Film Review: Re-Animator (1985)

Also known as: H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator
Release Date: October 18th, 1985
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Stuart Gordon, William J. Norris, Dennis Paoli
Based on: Herbert West – Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson

Re-Animator Productions, Empire International Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“I must say, Dr. Hill, I’m very disappointed in you. You steal the secret of life and death, and here you are trysting with a bubble-headed coed. You’re not even a second-rate scientist!” – Herbert West

Re-Animator is one of those movies I have to go back and rewatch every couple of years. And every time that I do, I am always surprised by it, even though I’ve seen it multiple times.

Reason being, is that much of this movie, especially the final third is so bizarre and surreal that it still sort of shocks the senses. The last fifteen minutes or so crosses certain lines that still make you feel uncomfortable, regardless of how many times you’ve seen the picture. I don’t want to go into the details of it, because I’d prefer not to spoil this movie for those who have yet to see it.

This is a 1980s modernization of an H.P. Lovecraft story. It is somewhat of a spin on the Frankenstein tale but goes to even darker places than Mary Shelley’s literary masterpiece.

The villain (or hero, depending upon your point of view), Herbert West, is a medical student that has just returned from a stint in Switzerland. He has expanded on the work of a notable doctor and has found a way to reanimate the brains of the deceased and thus, their bodies or what’s left of them. It sort of marries the Frankenstein concept and the zombie genre.

The special effects in this film are pretty well done for the most part but the budgetary limitations are very apparent. For instance, the scene where the zombie cat is on West’s back is pretty silly and plays like slapstick but the film really is a black comedy and this plays that up with its hokiness. However, the majority of the zombie effects are well handled and executed.

The cast is decent but it is Jeffrey Combs, as Herbert West, that steals the show and this was a launching pad for his career. He’s since gone on to be a horror icon and become an accomplished voice actor. He also had some great roles in different Star Trek television series, most notably as various incarnations of the villain Weyoun on Deep Space Nine.

Barbara Crampton holds her own and she had to deal with some seriously bizarre and uncomfortable situations in this movie. Props to her for that.

For many, Re-Animator is a bonafide horror classic. It’s a really good film from its era but I’m not as gung ho of a fan of it as many are. I certainly enjoy it and appreciate it but there are many more films from its time that I would put ahead of it. Still, it is effective and has had a lasting impact. It also spawned a few sequels, which I will review in the near future.

Film Review: Commando (1985)

Release Date: October 4th, 1985
Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Written by: Steven E. de Souza, Jeph Loeb, Matthew Weisman
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Alyssa Milano, Vernon Wells, James Olson, David Patrick Kelly, Bill Duke, Dan Hedaya, Bill Paxton, Drew Snyder

Silver Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 90 Minutes

Review:

“These guys eat too much red meat!” – Cindy

Commando is the quintessential 80s Schwarzenegger flick. This is the standard bearer for any motion picture featuring Arnie, where he isn’t a Terminator or a barbarian. It is straight up action with the right balance of Arnold’s style of comedic delivery. I mean, you could really even make the argument that this is a comedy – not to take away from the fact that it is balls to the wall bad ass.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays John Matrix, a swollen and hard manly man that is a purebred killing machine. However, Matrix loves his daughter, the very young Alyssa Milano – before she was every 80s boy’s crush on the sitcom Who’s the Boss?

Matrix’s home is attacked and his daughter is kidnapped by bad men that have ties to his past. The bad men want Matrix to carry out an assassination. However, Matrix doesn’t take any shit whatsoever and he evades the bad guys and starts picking them off, one by one, in a race against time to save his daughter before the baddies discover that he didn’t carry out his mission.

What we get with this film is a big beefy charming bad ass with great one-liners and an arsenal that would make the Punisher weep in shame. In fact, just about everything in this movie explodes. Even Rae Dawn Chong, his cutesy fish out of water sidekick, gets to fire a rocket launcher a few times.

