Film Review: Invaders From Mars (1986)

Release Date: June 6th, 1986
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Dan O’Bannon, Don Jakoby, Richard Blake, John Tucker Battle
Music by: Sylvester Levay, Christopher Young, David Storrs
Cast: Karen Black, Hunter Carson, Timothy Bottoms, Laraine Newman, James Karen, Bud Cort, Louise Fletcher, Tony Cox

Cannon Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t worry, son! We Marines have no qualms about killing Martians!” – General Climet Wilson

*written in 2014.

This is one of those films that seems to be forgotten. Granted, it wasn’t a huge success when it came out but it was still directed by Tobe Hooper who is most famous for directed the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

This film is about a boy who sees a big UFO land behind his house. Suddenly, his parents start acting weird, as does almost everyone else. Why? Because evil Martians have implanted some weird device in their necks that controls them.

The effects are hokey and at the same time brilliant. This is a unique looking film and is at times, part campy and part terrifying.

Horror legend Karen Black plays a nice character in this film, as the school nurse who is trying to protect the boy after his parents have become alien slaves. Louise Fletcher, best known for her Oscar-winning performance as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was a good sport in this film and jumped into the insanity and became a stellar addition to this bizarre movie. James Karen, who I loved in The Return of the Living Dead, shows up as the Army general on a mission to wipe out the evil Martians.

Invaders From Mars is pretty much the epitome of a really good 1980s b-movie. It has horror, it has sci-fi and it is just fun as hell with very colorful effects. It’s also quite imaginative.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The original Invaders from Mars, as well as Spaced Invaders.

Film Review: Invasion U.S.A. (1985)

Also known as: Invasion (working title)
Release Date: September 25th, 1985
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Written by: James Bruner, Chuck Norris, Aaron Norris
Music by: Jay Chattaway
Cast: Chuck Norris, Richard Lynch, Melissa Prophet, Billy Drago

Cannon Films, 107 Minutes

Review:

“If you come back in, I’ll hit you with so many rights you’ll be begging for a left.” – Matt Hunter

Cannon Films were synonymous with super violent action films. Invasion U.S.A. may feel like the most Cannon film ever. Well, at least in regards to the amount of bullets and carnage that fills up the screen in its 107 minute running time. But even with Chuck Norris, there isn’t enough to make this film anywhere near as epic as it should be but that’s due to some slower moments, which I’ll discuss below.

The film is similar to Red Dawn, except it stars the ginger martial arts king and not a group of bratty kids trying to avenge their town and wrestle away communist control.

Essentially, the title says it all. America is invaded and since this came out in the ’80s, when Cold War fear was still a thing, we see our city streets being overtaken by communist scum. Well, the film mostly takes place in and around Miami. Norris plays Matt Hunter, a generic badass American action name straight out of the ’80s. Hunter is a denim clad, sleeveless ruffian that lives in the Everglades, drives an airboat and never runs out of ammo or guns to fill with ammo. He’s like a living, breathing cheat code in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

The problem with this movie isn’t the ultraviolence because that shit is the most amazing thing about this picture, the problem is that when there isn’t ultraviolence, the film is a real bore. The action heavy scenes are really awesome to watch but the filler is terrible. I don’t care about these characters enough that I need to see them developed. I know who the evil one is, I know who the hero is, so just give them guns and let them shoot at each other until Miami is Swiss cheese. What’s with all the talking and driving around making tough guy faces? Grab a gun, stick a grenade up a dude’s ass and kill everything that moves.

Why this needs a running time longer than 80 minutes is beyond my level of comprehension. I guess Chuck Norris contributed to the writing and wanted to add some plot to this thing but Mr. Norris needs to stick to filling communists with bullets and sharp objects and leave the writing to more capable people who don’t care about their characters and just want to murder them as violently as possible for their art.

Still, the action and ultraviolence makes this a damn fun time. But that’s all this is, a quick watch with a lot of cool manly shit where you should probably fast-forward through those pointless talkie bits.

On a side note, I just picked up this film’s soundtrack on vinyl in pretty pristine condition.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Any film where America is invaded by commie scum and the Reds still get their ass kicked.

