Film Review: House Party (1990)

Release Date: March 9th, 1990
Directed by: Reginald Hudlin
Written by: Reginald Hudlin
Music by: Lenny White, Marcus Miller
Cast: Kid ‘n Play (Christopher “Kid” Reid, Christopher “Play” Martin), Full Force (“Paul Anthony” George, Lucien “Bowlegged Lou” George Jr., Brian “B-Fine” George), Robin Harris, Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, A.J. Johnson, Groove B. Chill (Gene “Groove” Allen, Daryl “Chill” Mitchell), Kelly Jo Minter, John Witherspoon, Clifton Powell, George Clinton

New Line Cinema, 100 Minutes

Review:

I loved this film the moment I saw it for the first time when it debuted on premium cable, a year after it hit theaters. I had already been a Kid ‘n Play fan at that point but this immortalized them as cool, as far as I was concerned at twelve years-old.

House Party benefits from having an all-star cast before these actors were really all-star players.

Robin Harris is probably the biggest name and he was well-known for his stand-up comedy but he really had some great moments in this that brought him to a higher level. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after this film came out and didn’t get to reap whatever benefits would have came from the success this film had.

House Party also features Martin Lawrence, just on the cusp of his superstardom, as well as John Witherspoon, Tisha Campbell, Clifton Powell, Kelly Jo Minter and musicians George Clinton, Full Force and Groove B. Chill.

The picture was originally intended to be a vehicle for DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (Jeff Townes and Will Smith) but Kid ‘n Play got the project. This could have been due to Smith’s big sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air creating a conflict.

With high school teen sex comedies being all the rage in the 1980s, House Party follows suit but gives us a film from the African-American perspective. Ultimately, there isn’t much of a difference other than the added hip-hop flair, which by 1990 was a welcome change following a decade of high school comedies scored to new wave pop music.

The film was critically acclaimed. Roger Ebert loved the film stating, “House Party is a light, entertaining teen comedy with an infectious energy.”

House Party is a great movie for its type. It gives something fresh to its genre and helped pave the way for a lot of up and coming talent. Additionally, it opened doors for black filmmakers, who would really make an impact on cinema throughout the 1990s. House Party was an African-American comedy that really went mainstream and helped in creating a shift in American entertainment, at the time.

Film Review: Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. (1990)

Release Date: 1990
Directed by: Michael Herz, Lloyd Kaufman
Written by: Lloyd Kaufman, Andrew Osborne, Jeffery W. Sass
Music by: Bill Mithoff
Cast: Rick Gianasi, Susan Byun, Bill Weeden

Troma Entertainment, 105 Minutes

Review:

Having recently watched and reviewed several old Troma films (some of those to be posted soon), I figured I’d also revisit the single film of one of my favorite Troma characters, Sgt. Kabukiman.

This is probably my third favorite Troma movie, after The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ‘Em High. It’s witty, it’s funny, it’s violent, it’s graphic and it gives a person everything that Troma has become known for. It doesn’t stray from the pack, it just reignites the formula and brings something different to the table.

Yes, this film is bizarre as hell and it is extremely low budget but like The Toxic Avenger those challenges produced great results. Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz proved once again that they can be masters of no-budget film and that they are inventive and ingenious when it comes to the right sort of project.

I kind of wish that this had spawned a franchise ala The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ‘Em High but it never really did. Maybe Troma will make a proper follow-up at some point or maybe we’ll get another team-up movie with Toxie like what they did with the Citizen Toxie film.

Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. is Troma at its best and if those films are your cup of tea, this movie will probably be your thing.

Film Review: Killing American Style (1990)

Release Date: 1990
Directed by: Amir Shervan
Written by: Amir Shervan
Music by: Alan DerMarderosian
Cast: Jim Brown, Robert Z’Dar, Harold Diamond, Joselito Rescober, John Lynch, Veronica Paul, Jimmy Williams

Rex Films, Cinema Epoch, 90 Minutes

Review:

After having revisited Samurai Cop and seeing its sequel Samurai Cop 2, as well as recently revisiting Miami Connection and a lot of Cannon Films’ action pictures, I wanted to keep that vibe alive. So I figured I would check out one of Amir Shervan’s (director of the first Samurai Cop) other pictures.