This movie also has a plethora of great actors. The evil and very homoerotic Bennett is played by Australian heavy Vernon Wells, probably most known as Wez from Mad Max 2 a.k.a. The Road Warrior and a parody of Wez in John Hughes’ Weird Science. You also have Bill Duke, who got to star alongside Schwarzenegger as Mac in Predator. Then there is the always enjoyable David Patrick Kelly, the leader of the bad guys in The Warriors and known for his time on Twin Peaks. The cast also includes Dan Hedaya, a guy who never gets enough props, and a small role by a young Bill Paxton.

Commando has just about everything you want in an 80s action flick without a lot of the stuff you don’t want. It isn’t an artistic masterpiece, per se. That is, unless you consider an intense crescendo of exploding buildings and flying bodies to be fine art: I friggin’ do. If that’s the case, this is true art in a classical sense that rivals the Sistine Chapel. Director Mark L. Lester is Michael-friggin’-angelo and Arnold is Adam reaching out to touch the finger of God.

The film is also only ninety minutes, so a bunch of boring character development and filler doesn’t get in the way of Schwarzenegger waving his peen around like a lasso trying to capture the hearts of 80s action fans.

The plot is simple, that is all you need to blow up an island fortress. Movies today try to get overly complicated and seem to have a guilty conscious about gratuitously shooting bullet holes in everything and everyone. Commando doesn’t have time for that horse shit. It throws its dick on the table and says, “Yeah, let’s fuckin’ rage!”

Commando was the perfect template for all Schwarzenegger movies going forward. Predator took it and added in a bad ass alien killer. The rest of his movies fell a bit short and tried to fill up the running time with annoying things like plot and character development.

If you watch Commando and you don’t have a fun time, we probably can’t be friends. Growing up in the 80s, this is one of the greatest things that ever happened to me that didn’t involve Harrison Ford or ninjas. It is actually a good thing that this didn’t have Harrison Ford or ninjas because it would have literally shattered the Earth’s crust with its intensity and the weight of its gargantuan gravitas.

Film Review: Pulgasari (1985)

Also known as: Bulgasari (alternate English title), Purugasari: Densetsu no daikaiju (Japan), Zombi 34: The Communist Bull-Monster (Pakistan)
Release Date: 1985 (North Korea)
Directed by: Shin Sang-ok, Chong Gon Jo
Written by: Kim Se Ryun
Music by: So Jong Gon
Cast: Chang Son Hui, Ham Gi Sop, Jong-uk Ri, Gwon Ri, Gyong-ae Yu

Korean Film Studio, 95 Minutes

Review:

A lot of people might not know this but North Korea has made some movies. They’ve made several in fact. Although, they don’t typically make it out of the country, let alone to the United States. Pulgasari might be the North Korean film with the most interesting story behind it though.

Famous South Korean director Shin Sang-ok and his wife, actress Choi Eun-hee, were kidnapped in Hong Kong by North Korean officials and brought into the country to make propaganda films for Kim Jong-il, who would later become that country’s infamous dictator.

Refusing, the couple were sent to a North Korean prison until finally caving and agreeing to make the films. They made seven movies together while in captivity. Also, Sang-ok and Eun-hee were separated in their relationship at the time of their abduction but their life in captivity reunited them romantically.

Kim Jong-il, having been a fan of Toho’s Godzilla film series, wanted to make North Korea’s kaiju epic. Thus, Pulgasari was born.

Strangely, considering the relationship between North Korea and Japan, Toho actually helped with the production in regards to special effects and bringing in some of its suit actors. The full grown Pulgasari was played by Kenpachirô Satsuma, who had played Godzilla during the Heisei era of films, as well as some of Godzilla’s foes in the Shōwa period. For the small, infantile Pulgasari, the part was given to Little Man Machan, who played Godzilla’s son Minya during the Shōwa era.

Despite its bizarre and incredible origins, as well as being produced by a country that the rest of the world views as overrun by poverty and depression, Pulgasari is fairly impressive. It is not a good movie, but all things considered, the final product is fairly decent. A lot of that credit should go to the work by Toho’s staff and the direction of Shin Sang-ok.

