Film Review: Psychomania (1973)

Also known as: The Death Wheelers, The Frog, The Living Dead
Release Date: January 5th, 1973 (West Germany)
Directed by: Don Sharp
Written by: Arnaud d’Usseau, Julian Zimet
Music by: John Cameron
Cast: George Sanders, Beryl Reid, Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Roy Holder, Robert Hardy

Benmar Productions, Scotia-Barber, Scotia International, International Film Distributors, 95 Minutes

Review:

“It’s easy to kill live people.” – Jane Pettibone

When I read the premise of this film, I got massively excited. I had to see it! However, watching it was a massive disappointment.

The premise stated that the film was about a small town biker gang called The Living Dead. They are a wild bunch with skull helmets that like to hangout in cemeteries and obsess over dead stuff. The leader kills himself to actually be reborn as “the living dead”. The rest of his crew follow suit and we get an evil biker gang that is seemingly immortal, indestructible and have super strength.

This film could have been something really cool but in the end, it was mostly a bore without any real frights or scares and it was all just really nonsensical and pointless.

The biker leader is the bratty son of some rich psychic lady with ties to some ancient power or something. The biker brat gets some mysterious frog and they are able to harness its mystical powers so that the young man can become a handsome leather clad zombie biker. In fact, when the biker brat emerges from the grave on his motorcycle, he has no dirt on him and his hair looks like some model’s from a 1970s Short & Sassy shampoo commercial.

The movie suffers from the fact that there isn’t a likable person in it. Everyone is actually kind of deplorable. The one character that is supposed to be the innocent girl about to be victimized by the zombie bikers is actually a member of the gang that just doesn’t have any interest in being undead. Still, she is a part of this gang of nincompoops and the audience shouldn’t really give a shit about her.

Our biker zombies never really become zombies anyway. They just look the same but they can easily murder people with their bare hands and Incredible Hulk grip.

This is a dumb and pointless movie and the music throughout it is horrible. I don’t hate it though; it isn’t total shit. It just sort of exists in a weird limbo. It could have been something interesting but it failed to be good and it failed to be bad. Had it been atrociously bad, it could have been somewhat endearing. It was just a boring dud with no style and not a lot of substance.

TV Review: Kamen Rider Black RX (1988)

Also known as: Masked Rider Black RX
Original Run: October 23rd, 1988 – September 24th, 1989 (Japan)
Created by: Shotaro Ishinomori
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Eiji Kawamura
Cast: Tetsuo Kurata, Jun Koyamaki, Rikiya Koyama

Ishimori Pro, Toei Company, 47 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Kamen Rider Black RX is only the third Kamen Rider series that I have seen in its entirety, after Kamen Rider V3 and Kamen Rider Black. This series is a direct sequel to Kamen Rider Black and features the same hero, although he is defeated early only to be reborn as RX.

This series is very consistent with its predecessor, which was fantastic. However, it actually ups the ante towards the end, as in the last few episodes, all the previous versions of Kamen Rider show up to offer their assistance. It was the first Kamen Rider story to feature all the Riders since the 1984 TV film Birth of the 10th! Kamen Riders All Together!!

Having defeated Gorgom in the previous series, our hero Kohtaro is now a helicopter pilot and lives with the family who owns that business. The new villain group are aliens that call themselves the Crisis Empire. They plan to take over Earth, killing all the humans because humans don’t respect the Earth. It is a simple story line that has been used in tokusatsu (and sci-fi, in general) since the beginning of the genre.

Kohtaro doesn’t just become RX, he also takes on the guise of a few other Riders with specific powers. Bio-Rider, for instance, can shrink down in a similar fashion to Marvel’s Ant-Man. Also, he has his talking motorcycle and a sweet car that looks an awful lot like Frankenstein’s car from Death Race 2000.

The action is solid, the stories are good and this series has some pretty neat looking monsters. Nine television series into this franchise and the minds behind Kamen Rider still prove that they are creative and have some fresh ideas.

The version of the show I have is a bit tough to watch, at times. This was never released commercially in the United States with proper subtitles or dubbing. That is kind of unfortunate, as the show was re-edited into a U.S. show called Masked Rider. This was done in the same way that Super Sentai shows were being re-edited into the Power Rangers franchise. In fact, this show was made to be a spin off of Power Rangers in the U.S.

