Film Review: The Mechanic (1972)

Also known as: Killer of Killers (reissue title)
Release Date: November 17th, 1972 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Lewis John Carlino
Music by: Jerry Fielding
Cast: Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Keenan Wynn, Jill Ireland

Chartoff-Winkler Productions, Carlino Productions, United Artists, 100 Minutes

Review:

“He has 100 ways to kill… and they all work!” – tagline

As much as I like Michael Winner’s Death Wish films with Charles Bronson, until now, I had never seen The Mechanic.

While it’s not as good as the first three Death Wish pictures, it’s still pretty fucking solid and isn’t afraid to walk around with its testosterone-filled balls blowing in the wind.

This one doesn’t just star manly man Charles Bronson, it also stars pretty manly man Jan-Michael Vincent.

The two leads have damn good chemistry. So much so, I wasn’t a fan of the twist ending because I could’ve watched these two badasses murder the crap out of shit for five or six movies. I’m actually kind of surprised that Vincent didn’t make his way into any of Winner’s Death Wish movies, unless they just didn’t get along or Vincent had issues with Bronson.

As far as the story goes, Bronson is an international assassin. He’s pretty damn good but with his lifestyle comes certain rules and it’s these rules that have sort of deprived him of a better life and real human connection. Vincent shows up at a weird time in Bronson’s life and Bronson had just killed Vincent’s dad. Still, Bronson sees something in Vincent and decides to train him to become an assassin, even if it breaks the code he’s supposed to follow.

Breaking this code draws the ire of higher ups and I feel like this plot point trickled down through movies over the years and led to the weird world of the John Wick universe, among other entertainment franchises.

By the time you get to the end, there’s a double twist. I don’t want to spoil what that is but you kind of see it coming while watching the movie. And if it wasn’t a trope of these sort of stories in 1972, it’s certainly become one since.

The Mechanic is pretty raw and it boasts decent cinematography, great action for its era and it has two legit stallions ready to murder scumbags. What’s not to like?

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Charles Bronson films of the ’70s and ’80s.

Documentary Review: In Search of Darkness: Part II (2020)

Release Date: October 6th, 2020
Directed by: David A. Weiner
Written by: David A. Weiner
Music by: Weary Pines
Cast: Nancy Allen, Tom Atkins, Joe Bob Briggs, Doug Bradley, Clancy Brown, Lori Cardille, John Carpenter, Nick Castle, Larry Cohen, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Sean S. Cunningham, Joe Dante, Keith David, Robert Englund, Stuart Gordon, Andre Gower, Kane Hodder, Tom Holland, Chris Jericho, Jackie Kong, Heather Langenkamp, Don Mancini, Harry Manfredini, Kelli Maroney, Bill Moseley, Greg Nicotero, Cassandra Peterson, Diana Prince, Linnea Quigley, James Rolfe, Robert Rusler, Tom Savini, Corey Taylor, Gedde Watanabe, Caroline Williams, Alex Winter, Tom Woodruff Jr., Brian Yuzna

CreatorVC, 263 Minutes

Review:

Everything I said in my review of the first film in this series still holds true for this one. Reason being, they’re exactly the same in what they are. It’s just that each one features different films.

I think that I like this one a wee bit better for two reasons.

The first, is that I already know what I’m getting into now. I know that this will just fly through dozens of films and not give them the proper amount of time they deserve. As I said in the previous film’s review, I’d love to see each section spread out into a full episode and have these films actually be a streaming series.

The second reason, is that I like that the films are getting more obscure, as there were a few here I hadn’t heard of. With that, I walked away from this with a list of shit I need to watch and review.

Apart from that, this was more of the same. That’s not a bad thing, at all. I just wish that these documentaries didn’t fly through films and other topics so quickly.

I still like these, though. I know there’s a third one coming, which I look forward to, and there’s also one coming out on ’80s sci-fi flicks.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other documentaries in the In Search of… series, as well as other documentaries on ’80s horror.