Pulgasari, the monster, is actually quite cool. He is some sort of reptilian bull that walks around on two legs like most kaiju. While the scenes of him being small are hokey and mostly annoying, once he becomes a giant beast, the tone shifts and the movie actually improves quite a lot.

The adult Pulgasari suit is not up to the level of the Heisei era Godzilla monsters but it would certainly fair well in the Shōwa period films. The small Pulgasari almost looks like a modified Minya suit from the late 60s and very well could be.

The action is much better than one would expect. Some of the big battles are well executed but I have to give credit to Toho’s people and Sang-ok, once again. When Pulgasari starts tearing things up though, it’s entertaining and the film is unique visually, as the focus of the kaiju’s destruction is castles in Korea during the Goryeo Dynasty. The film has a more historical flare than seeing a kaiju smash a modern city. In fact, this film has a lot more in common with Daiei’s Daimajin film series than Toho’s Godzilla pictures.

While Pulgasari is not even close to the quality of the Heisei era kaiju films of its time, it tries really hard and mostly succeeds in spite of its limitations. It is a strange movie but its backstory is even stranger. In fact, that’s a story that should be told on celluloid one day.

Film Review: The ‘Police Academy’ Film Series, Part I – The Mahoney Years (1984-1987)

As a kid, no comedies brought me as much replayable joy as the Police Academy films. Yes, they are cheesy and the humor is crude and low brow with slapstick thrown in but to a kid in the 1980s, that is what I liked. And it may have been the first film where I saw boobs.

Still to this day, I enjoy it. And even though this comedy method is generally used poorly in most modern films, it worked in these movies and for the time they were current.

This series spawned a new movie every spring from 1984 through 1989 and then gave us an unwatchable seventh film in 1994. Up until the end though, this was a great series. I’m not sure how new audiences would take to them today but from 1984 to 1989, the Police Academy franchise was adored by fans even if it was generally panned by critics.

Police Academy (1984):

Release Date: March 23rd, 1984
Directed by: Hugh Wilson
Written by: Neal Israel, Pat Proft, Hugh Wilson
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Kim Cattrall, Bubba Smith, George Gaynes, Donovan Scott, Michael Winslow, Andrew Rubin, David Graf, Bruce Mahler, Marion Ramsey, Brant von Hoffman, Scott Thompson, G.W. Bailey, Leslie Easterbrook, George R. Robertson, Debralee Scott, Doug Lennox, Georgina Spelvin

The Ladd Company, Warner Bros. Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Good speech.” – Carey Mahoney

The first film in the series introduces us to many of the characters we will see over the course of several films. Most importantly, this movie gave the world the comedic talents of Steve Guttenberg. Guttenberg’s Sgt. Carey Mahoney would be the central character of these films over the first four installments.

We also got to meet Michael Winslow’s Larvell Jones, Bubba Smith’s Moses Hightower, David Graf’s Eugene Tackleberry, Leslie Easterbrook’s Sgt. Callahan, Marion Ramsey’s Sgt. Hooks, G.W. Bailey’s Lt. Harris and George Gaynes’ iconic Commandant Eric Lassard. Other major characters would come in other films but these characters lasted over most of the series and each one of them are memorable and lovable in their own way. The Police Academy series is an example of large ensemble comedies done right.

This film in the series had the most overall narrative and is considered by most to be the best film. Later films in the series were full of long-running jokes chaining back to this film, as well as being structured by a series of gags and funny bits that were only lightly threaded together by an actual plot. This one was an adult comedy, full of a large cast of kooky characters – in many ways it was similar in style to Slap Shot, Caddyshack and in some regards, MASH. The great use of this formula in Police Academy also inspired a slew of knock-off films throughout the mid 80s.

The plot is about a bunch of screw ups who join the Police Academy after the mayor declares that anyone can join the academy and be given a fair shot. It concludes with a sequence that sees these screw ups go into the field with minimal training and finding themselves in the middle of a downtown riot.

