Film Review: Hands of Steel (1986)

Also known as: Vendetta dal futuro (original Italian title), Atomic Cyborg (France), El destructor (Mexico), Hands of Stone (Netherlands), Arms of Steel (Norway), L’enfonceur (Canadian French title), Cyborg (Slovenia), Fists of Steel (UK), Destroyer (Spain)
Release Date: March 26th, 1986 (France)
Directed by: Sergio Martino
Written by: Sergio Martino, Sauro Scavolini, Elisa Livia Briganti, John Crowther
Music by: Claudio Simonetti
Cast: Daniel Greene, Janet Argen, John Saxon

National Cinematografica, Dania Film, Medusa Distribuzione, 94 Minutes

Review:

“When I get through with you, you’ll have to wipe your ass with your nose” – Raul Morales

This film had more international titles than it had extras!

But this film can have as many titles as it wants, as it is a pretty badass and ridiculous flick that has a plot that’s all over the map but doesn’t suffer because its supposed to be a smorgasbord of everything that made ’80s action movies so much fun.

Let me summarize the insane premise: An evil CEO sends a cyborg to assassinate a scientist. The cyborg fails so the CEO sends his other cyborgs to take him out. The cyborg hides in a desert diner with a chick that’s horny for him. All the while he draws the ire of the tri-state arm wrestling champion that wants to prove he’s the strongest man in the desert. The evil CEO is John Saxon and he has a really big laser.

This motion picture is insanely enjoyable and one of the best Italian post-apocalyptic, “knock off everything under the sun” movies.

There’s even a scene where the good cyborg has to arm wrestler a guy that looks like Bear Hugger from Punch-Out!! The insane part about this scene is that the loser gets their hand trapped in a shackle while a diamondback rattler bites them to death.

Now this is just about everything you’d expect from an Italian Mad Max wannabe but then it’s so much more. It’s part Terminator, part RoboCop, part Over the Top and 100 percent toxic masculinity. Plus, this came out before RoboCop and Over the Top, so it’s like the writer/director Sergio Martino was psychic. I mean, he ripped off something that didn’t yet exist!

Speaking of Martino, he’s a guy that directed a lot of the top Italian schlock. You know, the type of schlock that gives schlock a good name and inspires people like myself to find endearing things within movies that the general populace could never tolerate. He’s done giallo, slashers, spaghetti westerns, other post-apocalyptic movies and pretty much something in every cool sub-genre that matters to fans of grindhouse, exploitation, horror and action films.

Hands of Steel is a hell of a ride. It has pretty good, albeit hokey effects. But considering this picture’s budget, it’s all passable and it works. In fact, the scene where the cyborg repairs his arm is pretty impressive.

While I’m sure that most people would dismiss this movie as absolute shit, the opinions and money of the regular moviegoer are why we keep getting subpar blockbusters, countless sequels, spinoffs, remakes and reboots. I’ll take Hands of Steel over some Harley Quinn dressed like a peacock movie.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Italian post-apocalyptic movies of the ’80s.

Film Review: The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958)

Also known as: The Water Witch (working title)
Release Date: June 27th, 1958 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Will Cowan
Written by: David Duncan
Music by: Henry Mancini (uncredited)
Cast: William Reynolds, Andra Martin, Jeffrey Stone, Carolyn Kearney

Universal Pictures, 69 Minutes

Review:

“[explaining why the branch fell on Linda] It must have been a evil wind!” – Gordon Hawthorne

The poster for this ’50s horror picture is much cooler than the film itself. But yes, there is indeed a severed head that gets carried around. Eventually, the head, that of an evil sorcerer, is reunited with a body. But even though the evil head’s evil plot is about getting put back onto a body, not much comes of it, as the sorcerer is then knocked off pretty easily.

While I watch a lot of schlock pictures, a lot of them have things that make them fun. This one doesn’t though. There is nothing endearing or charming and had this not been in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I doubt it’d be remembered today in any capacity.

Strangely, this was paired with the infinitely superior Hammer Films classic, Horror of Dracula. Now that’s a double bill with a massive contrast in quality.