Film Review: New Year’s Evil (1980)

Release Date: December 26th, 1980
Directed by: Emmett Alston
Written by: Leonard Neubauer, Emmett Alston
Music by: Laurin Rinder, W. Michael Lewis
Cast: Roz Kelly, Kip Niven, Grant Cramer, Chris Wallace

Golan-Globus Productions, Cannon Films, 90 Minutes

Review:

“I’m a man of God, not a man of violence!” [stabs biker] – Richard Sullivan

For New Year’s Eve, I decided to have a New Year’s themed slasher double bill in the theater that is my home. Some friends and I watched this, as well as another 1980 slasher movie that also takes place on this holiday, Terror Train.

New Year’s Evil is a fairly entertaining slasher flick but it is hardly a classic and fails in certain areas.

One problem I have with the film is that there isn’t a lot of mystery as to who the killer is. It is pretty obvious that the men in the main character’s life are responsible. You immediately know that her son is a total freak with mommy issues and he even mentions that he is going to call his father when he’s upset over how his mother has blown him off while she is preparing for a big night.

As slashers go, the killings aren’t that great and really, the slasher himself isn’t great either. There isn’t a lot of imagination here, just slashing and some occasional boobies. Granted, this film came out very early in the slasher genre’s height in popularity and some tropes weren’t as established as they would be in the years that followed.

I do like this film for its ’80s MTV type feel. The music is cool, the party looks great and there is a good level of ’80s cheese, as this was a film that really felt like it represented a cultural shift between the punk rock ’70s and the new wave ’80s.

This is a good movie to kill some time with, especially for a slasher aficionado that hasn’t yet seen it. It’s a bit underwhelming and a bit too drab for something that looks so lively and colorful on its surface. Still, it’s not a complete waste of time.

Film Review: American Samurai (1992)

Release Date: December 22nd, 1992 (Germany)
Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Written by: John Corcoran
Music by: Craig Stuart Garfinkle, Robbie Patton
Cast: David Bradley, Mark Dacascos

Cannon Films, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Why couldn’t we just be brothers?” – Drew Collins

The poster for American Samurai has the tagline “…Bloodsport with blades”. That is an incredibly accurate description. Although, this pales in comparison to the awesome Bloodsport.

However, many fans of Cannon’s various ninja films see Sam Firstenberg as the premier 80s ninja genre director. Also, Firstenberg left the American Ninja series after part 2 and fans never got to see him work with the second star of that series, David Bradley. This film, however, teams these two guys up and gives you a taste of what American Ninja 3 could have been if Firstenberg stayed on to direct the debuting Bradley.

That being said, this is nowhere near as good as the two Firstenberg American Ninja movies or his two films before that, when he was working with Japanese ninja actor Sho Kosugi. This is better than American Ninja 3 and 4, however. But I would put American Ninja 5, slightly ahead of this.

This film brings back John Fujioka, who was Joe Armstrong’s ninja master in the first American Ninja. Also, it is the first major film role for martial arts bad ass Mark Dacascos. The film actually pits Bradley against Dacascos, who plays his jealous foster brother but legitimate son to his father’s samurai legacy. Dacascos wants to prove to his father that he is superior to his adopted son. He leaves his father and foster brother behind, becomes yakuza and forces his brother to eventually fight to the death in the climax of the movie.

American Samurai actually plays like a live-action version of an arcade fighting game from the early 90s. It predates the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat movies but definitely takes its inspiration from those franchises and the Jean-Claude Van Damme movies BloodsportLionheart and Kickboxer.

Filmed in Turkey, you don’t get to see too much of the geography, as most of this takes place indoors and on confined sets. The arena is pretty drab but then so are the fighters that populate it. You didn’t have a cast of cool and unique fighters like you saw in Bloodsport or Lionheart.

American Samurai is entertaining enough if you are into 80s and 90s martial arts pictures. It certainly isn’t exceptional in any way but David Bradley gets to work with a better director and it opened some doors for Mark Dacascos.