As stupid and absurd as this film can be, it does create a solid sense of camaraderie among the characters. You care about them, their relationships with one another and the crazy situations they find themselves in. This is why this movie became a hit and why this series lasted for seven pictures. You wanted to see more of these people and their antics.

Police Academy was a huge hit at the time and deservedly so. Each subsequent film dropped of a bit in success but they all still did pretty well through the 80s.

Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985):

Release Date: March 29th, 1985
Directed by: Jerry Paris
Written by: Barry W. Blaustein, David Sheffield
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Bruce Mahler, Colleen Camp, Art Metrano, Marion Ramsey, Howard Hesseman, George Gaynes, Lance Kinsey, George R. Robertson, Tim Kazurinsky, Bobcat Goldthwait, Rich Hall

The Ladd Company, Warner Bros. Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t make me flare my nostrils!” – Zed

The first sequel quickly followed the original film.

In this one, we see our beloved officers take their first job at a precinct ran by Howard Hesseman’s Pete Lassard, younger brother to Commandant Lassard. Also, Lt. Harris is replaced as the main antagonist by Art Metrano’s Lt. Mauser. This creates a lot of debate between Police Academy fans as to who was the better series antagonist: Harris or Mauser. I will say that they are both awesome.

We are also introduced to Lance Kinsey’s Lt. Proctor, who went on to become one of the funniest and most iconic idiots in cinema history. This is also the first of three films featuring Bobcat Goldthwait as Zed and Tim Kazurinsky as Sweetchuck. Zed is the big villain of the film and he is fantastic. He is also Goldthwait’s most recognizable character and plays much better as a goofy bad guy in this film than as a cop in the later ones.

This movie is still a great continuation of the Police Academy series and expands on the characters enough to where you enjoy seeing them growing up and taking on new roles.

Also, the big finale at the abandoned zoo was really cool. It was an awesome location for the gang’s hideout.

Police Academy 3: Back In Training (1986):

Release Date: March 21st, 1986
Directed by: Jerry Paris
Written by: Gene Quintano
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook, Art Metrano, Tim Kazurinsky, Bobcat Goldthwait, George Gaynes, Bruce Mahler, Lance Kinsey, Scott Thompson, Brant von Hoffman, Debralee Scott, Brian Tochi, George R. Robertson, Ed Nelson

Warner Bros. Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Mahoney must think he’s as dumb as we are.” – Captain Proctor

The third film rehashes the formula of the first Police Academy but doesn’t do it as well.

Here we have a new class of cadets joining the academy but now the cadets from the original film are there to train them. It is a passing of the torch to a new generation but the new generation didn’t give us many new characters to sink our teeth into. Zed and Sweetchuck return and become cops in this one but they are the brightest spot by far of the new cast of recruits.

The film is still funny, it employs a lot of the same gags and it ends with a pretty decent water action sequence for a film that is a low budget 80s comedy.

The main plot focuses on two academies going head-to-head in a competition, as the worst of the two is going to be shutdown due to budget cuts. The evil academy is ran by Mauser from the previous film. Mauser and Proctor, when together, are comedy gold.

Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol (1987):

Release Date: April 3rd, 1987
Directed by: Jim Drake
Written by: Gene Quintano
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Steve Guttenberg, Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook, Sharon Stone, Colleen Camp, Tim Kazurinsky, Bobcat Goldthwait, George Gaynes, G.W. Bailey, Lance Kinsey, George R. Robertson, Brian Tochi, Scott Thompson, Billie Bird, David Spade, Brian Backer, Tab Thacker, Corinne Bohrer, Tony Hawk

Warner Bros. Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t touch those! Don’t you ever touch my balls without asking!” – Captain Harris

In an effort to not completely redo the plots of the first and third movie, this film sees Commandant Lassard start a new program that allows citizens to train at the academy with real police officers in an effort to build up a better relationship with the community. Essentially, it is a rehash of the first and third films but the little twist makes it a bit more interesting.