The general premise for the movie sounds cool but the execution made me want to execute myself for sitting through it. But apparently, there is a Spanish film from 1972 that has a very similar plot and looks to be better based off of what I’ve read about it online. That film is called Horror Rises From the Tomb a.k.a. El espanto surge de la tumba. I can’t yet vouch for it, as I haven’t seen it.

But getting back to this film, it’s worth missing. Unless you’re an MST3K junkie like myself and feel the need to sit through hours of schlock just for a few laughs.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: other ’50s and ’60s horror schlock that was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Film Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Also known as: Jumanji 2 (alternative title)
Release Date: December 5th, 2017 (Paris premiere)
Directed by: Jake Kasdan
Written by: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner
Based on: Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale, Colin Hanks, Rhys Darby, Missi Pyle, Marin Hinkle, Marc Evan Jackson

Columbia Pictures, Seven Bucks Productions, Matt Tolmach Productions, Radar Pictures, 119 Minutes

Review:

“Why am I wearing this outfit in a jungle? Tiny, little shorts and a leather halter top. I mean, what is this?” – Ruby Roundhouse

I’ve got to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it but it delivered on what it was trying to do, which was being a funny, over the top, action-adventure movie.

The cast was pretty good.

I always like Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan, Jack Black is usually enjoyable in most things and Kevin Hart can be grating at times but he does well here, as he isn’t the focal point of the film.

Additionally, I really liked seeing Rhys Darby and Bobby Cannavale in this. I’ve loved Darby since Flight of the Conchords and Cannavale really impressed me when he joined the cast of Mr. Robot.

This is a sequel to the original Robin Williams starring Jumanji but it takes the concept and kind of modernizes it by making it a video game instead of a board game. Here, four teens are sucked into the game and they have to play out the game in a real-life simulation as their avatars, all of which are very different from their real personalities.

It’s a fun, cute movie where the teens are challenged by their situation, their avatars’ roles and having to work together to survive and free themselves from the game. It’s a good coming of age story, even if its pretty predictable and embraces some tropes and cliches.

I thought that the action was solid, the CGI effects were top notch and the environment was rich, lush and beautiful. This had a real Uncharted feel to it, which I think was the intent of the filmmakers, who went the video game route with the story and even put up an Uncharted 4 poster in one of the teen’s bedrooms.

I guess there is a sequel to this coming out in the near future. I’d probably go see it. I’m not sure what they can do to keep the concept fresh but this new take on it worked fine for this chapter in what appears to be a real franchise now.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the original Jumanji and Zathura.

Film Review: Vampirella (1996)

Release Date: September 28th, 1996
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Gary Gerani
Based on: Vampirella by Forrest J. Ackerman
Music by: Joel Goldsmith
Cast: Talisa Soto, Roger Daltrey, Richard Joseph Paul, Brian Bloom, Angus Scrimm

Cinetel Films, Concorde-New Horizons, Showtime Networks, 82 Minutes, 86 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“You are much stronger than I am.” – Vampirella, “At the risk of sounding egotistical, I am stronger than anyone.” – Vlad

I don’t think I even knew about this movie at the time of its release and I worked in a video store then. I was also a fan of comics, horror and movies that were made with the involvement of Roger Corman, the King of B-Movies.

Well, I didn’t expect much from this film but it was still pretty entertaining seeing Roger Daltrey of The Who get to ham it up pretty hard. He looked like he was having a good time, committing to this character and this film, regardless of the production value.

On the flip side of that, I have no issues with Talisa Soto, but I don’t think that she was the best choice to play Vampirella. But the script was bad, the dialogue was terrible, her hair was wrong and her outfit looked like dime store cosplay and didn’t really work. But I also realize that the traditional Vampirella costume is even racier and way more revealing. But it’s not the skin that’s the issue, as much as it is the poor, kind of unflattering design of the suit.

