Film Review: Death Spa (1989)

Also known as: Witch Bitch (alternate title)
Release Date: December 1st, 1989 (Japan)
Directed by: Michael Fischa
Written by: James Bartruff, Mitch Paradise
Music by: Peter D. Kaye
Cast: William Bumiller, Brenda Bakke, Merritt Butrick, Robert Lipton, Karyn Parsons, Ken Foree

Maljack Productions, Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment, 88 Minutes

Review:

Death Spa is a film that feels like it was made five years earlier than it actually was. It feels like something from 1984 and not 1989. I know that’s not a big passage of time and the ’80s are the ’80s but it had a sort of mid-’80s pizzazz to it, which was working its way out of cheap horror films by the time this came out and really, it didn’t hit the U.S. market until 1990.

It also feels like it was made by an Italian director on the cheap. It has the same sort of visual vibe as something by Lamberto Bava. It reminds me of his first two Demons movies in its aesthetic, even though it isn’t as gross as those films. This still has some killer gross out moments though, just nothing as utterly insane as Bava’s Demons pictures.

This is also notable for being the final film of Merritt Butrick, who most people will remember as Capt. Kirk’s son David from Star Trek‘s II and III. Weirdly, he is also named David in this. Additionally, this picture has a very small role for Karyn Parsons, who would be best known as Hillary Banks on the ’90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and as Kid’s girlfriend in Class Act. We also get to see Ken Foree strut his stuff but this is no Dawn of the Dead.

Death Spa isn’t a classic, by any means, but it is strange and bizarre. It has a sort of endearing quality because of its uniqueness.

The threat in the film is this health spa that is haunted by what seems like ghosts living in the club’s high tech system. But then we learn about this dead sister character and she has some sort of witchy powers. I don’t know, it’s a mess and kind of confusing but I don’t watch pictures like this for any sort of coherent anything. Death Spa is really just a total mind fuck.

There are good gory bits like a chick being melted by some sort of acid stuff and a guy whose stomach area starts spraying blood because a workout machine crushes his arms or something. The physics and general anatomy rules that apply in the real world just don’t apply here. It’s very apparent that the filmmakers slept through school, probably flunked out and stole a camera and the keys to a gym to make this picture. The cast was probably just paid in cheap beer and Quaaludes.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: Killer WorkoutChopping Mall and Hide and Go Shriek.

Film Review: Savage Streets (1984)

Release Date: August 31st, 1984 (West Germany)
Directed by: Danny Steinmann
Written by: Danny Steinmann, Norman Yonemoto
Music by: John D’Andrea, Michael Lloyd
Cast: Linda Blair, Linnea Quigley, Robert Dryer, John Vernon

Ginso Investment Corp., Motion Picture Marketing, 93 Minutes, 80 Minutes (cut version)

Review:

“Go fuck an iceberg!” – Principal Underwood

Savage Streets is a film that stars both Linda Blair and Linnea Quigley and it isn’t a horror film. Sure, some horrible things happen and characters are faced with dread and terror but this is more like a “women in prison” movie mixed with an urban violence film.

It’s sort of strange that it has that “women in prison” vibe, as it takes place primarily in a high school and the urban environment around it but there are too many similarities to ignore, the biggest of which is a big brawl in the gym showers. There are nude bodies and fisticuffs like the greatest of “women in prison” pictures.

The story sees this group of rough high school girls go up against this gang of male punk rock assholes. Well, one of the guys is in the gang very reluctantly and he always has reservations about all the horrible stuff the other gang members force him to do. One of which is raping a deaf girl in the school bathroom, the other is when he is present for a pregnant teen getting thrown off of a bridge just before her wedding night. Yeah, this is a hard and gritty film that is more grindhouse than Sixteen Candles.

If you are into unapologetic, hardcore, ’80s action mayhem, then this is a film for you. Linda Blair may deliver some cringe worthy lines but it’s the ’80s and almost all the dialogue in real life was cringe worthy in that decade.

This isn’t a memorable film, even for grindhouse standards. But it does hit its mark in the right way and it is a good time killer on a Sunday afternoon or on a night where you are binge watching a bunch of similar films from this era.