The reason the version I have is tough to watch is because the DVD set is from Malaysia. Just imagine a Japanese show translated into English by Malaysians. Yeah, a lot of things get lost in translation or are very confusing. Also, character names are not consistent. In fact, RX was called “Superman Black RX” and Rider Man from Kamen Rider V3 was “Black Superman”. The subtitles also constantly warned of Earth being taken over by “queer devildom”, whatever the shit that means. Also, some of the characters had Chinese names instead of Japanese names. But this is what happens when you get DVDs of shows you like from Malaysian sellers on eBay.

Malaysian weirdness aside, it really didn’t ruin the show. Its quality shined through and Kamen Rider Black RX was pretty close to perfect for a tokusatsu show.

Film Review: Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986)

Release Date: December 12th, 1986
Directed by: Richard W. Haines, Michael Herz, Lloyd Kaufman (as Samuel Weil)
Written by: Lloyd Kaufman, Richard W. Haines, Mark Rudnitsky, Stuart Strutin
Music by: Ethan Hurt
Cast: Janelle Brady, Gil Brenton, Robert Prichard, Pat Ryan

Troma Entertainment, 85 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

“But what about the Fellini festival?” – Warren, “Warren – fuck the Fellini festival!” – Chrissy

Class of Nuke ‘Em High is a diamond in the rough from the massive catalog of films made or distributed by Troma Entertainment. Being that Troma’s modus operandi is making really awesome shitty films, this one can be expected to follow suit. Well, it follows suit and then exceeds the distinction that is its birthright.

The Toxic Avenger is considered to be Troma’s masterpiece and the foundation of their bad filmmaking empire. By many of the Troma faithful, Toxie’s first flick is like their bible. In my opinion, Class of Nuke ‘Em High exceeds it.

Here you have a school, next to a nuclear power plant, which leads to 80 minutes or so of insanity. The Honor Society has evolved into a ruthless gang of cretins, called the Cretins, that buy weed from a guy who grows it on the nuclear power plant’s property. This “atomic weed” becomes the catalyst for all the crazy things that happen in this film – leading up to climax where the Cretins take over the school on their motorcycles and a beastly toxic creature brings terror to those still left in the building.

If you want over the top, and I mean severely over the top 80s camp, gore and something so ridiculous it’s just fun, this is a great film to throw on.

Film Review: The Hellcats (1968)

Also known as: Biker Babes
Release Date: May 8th, 1968 (Sweden)
Directed by: Robert F. Slatzer
Written by: Tony Huston, Robert F. Slatzer
Music by: Jerry Roberts
Cast: Ross Hagen, Dee Duffy, Sharyn Kinzie, Del ‘Sonny’ West, Robert F. Slatzer, Tony Lorea, Eric Lidberg, Shannon Summers

Crown International Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“They look as confused by the film as we are.” – Crow T. Robot, Mystery Science Theater 3000

The Hellcats is an exploitation biker flick that came out in the heyday of exploitation biker flicks. While most of these movies are bad, this one’s awfulness is pretty astounding. This was obviously a film made by people who had no business making movies.

To be honest, I’m never really sure what’s happening in this movie half the time. There are biker parties, biker games, biker fights and biker stunts. None of it makes much sense but I guess the highlight is some tough ass biker chicks. But even then, this movie doesn’t, in any way, resemble something one could label as exciting.

I’ve seen uglier pictures but this is still an ugly picture. The camera work and editing are not well done. The direction is nonexistent but maybe they wanted this biker picture to look like pure chaos for authenticity. It’s pretty unauthentic though.

This is a hard flick to watch and it is even harder to sit through this whole thing in one go. Thankfully, it appeared in the second season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the riffing at least makes it enjoyable and much easier to handle.

If you are an MST3K completist, you have to watch this. If you aren’t, don’t bother yourself with this sack of crap.

So let me fire up the Cinespiria Shitometer to see where this ranks amongst all the other awful dreck I’ve watched. Aha! This movie is a “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass)”.

Film Review: Streets of Fire (1984)

Release Date: June 1st, 1984
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: Walter Hill, Larry Gross
Music by: Ry Cooder
Cast: Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan, Willem Dafoe, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, E.G. Daily, Richard Lawson, Bill Paxton, Lee Ving, Stoney Jackson, Robert Townsend, Grand Bush, Mykelti Williamson, Ed Begley Jr., John Dennis Johnston, Lynne Thigpen

Universal Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Well, it looks like I finally found someone who likes to play as rough as I do.” – Raven Shaddock

I have always looked at 1984’s Streets of Fire as a sort of spiritual successor to 1979’s The Warriors. They share the same director, some of the same themes, some of the same acting talent and take place in a vivid and surreal fantasy version of urban America.

