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:

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:

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:

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:

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: Long Live Your Death (1971)

Also known as: ¡Viva la muerte… tua! (Italy/Spain), Don’t Turn the Other Cheek (US),
Release Date: September 22nd, 1971 (Italy)
Directed by: Duccio Tessari
Written by: Massimo De Rita, Gunter Ebert, Dino Maiuri, Juan de Orduna
Music by: Gianni Ferrio, Ennio Morricone
Cast: Franco Nero, Eli Wallach, Lynn Redgrave

Hercules Associated Entertainment, Juan de Orduña, P.C., Terra-Filmkunst, International Amusements Corporation, 103 Minutes

Review:

Despite my love of its two big stars, Long Live Your Death flew under my radar until recently. While it isn’t on the same level as The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (with Eli Wallach) or Django (with Franco Nero), who wouldn’t want to see these two great spaghetti western icons together on the screen?

The film is a co-production between Italy, Spain and Germany but that wasn’t unusual with these sort of films. It was also a political spaghetti western and fits right in with the Zapata western sub-genre.

In this film, a con-artist (Nero) and a bandit (Wallach) team up in order to find a hidden treasure. Along the way, they keep having run-ins with an Irish journalist (Lynn Redgrave) who has a thirst for sparking revolutions in Central America. As is typical with these films, the heroes reject being heroes and give in to their own selfish greed and only play along where it suits them. It comes down to whether or not they do the right thing in the end.

The story isn’t highly original or anything that the genre hasn’t done a dozen times but the cast is what makes this version of a common story a bit more endearing and entertaining. Wallach essentially plays Tuco from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and really, this could be a sequel or prequel to that where it just catches up to him at some other point in his life. Nero doesn’t channel Django in this but he is a character similar to his more boisterous and charismatic roles from his spaghetti western days.

The film was directed by Duccio Tessari, often considered to be one of the fathers of spaghetti westerns. Like many spaghetti maestros, he started out in the sword and sandal genre until that ran its course and opened up the floodgates to the spaghetti western boom. His biggest films in the genre were the Ringo series: A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo.

Long Live Your Death is far from the best in the spaghetti western genre but it is still an enjoyable experience for fans of these films. Wallach and Nero are two of the most charismatic actors of all-time and at the top of the list in spaghetti fare. This picture showcases their talents and it works. They alone carry this picture and Redgrave is amusing, as well.

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, Patrick Dempsey (uncredited), Mira Sorvino (uncredited)

New World Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

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: It Follows (2014)

Release Date: May 17th, 2014 (Cannes)
Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Written by: David Robert Mitchell
Music by: Disasterpeace
Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe

Northern Lights Films, Animal Kingdom, Two Films, RADiUS-TWC, Dimension Films, 100 Minutes

Review:

I kind of regret not seeing It Follows when it came out a few years ago. A part of me wanted to give it a chance but it came out in the middle of summer and I had a lot going on then, as well as having lost my faith in horror over the last decade or so.

Well, there have been a few horror films in recent years that have been pretty exceptional in a genre that is now predominantly PG-13 and full of cheap-o CGI ghost stories. It Follows is one of the few that stands out and proves that horror isn’t a dead genre and that there are still some new things to explore.

The film isn’t terrifying because what is anymore, really? But it is quite effective and a sort of dark and enchanting picture that is made even better by its great young cast, the direction and writing of David Robert Mitchell, the cinematography of Mike Gioulakis and the stupendous score by Disasterpeace.

The premise was interesting and while nothing really unpredictable happened and this film stays on the traditional rails, it did a good job of building suspense until the end. It didn’t focus on jump scares or any other cheap tricks, it just gave you characters you mostly like and it built a sense of dread around them. You want them to survive, which in a horror movie these days, is pretty exceptional, as I usually cheer the monster because everyone else is a moron or just horrible in some way.

Maika Monroe was better than fantastic. Her friends were also all believable characters but maybe needed a bit more story.

The music by Disasterpeace is great. He created one of the best scores I’ve heard in years and I hope this opens a lot of doors for other film projects.

Mike Gioulakis is becoming one of my favorite cinematographers between this film, as well as his work on Split and being involved in the visuals of John Dies at the End.

It Follows is a film that gives me hope. Hope that horror will not die a slow and painful death and that it will rise from the ashes like a phoenix to burn all the horrible shit the genre has been putting out for far too long now.

Film Review: Eating Raoul (1982)

Release Date: March 24th, 1982
Directed by: Paul Bartel
Written by: Paul Bartel, Richard Blackburn
Music by: Arlon Ober
Cast: Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Robert Beltran, Susan Saiger, Ed Begley Jr., Buck Henry, Edie McClurg, Don Steele

Bartel Films Incorporated, Quartet, 20th Century Fox, 83 Minutes

Review:

Eating Raoul is the film where the team of Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov really cemented itself. While Bartel had directed before, this is his first real effort without the involvement of Roger Corman.

The film is, more or less, a black comedy that pokes fun at a lot of the cultural things that made up the 1980s. The free love movement has run its course, greed is everywhere and everyone is pretty much self-absorbed and blinded by their own desires.