It’s low budget and almost feels like it was directed by an Italian horror master transplanted to Los Angeles for this shoot. The whole sequence where Linda Blair fights the punk gang in their hideout feels like something Lucio Fulci or Lamberto Bava would do.

Savage Streets is worth your time if you are into low brow, ultraviolent, ’80s pictures with a good amount of boobage.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Other ’80s high school urban violence movies: Class of 1984Class of Nuke ‘Em High, etc.

TV Review: The Transformers – Original Miniseries & Seasons 1 & 2 (1984-1986)

Also known as: Transformers: Generation 1, Transformers G1 (informal titles)
Release Date: September 17th, 1984 – January 9th, 1986
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Transformers by Hasbro and Takara Tomy
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Robert J. Walsh
Cast (voices): Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Chris Latta, Michael Bell, Corey Burton, John Stephenson, Jack Angel, Casey Kasem, Scatman Crothers, Charlie Adler

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, AKOM, Claster Television, 65 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Sometimes even the wisest of man or machine can make an error.” – Optimus Prime

*Written in 2015.

The original Transformers television series, simply called The Transformers and now commonly referred to as Transformers G1 (for Generation One) was a sister show to Marvel/SunBow’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

It had the same art style, the same producers and directors and the voice cast of both shows were pretty much identical. It was also obvious to kids at the time but we didn’t care that Starscream and Cobra Commander had the same voice. All we cared about is that this show was just as badass as G.I. Joe.

Also, like G.I. Joe, this animated series was used as a vehicle to sell a tie-in toy line produced by Hasbro. It worked well, as the Transformers characters were some of the best-selling toys of all-time. In fact, after Star Wars, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe and Transformers lines have to be the hottest selling toys of the ’80s for boys.

In regards to the show, there were great multi-part episodes and many stand alone episodes. This was the typical format of male action cartoons of the era. We were treated to great stories, a rich mythos and interesting characters. The show was well executed and was one of the highlights of 1980s pop culture.

It has gone on to spin-off a bunch of other animated series, as well as live-action films (those are atrocious though), video games, comic books and thousands of toys. The franchise, born from this animated series, is still one of the most lucrative of all-time and continues to try and reinvent itself every few years.

In the end though, there has never been an incarnation of Transformers that has been as iconic and near perfect as the original animated series. And while people consider this era, the original miniseries and the first two seasons, which take place before the animated feature film, as the peak in Transformers entertainment, I am one of the weirdos that actually prefers the show after the film.

The reason why I wanted to single out the two halves with different reviews is that the second half, after the movie, is darker and has a slew of new characters and situations. The movie changed everything and it significantly altered the show’s tone. I will review the second half of this series at a later date.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow Transformers and G.I. Joe stuff.

Film Review: Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues (1984)

Also known as: The Barbaric Beast of Boggy Creek, Part II (original title)
Release Date: February 13th, 1984 (Laurel, Mississippi premiere)
Directed by: Charles B. Pierce
Written by: Charles B. Pierce
Music by: Frank McKelvey, Lori McKelvey
Cast: Charles B. Pierce, Cindy Butler, Chuck Pierce Jr., Serene Hedin, Jimmy Clem, James Faubus Griffith

Howco International Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“These river bottoms are truly a sight to behold.” – Professor Brian C. ‘Doc’ Lockart

The first Boggy Creek movie is a boring snoozefest. This one, however, makes the original seem as exciting as a rollercoaster ride through a Transformer’s body. Okay, maybe not that exciting but you get the point.

This motion picture isn’t worth the celluloid that it was burned onto. It is a terrible, abysmal picture that serves no purpose other than to try and recreate the magic of the first movie that came out a dozen years before it.

To be frank, there was no magic the first time. That first film was a movie trying to pass itself off as a documentary and it did have some popularity, for some godawful reason, but it wasn’t a good movie in any way.

This at least doesn’t try to play the “documentary” card. It’s a straight up fictional movie but it is confusing as to what it’s trying to be. It’s like family friendly horror where there isn’t much horror. It’s just a guy in a Sasquatch suit that looks as convincing as the gorilla from Trading Places. There is also a baby Sasquatch in this but I won’t spoil the movie, the movie does that well on its own.