Film Review: Christmas Vacation (1989)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (complete title)
Release Date: November 30th, 1989 (Australia)
Directed by: Jeremiah S. Chechik
Written by: John Hughes
Based on: characters by John Hughes
Music by: Angelo Badalamenti
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, John Randolph, Diane Ladd, E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, Miriam Flynn, William Hickey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nicholas Guest, Brian Doyle-Murray, Sam McMurray

National Lampoon, Hughes Entertainment, Warner Bros., 97 Minutes

Review:

Worse? How could things get any worse? Take a look around here, Ellen. We’re at the threshold of hell.” – Clark Griswold

I know that this is many people’s favorite Christmas movie but I also don’t trust people who say this. Seriously, this is the most beloved thing that you have to revisit every December? This?

Honestly, out of the Vacation films, I think that this one is, by far, the worst. It just doesn’t appeal to me and it’s full of really unlikable characters that are selfish and stupid.

Full disclosure: I’ve never been a Chevy Chase fan and think he’s rarely funny. He just makes dumb faces and fucks up all the time. But I guess dumb people need a dumb “comedian” to make them cackle.

The one thing working against this film is that it breaks the framework of what these movies should be, which is a vacation that takes the family on a trip. Here, they just host a bunch of unlikable assholes in their own home on a street that looks like it’s a festive matte painting, static and devoid of any real life.

Half the movie deals with Chase trying to get Christmas lights to work. This would’ve been fine as a one or two scene gag but it’s like half of the f’n film. The other half is him failing at everything else while also pissing off his ungrateful family and terrorizing Elaine from Seinfeld and her effeminate, yuppie, bitch boy husband.

I also hate the theme of this movie, which gets stuck in my head for weeks if I even hear a few notes.

Kids I always hated, always wanted to watch this movie. I was always like, “Let’s watch Scrooged or Gremlins or Die Hard!” And they’d be like, “This is my house! We watch Chebby Chabe! So funny!” These kids always had the shittiest Nintendo games too.

Anyway, I have to sort of grin it and bear it whenever this movie is on around the holidays, as my family tends to watch everything Christmas-y on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But then I usually pick that time to go outside and escape loud kids and drunk aunts, as I stare blankly at the lake pondering about how humans evolved from lake slime over millions of years and somehow, one of them evolved into Chevy Chase. It’s one of the cosmos’ greatest mysteries.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation movies, as well as other National Lampoon films.

Book Review: ‘El Borak and Other Desert Adventures’ by Robert E. Howard

I had never read an El Borak story until now but since I was collecting all of the Robert E. Howard collections, I couldn’t pass on any of them and I’m glad that I got to discover this character, who is really unique when compared to the other characters that Howard spent most of his time writing.

What makes El Borak so different?

Well, these aren’t sword and sorcery, fantasy tales for one. Well, there is one story with some fantasy elements but the El Borak character was written as more of an adventurer who existed in real world historical times.

El Borak’s real name is Francis Xavier Gordon. He’s a skilled gunfighter from El Paso, Texas. He traveled the world and ended up settling in Afghanistan of all places. From there, he went on to have many adventures throughout the Asian continent.

Generally, El Borak spends his time trying to keep peace between waring tribes in different regions. Often times, he can use his cunning to convince cooler heads to prevail but these stories also wouldn’t be as badass if some direct violence didn’t come into play and it does.

These are all pretty cool short stories but I think that they’re weaker, overall, than the best of Howard’s sword and sorcery work. The reason being is that Howard is just so creative in the realm of fantasy and Lovecraftian style horror and making these stories more realistic, somewhat limits that creativity. That’s not to say that he doesn’t shine with these tales but they just lack that patented Robert E. Howard fantastical magic that makes me love the author in the first place.

However, comparing these to similar stories from other authors of Howard’s day, they hold up. These are just solid, grounded adventure tales in a foreign land and through the eyes and minds of readers in the 1930s, when El Borak first saw print, these had to have had a hell of an impact.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Robert E. Howard collections.

Film Review: Eraserhead (1977)

Also known as: Gardenback (original script title)
Release Date: March 19th, 1977 (Filmex Festival)
Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: David Lynch
Music by: David Lynch, Fats Waller, Peter Ivers
Cast: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, Judith Roberts, Hal Landon Jr.