Also, Vampirella should be more curvy. Soto has a great body but it’s more athletic than curvy. Tia Carrere would have been a better fit but she was also probably more expensive in 1995, when this was made. But she looks more the part and if she had the same hair style that she did the first moment you saw her in Wayne’s World, it’s even a better fit.

But nothing would’ve really saved this picture from itself.

The plot was nonsensical and the pacing and editing were pretty bad. I just watched this movie and I don’t even remember what it was about other than an evil alien vampire (Daltrey) escapes from execution, heads to Earth, Vampirella follows and they fight. But hey, Angus Scrimm, Phantasm‘s the Tall Man, plays an elder vampire on their home planet.

Calling Vampirella a disappointment is an understatement. It’s a movie that really shouldn’t have been made. You think Corman would’ve learned after his experiment with Fantastic Four a few years earlier.

Unless you are an absolute die hard Vampirella fan, you should ignore this film. If you insist on checking it out, do so at your own risk. But it is free on YouTube, at the moment.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Roger Corman’s unreleased adaptation of Fantastic Four, as well as the 1990 Captain America film.

Film Review: Vampires (1998)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Vampires (complete title), Vampire$ (working title)
Release Date: April 15th, 1998 (France)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Don Jakoby
Based on: Vampire$ by John Steakley
Music by: John Carpenter
Cast: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Maximilian Schell, Tim Guinee, Mark Boone Junior, Gregory Sierra, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

JVC Entertainment Networks, Film Office, Storm King Productions, Largo Entertainment, Spooky Tooth Productions, Columbia Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Can I ask ya somethin, Padre? When I was kickin your ass back there… you get a little wood?” – Jack Crow

James Woods is cooler than any of us could ever be. And frankly, this may be the coolest he’s ever been. I mean, shit, he’s a vampire slaying, foul mouthed, badass, ready to burn down hordes of undead bloodsuckers.

Then you have Daniel Baldwin, who is always very convincing as an overweight piece of shit that isn’t afraid to punch his way through problems.

Both of these guys inject so much testosterone into this picture that it truly is cinematic Viagra.

Now I’m not saying they’re good people or even heroic. But that’s what makes this movie so badass and chock full of the best ’90s action movie cliches.

This also features Thomas Ian Griffith as the big evil vampire that they have to kill. Griffith was born to play this part, even if he’s given better performances elsewhere – The Karate Kid, Part III is still my favorite thing he’s ever done. But he is absolutely convincing, has the right build and physical presence and is able to terrify the audience. I remember people in the theater being in absolute awe during the scene where Griffith crashes the vampire hunters’ motel party, ripping everyone and everything to shreds.

What I really enjoy about this movie, is that it is a vampire movie with a real hard edge to it. In the ’90s, vampires were still scary and this does a good job of tapping into that while reminding you how cool vampires can be when used as legitimate monsters. This, along with Blade and From Dusk Till Dawn used these mythological terrors in the way that God intended.

This isn’t John Carpenter at his finest but it’s the second best movie he did in the ’90s after In the Mouth of Madness. It’s tough as shit, blue collar as fuck and it shows you that being a vampire slayer means that you’re probably going to die a very early death instead of just being a cool teenage girl that talks like all her dialogue is written by a balding middle aged guy pretending to be a teenage girl.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn and John Carpenter’s ’90s movies.

Film Review: Troll (1986)

Release Date: January 17th, 1986
Directed by: John Carl Buechler
Written by: Ed Naha, Joanna Granillo (uncredited)
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Noah Hathaway, Michael Moriarty, Shelley Hack, Jenny Beck, Sonny Bono, Phil Fondacaro, Brad Hall, Anne Lockhart, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gary Sandy, June Lockhart

Altar Productions, Empire Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“[looking for Wendy in the basement] Have you been playing with dead cats?” – Harry Potter Jr.

This is the first Harry Potter movie and it actually features two Harry Potters. But sadly, this is unrelated to the J.K. Rowling franchise.

This also isn’t related to its sequels, as those are two different movies that stole the Troll name to market themselves better. Which is actually quite odd, as this Troll was far from a success.