Billie Bird steals the show here as the elderly Mrs. Feldman. She is a tough as nails, take no shit, bad ass old lady that is the perfect compliment to the big gun-toting maniac that is Sgt. Tackleberry.

Sharon Stone is in this film too but you’ll barely notice. You can also enjoy the small roles played by a young David Spade, Brian Backer and a “blink and you’ll miss it” cameo by Tony Hawk.

Also, due to a bad back injury that Art Metrano suffered, Mauser was out of the picture and G.W. Bailey’s Capt. Harris was brought back as the antagonist of the series. Harris and Proctor together were even better than Mauser and Proctor in the two previous films.

The gags are great, the pranks are awesome and this film embodies the spirit of the installments before it. Unfortunately, it is the last film to star Steve Guttenberg and a drop off in quality over the course of the next three films was a result. We also lost Goldthwait and Kazurinsky after this chapter in the series and they were definitely missed.

The highlight of this movie is the big action sequence at the end, which featured biplanes, hot air balloons and a whole lot of mayhem.

Film Review: The Stuff (1985)

Also known as: Larry Cohen’s The Stuff
Release Date: June 14th, 1985
Directed by: Larry Cohen
Written by: Larry Cohen
Music by: Anthony Guefen, Richard Seaman (jingles)
Cast: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Danny Aiello, Rutanya Alda, Patrick Dempsey (uncredited), Mira Sorvino (uncredited)

New World Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“The name’s Mo Rutherford. They call me that ’cause when people give me money, I always want mo’.” – David ‘Mo’ Rutherford

The Stuff was a film that flew under the radar when it came out in 1985. Its theatrical release was very limited. Also, when it was released in New York City, a hurricane hit on that day and newspapers weren’t able to be delivered. Apparently, as the director Larry Cohen claims, the film had good reviews that never made it into the audience’s hands. In 2017, the film does hold a 70 percent critics’ rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

There was also probably some genre confusion about the film. While it appears to be a horror film in all its marketing material, which it is, the film is also a satirical comedy that pokes fun at the health fads of the 1980s, which saw a huge influx of “diet”-branded foods hit the market that people jumped on like hotcakes covered in crack cocaine.

I never even heard of this film until the early 1990s and I was a kid that spent a great deal of time in video stores, wherever I went. I think that most people discovered this later, as it has since developed a pretty large cult following.

One thing this film has, is pretty brilliant special effects. Different substances were used throughout the movie to represent “The Stuff”, as it moved and attacked people. The scene with a lake of “The Stuff” was done by superimposing imagery and using animation techniques. It came off great for a film from this era with a very small budget. Also, the rotating bedroom set used in two scenes of the original A Nightmare On Elm Street is used in The Stuff to recreate the same effect but instead of blood crawling up the walls, we get homicidal marshmallow goo.

The effects that were especially cool where when people’s bodies started to rip apart and ooze out “The Stuff”. The scene, at the end, where Garrett Morris’ head starts to tear apart is a fantastic practical effect and still pretty horrifying.

Now the acting is far from commendable but this picture does feature the always great Garrett Morris as well as Danny Aiello and Paul Sorvino. Also, Michael Moriarty’s “Mo” is an entertaining character.

The Stuff is a fun movie and it is hokey in all the right ways. I’d almost like to see a sequel that is sort of the reverse of this that pokes fun at all the anti-GMO hysteria and the religiously pro-organic people.

Film Review: Tomboy (1985)

Release Date: January 25th, 1985
Directed by: Herb Freed
Written by: Ben Zelig
Music by: Michael Lloyd
Cast: Betsy Russell, Jerry DiNome, Kristi Somers, Richard Erdman, Philip Sterling

Crown International Pictures, BCI Eclipse, 91 Minutes

Review:

I always thought Betsy Russell was pretty desirable. Now make her a mechanic and racecar driver and she gets infinitely more desirable. Unfortunately, the film around her is not very desirable.

Tomboy is one of nineteen gazillion 80s teen sex comedy movies. While that’s typically not a sub-genre that is known for Oscar caliber motion pictures there are a few that are true cinematic classics. Tomboy, however, is pretty close to the bottom of the barrel. Although, it is still entertaining and goofy enough to enjoy.