The film follows the prudish Blands (played by Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov). They are in serious financial trouble and are also continually harassed and repulsed by the swingers that seem to be everywhere in their Hollywood apartment complex. After murdering a swinger who was trying to rape Mrs. Bland, the two discover he is loaded. They then devise a scheme to knock off swingers and to take their cash. This gets them mixed up with Raoul (Robert Beltran), a shady locksmith. Raoul gives the Blands money for the “cadavers” and they all three scheme to get rich, as Raoul has his eyes on Mrs. Bland. We get a whole lot of hilarious insanity, a love triangle and a high society swingers party that makes up a fantastic finale.

Eating Raoul is a film that is a lot smarter than it initially appears to be. Bartel and Richard Blackburn wrote a stupendous script, which was only enhanced by the talents of Bartel, Woronov and Beltran on the screen. While the stars aren’t comic veterans, at this point, they have the timing and the presence of more experienced players.

Eating Raoul is a film that is greater than what one would assume is the sum of its parts in 1982. It was a small comedy that would’ve normally just come and gone and disappeared forever but somehow, the true talent of Bartel and Woronov comes through and this thing was a surprising hit and has thus achieved cult classic status. There is even a Criterion Collection version of the film.

Film Review: The American Friend (1977)

Also known as: Der amerikanische Freund (Germany)
Release Date: May 26th, 1977 (Cannes)
Directed by: Wim Wenders
Written by: Wim Wenders
Based on: Ripley’s Game by Patricia Highsmith
Music by: Jürgen Knieper
Cast: Dennis Hopper, Bruno Ganz

Axiom Films, 127 Minutes

Review:

I didn’t know much about this movie going into it. I came across it on FilmStruck as a part of the Criterion Channel. Also, it wasn’t until I was halfway through it that it dawned on me that Dennis Hopper was playing the same Tom Ripley that Matt Damon played in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

I’m glad that I discovered this film however, as it was fantastic and a really refreshing experience, as I’ve been in a bit of movie limbo lately.

From a directorial and cinematic standpoint, this is one of the best films I have ever seen. The framing of every shot is damn near perfection. The visual composition feels alive and the world truly feels authentic and lived in. There is a vivid flare to the picture that is similar to the Italian giallo style. The European cityscapes and late 70s New York City give the movie a genuine grittiness that perfectly emphasizes the tone of the film. The American Friend is one of the best looking and mesmerizing motion pictures I have ever seen and I don’t say that lightly.

Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper are both stellar in this picture. Their relationship changes and evolves throughout the story and you never really know what each man thinks of the other. Add in the criminal elements of the plot and all the twists and turns and this is very true to the film noir style albeit modernized with incredible visual style.

Director Wim Wenders would go on to have a great career but here, he gives a real nod to those who influenced his work. In the roles of the gangster characters, Wenders cast Gérard Blain, Nicholas Ray, and Samuel Fuller – all three being directors that Wenders had a deep admiration for. He essentially gave props to his influences and mentors in the same way Quentin Tarantino would do decades later.

This film primarily takes place in Europe and is a German and French production but most of the movie is in English. There are some subtitled bits but surprisingly not as many as you would think.

I don’t want to get into the plot too much, as I went into this blindly and fell in love with it. I’d prefer for others to have the same experience, especially in a day and age where movies are spoiled by their trailers alone.

It is hard comparing the film to anything, as I can’t think of anything else like it. It is an amalgamation of a lot of cool things that can be taken away from more famous films but the overall composition is truly original. And frankly, this film deserves more recognition than it has.

Film Review: Devil Doll (1964)

Release Date: September, 1964
Directed by: Lindsay Shonteff
Written by: Ronald Kinnoch, Frederick E. Smith
Cast: Bryant Haliday, William Sylvester, Yvonne Romain

Associated Film Distributing Corp., 81 Minutes

Review:

Devil Doll is a bad movie.

However, it is still entertaining and kind of unintentionally hysterical in certain parts. Those parts make the film endearing and overall, the picture is pretty cool.

It isn’t well made and the acting is not great. The direction did nothing to steer this ship in a good direction from a quality standpoint but for whatever reason, the picture resonates for gluttons of cheese, such as myself, due to its strange hokiness.

The title character, the “devil doll” Hugo, is a cool monster. Sure, he’s not a traditional beast but he is certainly a prototype of the infinitely more famous Chucky from the Child’s Play film series.

Hugo is a ventriloquist dummy but he is possessed by evil. He talks and walks around during stage shows, even when the ventriloquist “The Great Vorelli” is across the room. This impresses audiences but is also baffling, as no one understands how it is possible.

The scenes where Hugo stalks his prey are played by a person in a costume made to look like the dummy. It’s a bizarre and unsettling sight but also cheesily magnificent.

A notable thing about this film is that it stars some people who would go on to do some great things.

“The Great Vorelli” is played by Bryant Haliday, who would go on to establish Janus Films, a distribution company that introduced several films now considered masterpieces and classics. Also, they are closely related to the Criterion Collection.

The film also stars William Sylvester and Alan Gifford, who would both appear four years later in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sylvester was the original Dr. Heywood Floyd (later the star of 2010: The Year We Make Contact where he was then played by Roy Scheider).

The best version of this film to watch is the riffed version that appeared as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Bryant Haliday would also be featured in another MST3K episode when they riffed another one of his movies, The Projected Man.