Film Review: Troop Beverly Hills (1989)

Also known as: Be Prepared (working title)
Release Date: March 24th, 1989
Directed by: Jeff Kanew
Written by: Pamela Norris, Margaret Grieco Oberman, Ava Ostern Fries
Music by: Randy Edelman
Cast: Shelley Long, Craig T. Nelson, Betty Thomas, Mary Gross, Stephanie Beacham, Karen Kopins, Jenny Lewis, Emily Schulman, Carla Gugino, Kellie Martin, Tasha Scott, Ami Foster, Audra Lindley, Tori Spelling, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (cameo), Frankie Avalon (cameo), Dr. Joyce Brothers (cameo), Robin Leach (cameo), Cheech Marin (cameo), Ted McGinley (cameo), Pia Zadora (cameo) 

Fries Entertainment, Weintraub Entertainment Group, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Her recommendations for a campsite were totally unsuitable. There were no outlets. And there was dirt, and bugs, and… and it rains there. So anyway, we’ve found a place that’s much more us: the Beverly Hills Hotel.” – Phyllis Nefler

Troop Beverly Hills is the most Shelley Long movie ever made.

What I mean by that is that the film really showcases all of her strengths without even giving her the opportunity to possibly show any flaws. But I’ve always liked Shelley Long and this is the one film, above all others, that made me enjoy her most. And that’s not to take away from her greatest role of all-time, as Diane on Cheers. But as far as film goes, I would call this one her best.

The biggest reason is that she is the star of this picture and while I don’t think that it was written with her specifically in mind, she takes on the material like it’s hers, jumps in the deep end of the pool without a care in the world and gives the audience her great wit and electric charm. It’s impossible not to like her in this, despite her starting out in the film as a super rich housewife addicted to shopping and with no other real ambitions in life. Long makes it work.

I also love that Craig T. Nelson essentially just plays Craig T. Nelson and thus, allows Long to shine as the focal point of the picture. I don’t know if it was intentional or not but Nelson plays this without ego and is only there to help give Long’s character depth and ultimately, he gives her a secondary goal, which is to rekindle their failing marriage.

When I was a kid, I loved this movie. I didn’t care that it was about a bunch of girls in a scout troop. It was relatable to most kids and since I was a boy that was into scouting, I dug that this sort of existed in that world. Plus, all the young girls in this were solid, fun characters that didn’t just need adult guidance and life experience but they also served to be emotional support for Shelley Long and her own issues.

Also, as a kid, I liked the adult parts of the story, as it did a good job of making its point.

That point is that we can’t just coast through life regardless of how easy it may be for some of us. We’ve got to get off our asses, find what makes us happy and work towards it. We all need a purpose.

Troop Beverly Hills teaches its audience that you have to work through your issues, try new things and push yourself out of your comfort zone. And while the movie probably doesn’t need to be looked at that deeply, these things are there and it makes it a better movie because of them.

This isn’t a throwaway mindless comedy. Some probably see it that way but it’s positive, kind of uplifting and it has a lighthearted charm that goes beyond just Shelley Long’s performance.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Big Girls Don’t Cry… They Get Even and Ladybugs.

Film Review: Weird Science (1985)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1985
Directed by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchel-Smith, Kelly LeBrock, Bill Paxton, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Rusler, Suzanne Snyder, Judie Aronson, Vernon Wells, Michael Berryman, Wallace Langham (as Wally Ward)

Silver Pictures, Hughes Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“So, what would you little maniacs like to do first?” – Lisa

This was one of those films that I used to watch constantly when I was a kid. I loved this picture and, at the time, it was one of the coolest movies I had ever seen.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen it but I still really enjoyed it, even if it’s much harder for me to suspend disbelief as much as this film requires. But it doesn’t really need to make sense if you just surrender yourself over to the absurdity of it.

However, it has not aged well and it almost feels like a relic from the ’80s in a bad way. Also, out of John Hughes’ four big teen movies of that decade, I’d have to consider this one the worst, even though it was once my favorite.

The story is just absolutely bonkers and doesn’t make a lick of logical sense but the spectacle of it makes it entertaining.

My main problem isn’t that two teens make a girl using “science” it’s just how half-assed and convenient the whole process seemed. As a kid, you don’t think about this shit. However, as an adult, you do and if most people are like me, your brain will get more literal thinking with age. That’s not really going to bode well for this film’s longevity, as its audience has grown up and moved on. Well, maybe not those that are so addicted to nostalgia that they have to continually live vicariously through the past.

It probably sounds like I’m shitting on the movie and I don’t mean to. It’s fine for what it is and for its era, especially considering the age of its audience at the time. But even seeing this now, it’s hard not to like these characters, even if their journey seems kind of pointless and they don’t seem to actually learn anything important other than boners can make a man brave.

Kelly LeBrock is great in this and honestly, she’s the glue that keeps this movie from falling apart. But, as an adult, you start to see her character through a new lens and her story is pretty tragic and incredibly fucked up.