Like the real Harry Potter series, though, this is a fantasy movie that features magic and creepy little critters.

It also features Sonny Bono as a pervy swinger, a very young Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Moriarty from The Stuff, Atreyu from The NeverEnding Story and June Lockhart, who is pretty much a legend with close to 200 credits to her name. Also, Phil Fondacaro does double duty as the actual troll in the film, as well as playing a regular character. I love Fondacaro’s work and it’s cool seeing him get to be the centerpiece of a movie.

Now this motion picture is pretty damn bizarre. But it’s that ’80s, over the top, “What the fuck did I just watch?” kind of bizarre. The best of all forms of bizarre.

It’s humorous, baffling and amusing. You kind of just have to surrender yourself to the film and let it play out in all of its gloriousness.

Sure, critics hated it, as did most people. But this film’s audience is a small segment of society. And while it’s not a classic, even as far as weird movies go, it’s endearing and charming in an unexplainable way. I guess it’s like Howard the Duck or Ghoulies or Munchies or Garbage Pail Kids or C.H.U.D. II in how they are mostly bad films but they found a way to touch a enough of a certain type of people that they live on as cult favorites.

But above all else, it is the incredible performance by the young Jenny Beck that is the glue that holds this picture together. Almost immediately, she becomes possessed by the evil troll and man, she commits to the bit throughout the entire film. For a child actor without much experience, she was tremendous and has to go down as one of my favorite kids from an ’80s movie.

I love Troll. It is just one hearty spoonful of strange after another.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: it’s amusing but unrelated sequel and then any ’80s horror movie with little creatures.

Film Review: The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot (2018)

Release Date: July 20th, 2018 (Canada – Fantasia International Film Festival)
Directed by: Robert D. Krzykowski
Written by: Robert D. Krzykowski
Music by: Joe Kraemer
Cast: Sam Elliott, Aidan Turner, Caitlin FitzGerald, Sean Bridgers, Ron Livingston, Larry Miller, Ellar Coltrane, Rizwan Manji

Epic Pictures, Title Media, 98 Minutes

Review:

“An American Myth” – tagline

Sam Elliott is one of those guys that when you see him, you think to yourself, “This is the most badass guy on all of planet Earth.” Well, this film does nothing to dispel that thought.

This was also one of the coolest movies I’ve seen in a long time. Well, as far as modern motion pictures go.

The story is mostly about an older man reflecting back on his life and thinking about the things he should’ve done and how some decisions have weighed heavily on his soul. In some regard, it reminds me of another recent Sam Elliott film, The Hero, as well as one of Harry Dean Stanton’s last, Lucky.

Unlike those films, though, this movie includes the death of Adolf Hitler and Bigfoot.

However, those two events that are actually given away in the film’s title aren’t a big part of the story. Well, they are, as far as how they effect the man’s life but they are just two really cool sequences that serve as a backdrop for the film’s human drama.

Sam Elliott is one hell of an actor and this film is him at his best. But Elliott never disappoints, so I feel as if that should go without saying. But it’s not just Elliott that puts in a superb performance, the same can be said about Aidan Turner, who plays the younger version of the character, as well as Larry Miller, who I wish I could see in more dramatic roles. I mostly associate Miller with comedic performances but the guy has got chops.

Additionally, even with minimal screen time, Ron Livingston livens things up once he shows up. I have loved Livingston ever since Office Space but I feel like he’s such an underutilized actor. Like Larry Miller, it’s always nice to see Livingston’s more serious side.

When researching this film, I noticed that the ratings aren’t high for it and I guess I get that. The title might imply that this is some strange, quirky, time traveling, action adventure. It’s definitely not that, it’s something much better, actually. But character studies and dramas about old men processing a lifetime full of regret doesn’t put modern asses in seats.

But fuck those modern asses.

This is a very touching and personal film with a neat, amusing and interesting premise.

Plus it has a monster in it and I really like the unconventional approach this film took with its Sasquatch.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the recent Sam Elliott starring The Hero, as well as Lucky with Harry Dean Stanton.