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

Film Review: The Horror of Party Beach (1964)

Also known as: Invasion of the Zombies
Release Date: June 1st, 1964
Directed by: Del Tenney
Written by: Richard Hilliard, Lou Binder, Ronald Gianettino
Music by: Wilford L. Holcombe, Edward Earle Marsh, The Del-Aires
Cast: John Scott, Alice Lyon, Allen Laurel, Marilyn Clarke, The Del-Aires, Charter Oaks M.C.

Regal Films, Dark Sky Films, 20th Century Fox, 78 Minutes

Review:

“The director bravely mixes tedium with un-scariness.” – Mike Nelson, Mystery Science Theater 3000

Beach party movies generally suck donkey balls. This one, however, is worse than that. Although, it isn’t as horrible as Catalina Caper because it at least features a horror element and some goofy monsters.

One thing that does set this apart from other beach party flicks is that it was filmed in black and white and it was shot on the Atlantic Coast. The entire film was shot at Shippan Point, the southernmost neighborhood in Stamford, Connecticut.

The film starts with a boat dumping toxic waste into the ocean near the beach town. The waste covers a sunken ship where it reanimates dead sailors. They don’t become traditional zombies however, due to the aquatic setting. What we end up with is some wonky looking gillmen in some of the worst costumes ever made for film. As can be expected, the zombie gillmen attack the beach party where the victims bleed chocolate syrup.

While this was billed as a musical, it mostly features tunes that are part of the score and six songs sang by the pop band The Bel-Aires. It isn’t a traditional musical, even though it was sold as one.

The film was promoted as being able to scare people to death and theaters were encouraged to get theatergoers to sign a release form saying that the theater wasn’t responsible for people dying from fright. The film was also released on a double bill with another Del Tenney film The Curse of the Living Corpse.

In regards to the monsters, there were two suits made. Once they dried, after construction, the suits had shrank and the stuntman could no longer fit in them. To solve this problem, the producers gave the role of the monster to a sixteen year-old kid.

Despite the charm of the awful monster suits, the movie is damn near unwatchable. It isn’t interesting, the acting is dog shit and it is really just a waste of 78 minutes. Well, unless you watch the riffed version courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Being that this is a shitty motion picture, I feel the need to run it through the trusty and always accurate Cinespiria Shitometer. So here we go. A-ha! Let’s see the results. The Horror of Party Beach is classified as a “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Film Review: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Also known as: Zombi (Italy)
Release Date: September 1st, 1978 (Italy)
Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: George A. Romero
Music by: Goblin, Dario Argento, De Wolfe Music
Cast: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, Gaylen Ross, Tom Savini, Joseph Pilato, John Landis

Laurel Group, United Film Distribution Company, 116 Minutes (Italy), 127 Minutes (US)

Review:

I’m reworking my way through The Living Dead series of films. I’m going through the George A. Romero ones first and will then look at the films involving John A. Russo, as the two split the franchise down different creative paths after they made the original Night of the Living Dead in 1968.

The second Romero film and the most highly regarded of the series is this one, Dawn of the Dead.

This film came out ten years later and was a co-production between the United States and Italy, as Romero teamed up with Italian horror and giallo maestro Dario Argento. Argento edited the film for Italian audiences, who would see it first, and also brought in Goblin, who worked with him on the music for several of his pictures, most notably Suspiria, which came out a year before this.

In Italy, the film was released as Zombi and it would spawn a series of unofficial sequels, the most famous being Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2. That was released in the States, oddly enough, as Zombie.

To start, Dawn of the Dead is a damn good zombie picture. However, I am in the minority here, as I don’t consider it to be the best of the Romero Living Dead mythos. I actually prefer the other two of the original trilogy and especially consider Day of the Dead to be the best. But I’ll get into why, when I review that one.

Dawn of the Dead is still pretty stellar and it does show the world in a much broader sense than the original. The thing I really liked is that the zombies are everywhere but society hasn’t fully crumbled at the start of the film. Things fall apart over the course of the story, as we learn through television and radio broadcasts until things from the outside world go silent.

In this chapter, two SWAT team members, a helicopter pilot and his girlfriend land on top of a mall. They decide to live there, as it has power and it has all the things they will need to survive and then some.

The bulk of the story deals with the men cleaning out the zombies and securing the mall. They take out the living dead and fortify the entrances by moving semis in front of them. Eventually, things go south when a biker gang shows up, trashes the mall and bring the outside zombies swarming in. This isn’t just a movie where our heroes fight zombies, they also have to deal with a biker gang who want to take their home but ultimately ruin it for everyone.

This is the first film, that I know of, that shows humans having to defend themselves from other humans in a zombie scenario. This was the prototype of almost every zombie story after it. Hell, The Walking Dead is, at this point, a seven season television series based on this concept.

Dawn of the Dead is one of the best zombie movies ever made. To many, it is the best. The trilogy of films it is a part of are responsible for creating the genre and its tropes. It is also interesting, when compared to modern zombie entertainment, as the zombies are still fresh and newly created and therefore, aren’t just ragged flesh hanging off of bones.

Film Review: Escape 2000 (1983)

Also known as: Escape From the Bronx, Bronx Warriors 2 (UK)
Release Date: August 15th, 1983 (Italy)
Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari
Written by: Enzo G. Castellari, Tito Carpi
Music by: Francesco de Masi
Cast: Mark Gregory, Henry Silva, Valeria D’Obici, Timothy Brent

New Line Cinema, 82 Minutes

Review:

This film is a sequel to 1990: Bronx Warriors but I saw this one first and never realized that there was a movie before it. Initially, I saw this in the 1990s on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Compared to its predecessor, this film is pretty bad. While 1990: Bronx Warriors wasn’t a masterpiece in any way, it had more character, more charm and Fred F’n Williamson! Escape 2000 just has the kid that played Trash in the first movie. He returns to be the top star of this one.

Again, Italy is a stand-in for the Bronx and it is obvious that we aren’t looking at one of the boroughs of New York City. At least in the previous movie, this was hidden a bit better.

The acting is not good, the action is a bit chintzy and the overall cinematography is dirty and ugly.

The first film had all these colorful gangs, similar to those in Walter Hill’s The Warriors. In this, we get government thugs in silver jumpsuits that drive ice cream trucks. It is a huge step down from a creativity standpoint.

Escape 2000 is like a poor ripoff of 1990: Bronx Warriors, which itself was a ripoff of The Warriors and Escape From New York. The further down the ripoff rabbit hole you go, the worse the quality gets. It’s like copying an old VHS tape over and over again; each generation loses its quality. While this doesn’t make for a good film, it does make for a good episode of MST3K.

And does it deserve to be put through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Oh, yes! Let’s see here… the results read, “Type 2 Stool: Sausage-shaped but lumpy.”