American Film Institute, Libra Films, 89 Minutes

Review:

“The girls have heard this before but… 14 years ago I had an operation on my left arm here. The doctors said that I wouldn’t be able to ever use it. But what the hell do they know, I said. So I rubbed it for a half hour every day. And slowly I could move it a little, and use it to turn a faucet… and pretty soon I had my arm back again. And now, I can’t feel a damn thing in it. All numb! I’m afraid to cut it, you know?” – Mr. X

My close friends that are film aficionados always get pissy when the subject of David Lynch comes up. Mainly, because I think his movies are pretentious as hell and mostly just weird nonsense. That’s not to say that I don’t like some of his work but Eraserhead is one of his movies that just irks the shit out of me.

I get it, like all David Lynch things, it looks cool and it’s creative and weird and feels like a nightmare come to life. However, I can get great visuals and creative weirdness from hundreds of music videos. What I want with movies, typically, is a coherent story and a purpose other than being bizarre, nonsensical art projects.

Most Lynch films to me are like modern art. They’re a banana duct taped to an old telephone that’s put on display in some gallery window in 1980s Soho. And I also get that “art is subjective” and that these films mean a lot to some people. But I think that 90 percent of those people are full of shit and just don’t want to appear stupid, so they act like they’re in on this “brainy art”.

So now that I’ve come off as a total dick, I do like David Lynch, the man, and the guy is free to create whatever the hell he wants just as people are free to like it… or dislike it. For me, sometimes Lynch’s uniqueness does work but this isn’t one of those pictures.

To me, this does look great but it’s a pointless, overly drawn out, shrill nightmare that serves no purpose other than to warn me away from knocking up a woman. I actually concluded that I didn’t want any kids well before I saw this film.

As far as the look and design of the picture, it is good and somewhat alluring at first. I also thought that the special effects shots and the baby creature were kind of cool in a visual sense. I also respect what Lynch created without any real budget. However, all of that gets diminished by everything else in this overwhelming, maddening nightmare.

I thought that Jack Nance was good in this and I generally like the guy in every role I’ve seen him in. However, his deliberately understated performance is drowned out by the rabbit carcass sperm baby and the noisy atmosphere.

Despite how it might appear, I don’t get off on shitting all over movies. Well, unless they’re made by Uwe Boll or a director of that caliber. As an artist, myself, I want to try to see things through the artist’s eyes. But in regards to a lot of Lynch’s work, it’s just not my cup of tea.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: David Lynch’s other movies, including his early short film work.

Video Game Review: River City Ransom (NES)

River City Ransom was probably the first side scrolling beat’em up game that I played on a console after the Double Dragon ports.

This was also very obviously inspired by Double Dragon but the way you travel through the different screens was more complex, as you can enter buildings and go down streets to other areas.

Some of the locations look like generic recreations of sections of the first Double Dragon, though. Plus, the graphics in general aren’t as good and this looks a lot more cartoony and basic.

Overall, this is pretty mundane and it’s riddled with problems.

The first big problem is the controls. They’re shit. Often times they don’t even respond and with that, you get your face punched in.

The next problem is the fighting mechanics, which are pretty trash. In addition to that, some of the baddies you have to beat up forever. If you want to knock off Double Dragon, do it right. Knocking a thug on his ass twice should be enough to keep him there.

Another issue is the platforming aspect of the game. It is also trash. It’s hard to jump and if you jump into a ledge instead of over a ledge, you get knocked backwards because I guess humans in this game are made out of rubber.

The last problem I’ll bring up is that you can pretty much roam everywhere, however you want. But if you don’t kill the “bosses” in a certain order, you can’t enter the high school and advance. You literally just get stuck and have to start over.

In the end, this is a poor ripoff of a great game that tried to be a bit more ambitious but failed to execute anything in any sort of decent way.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling beat’em ups from the era.