Considering that Killing American Style featured both Robert Z’Dar and Jim Brown had me interesting in watching this movie first. It also features Joselito Rescober (the gay waiter in Samurai Cop) in a much larger role as a Japanese doctor. The film also stars Harold Diamond, who I guess was a regular in Shervan’s bizarre yet fun pictures.

Let me start by saying that this film is no Samurai Cop. That being said, I still loved it for a variety of reasons.

The first reason is Robert Z’Dar. I love him in just about everything but never has he been this great. He was damn committed to the role of Tony Stone and he sold it hard. Maybe too hard but he knew what kind of film this was and it called for some over the top insanity. Z’Dar delivered in every conceivable way and this may be his magnum opus. It is refreshing seeing him really come alive and push the envelope, especially as his character here is the complete opposite of his most famous role, the title character in the Maniac Cop film series. He isn’t a silent hulking giant any longer. Here, he is a loud and brash criminal douchebag.

Another thing I love about this is seeing Joselito Rescober be more than a funny bit character with a cameo. While he isn’t as funny as the waiter in Samurai Cop he is still enjoyable as Dr. Fuji and he had some good moments.

I also really liked Harold Diamond. He was a good hero for this sort of film and even though he is immobilized, for a brief stint in the movie, he isn’t some pussy even with his family’s lives in danger. He never stops trying to defeat his home invaders. His son is also awesomely hilarious.

The rest of the cast between the family members living in the house and the criminals who invaded their home, are all pretty good. Yes, this is a poorly acted ham and cheese festival but all of these people nail their roles in just the right way.

While this isn’t as great as Samurai Cop and certainly doesn’t have its cult following, it exists in the same vein as that film. It is another superb outing from Amir Shervan but his movies aren’t for everyone. You have to be a big fan of over the top, mostly insane, cheesy yet testosterone-filled 80s action flicks.

In fact, it is great that these movies remained mostly undiscovered until now. It is like reliving the feeling of seeing something like this for the first time back when I was a kid bin-diving in mom and pop video stores in the 80s and 90s.

Film Review: Maniac Cop 2 (1990)

Release Date: July 18th, 1990 (France)
Directed by: William Lustig
Written by: Larry Cohen
Music by: Jay Chattaway
Cast: Robert Z’Dar, Robert Davi, Claudia Christian, Michael Lerner, Laurene Landon, Bruce Campbell, Clarence Williams III, Leo Rossi, Danny Trejo, Sam Raimi

Fadd Enterprises, Medusa Pictures, The Movie House Sales Company, Overseas FilmGroup, Live Home Video, 88 Minutes

Review:

There is a belief that sequels are never as good as the original. Well, Maniac Cop 2 bucks that trend, as it is better than its great predecessor. While the IMDb rating doesn’t reflect that, most people don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, which is why Avatar is the highest grossing movie of all-time.

We’re missing the gravitas of the first in regards to it boasting the acting talents of Tom Atkins and Richard Roundtree. Bruce Campbell comes back, at least, even if it is in a limited capacity. However, we do get Robert Davi and that’s a big plus. Clarence Williams III and Danny Trejo also have small roles in this.

This chapter in the trilogy sees the Maniac Cop return, as he didn’t die in the finale of the first film. His first order of business is to tie up the loose ends from the previous movie, which in a horror picture translates to “kill those damn survivors!”

We also learn more about the situation that sent our title character to prison in the first place. He was a good cop that went to the extreme, at times, but he was set up in a government conspiracy and made to take the fall. All this comes out in this movie and Robert Davi is on a mission to clear the Maniac Cop’s name and hopefully give him peace: ending his spree of violence.

The action in this film is a lot heavier and so much better than the first one. There are a lot of good vehicle sequences and then the big battle between the Maniac Cop and an entire police station is absolutely fantastic. Then there is the finale where he storms the prison, catches on fire and angrily stalks and murders the criminals who initially killed him behind bars, all while he is still on fire!

Maniac Cop 2 is a solid film. It is low budget horror at its finest but it is a film that has so much more than that. It also surpasses the first movie in bad ass intensity. Robert Z’Dar was so good as the monster and this is the monster at his best.