Film Review: American Ninja 5 (1993)

Release Date: March 29th, 1993 (Greece)
Directed by: Bobby Jean Leonard
Written by: John Bryant Hedberg, Greg Latter, George Saunders
Music by: Daniel May
Cast: David Bradley, Lee Reyes, Pat Morita, James Lew

Cannon Films, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Whoa!” – Hiro

I am a massive fan of the American Ninja franchise. So it sort of pains me to admit that I actually didn’t even know about this film until it was out for about a decade. There are reasons for this though, so let me explain.

First off, the film does not fit in with the first four movies in the American Ninja series. It is its own separate story and David Bradley plays a completely different character than his more famous Sean Davidson from the two pictures before this one.

Reason being, this was originally developed as a film called American Dragons. Ultimately, instead of piggy backing off of the American Ninja vibe, as Cannon did with American Samurai (also with David Bradley), they just threw up their hands and called this American Ninja 5. Sadly, this could have evolved into its own series had Cannon kept the original title and then didn’t go belly up almost immediately after.

Secondly, this film did not get a theatrical release in the United States, at least that I know of. It came out on video in international markets in 1993 but didn’t actually hit U.S. video store shelves until 1995. And even though I worked in video stores in that era, I never came across it. This may be because of Cannon Films ceasing to exist and their later films lacking real distribution.

This chapter in the series gets an incredibly bad rap. It has a 2.8 on IMDb (that’s out of 10) and no real critics featured on Rotten Tomatoes have even reviewed it or rated it. As a film, all on its own, I think it is better than the two previous American Ninja outings. While the fourth one featured David Bradley and the returning Michael Dudikoff, it completely missed the mark. The third film (and Bradley’s first) was really kind of a dud with really bad fight choreography and lacking a formidable evil ninja.

I think that people dislike this film solely for the reason that it isn’t a part of the universe from the first four movies. I get that. However, as a standalone picture, it is the best ninja movie that Cannon did since American Ninja 2: The Confrontation.

The film features Bradley, who I always think is pretty solid, and adds in Pat Morita (a.k.a. Mr. Miyagi), James Lew and Lee Reyes (the younger brother of Ernie Reyes Jr. and son of Ernie Reyes Sr.). Morita is barely in this movie but it opens up the idea that he could have been bigger going forward, had this turned into its own little series.

The film also looks better than the previous two. It gets out and gets more exotic than just trying to have South Africa and Lesotho stand in geographically for whatever random country the previous three films took place in. This chapter was filmed in Los Angeles, Venezuela and Italy. It was the best looking film since American Ninja 2 and it did a good job utilizing its surroundings.

The action was also better than the other Bradley films and this thing just feels like it is better directed, better acted and better produced.

It still isn’t a good film but it certainly isn’t a horrible one. While the villainous Viper came off as cheesy and hokey, more often than not, his Wolverine-like claw made up for it. I also liked that they got more colorful with the ninjas in this film. We’ve had colorful ninjas throughout the American Ninja series but in this film, they seemed to be utilized more. The film sort of plays like a late 80s/early 90s action video game. It really got me nostalgic and I had to fire up Bad Dudes on my original Nintendo.

I like American Ninja 5. At least, I like it more than 3 and 4. It is hard to top 1 and 2 but this was David Bradley’s best effort. However, like part 4, I was really missing the presence of Steve James. And it would have been cool to have seen Dudikoff thrown back in, even if this wasn’t a real sequel to part 4.

Film Review: American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1991)

Release Date: March 8th, 1991
Directed by: Cedric Sundstrom
Written by: David Geeves
Music by: Nic. tenBroek
Cast: Michael Dudikoff, David Bradley, James Booth, Swayne Alexandre

Cannon Films, 99 Minutes

Review:

“This isn’t a game, Gavin, those were ninja!” – Sean Davidson

The American Ninja franchise lost Michael Dudikoff in part three. However, he returns in this one, even if he doesn’t show up until the middle of the film. What makes this chapter in the series interesting, is that it is the only one to feature both of the “American Ninjas”. Unfortunately, they don’t have a lot of screen time together and this is a pretty shitty movie. Also, this is the first picture in the series to not feature the bad ass and awesome Steve James.

The plot sees some angry white dude team up with Muslim terrorists that happen to have a ninja army because every baddie in this series, regardless of cultural ties, has ownership of a ninja horde. I don’t even remember what the baddies’ plot was and I just watched this and have seen it a bunch of times.