Here we have a supremely intelligent woman that was created by two horny teenagers that take her for granted, use her and then dump her less than 48 hours later, leaving her to wander the Earth with her magic powers and no real human connection with anyone. Sure, she’s Einstein level intelligent with beauty and personality but this sounds like the origin of a horror monster. And maybe, just maybe… there’s some sequel potential there. Just send me a check, I’ll see myself out and go straight to the bank, Universal.

Anyway, this is a fun, dumb movie that might not work as well in 2020, as it did in 1985, but it still probably deserves the beloved status it’s built up over the years. Despite my new take on it, I’ll still probably revisit it once in a while. But that’s also because it’s hard for me to sometimes resist the nostalgia bug even though I can see it for what it is.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s John Hughes movies, as well as ’80s and ’90s teen comedies.

Film Review: Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Also known as: Tetsuo (original title), The Ironman (alternative English title)
Release Date: June, 1989 (Italy – Fantafestival)
Directed by: Shinya Tsukamoto
Written by: Shinya Tsukamoto
Music by: Chu Ishikawa
Cast: Tomorowo Taguchi, Kei Fujiwara, Shinya Tsukamoto

Japan Home Video, K2 Spirit, Kaijyu Theater, 67 Minutes (cut down version), 69 Minutes, 77 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“Together, we can turn this fucking world to rust!” – Metals Fetishist

While there are some things I appreciate about this film, I actually hate it quite a bit.

It’s an absolute clusterfuck and while that’s what it set out to be, that doesn’t mean that putting the idea on celluloid is a good one.

This film looks like an industrial band’s music video from the late ’80s. And I’m not talking about a good industrial band on a major label, I’m talking about an unsigned band of college kids that have little to no talent that “borrowed” some film equipment for the weekend.

In fact, my only real experience in seeing any part of this film was when clips would be playing on screens in goth clubs in the late ’90s and early ’00s. In that setting with goth rock and industrial blaring through the club, it worked. As a film, not so much and in fact, not at all.

The only thing in this film I can really give props to is some of the special effects. While they’re not mind blowing by any stretch of the imagination, they are at least effective. The drill penis is a scary appendage no matter what side of it you’re on.

Apart from that, this is a shrill, spastic and seizure inducing fever dream. It’s really hard to watch and to digest, as none of it makes a lick of sense and it’s insane just for the hell of it because, you know… it’s fuckin’ art, maaan…

This is pretentious crap that gives films like Eraserhead some actual merit because at least there was something competent in that picture that allowed its director to grow into something better and more refined. Granted, I can’t say whether or not Shinya Tsukamoto actually got better, as I have no urge to delve deeper into his oeuvre after this unwatchable skull fuck.

If you have ever wanted to stare straight into the twitching eye of insanity while loaded up on a cocktail of uppers and hallucinogenics, than this might be your movie. But if it is, stay the fuck away from me, please.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: industrial music videos by bands that never got signed, as well as Japanese surrealist gore flicks.

Film Review: Lily C.A.T. (1987)

Also known as: LILY-C.A.T. (Japanese title)
Release Date: September 1st, 1987 (Japan)
Directed by: Hisayuki Toriumi
Written by: Hisayuki Toriumi
Music by: Akira Inoue

Victor Musical Industries, Studio Pierrot, Streamline Pictures, Discotek Media, 70 Minutes

Review:

“The wall – it ate the cat!” – Dülar Delcassé

Lily C.A.T. is a mostly forgettable anime OVA from the late ’80s but I still kind of like it. Sure, it’s a blatant ripoff of both Ridley Scott’s Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing but that doesn’t make it a crappy film.

Quite the contrary, actually, as these two concepts work well together and shown through the anime medium, they work tremendously well. Really, this film is a visual feast, especially for fans of the ’80s anime style and anime horror.

But I have to call a spade a spade and this is really derivative and uninspiring beyond just the sweet visuals.

I like the story but I also already liked it when I saw it in the films it takes its plot from. There are certain points in the plot that are original but it does feel like most of the characters are basic archetypes. That makes it easy to follow, I guess, but it also makes it really predictable on top of how cookie cutter it already is, plot-wise.

I can’t really recommend this unless you like ’80s anime, sci-fi horror and a bit of the cyberpunk aesthetic thrown in.

Like I said, this is mostly forgettable but at least it’s fun, energetic, a bit badass and kind of cool despite its lack of originality. Plus, it’s a pretty short flick.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the two live-action movies it borrows heavily from Alien and The Thing, as well as other ’80s sci-fi and cyberpunk anime.

Film Review: Dead Heat (1988)

Release Date: May 6th, 1988
Directed by: Mark Goldblatt
Written by: Terry Black
Music by: Ernest Troost
Cast: Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Darren McGavin, Lindsay Frost, Vincent Price, Keye Luke, Robert Picardo, Professor Toru Tanaka, Shane Black

Helpren/Meltzer, New World Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“[He shuts the porno mag the clerk’s being reading] Sorry to interrupt your erection.” – Det. Doug Bigelow

Dead Heat is greatly underappreciated. That’s probably because it bombed in the theater and then got brushed aside and barely even made a blip on the cable TV radar in the ’90s. By then it probably seemed really outdated and so cheesy that even late night movie shows didn’t really touch it.

