christmas Eve.
In spite of the title of the movie, Silent Night is far less inspired by the original Silent Night, Deadly Night than you might expect: the similarities essentially end with the common appearance of a killer dressed as Santa. The plot is more derived from the real life 2008 Covina massacre, in which a number of attendees at a Christmas party were murdered by a man dressed as Santa in a combined shooting and arson.
Silent Night received a very limited theatrical release, which didn’t reach a particularly wide audience. Those that did see it gave it a mixed reception: the film currently holds a 5.2 user rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 64% from critics and 33% from audiences.
The biggest criticism I have of Silent Night is that it didn’t need to masquerade as a remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night: it really should have staked its claim as something entirely new, with the sole commonality of a killer Santa.
The tone of the movie does have some significant issues, however. For the most part, Silent Night is a straight horror movie, though it borrows a number of elements from cop thrillers as well. The problem comes with the insertion of some inconsistent moments of humor in the screenplay, which aren’t enough to push the movie as a whole into horror-comedy territory, but are enough to not be negligible.
Overall, this is a totally watchable horror movie, though I might call it unremarkable. There are some amusing performances scattered throughout that keep it entertaining, and the gore effects are everything that you could want from this sort of movie. I wouldn’t recommend it strongly, but there are certainly worse ways to spend your time than watching this flick
Today’s flick is a cult classic about a heroin-dealing killer from outer space: Dark Angel, aka I Come In Peace.
Dark Angel has two credited writers: David Koepp (Snake Eyes, Carlito’s Way, Jurassic Park, Secret Window), who overhauled the screenplay via rewrites, and Jonathan Tydor (Ice Soldiers), who provided the initial speculative script.
The director for the film was Craig Baxley, who also helmed the action flick Action Jackson, and did extensive stunt work on movies like Predator and The Warriors.
The cinematographer on Dark Angel was Mark Irwin, who shot the films Scanners, Videodrome, The Dead Zone, Class of 1999, The Fly, Showdown In Little Tokyo, Steel, Scream, Kingpin, and Vampire In Brooklyn.
The music for Dark Angel was provided by Jan Hammer, who scored the documentary Cocaine Cowboys, the Hulk Hogan flick The Secret Agent Club, Beastmaster III, and, most memorably, the television show Miami Vice.
The special effects work for Dark Angel was done by Jay Bartus (Action Jackson, Die Hard), Greg Curtis (Catwoman, North, Jaws 3-D), James McCormick (The Faculty), James Mize (RoboCop 2), Peter Olexiewicz (The Cell, Batman & Robin), Scott Prescott (Friday the 13th Part VII), Jor Van Kline (Demon Island, Waterworld), and Bruno Van Zeebroeck (Double Team, Class of 1999, Xanadu, Jaws 3-D).
The cast of Dark Angel includes Dolph Lundgren (Fat Slags, Masters of the Universe, Rocky IV, Johnny Mnemonic, The Punisher), Brian Benben (Dream On, Private Practice), Betsy Brantley (Deep Impact, Shock Treatment), Matthias Hues (Kickboxer 2), and Jim Haynie (Sleepwalkers).
The plot of Dark Angel is summarized on IMDb as follows:
Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren) is a Houston vice cop who’s forgotten the rule book. His self-appointed mission is to stop the drugs trade and the number one supplier Victor Manning. Whilst involved in an undercover operation to entrap Victor Manning, his partner gets killed, and a sinister newcomer enters the scene… Along with F.B.I. agent Lawrence Smith, the two investigate a spate of mysterious deaths; normal non-junkies dying of massive heroin overdoses and bearing the same horrific puncture marks on the forehead. This, coupled with Caine’s own evidence, indicates an alien force is present on the streets of Houston, killing and gathering stocks of a rare drug found only in the brain… Caine is used to fighting the toughest of criminals, but up to now they’ve all been human…
This movie is primarily known by two different titles: Dark Angel, which was the initial release title internationally, and I Come In Peace, which was used in the United States. However, the original title for the screenplay was Lethal Contact, which stuck with it during the 6 years before it got produced.
Dark Angel bears some interesting similarities to the plot of Predator 2, at least in broad strokes. Basically, they both star a hardened urban cop doing what is essentially standard police work, but with the twist of having to deal with an alien culprit behind it all.
Dark Angel was set and shot on location in the unlikely locale of Houston, Texas, meaning that Dolph Lundgren portrays not only an American cop, but a Texas cop.
David Koepp used a pseudonym for his writing credit on Dark Angel, and is listed in the credits as Leonard Maas, Jr..
The budget for the film was somewhere in the ballpark between $5-7 million, and grossed just under $4.4 million in its lifetime theatrical release. This made it a commercial loss, though it has gained some cult acclaim in recent years that has justified a blu-ray release. However, at the time, critics and audiences weren’t particularly thrilled with what many saw as nothing more than a Terminator ripoff. Currently, it holds a 6.0 on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 13% from critics and 45% from audiences.
Matthias Hues, who plays the primary antagonist, is either the weakest or the strongest aspect of the movie, depending on how you look at it. He certainly isn’t a good actor, but he is undoubtedly physically intimidating. He mechanically spits out his handful of lines just like you would imagine a murderous alien would, which is all that was really asked of him. His weapons are also totally over the top, particularly his killer Frisbee/CD, which gets a surprising amount of time on screen given how ridiculous it is.
Dolph Lundgren is once again in top form in Dark Angel, which was just after The Punisher and before Showdown in Little Tokyo. Personally, I think Dark Angel is as good as Lundgren ever got as a lead, given he sunk into direct-to-video fodder before the 1990s was over with. He still has some of the comedic flair that came out in The Punisher, and is clearly more comfortable than he was in Masters of the Universe. Luckily, he doesn’t attempt a Texas accent, because there’s no telling how that might have turned out.
The thing that stands out most about Dark Angel is the weird, weird plot. The idea of combining a drug-based gritty cop movie with a science fiction story is really damn bizarre. For what it is worth, it comes off better than I thought it would, and creates an interesting sort of tone that the field of Terminator knockoffs (like Abraxas) totally miss. It is dark and gritty, but still has moments of being humorous in a way that only a b-movie can pull off. The result is a movie that is fun to go back and watch now, even if it didn’t work for people at the time.
Personally, I recommend this flick to any action or sci-fi movie fans as a deep cut from the late 1980s. It deserves more eyes on it, and I think it is starting to get the love it merits now. If you want to hear more about Dark Angel, check out the podcast episodes on it from We Hate Movies and the Bad Movie Fiends.
Reviews/Trivia of B-Movies, Bad Movies, and Cult Movies.