While music often times drove the narrative and the action of The Warriors it takes over Streets of Fire and propels this picture forward as a perfect balance between the action and musical genres. Granted, this isn’t a traditional musical, it is mostly a string of live performances setting the tone, as the action flows around it. It is a movie full of energy and it is incredibly kinetic.

The film also has a neo-noir look, which was becoming popular in the 80s thanks to films like Blade Runner and slew of independent movies employing the visual style. While made in the 80s, the picture mostly looks like an homage to the 1950s and the rockabilly scene of that decade. The movie is a hybrid of 1950s and 1980s culture but the 50s were on a comeback in the 80s and this film really embraces that.

Streets of Fire also crosses over into the biker gang genre of film and Willem Dafoe’s Raven Shaddock seems to channel his character Vance from his debut film The Loveless, a biker gang picture that was also Kathryn Bigelow’s directorial debut.

The film also stars Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis and Amy Madigan.

Paré was a good hero and it is unfortunate that he didn’t do a whole lot after this movie. His acting was a bit better than average, at this point in his career, but he had a presence and just epitomized cool. Diane Lane was beautiful and did great with the musical numbers, even if it wasn’t her voice. Rick Moranis was incredibly unlikable but even then, who doesn’t like Moranis? This film was Amy Madigan’s coolest role and second only to her part in Field of Dreams. I wish she would have got more roles like her character McCoy.

There are a lot of cameos by up and coming actors, as well as Walter Hill regulars. We get to see a young Bill Paxton, as well as Ed Begley Jr., Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Lynne Thigpen, Lee Ving of the punk band Fear, as well as small roles played by Stoney Jackson and Robert Townsend, who were members of the band The Sorels.

For the most part, the acting is not exceptional and the script is often times cheesy and bare bones but for this picture, it works. This is exactly what it markets itself as, “A rock & roll fable.”

The film is exciting and fast paced and never has much downtime. Sure, the plot might not be as developed as many would like but this isn’t that sort of movie. It is a roller coaster ride of bad ass tunes and bad ass characters where two manly men duel in a fairly original fashion. Plus, Dafoe’s presence adds so much to the picture, despite his lack of experience when this was made.

Streets of Fire was a true throwback when it came out and it still fits that mold, over thirty years after its release. It doesn’t need to be set in a defined space and time. It is imaginative and well executed and it has gone on to become a cult favorite among film aficionados.

Film Review: Cool as Ice (1991)

Release Date: October 18th, 1991
Directed by: David Kellogg
Written by: David Stenn
Music by: Stanley Clarke
Cast: Vanilla Ice, Kristin Minter, Michael Gross, Deezer D, Naomi Campbell

Universal Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Yeah, whackhead tried to play baseball with my homeboy’s bike!” – Johnny

I remember seeing the trailer for this thing when I was a middle school aged kid sitting in a theater waiting for something better to start. Granted, I don’t remember what that film was but it certainly wasn’t Cool as Ice.

I remember people telling me how shitty this film was. I never had the urge to see it and I was never a fan of Vanilla Ice. I was listening to N.W.A., Ice Cube, Public Enemy and a lot of thrash metal at the time.

Because of my influences, I thought Vanilla Ice was just some cream puff wannabe. Besides, how could he possibly top his performance of “Go, Ninja! Go, Ninja! Go!” in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.

Then I noticed that there was a RiffTrax version of the movie streaming for free for Amazon Prime members. I thought, “What the hell, why not? It’s only an hour and a half and I can listen to those guys riff anything.”

I’m glad that I watched the movie. Is it bad? Oh, yes. It is straight 90s cheese of the worst kind and looking at this thing in 2017 re-familiarizes me with the worst things pop culture had to offer at the time. I’m not knocking Vanilla Ice per se, I am knocking the film in its style, its tone, its dialogue, its acting and its plot.