Film Review: Soultaker (1990)

Release Date: October 26th, 1990
Directed by: Michael Rissi
Written by: Vivian Schilling, Eric Parkinson
Music by: Jon McCallum
Cast: Joe Estevez, Vivian Schilling, Gregg Thomsen, Chuck Williams, Robert Z’Dar, David “Shark” Fralick, Jean Reiner

AIP Home Video, 94 Minutes

soultakerReview:

There is an old saying that goes something like, “If you see Joe Estevez as the top billed star, you’re in for an awful time.” Okay, maybe I just made that up but I have yet to see the least known acting member of the Estevez/Sheen family bring any sort of talent to the screen. But then Robert Z’Dar is in this wearing a wig that makes him look like a freakish Poison groupie, so that balances things out a bit.

Soultaker is a strange vanity project for Vivian Schilling. She wrote the film for herself to star in. Too bad she only gets second billing behind Estevez. That’s probably due to the fact that he has the charisma of baked potato while Schilling has the charisma of a shoe.

From what I’ve read, Schilling stays fairly busy as a novelist and screenwriter. Based off of her writing in Soultaker, however, I’d be really skeptical of her other work. That doesn’t mean she hasn’t found her footing, as many people in film start on awful projects.

Soultaker sees Joe Estevez play a grim reaper type of character. Robert Z’Dar plays his boss, the Angel of Death. Estevez is sent to collect the souls of some teenagers who get into a horrible accident. The teens escape the clutches of the reaper and while half of them eventually get caught, the two main characters are on the run in an effort to resurrect themselves in a race against time. The reaper is also in a race against time for some mystical reason that is never really quite clear. If I was a grim reaper, I’d toy with my prey for months like a house cat after crippling a lizard.

The acting is crap, the special effects are crap, the music is crap and the story is crap and nonsensical almost every step of the way.

The only really positive thing about this film is that it is featured as the season ten premier of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It is one of the best episodes, as Joel and TV’s Frank return in cameos and we get to see Joel and Mike together on the Satellite of Love.

Film Review: Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)

Release Date: January 12th, 1990
Directed by: Jeff Burr
Written by: David J. Schow
Music by: Jim Manzie, Pat Regan
Cast: Kate Hodge, Viggo Mortensen, William Butler, Ken Foree, Joe Unger, Tom Everett, Toni Hudson, Miriam Byrd Nethery, R.A. Mihailoff

New Line Cinema, 81 Minutes

leatherface_tcm_iiiReview:

This film series just doesn’t hold a candle to A Nightmare On Elm StreetFriday the 13th or Halloween. Already, by the third movie, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise was dead in the water – unlike that magical waterproof and buoyant chainsaw at the end of this film. But if there’s something positive to be said, the film series does get even worse after this.

There really isn’t anything in this chapter of the series that is worth seeing. Sure, it has Viggo Mortensen and horror icon Ken Foree in it but they are also in much better pictures.

As far as personality, Leatherface is a completely different character in Leatherface. I guess he was supposed to be New Line Cinema’s take on the character, as they bought the rights to the series from Cannon Films in an effort to milk a new franchise and iconic monster like they had done with five Freddy Krueger movies before this.

The one takeaway from this movie, is how boring it is. How can a film with a crazy cannibal family and a chainsaw-wielding brute be boring? Somehow director Jeff Burr managed the impossible. Then again, he is also synonymous with directing awful horror sequels. I mean, he directed Stepfather IIPumpkinhead II: Blood Wings, as well as Puppet Master 4 and 5.

Viggo Mortensen and Ken Foree are about the only people with any sort of charisma in Leatherface. The acting is pretty atrocious, all around. The creepy cannibal girl is just bizarre in the worst way, the helpful girl in the woods is pointless and the two main actors weren’t likable. The cannibal family wasn’t even remotely scary, they just seemed like throwaway redneck side characters.

The final battle between Ken Foree and Leahterface is one of the worst fights I’ve seen in a horror movie from this era. I’m not sure how a chainsaw runs and floats in the water with the blade upright. Apparently, no one who worked on this film understands common sense physics.

Leatherface is an awful film. But it was still outdone by its follow-up.