This was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and for good reason. It deserved to be riffed. It’s actually the perfect movie for the MST3K treatment and provided a lot of bad material to make that episode of the classic comedy show one of its best from its tenth season.

I’ll make no bones about it, this is going into the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 2 Stool: Sausage-shaped but lumpy.”

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: The Legend of Boggy CreekThe Legacy of Boggy Creek and Cry Wilderness. They’re all bad movies though.

Film Review: Ghosthouse (1988)

Also known as: La Casa 3 (original Italian title), Evil Dead 3 (informal Italian title), GhostHouse (alternate English title)
Release Date: January, 1988 (Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Umberto Lenzi
Written by: Sheila Goldberg, Umberto Lenzi, Cinthia McGavin
Music by: Piero Montanari
Cast: Lara Wendel, Greg Scott, Mary Sellers, Donald O’Brien

Filmirage, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Who are you? What do you want? For God’s sake… somebody help me… help… aarghh!” – Jim

This is a terrible, terrible film. However, I still like it because it is too damn bizarre not to appreciate.

It’s directed by Umberto Lenzi, who is no stranger to horror with films like Cannibal FeroxNightmare City, and Eaten Alive! under his belt. Like one would expect from a Lenzi picture, it is a low budget bonanza that features some gore, albeit not as much as some of his other bloody affairs.

As Italian films typically do, this didn’t concern itself with other country’s copyright laws and borrowed heavily from a few successful films. You have the house, which can be said is similar to the house of the House films series. Then you have a clown doll that is blatantly a ripoff of the clown doll from Poltergeist. There are a lot of other little things in the film that are borrowed too and really, there’s nothing about this that comes off as original.

The house interiors look like they were on a closed set with a ton of overhead lighting. This was the best lit haunted house I have ever seen in history. Daytime and nighttime looked the same and it was like walking through a grocery store, that’s how bright it was.

While the house is haunted by what seems like a lot of ghosts at times, the only real monster is the creepy little blonde girl that clutches her clown doll. She and the doll both smile creepy and then bad shit happens. For instance, a girl in a bedroom is attacked by paper Easter decorations, an inflatable Mickey Mouse and feathers violently filling the air.

Granted, there is a cool guillotine death but they never show the girl cut in half, they show a head to the far left and feet to the far right with furniture covering up the middle because god forbid they get creative or spend three bucks cutting holes in a wood floor to create the effect.

The music in this film is initially creepy but man, it wears thin pretty quickly. There are only two songs in this entire picture, the creepy one and then the weird electro-jazzy theme. One or the other are playing constantly throughout this picture. Sometimes you get a break but it only ever seems like its just for the film’s DJ to cue up the other record.

Ghosthouse was ripped to shreds by the RiffTrax guys and deservedly so. It is derivative, strange as hell but surprisingly yet confusingly endearing.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: Other horror films by Lenzi: Cannibal FeroxNightmare City, and Eaten Alive!

Film Review: Adventures In Babysitting (1987)

Also known as: A Night on the Town (Australia)
Release Date: June 19th, 1987 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Written by: David Simkins
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Keith Coogan, Anthony Rapp, Maia Brewton, Penelope Ann Miller, Bradley Whitford, Calvin Levels, George Newbern, Vincent D’Onofrio, Albert Collins (cameo)

Rose Productions, Silver Screen Partners III, Touchstone Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t fuck with the Lords of Hell!” – Gang Leader, “[Chris picks up the knife and shoves it in the gang leader’s face] Don’t fuck with the babysitter!” – Chris

Adventures In Babysitting was one of those movies I watched a heck of a lot as a kid in the ’80s. It was just a cool movie and being that I was around the same age as the youngest kid in the film, who was also a massive Thor fan, it was easy to relate to the characters. Plus, my family are all originally from Chicago and I used to go up there all the time in my youth. I love that city and this really captures it in a very ’80s way, which was also how I first experienced Chicago.

I think the real glue of this picture is Elisabeth Shue. She was perfect as the lead and believable in the situations she found herself in. I guess the studio wanted Molly Ringwald or Valerie Bertinelli but Shue landed the role and I can’t quite see how this movie would work the same way with those other actresses. The character of Chris felt very much like Shue.