The story sees a wannabe bad ass with a heart of shit roll into a small town with his homies on their obnoxiously 90s motorcycles. One of the bikes breaks down and Vanilla Ice is stuck in Boringsville, U.S.A. He falls for some preppy brainy white chick and steals her personal notebook because he’s obviously a creep. However, it turns the girl on but not as much as Ice forcing her to dance and then pressing her to the floor as he gyrates on top of her in front of the whole town. Her boyfriend gets angry. Ice and the boyfriend have some fight and creeper Vanilla breaks the guys nose but he’s a douche too so my only concern is that the girl has really shitty taste in fellas. Michael Gross from Family Ties plays the girl’s dad and he’s not a super bad ass like he is in Tremors. In the end, I guess Vanilla Ice is okay though, as he saves the girl’s weirdo little brother from the crooked cops that kidnapped him.

The majority of the film is just there to show how cool Vanilla Ice is. His coolness is quite dated however and one has to question, how was he cool in the first place? I guess by the time that this film came out, it was already too late for Ice, as it was a financial and critical failure. It didn’t even cover a quarter of its small budget during its theatrical run. The director has also since disowned the movie.

Some good came out if it however, as the director of photography Janusz Kamiński would go on to be the cinematographer on Schindler’s ListSaving Private Ryan and Minority Report. And honestly, Cool as Ice had some good visual elements.

Unfortunately, a big bulk of the film was made up of pointless musical montages of Ice riding his motorcycle through the desert or posing like a lazy model on a couch that looked like it was stolen from the Max on Saved by the Bell.

Cool as Ice, however, is strangely entertaining. Obviously not in the way that was intended but there is a quaint cuteness to it. For a film deeply submerged in its own flaws, somehow a bit of heart does come through. Just a bit, though.

Also, the music isn’t horrible. Ice’s songs aren’t very good but the rest of the soundtrack is made up of new jack swing tunes that fit the movie’s era. I’ve always liked new jack swing, so I was cool with the overall use of music in the picture.

I don’t hate Cool as Ice, as many before me do. It’s a bad and strange film but it is a great time capsule for an era that I’m glad to see is several decades behind us now. Not that today’s pop culture is any better, though. Eh… maybe Vanilla Ice wasn’t so bad.

Film Review: Grindhouse (2007)

While I have seen both Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof multiple times, I never got to see the full-length version of Grindhouse until now.

When it came out in 2007, only one theater near me carried it and it wasn’t there very long, so I missed it. Also, the films were released separately, as expanded editions, when they hit store shelves. There wasn’t a full version of Grindhouse available after its theatrical run.

When I subscribed to Starz via my Amazon Fire Stick, I saw that the full version of the movie was available and thus, I could finally rectify this cinematic injustice. I’m really glad that I did because these films actually play much better in this format, as double-billed companion pieces to one another.

Plus, I finally got to see the trailers, as a part of this overall experience, even though I have seen them on YouTube multiple times since 2007.

Robert Rodriguez’s trailer for Machete was a highlight of the film and it was so good that it became its own motion picture and then expanded into a franchise. Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS trailer was interesting enough, as a trailer, but doesn’t seem like something that will work as a full-length feature. The same can be said for Edgar Wright’s Don’t. Now Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving should be made into a full-length slasher film in the same vein as Machete. Roth has hinted at making it and I hope he eventually does.

This film also spawned a contest for fans to make fake trailers in the grindhouse style. This lead to the full-length feature Hobo With A Shotgun, which was a hell of a lot of fun. I need to re-watch it and review it in the near future.

Moving beyond the fake trailers, we have the two big films that make up the bulk of the Grindhouse experience. So let me get into each film and discuss them on their own.

Planet Terror (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Robert Rodriguez
Music by: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Stacy Ferguson, Bruce Willis, Naveen Andrews, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan, Quentin Tarantino, Tom  Savini, Michael Parks

Rodriguez International Pictures, Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Now you’ve got a gal in your wrecked truck with a missing leg? A missing leg that’s now missing?” – Sheriff Hague

Planet Terror has always been my favorite of the two movies in Grindhouse. That still stands, as I love just about everything about it. It may even be my favorite Robert Rodriguez picture but it is a close race between this, From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete and Once Upon A Time In Mexico.

The film is essentially a zombie outbreak movie but it is really gross, even for that genre. People’s faces start bubbling into puss and there is a lot of blood and other strange bodily fluids oozing out of people throughout the movie. There are also lots of severed testicles and a melting penis. It’s a gross movie but it is still well done and it doesn’t overtake the picture making it a mindless gore festival.