Anyway, Sean (Bradley) really wants to get help from Joe (Dudikoff) but he’s off being a pacifist with the Peace Corps. Eventually, Sean gets captured and at the exact moment where he is about to be burned alive, Joe walks onto the set and tears up ninja ass. Suddenly, you’ve got two “American Ninjas” kicking the bejesus out of anything that breathes.

The action is actually a step up from the atrocity that was the fight choreography in the third film but it still pretty much sucks here and it made me feel bad for Dudikoff, who got to do some really cool shit in the first two movies in the franchise.

This picture is also a weird hybrid of a ninja movie and a bad Mad Max ripoff. The good guy gang that storms the fortress to battle the ninjas looks like a 1980s post-apocalyptic Halloween parade. But if you ever wanted to see a post-apocalyptic desert gang battle a ninja horde, this is your movie. I can’t recall this happening anywhere else, ever.

As much as I love this franchise, this movie sucks tremendously. It also doesn’t help that the music is absolutely friggin’ awful. I’ve heard better sounds come out of a speaker covered in dog shit emitting white noise.

American Ninja 4: The Annihilation gets its title from what it does to our spirits. It annihilates the souls of those who loved these movies before this one. It then swallows them up, waits a few hours and then pisses them back into our faces.

I really hate doing this, based off of the quality of the first two pictures in this series, but American Ninja 4 must be put through the Cinespiria Shitometer. That being said, the results read that this is a “Type 5 Stool: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).”

Film Review: Bloodsport (1988)

Release Date: February 26th, 1988
Directed by: Newt Arnold
Written by: Christopher Cosby, Mel Friedman, Sheldon Lettich
Music by: Paul Hertzog
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb, Leah Ayres, Norman Burton, Forest Whitaker, Bolo Yeung

Cannon Film Distributors, 92 Minutes

Review:

“You break my record, now I break you, like I break your friend.” – Chong Li

After making notable and entertaining appearances in No Retreat, No Surrender and Black Eagle, it was a no brainer to give Jean-Claude Van Damme his own starring vehicle. It was also a good fit, putting him into a loose biopic about the life of martial artist Frank Dux. Granted, this just covers the first Kumite tournament that Dux fought in. However, it’s a more compelling story than what was typical of the late 80s martial arts genre.

In reality, Dux’s claims about his fighting history have been disputed and proven to be false. Regardless, the tale evolved into this movie.

This film was also the first time that Van Damme and Bolo Yeung appeared together. They would also duke it out in Double Impact and have talked about making a sequel to that film.

Alongside Van Damme and Yeung is Donald Gibb, who is probably most known for playing Ogre in three of the four Revenge of the Nerds movies. Norman Burton and a young Forest Whitaker play the men sent to Hong Kong to bring in the AWOL Frank Dux.

In Bloodsport, we follow Dux as he leaves the Army and heads to Hong Kong to fight in the secret underground fighting tournament Kumite. He breaks fighting legend Chong Li’s (Yeung) “world record” and thus, paints a target on his back. Li, who is infamous for murdering his opponents, sends a message to Dux when he severely injures his friend Jackson (Gibb). Dux, while evading the military men sent to retrieve him, must step back into the Kumite ring and avenge his friend against the psychotic Chong Li.

Bloodsport is interesting in that it puts a lot of focus on the tournament itself and the fighters in it. It showcases the varying martial arts styles from different regions of the world and when I saw this as a kid, it was the closest thing we had to a live action version of a tournament fighting game. It was like Street Fighter II coming alive on the screen. Well, until Jean-Claude Van Damme made that Street Fighter movie that is nowhere near as awesome as Bloodsport.

The film has solid action but unfortunately, it takes a half hour or so to get to it. Cannon Films usually kicked off their movies with a big early action sequence. Bloodsport differs from that formula but the action it contains makes up for that lack of instant gratification.

Bloodsport is also one of the best films Cannon ever produced. It is also, still to this day, one of Van Damme’s best pictures. This, alongside Kickboxer, are the two movies I use as the measuring stick for Van Damme’s filmography.