Film Review: The ‘Gremlins’ Series (1984-1990)

The Gremlins film series is proof that America wasn’t ruled by overprotective helicopter parents in the 80s. I’m glad I grew up in that era, as opposed to nowadays when a good old family film like Gremlins would be severely toned down and edited or have to be rated R and thus, not a family film.

I saw it in the theater with my parents. I was five. Yes, I saw people killed by little monsters and a bunch of horror violence but guess what? I loved it because I wasn’t coddled into being a complete wuss.

So let me discuss these films that, by today’s standards, should have destroyed me and turned me into a budding serial killer.

Gremlins (1984):

Release Date: June 8th, 1984
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Chris Columbus
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Polly Holiday, Frances Lee McCain, Dick Miller, Corey Feldman, Keye Luke, Jackie Joseph, Judge Reinhold, Glynn Turman, Jonathan Banks

Amblin Entertainment, Warner Bros., 106 Minutes

gremlinsReview:

The first one is the best one. It is a classic and a “must view” film come Christmas time, even though it oddly came out in the summer months of 1984.

Gremlins is a prefect balance of comedy, horror and holiday cheer. It also is a perfect balance of cuteness and insanity and I’m not talking about the very young Corey Feldman in this picture.

The creature effects are top notch for their time and I would still rather watch these animatronic puppets than CGI any day. And one can’t not be impressed with how many Gremlins they actually put in some of these scenes. In the movie theater segment alone, it looks as if there are dozens of these creatures, all controlled and animated by some off-screen puppeteer.

The story is pretty basic and straightforward but most fairy tales are. But this is a dark and amusing fairy tale. The Gremlins, for being terrifying little monsters are hilarious. They joke around, act crazy and are lethal, even to each other. The fairy tale also has its rules that must be followed. Of course, the rules aren’t followed and that is why we end up with the glorious chaos that is this film.

Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates are perfect as the leads in this film and they had great chemistry, which also worked well in the sequel. In fact, unlike other boys my age, this is the film where I got a huge crush on Phoebe Cates, as opposed to Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Hoyt Axton was entertaining as the father character, a struggling inventor whose gadgets are the butt of several jokes in the films. Judge Reinhold and Dick Miller both show up for a bit as well.

This was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid and it has aged well. It still exudes the magic I found in it as a five year-old in the theater. Yeah, it is cheesy and over the top but it has a grittiness to it that you will never get when this film is eventually remade.

Gremlins is great. It is some of Joe Dante’s best work as a director.

And the soundtrack is fantastically nuts.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990):

Release Date: June 15th, 1990
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Charles S. Haas, Chuck Jones
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith, Carl Stalling
Cast: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller, Jackie Joseph, Christopher Lee, John Glover, Robert J. Prosky, Robert Picardo, Hulk Hogan, Paul Bartel

Amblin Entertainment, Warner Bros., 106 Minutes

gremlins_2Review:

The New Batch is a pretty satisfactory sequel. I feel like they took too much time off between films but it still has a lot of the spirit of the original. It was also cool to see Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates return, as well as Dick Miller.

The film also has Christopher Lee in it, one of my favorite actors ever, as a mad scientist who does zany experiments on animals. His carelessness leads to the Gremlins acquiring some extraordinary abilities and a few bizarre abilities. The inclusion of Christopher Lee’s character ups the ante in this film, making the Gremlins more of a serious threat than they were in the first movie.

Also joining the cast are John Glover, as Daniel Clamp (a parody of Donald Trump in the 80s), Robert Picardo (a regular collaborator with Joe Dante) and Robert Prosky (as a late night horror movie show host dressed like a vampire). All three of these guys give superb performances, especially Glover.

Gremlins 2 isn’t as good of a film as the first but overall, it might be more fun. It is less dark but it is more campy. It has more Gremlin gags as opposed to a straightforward fluid story. The plot exists and there is a beginning and an end but the in-between stuff plays more like sketch comedy with a few plot points added in to keep it somewhat coherent.

This is a very different film than the first, which is refreshing. I probably wouldn’t want a rehash of what was done previously. This film did a great job of being its own thing while continuing the story on from the original.

I had always hoped for a third and final film but that ship has most likely sailed and Joe Dante isn’t the same director anymore.