Betsy Russell stars as Tomasina Boyd (Tom… Boy… get it?). She rides dirtbikes, shoots hoops, works on cars and even built her own racecar that looks like the lovechild of a dangerous carnival ride and a 70s lunchbox. Her slutty prissy friend always tries to turn her into a slutty prissy girl. Betsy isn’t having any of that though because she’s a friggin’ tomboy.

This handsome racecar champion shows up in Betsy’s garage one day and all of a sudden, she cares about boys. Her friend even gives her a special perfume that makes vaginas smell pleasant. I’m not making this up, I swear.

Anyway, the whole thing comes to this big crescendo where Betsy has to race against her beau with the winner getting some sort of big-time racing contract. In the end, everyone is happy and richer. We also get to see Betsy’s boobies a few times along the way.

Tomboy is pretty crappy, for the most part, but it’s still fun and full of bizarre characters that go beyond just being 80s cliches. There’s the slutty friend who shoots a commercial wearing powedered donuts on her boobs, there’s the weirdo rich kid who doesn’t know how to relate to anyone except creepy old rich dudes, there’s the dumb hunk, there’s the loser guy who crashes and burns trying to get with the ladies, there’s the… well, if you’ve seen these types of movies, you probably know the drill by now.

The film has less than mediocre acting, art-less cinematography, a cookie cutter lowest common denominator score and a cheesy 80s title song that will make you slip into madness. But at least everyone looks like they’re having fun.

Tomboy is dated. It wasn’t good in 1985 even. However, if you’ve got 90 minutes to kill on a rainy day, throw it on.

Film Review: Pray For Death (1985)

Release Date: August 9th, 1985
Directed by: Gordon Hessler
Written by: James Booth
Music by: Thomas Chase
Cast: Sho Kosugi, Norman Burton, James Booth, Kane Kosugi, Donna Kei Benz, Michael Constantine

Transworld Entertainment, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I’m going to burn your kid like a roman candle.” – Limehouse

After three awesome ninja movies for Cannon Films, quintessential 80s ninja action star Sho Kosugi took his talents to Transworld Entertainment to make Pray For Death. This, more than his other Cannon films, felt like a true spiritual sequel to Revenge of the Ninja, Kosugi’s greatest movie. This is a pretty close second to that film but doesn’t quite measure up to it.

The story actually isn’t even that different from Revenge of the Ninja. In this movie, Kosugi moves his family to America to start a new life away from his ninja past. The family opens their own business, a restaurant. They quickly have a beef with some mobsters. One of Kosugi’s kids (played by his real life kids) is kidnapped. Then his wife and one of his kids is rundown by mobsters in a car. His wife is then murdered in the hospital. Kosugi finally straps on his ninja gear and goes Ginsu City all over Houston, Texas.

While the Texas setting didn’t give us a cowboys versus ninjas scenario like one would hope, it still gave us a sole bad ass ninja against a bunch of evil mobsters. Although, there is that amazing scene where Kosugi literally flips over some hillbilly gangsters in a beat up pickup truck. That should have been nominated for the Brass Balls Stunt of the Year Award in 1985 but I just made that award up and I didn’t have the money to make my own trophies in 1985 because I was six. But maybe I’ll make it and mail it to Kosugi now.

Pray For Death is not the epic ninja masterpiece that Revenge of the Ninja is but it is pretty close. It doesn’t have as much action as Revenge but it is heavier on the drama and family elements of the story. Also, it doesn’t have the insane and lengthy ninja battle that capped off Revenge. Regardless, it is still one of the greatest cut’em up ninja flicks of the 1980s. Plus, any film that makes Kosugi the focal point, benefits greatly. Enter The Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination lacked when compared to Revenge and this film, simply because Kosugi wasn’t the main character and just more of a glorified cameo.

I love Pray For Death. For a film that wasn’t made by Cannon, it certainly feels like it was.