Planet Terror has a lot of depth and character development for a movie loaded with a ton of people. Everyone has an interesting story and it is cool seeing it all play out as these people eventually come together in an effort to escape the growing threat of a zombie apocalypse.

It also really fits the old school 1970s exploitation style of horror pictures that populated grindhouse theaters in big cities. The cinematography really captures the right vibe and kudos to the extra graininess and inconsistent look of different shots in the same sequences.

The practical effects also work well in making this film fit the grindhouse mold. Sometimes there is obvious CGI and it is a reminder that this isn’t a true 70s grindhouse picture but it isn’t a distraction and it serves its purpose well enough.

The cast is also phenomenal. I remember that when I first saw this, that I hoped it would open up doors for Freddy Rodriguez. He’s still not anywhere close to being a household name but his character of El Wray should reappear in some way, in some other Rodriguez picture. He’s a guy too cool to just be confined to this one movie.

This is also my favorite thing that Rose McGowan has ever done. Plus you get a very evil Josh Brolin, an enchanting Marley Shelton, a bad ass Michael Biehn, plus Michael Parks, Tom Savini, Bruce Willis, Lost‘s Naveen Andrews and Quentin Tarantino as his most despicable character to date. Jeff Fahey, who is always stellar, really kills it in this movie as J.T. the Texas B-B-Q king. Also, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas has never looked better.

Planet Terror is unique, even for a film in a tired genre. It takes the zombie formula and ups the ante in every way possible. Rodriguez made a fine picture that should be mentioned alongside other great zombie classics.

Death Proof (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: Rachel Levy, Jack Nitzsche, Mary Ramos
Cast: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Zoe Bell, Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Parks, James Parks, Marley Shelton

Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 114 Minutes

Review:

“Because it was a fifty fifty shot on wheter you’d be going left or right. You see we’re both going left. You could have just as easily been going left, too. And if that was the case… It would have been a while before you started getting scared. But since you’re going the other way, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to start getting scared… immediately!” – Stuntman Mike

When I first saw Death Proof, it didn’t resonate with me. I mean, I enjoyed it enough but it just didn’t compare to the work that Quentin Tarantino did before it. I still feel this way but I have more of an appreciation for the film now. Also, seeing it in the Grindhouse format, which is more condensed, serves the film better.

The problem I initially had with the film, and some of Tarantino’s other pictures, is that it is way too talky. Sure, he writes great dialogue but sometimes it can run on for far too long. Death Proof in its longer running time falls victim to this. The condensed Grindhouse version, however, is better balanced.

Another problem with the film, is that many of the characters just aren’t likable. This is especially true for the first group of girls we meet. At least the second group felt more like friends and their conversations came across as more natural and authentic.

Kurt Russell initially knocks it out of the park as the killer driver, Stuntman Mike. However, as the film and his character evolves, he completely loses the cool bad ass shtick and becomes a giant whining weeny. His character transformation isn’t a bad thing, it is just how it is executed that makes it a problem.

The one thing that really makes this a cool picture, however, is the cars and the stunts. Tarantino selected some seriously bad ass automobiles that were homages to films that influenced him. The stunt work and action was amazing and the sequence of the first major accident was shot and executed stupendously.

The problem with the film, being that it is supposed to be a grindhouse throwback, is that it needed more balls-to-the-wall mayhem and less chit chat. The fact that this has a lot more dialogue than Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror but somehow can’t develop characters as well is pretty baffling. Tarantino would just rather focus on cool conversations on subjects that directly interest him than to have any sort of meaningful character development. You just don’t care about these people in the same way you care about those in Planet Terror.

Regardless of my criticisms, I do still like this movie. But to be honest, I still think it is the worst film in Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre. Granted, that doesn’t mean much, as everything he’s done has been fairly great in some way.

In the end, this is still entertaining as hell and who doesn’t love muscle car chaos and kick ass chicks?

Additional directorial credits:

Robert Rodriguez – Machete trailer
Rob Zombie – Werewolf Women of the SS trailer
Edgar Wright – Don’t trailer
Eli Roth – Thanksgiving trailer

Additional acting credits from the fake trailer segments: Danny Trejo, Nicolas Cage, Sherri Moon Zombie, Cheech Marin, Udo Kier, Tom Towles, Sybil Danning, Bill Moseley, Will Arnett, Nick Frost, Jason Issacs, Simon Pegg, Peter Serafinowicz