Film Review: From A Whisper To A Scream (1987)

Also known as: The Offspring (original title)
Release Date: May 13th, 1987 (Cannes)
Directed by: Jeff Burr
Written by: C. Courtney Joyner, Darin Scott, Jeff Burr, Mike Malone
Music by: Jim Manzie
Cast: Vincent Price, Susan Tyrrell, Clu Gulager, Terry Kiser, Harry Caesar, Rosalind Cash, Cameron Mitchell, Martine Beswick, Lawrence Tierney

Conquest Productions, Manson International, Whisper Scream Limited Partnership, 99 Minutes, 92 Minutes (VHS cut)

Review:

“One thing I’ve learned, my dear, is that one is never too old for nightmares.” – Julian White

I’ve stated in the past that I’m not a big fan of anthology horror movies. However, as I’ve reviewed more and more over the almost five years that this website has existed, they’ve kind of won me over.

Sure, many are bad and most are inconsistent from segment-to-segment. However, even if something doesn’t hit the right way, it’s over pretty quickly and the viewer gets to move on to the next chapter.

With From A Whisper To A Scream, we get an anthology picture where every chapter was pretty decent. Plus, the story that connects everything together stars horror legend Vincent Price in his last true horror role.

I don’t know if Price would’ve been a fan of the level of gore in this movie but it’s pretty standard for an ’80s horror flick that’s going for the jugular. I don’t think it’s overly gratuitous and it’s fine for the style but it’s definitely edgier and bloodier than the film’s one would typically associate Price with.

Each story was interesting and pretty creative. Unlike Creepshow, the Twilight Zone movie, Tales From the Darkside and the Tales From the Crypt TV show, this didn’t have source material to pull from and adapt. Still, the situations were cool and unique and frankly, pretty f’n bonkers.

From A Whisper To A Scream was enjoyable from top-to-bottom. For me, that’s rare in an anthology horror picture.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other horror anthologies of the ’70s and ’80s.

Comic Review: The Punisher: Die Hard In the Big Easy

Published: 1992
Written by: John Wagner
Art by: Phil Gascoine

Marvel Comics, 51 Pages

Review:

This has been in my comic collection since 1992. I remember getting a bunch of Punisher one-shots and miniseries in a trade with a friend in middle school, who really wanted a bunch of my Power Pack stuff, which I read when I was much younger but lost interest in.

This was one of the many Punisher comics I got but for some reason it was filed away and wasn’t unearthed until now.

This story, as the title gives away, sees The Punisher go to New Orleans. While he’s their, he obviously gets tied up in some criminal plot involving voodoo.

The villain in this is pretty cool and I wish he wasn’t just a one-off baddie. He was a voodoo priest that was very reminiscent of Baron Samedi from the James Bond film, Live and Let Die. He also reminded me a lot of a modern film character, Tony Todd’s Reverend Zombie from the Hatchet films.

Being that this was a one-shot release, it was about the same size as a typical annual give or take a few pages. It’s a cool story, it’s creepy, action packed and I dug the hell out of the art style.

My only real complaint is that these releases are just over so fast. This could’ve been expanded into a good story arc in one of the regular Punisher comic series that were being published back then. 

However, for being rather short, it packs a punch, gets right to the point and doesn’t waste time.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: all the other Punisher miniseries, one-shots and graphic novels from the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Film Review: Class of 1984 (1982)

Release Date: May 19th, 1982 (Cannes)
Directed by: Mark Lester
Written by: Tom Holland, Mark Lester, John Saxton
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Perry King, Merrie Lynn Ross, Timothy Van Patten, Lisa Langlois, Stefan Arngrim, Michael Fox, Roddy McDowall

Guerilla High Productions, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Life… is pain. Pain… is everything. You… you will learn!” – Peter Stegman

What’s odd about my history with this film is that there isn’t any. Yes, I’ve known about it since it was fairly current but for whatever reason, I never got around to watching it, even though I knew it’s something I’d probably dig quite a bit.

Well, I’ve finally seen it and it’s pretty entertaining and a damn cool flick.

This uses a popular formula from the ’80s and ’90s. It’s a story about an educator trying to do his job to the best of his ability while the school is infested with violent degenerates. This may be the first movie of its type but this simple plot became a widely used trope in action flicks, drama movies and even comedies.

In this one, we’ve got Perry King as the star. And man, he’s simply awesome, as he tries to be the teacher the school needs but quickly learns that he’s going to have to push back against these inhuman teens that are willing to kill, rape and do hard drugs just for quick thrills. I’ve always liked the hell out of Perry King but this may be my favorite role he’s ever played.