The kids in the film were also well cast. You had Keith Coogan and Anthony Rapp, both at the beginning of their careers, and Maia Brewton, who was solid and the most fun and energetic character in the movie. I also love all the bits Penelope Ann Miller did at the bus station, even though she was on her own and separated from the other kids throughout the vast majority of the picture. And even though he’s only in two scenes, Bradley Whitford played his ’80s douchebag role to perfection in this.

The premise sees these kids go into Chicago to pick up Chris’ friend, who has run away from home and is stranded at an inner city bus station. On their way into downtown Chicago, they blow out their tire. They get saved by a nice tow truck driver but then things go absolutely nuts and the kids get mixed up with an auto theft ring ran by some shady dudes. The rest of the film sees them running through Chicago, dodging the gangsters and constantly getting into wild situations. It almost plays like an urban Goonies without treasure. Additionally, the end has the kids racing home to beat the parents in a similar fashion to Ferris Beuller but without the cool musical montage of Ferris running through people’s yards and houses.

This was also the first film directed by Chris Columbus, who had written some very successful films before landing this gig.

Like all ’80s teen films, this is certainly dated. However, it hasn’t lost its charm or any of the excitement. It has held up really well and isn’t just good when seen through nostalgic eyes, it is just a film that works and is still a blast.

Plus, it had a friggin’ awesome movie poster in a time when there were still friggin’ awesome movie posters.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: For an Elisabeth Shue pairing, watch The Karate Kid. For Keith Coogan and a babysitting theme, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. If you want to see more of Bradley Whitford being an ’80s prick, Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise.

Film Review: The Loveless (1981)

Also known as: Breakdwon (Locarno festival title), Black Leather (Sweden), U.S. 17 (working title)
Release Date: August 7th, 1981 (Locarno Film Festival)
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow, Monty Montgomery
Written by: Kathryn Bigelow, Monty Montgomery
Music by: Robert Gordon
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Robert Gordon, Marin Kanter, Danny Rosen, J. Don Ferguson

Pioneer Films, Atlantic Releasing, 85 Minutes

Review:

“You never can tell on a day like this – things could be goin’ jake one minute, then, presto – before you know it, you’re history.” – Vance (narration)

Man, oh, man… what a cool movie.

I can’t believe that I have waited this long to actually watch The Loveless, as it is Willem Dafoe’s first film, as well as the directorial debut of Kathryn Bigelow (alongside Monty Montgomery, who has done some really cool shit as well).

The film is essentially a character study of two people: Vance, a motorcycle riding ex-con, and Telena, a young girl from a very small town who has a horrible, abusive father. Things change for both Vance and Telena when they come in contact with one another and two people who feel like standard archetypes, evolve into very human and complex characters.

I guess what really made this film work is the subtlety of the storytelling. It didn’t need to spell everything out for you. It just played out and the emotions of the characters were pretty clear. Sadly, the film leaves you with an incredibly tragic ending but despite Vance appearing like a real shithead, you felt for him. You also really feel for Telena and her fate is a real punch to the gut.

In its simplest form, this is a movie about an ex-con biker gang that rolls into a small town, pisses off the townsfolk but refuses to budge or put up with their Podunk bullshit.

Dafoe’s Vance is a well layered character who you feel has something of real significance to offer the world but he is a victim of his own flaws that is uncompromising to his detriment.

His gang is mostly made up of actual shitheads but I liked Robert Gordon’s character and it was cool seeing him in this, as he’s a musician I have listened to for quite some time and he actually provided the music for this film.

If you are a fan of rockabilly music and the style, you’ll probably really enjoy this movie. It has a sort of punk edge to it, even though it takes place a few decades before punk rock was even a thing.

You can see where it was inspired by The Wild One, the classic bike film starring Marlon Brando. Yet this still has its own voice and stands strong on its own.

This picture also flows really well with Streets of Fire, where Dafoe plays another rockabilly biker that is a more despicable character than Vance in this film.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The Wild OneStreets of Fire and Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark.