Film Review: Runaway (1984)

Release Date: December 14th, 1984
Directed by: Michael Crichton
Written by: Michael Crichton
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Tom Selleck, Cynthia Rhodes, Gene Simmons, Kirstie Alley, Stan Shaw, G. W. Bailey, Joey Cramer, Chris Mulkey

Delphi III Productions, TriStar Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“You screwed up good, Ramsay. We got two dead officers, do you understand me mister? Two. Dead. Cops! We got two wounded – one of them your own partner – and we got two dead guinea punks! And no one knows why or what the hell its all about!” – Chief of Police

This was one of those movies that used to be on HBO or Showtime all the time when I was a kid. I probably saw it a dozen times back then but it’s eluded me ever since and sort of fell down pop culture’s memory hole.

Watching it now was kind of cool, as it wasn’t as cheesy as I thought it would be and even if there is a bit of hokiness in the movie, it’s still pretty serious and a much better than decent sci-fi thriller.

While there aren’t cyborgs or dystopian metropolises glowing from infinite neon lights, Runaway still has a really strong cyberpunk vibe to it. I think this is due to the amount of robots in the film, the wacky inventions like AI-controlled bullets and the general visual aesthetic of the picture.

Tom Selleck is damn solid in this and it makes me wish he was in more action and crime films. He plays a complex cop character that specializes in community service calls dealing with malfunctioning robots. Sometimes the jobs are easy and straightforward but other times, they’re deadly dangerous. What makes him complex is that he’s a tough guy but he also has a severe fear of heights. Plus, he’s a single dad, raising a son and still emotionally recovering from the death of his wife while also wooing the two ladies in the movie: his partner and a woman that’s in way over her head with the story’s villain.

Speaking of which, the baddie in this is Gene Simmons from KISS. While I can’t say that his acting is good, he still has a presence and really hams it up in a great way. When he finally gets what’s coming to him, it’s a damn satisfying momenty.

The cast is rounded out by Selleck’s female partner played by Cynthia Rhodes, the corporate damsel in distress played by Kirtstie Alley, Joey Cramer of Flight of the Navigator fame playing Selleck’s son and the always entertaining G. W. Bailey as the cantankerous Chief of Police.

It’s also worth mentioning that this was written and directed by Michael Crichton before he became a much more prolific writer when Steven Spielberg made a little film franchise out of his novel Jurassic Park.

Overall, this is still a really entertaining picture that has a pretty basic but interesting tech crime story. It certainly feels like it’s straight out of the ’80s and while the special effects may appear dated by today’s standard, I appreciate the work that went into this. The robots all look pretty cool and function well. 

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other sci-fi or cyberpunk films of the ’80s and early ’90s.

Film Review: A Blade in the Dark (1983)

Also known as: House of the Dark Stairway (alternative English title)
Release Date: 1983 (Italy – Mystfest)
Directed by: Lamberto Bava
Written by: Elisa Briganti, Dardano Sacchetti
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Cast: Andrea Occhipinti, Anny Papa, Fabiola Toledo, Michele Soavi, Valeria Cavalli, Giovanni Frezza, Lamberto Bava (cameo)

National Cinematografica, Nuova Dania Cinematografica, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Tennis balls?” – Bruno

This was an early film for director, Lamberto Bava. While it’s a giallo picture, it has a real grittiness to it and isn’t as stylized as other pictures of that distinctly Italian horror subgenre. In fact, it looks more like an American slasher flick than something with a strong Italian flavor.

Having his father, Mario Bava, and giallo maestro, Dario Argento, as mentors, the younger Bava was savvy enough to put together a better than decent picture, even early in his career. Sure, he had some missteps like the Jaws wannabe, Monster Shark, but he usually proved he was a capable horror director.

A Blade In the Dark is a fairly strange film that deals with a transvestite serial killer, slashing beautiful women to ribbons. By 1983, this wasn’t anything new and I think that Bava may have been directly influenced by Brian De Palma’s neo-noir serial killer thriller, Dressed to Kill. However, Bava went the hardcore horror route and turned up the gore quite a bit.

The earliest encounters with the killer had him using an old fashioned box cutter, which I thought was visually cool, as those things just have a gnarly look to them. Those old school blades break really easily though, so it was probably a poor choice for a murder instrument but the killer does graduate to more practical and bigger tools, as the film progresses.

The kills are generally pretty good and Bava did a stellar job in building suspense in these scenes. The bathroom murder around the midpoint of the movie was exceptionally well-crafted and executed.

For the most part, the characters in this are all pretty likable. Even the ones that pop in just to get killed fairly quickly.

Now I can’t say that the twist ending was unpredictable or shocking, as I figured it out almost immediately with the movie’s opening scene. Maybe it was a surprise for viewers in 1983 but frankly, it’s nothing new, even by 1983. Still, it doesn’t in anyway wreck the story or the film, overall.

This is a pretty decent film for its type and while it’s not Lamberto Bava’s best, it really displayed his talent and prowess pretty early into his directorial career.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Italian giallo and slasher pictures, as well as other films by Lamberto Bava.

Film Review: Equalizer 2000 (1987)

Also known as: Defender 2000 (Germany), Apocalypse Warriors (France), Slade, o Dominador (Portugal)
Release Date: 1987 (Spain)
Directed by: Cirio Santiago
Written by: Joe Mari Avellana, Frederick Bailey
Music by: Ding Achacoso (as Edward Achacoso)
Cast: Richard Norton, Corinne Wahl, Don Gordon Bell, Robert Patrick

Premiere Productions, 85 Minutes

Review:

Out of all the Mad Max ripoffs I’ve watched over the years, this is one of the worst ones. Still, I liked it because I like these sort of films.

I’m not gonna lie, though. Former Penthouse Pet, Corinne Wahl, made this movie really watchable. So much so, I cry for my eight year-old self who missed this movie back when it was newly released.

Anyway, the only other person of note in this is Robert Patrick, who looks damn young playing a villainous scumbag trying to bite off more than he can chew with the movie’s buff hero, his clunker apocalypse car and bizarre, multi-turreted gun.

I wouldn’t call this Patrick’s best work but it’s still cool seeing him a couple years before he became famous as the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

The story is pretty run-of-the-mill post-apocalyptic schlock. There’s a bad gang that terrorizes people, wants to steal their shit and then a hero shows up to challenge them and murder the crap out of them with guns and vehicles.

The cars aren’t very cool in this film and that works against it. Also, the action is just kind of mediocre and it doesn’t really leave you with anything worth remembering unlike Wheels of Fire, a similar movie that had great action and cooler cars.

I can’t recommended this to anyone, except for people like me who just have a strange attraction to post-apocalyptic vehicle flicks.

Equalizer 2000 could’ve and should’ve been better but it also came out at the tail end of these film’s popularity.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other Mad Max ripoffs: Battletruck, Metalstorm and Megaforce.

Film Review: Heavy Metal (1981)

Also known as: Universo en fantasía (original Spanish language title)
Release Date: July 29th, 1981 (premiere)
Directed by: Gerald Potterton
Written by: Daniel Goldberg
Based on: original art and stories by Richard Corben, Angus McKie, Dan O’Bannon, Thomas Warkentin, Bernie Wrightson
Music by: Elmer Bernstein, various
Cast: Rodger Bumpass, Jackie Burroughs, John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Don Francks, Martin Lavut, Marilyn Lightstone, Eugene Levy, Alice Playten, Harold Ramis, Susan Roman, Richard Romanus, August Schellenberg, John Vernon, Zal Yanovsky

Canadian Film Development Corporation, Guardian Trust Company, Columbia Pictures, 86 Minutes, 90 Minutes (premiere cut)

Review:

“A shadow shall fall over the universe, and evil will grow in its path, and death will come from the skies.” – Narrator

Fuck, this movie is so damn cool!

However, it does lack in the “heavy metal” department, as far as the music goes. That’s not to say the music is bad, this is just a lot less heavy than the title implies. Still, this developed a really strong cult following and for very good reason.

I love the rock and pop tunes in this, though. I mean, where else can you see a sword and sorcery story with sci-fi elements playout to a Devo song? Nowhere!

This entire movie is an animated anthology. The various segments were inspired by some of the stories and art that appeared in the pages of the Heavy Metal comic magazine. This is also a very adult cartoon, as it features nudity, sex and violence. There really isn’t anything here for kids but I saw it as a kid and it blew my mind. The ’80s were a different era, though. Kids today can’t watch Gremlins without needing the light on till they turn thirty.

Anyway, this was produced by Ivan Reitman and it featured a lot of his regular actors in voice roles. It’s kind of neat watching this for the first time in years and hearing John Candy, Harold Ramis, Eugene Levy and Joe Flaherty. It almost needed Bill Murray in there to round it out but it was still pretty dope hearing these comedic legends voices pop up in something like this.

That being said, this is just a really unique experience and it still conjures up a sort of magical feeling when watching it.

Despite the action and violence, the film has a calming, chill vibe to it and I think that has a lot to do with its visual style, tone and the superb use of music to season the already flavorful meal.

Heavy Metal is a weirdly comforting movie that reminds me of a time when filmmakers were still daring and experimental and with that, often times gave us movies that were really interesting, wonderfully eccentric, bizarre and special.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequel, as well as other late ’70s and ’80s adult animated films.

Film Review: Slaughter High (1985)

Also known as: April Fool’s Day (working title), The Last Laugh (alternative title)
Release Date: May 10th, 1985 (Cannes)
Directed by: Mark Ezra, Peter Litten, George Dugdale
Written by: Mark Ezra, Peter Litten, George Dugdale
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: Simon Scudamore, Caroline Munro, Carmine Iannaconne, Gary Martin, Billy Hartman, Michael Saffran, Donna Yeager, Josephine Scandi, John Segal, Kelly Baker, Sally Cross

Spectacular Trading International, Vestron PIctures, 90 Minutes, 91 Minutes (uncut)

Review:

“We’ll take my car. It starts every time.” – Carol

The film’s tagline on its original poster boasts “From the makers of Friday the 13th” but honestly, I don’t know what the fuck the marketing department was talking about because the three writers/directors and the two producers don’t have that film listed under their credits.

One of the producers was known for working in exploitation films and porn, so maybe he was just using one of those old school tricks like flat out lying to get his film in theaters and then hoping he could sweep it under the rug if the big wigs at Paramount Pictures ever found out.

Whatever. This film came and went like the passing of the wind and nearly no one noticed it. I guess it developed a bit of a cult following over the years but having now seen it, I have no idea why. It’s absolute shit. And I don’t say that lightly, as the love of my life, Caroline Munro, is in this thing.

Granted, I’m not sure why Caroline Munro is playing a high school student when she was thirty-five at the time of filming. Still, she’s always been damn beautiful and I’m not going to nitpick about her being in a movie… ever.

Other than Munro, the film is a complete dud. It’s your standard slasher plot about a kid getting bullied, a prank gone wrong and then he puts on a mask and starts chopping up thirty year-old teens.

While I generally like slasher movies, even bad ones, this is just on another level of sucktitude. The story takes too long to get going, once it does, it’s just dull and pretty uneventful until the home stretch.

It’s also wrecked by one of the worst film scores that I’ve ever heard. Strangely, the score is done by Harry Manfredini, who made the iconic Jason Voorhees theme for the Friday the 13th films. Hey! Maybe he’s the “maker” of Friday the 13th that the poster touts.

Slaughter High is a waste of time. Sure, you could stare in awe at the natural beauty of Caroline Munro but you could also appreciate her in far better films than this one.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other really shitty slasher movies.

Film Review: Rage to Kill (1987)

Also known as: Battle Wars (Japanese English title), Guerilla Force (Germany)
Release Date: December, 1987
Directed by: David Winters
Written by: David Winters, Ian Yule
Music by: Tim James, Mark Mancina, Steve McClintock
Cast: James Ryan, Oliver Reed, Cameron Mitchell, Henry Cele, Maxine John, Ian Yule

93 Minutes

Review:

“[while torturing Blaine Striker] Let’s see how tough you really are.” – Slade

This is a film that has been in my queue just about as long as I’ve been using Prime Video, which is forever. I’ve set off on a mission, though, to clear out the oldest stuff on all my queues, so why not start at the bottom with a film I’ve let languish there for years.

What sucks about this is that I really enjoy Oliver Reed and I think that James Ryan is sort of cool in a South African David Carradine sort of way. That probably doesn’t make sense to anyone but me but my mind is mush after having to force myself through this 93 minute turd.

I will say that I didn’t mind the opening sequence where the bad guys showed up and murdered the shit out of everyone, even a toddler at a party. I also thought that the big action finale was pretty decent for what it was. However, it’s the middle 70 minutes or so that really sucked the air out of what could’ve been a passable, mindless, ’80s action flick.

The plot surrounds a crazy military general, played by Reed, who leads a coup to overtake a small Caribbean island nation. An “American” racecar driver then flies down there to rescue his brother because racing cars means that you can lead a resistance army against a madman with superior weapons and a complete lack of morals at his disposal.

I’m not gonna lie, though, the premise sounds incredible but with lackluster execution, the best setup will still lead to shit results.

Rage to Kill is a dumb movie. It’s also a really bad movie. I usually don’t mind dumb or bad but when they come together in a certain way, you end up with a cold, lifeless turkey.

Anyway, I hope Oliver Reed got paid, took home a few of the babes from the movie and blew all his earnings living the over-the-top, party life he was famous for.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other extremely low budget ’80s action flicks, as well as other movies with James Ryan.

Film Review: Easy Money (1983)

Release Date: August 19th, 1983
Directed by: James Signorelli
Written by: Dennis Blair, Rodney Dangerfield, Michael Endler, P. J. O’Rourke
Music by: Laurence Rosenthal
Cast: Rodney Dangerfield, Joe Pesci, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Candy Azzara, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan, Taylor Negron, Jeffrey Jones, Val Avery

Easy Money Associates, Orion Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“You pollute the air with your smoking. You reek of liquor and god knows what else. You’re an ecological menace!” – Mrs. Monahan, “Yeah, well you were the inspiration for twin beds!” – Monty

This is the only Rodney Dangerfield movie I had never seen. I’ve seen a few clips over the years but the film’s plot was unknown to me until I finally gave this a watch.

Funny thing about that, is that the actual plot doesn’t even come into play until the midpoint of the movie. And then it’s such a rickety story that it doesn’t really matter that it attempted to go for some sort of narrative structure halfway through.

Easy Money plays more like a series of unrelated scenes and gags. Granted, it works, as I enjoy the humor and Dangerfield is truly one of the greats of his era, even if his films aren’t as fondly remembered as the ’80s work of Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, John Candy or Dan Aykroyd.

The main plot of the movie sees Dangerfield having to quit smoking, eating like shit, drinking and gambling. If he accomplishes this impossible task within a year, he’ll inherit a lot of money for himself and his family.

There’s also a secondary plot, which I enjoyed as much as the primary one. This sees Dangerfield’s daughter, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, getting married to her Latino boyfriend, played by the grossly underappreciated Taylor Negron. Man, Negron is f’n fabulous in this and this may be my favorite comedic role he’s played. Since I’ve always enjoyed his work, I feel like I really missed out not seeing him in this picture until now.

This movie also has a solid cast amongst Dangerfield’s best buds, who are played by Joe Pesci and Tom Noonan before either of them reached their peak of fame a few years later. Both are enjoyable as hell in this and I especially thought that Pesci and Dangerfield should’ve worked together again after this movie but that never happened.

In the end, Easy Money is a goofy but loveable movie starring one of the most goofy and loveable comedians of all-time.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Rodney Dangerfield comedies, as well as other loveable loser movies from the ’80s.

Film Review: Manhunter (1986)

Also known as: Red Dragon (original script title), Red Dragon: The Curse of Hannibal Lecter (US TV title), Manhunter: The Pursuit of Hannibal Lecter (US video box title)
Release Date: August 15th, 1986
Directed by: Michael Mann
Written by: Michael Mann
Based on: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
Music by: Michael Rubini, The Reds
Cast: William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Dennis Farina, Stephen Lang, Tom Noonan, Michael Talbott, Frankie Faison, Chris Elliott, Marshall Bell

Red Dragon Productions S.A., De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 120 Minutes, 124 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 85 Minutes (video edit)

Review:

“And if one does what God does enough times, one will become as God is.” – Hannibal Lecktor

Many people just dismiss Manhunter as the earlier version of Red Dragon that’s not as good because it doesn’t have Anthony Hopkins in it as Hannibal Lecter. That’s a pretty shitty assessment, though, as I feel like this is a better film and deserving of more notoriety than it’s gotten over the years.

Hannibal also isn’t in the story as much as one would expect but when he is, Brian Cox did a superb job with the character and gave the audience one of his best and certainly most chilling performances.

Beyond Cox, this movie has a pretty stacked cast between the underappreciated William Petersen, as well as Dennis Farina, a really young Stephen Lang and the enigmatic Tom Noonan. The film also has smaller roles for Frankie Faison, Marshall Bell, Chris Elliott and Miami Vice‘s Michael Talbott.

Speaking of Miami Vice, this was directed by that show’s creator, Michael Mann. I assume that this was shot between seasons of that show and this is also probably why a lot of it was shot in the southern half of Florida. Some of it was shot in Atlanta too.

With that, this has a very similar visual style and tone to Miami Vice when it was in its prime before jumping the shark in later seasons with weird storylines and a somewhat aimless creative direction.

Petersen is great as this film’s version of Will Graham. I liked him better than Ed Norton’s version of the character in Red Dragon and I say that as a big Norton fan.

It’s really Tom Noonan that steals the show, though, as the serial killer that Graham is trying to take down. Noonan does creepy so damn well and I feel like he’s been typecast in his career because of how terrifying he was in this movie. That’s also not a bad thing, as the guy is just so damn good at these sort of roles and he never disappoints. Frankly, he deserves more notoriety than he’s gotten too.

Manhunter is so much better than most people probably realize. I get that everyone loves Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter but that also doesn’t mean that the film that came before his debut should be dismissed and forgotten, as some B-movie, bad version of the Red Dragon story.

As I’ve said, I prefer this to the 2003 Red Dragon movie. It’s moody, stylish and wasn’t made just to capitalize off of Hannibal Lecter’s popularity in pop culture.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Hannibal Lecter films, as well as Michael Mann’s hit ’80s crime show, Miami Vice.

Film Review: The Woman In Red (1984)

Also known as: Boys Will Be Boys (working title)
Release Date: August 15th, 1984
Directed by: Gene Wilder
Written by: Gene Wilder, Yves Robert, Jean-Loup Dabadie
Based on: Pardon Mon Affaire (or An Elephant Can Be Extremely Deceptive) by Yves Robert
Music by: John Morris, Stevie Wonder
Cast: Gene Wilder, Charles Grodin, Joseph Bologna, Judith Ivey, Michael Huddleston, Kelly LeBrock, Gilda Radner, Michael Zorek, Thom Mathews (uncredited)

Orion Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Now listen here, Teddy Bear. Four weeks ago, I met a cute, available, old-fashioned guy who liked horse riding. In one month you got married, you had two daughters and you can’t ride a horse to save your life!” – Charlotte

This is a remake of a French film from the ’70s that I have never seen. Although, I’ve seen this a few times but it’s been years.

I liked it as a kid because it featured Kelly LeBrock, who I was crushing on hard because of Weird Science. As an adult, I love Gene Wilder in everything and revisiting this came with extra things to enjoy that were no longer overshadowed by LeBrock’s incredible beauty.

The Woman In Red was also written and directed by Wilder and also featured his real life wife, the legendary Gilda Radner. Additionally, we get Charles Grodin, whose blind guy prank in the restaurant is still one of the funniest comedy scenes in history.

While this film deals with some clunky storytelling and some clunky editing, it’s still a fun, lighthearted movie that suspiciously paints Gene Wilder, as some sort of heartthrob. But then, many of his films did and I think that’s part of their charm. Plus, if humor is indeed the way to a woman’s heart, I guess there aren’t many better at that than Wilder.

It’s still funny seeing him successfully woo a woman of Kelly LeBrock’s stature but that’s also part of the humor. The scene between the two on horses, as well as their bedroom scene, is hilarious to watch not just from the humorous banter but also because of the physical differences between LeBrock’s supermodel hotness and Wilder’s small size, as well as his awkward, bumbling antics.

Gilda Radner really stands out in this too, in a supporting role. Initially, she thinks that Wilder is trying to woo her and with that, we get a whole subplot about her getting revenge on him each time they cross paths.

All in all, The Woman In Red is just goofy and charming in that patented Gene Wilder way. It’s not a comedy classic or anything but it’s goofy and entertaining and really, that’s all it needs to be.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other comedies with Gene Wilder.

Film Review: Cyclone (1987)

Also known as: Tornado (Germany)
Release Date: June 5th, 1987
Directed by: Fred Olen Ray
Written by: Paul Garson, T.L. Lankford, Fred Olen Ray (uncredited)
Music by: Haunted Garage, David A. Jackson, Michael Sonye
Cast: Heather Thomas, Jeffrey Combs, Dar Robinson, Martine Beswick, Martin Landau, Huntz Hall, Troy Donahue

Cinetel Films, 89 Minutes

Review:

“You’re as plastic as your tits!” – Teri Marshall

I recently reviewed another Fred OIen Ray movie called Alienator. That was an atrocious motion picture in every way. Cyclone, however, was fairly enjoyable and had the right kind of sexiness and cheesiness that made it an okay way to waste 89 minutes.

Plus, I really liked Heather Thomas when I watched reruns of The Fall Guy when I was a kid in the mid-’80s. Although, who didn’t like Ms. Thomas?

This also features Re-Animator‘s Jeffrey Combs and the great Martin Landau because I guess he needed money at the time. Luckily, his best work was yet to come with 1994’s Ed Wood, even if he appeared to be past his prime when this came out in 1987.

The story is pretty simple. A scientist is building a suped-up, badass motorcycle and everyone wants it for sinister reasons. The scientist is killed in a nightclub with an icepick to the back of his head. His girlfriend, the super sexy Heather Thomas, can’t trust anyone, so she takes the motorcycle and kills the scumbags.

This is a basic ’80s action movie with a cool sci-fi vehicle twist. And while this might not be the best film of its type from its era, it’s still enjoyable and the action sequences are actually better than I thought they’d be. Although, this also baffles me as the action sequences in Alienator were total shit.

Anyway, this is fun, dumb and cool. It’s the perfect sort of film for watching while vegging out on the couch on a rainy day. Plus, it has Heather Thomas in it during her prime. And she’s not the only beauty.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other really low budget ’80s sci-fi and action films.