We also get Roddy McDowall and Michael J. Fox in this, which both surprised me and delighted me. McDowall is in so many damn films, some great, some awful, but he always adds something wonderful to whatever production he finds himself in. Yes, even the bad ones. In this, he actually gives two of his greatest single scene performances of his lengthy career. McDowall is just dynamite in this and your heart breaks for him, seeing what he has to go through just trying to do his job in a school full of monsters.

Michael J. Fox’s role isn’t too big and this movie was made before he’d become a big star on the television series Family Ties. Still, for a young actor with little experience in front of the camera, he does pretty good in this.

The primary antagonist in this is played by Timothy Van Patten. I like that they actually gave his character depth, instead of just making him some basic shithead. You come to learn that he has real talent and is the best pianist in the entire school. However, in spite of his gift, he still chooses to make the music teacher’s life a living hell until he gets what’s coming to him.

The supporting cast in this is also really good and all of the characters leave an impression on you, which is impressive for a film like this, which could’ve easily just been exploitative schlock.

Class of 1984 is a better movie that it probably should have been. I think that has a lot to do with the casting but I’ve also got to point out that this was written by Tom Holland, who would go on to direct Fright NightChild’s Play and be involved in some other cult classics.

Additionally, this was directed by Mark Lester, who would go on to make Commando, Firestarter, Showdown In Little Tokyo and a semi-sequel to this movie with a sci-fi twist, Class of 1999.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other teacher/principal versus the school movies.

Film Review: Moonwalker (1988)

Also known as: Michael Jackson: Moonwalker (promotional title)
Release Date: October 29th, 1988 (Japan)
Directed by: Jerry Kramer, Colin Chilvers (“Smooth Criminal” segment)
Written by: David Newman, Michael Jackson
Music by: Michael Jackson, Bruce Broughton, Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Cast: Michael Jackson, Joe Pesci, Sean Lennon, Kellie Parker, Brandon Quintin Adams

MJJ Productions, Ultimate Productions, Will Vinton Studios, 93 Minutes

Review:

“You wanna know why I’m doing this, do you? I just wanna get everybody high, Man. You know, some good drugs. That’s all.” – Mr. Big

I think I’ve only seen this once and it was way back when it came out. Although, I did play the Sega Genesis game on and off for years.

Anyway, I wanted to revisit this, as it’s been so long and I didn’t remember much about it other than some specific music videos it features, as well as the story portion of the anthology film, which co-stars Joe Pesci, as some sort of strange drug lord that has no problem murdering the shit out of some meddling kids.

Overall, this is pretty bad as a motion picture. However, as a sort of collected tapestry of random Michael Jackson multimedia work, it’s interesting and kind of cool. It also feels like a time capsule back to the point in history where Jackson was the biggest star in the world and he hadn’t yet been wrecked by child molestation allegations. Plus, the film feels dated as hell now, which just adds to it being a cinematic time capsule.

I like most of the stuff in this anthology but it’s mostly just music videos and performances, other than a biographical retrospective and the short dramatic film that starts around the mid-point.

The retrospective was pretty neat and was a lot more creative and artistic in how it was edited and presented than what would’ve been typical at the time.

The short film, which is all built around the famous “Smooth Criminal” music video, is the high point of the movie. It’s written by Jackson and with that, feels like it was written by a five year-old trying to wedge in all of his favorite toys while jumping all over the place narratively without any real focus other than there’s a bad guy and Michael Jackson is cool.

I thought the short film segment was fabulous when I was a kid but seeing it as an adult, it’s a mess. That doesn’t mean that it’s not entertaining, though. I kind of like the bizarre fantasy mixed with sci-fi world that Jackson created. It’s one-part gangster movie, one-part fantastical randomness, three-parts musical and nine-parts Michael Jackson.

Seeing this all these years later, I can’t say that this is a good film or even a very competent one. However, if you do like Michael Jackson, the artist, it’s still a entertaining look into his creative mind and it’s an incredibly unique experience. 

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Michael Jackson’s Captain EO, as well as other musical anthologies.