I actually saw this on VHS around 1990 or so and thought it was pretty cool but it just never reemerged anywhere else until it popped up on streaming services within the last couple of years.

I was glad that it was most recently featured on Joe Bob Brigg’s The Last Drive-In, as it needs to be discovered and showcased for a new generation and for the old generation that might’ve missed it.

The film is written by Terry Black, the older brother of Shane.

Shane Black had already made waves after writing Lethal Weapon and The Monster Squad while also working on Predator and Night of the Creeps. Older brother kind of followed little brother here, as the story for Dead Heat is like a mash up of some of those other movies in how it features an action heavy buddy cop story with elements of horror and a bit of slapstick comedy.

That being said, the script was really creative and it provided a movie with a lot of really cool scenes and monster encounters: most notably the zombie animals that came to life despite being halfway butchered.

These scenes worked so well though because the special effects were solid. I mean, this was made by New World and thus, the production operated under Roger Corman economics. Despite that, the practical effects of the monsters looked great.

Additionally, some of the other effects were impressive too, such as the scene where Lindsay Frost decays into nothingness.

The film stars Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo as the two buddy cops but it also stars a great villain duo that features Darren McGavin and legendary Vincent Price. Everyone played well off of each other and all the core actors looked like they were having fun hamming it up and making this bonkers movie.

This is such a weird and unique picture that more people really should check it out. It’s amusing, enjoyable and deserving of more recognition than it initially received.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other goofy horror comedies of the ’80s like the first two Return of the Living Dead MoviesC.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud, TerrorVision, etc.

Film Review: Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

Also known as: Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (complete title)
Release Date: February 7th, 1980 (Italy)
Directed by: Ruggero Deodato
Written by: Gianfranco Clerici
Music by: Riz Ortolani
Cast: Robert Kerman, Carl Gabriel Yorke, Francesca Ciardi, Luca Barbareschi, Perry Pirkanen

F.D. Cinematografica, 95 Minutes, 89 Minutes (heavily cut), 90 Minutes (animal cruelty free cut), 86 Minutes (Quebec version)

Review:

“Man is omnipotent; nothing is impossible for him. What seemed like unthinkable undertakings yesterday are history today. The conquest of the moon for example: who talks about it anymore? Today we are already on the threshold of conquering our galaxy, and in a not too distant tomorrow, we’ll be considering the conquest of the universe, and yet man seems to ignore the fact that on this very planet there are still people living in the stone age and practicing cannibalism.” – PABS Reporter

I’ve seen bits and pieces of this film over the years but I’ve never seen it uncut and in its entirety. If I’m being honest, I never had much urge to, as I’m not keen on gore and shock just for the sake of gore and shock.

Plus, the way the film has been described to me, by everyone for years, made it sound like it was just a fucked up piece of shit that gorehounds love without much merit or relevance beyond that.

What I ended up seeing, for the most part, was a well shot, competent film that is definitely shocking but nowhere near as fucked up as my head made it seem, after filling in the blanks based off of the comments and critiques I’ve heard for years.

Granted, I’m pretty desensitized to violence and gore and the only thing that really bothered me about the movie was the legitimate animal cruelty, which was completely unnecessary regardless of “the art” or “authenticity”. I also don’t say that as some hippie vegan; I love eating meat. However, brutalizing animals to get a shot in a film is unacceptable, regardless of how you want to chop that up… no pun intended.

Anyway, despite not hating it on an immense level, I still don’t like the movie and found it tough to get through regardless of the shocking content. While it has an interesting premise that could be explored, this wasn’t the first movie of its kind and I don’t know if it’s the best either. I’d gather that these things are pretty cookie cutter and they’re just the product of a short fad in the exploitation realm of Italian filmmaking.

I don’t really want to ever see another one of these cannibal films again and the only reason I even relented and watched this in the first place was because it was featured on Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In.

The truth is, I didn’t gain anything from seeing this, other than having more of an understanding about what the finished product is. But it’s really a film that I feel wasted the talents the filmmakers had.

As I’ve said, it was competently shot and there is a definite understanding of shot framing and the concept of mise-en-scène but that in no way makes it good; it just makes it better than the level of dreck I expected it to be.

The only other positive is its use of music. It uses certain musical tones almost ironically at some points and whether this was done intentionally or stupidly, it leaves an even more unsettling sensation than just the scene playing out on its own.

Ultimately, this is a really fucked up movie by a fucked up filmmaker that valued his terribly, shitty art over the lives of animals or the people in the film, who were forced into burning huts longer than they needed to be.

But hey, it got people talking! Am I right?

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: other cannibal and gory, violent exploitation films of the era.

Film Review: Grunt! The Wrestling Movie (1985)

Also known as: American Mad Dog (Germany)
Release Date: November 30th, 1985
Directed by: Allan Holzman
Written by: Allan Holzman, Tony Randel, Lisa Tomei, Barry Zetlin
Music by: Susan Justin
Cast: Magic Schwarz, Steve Strong, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Lydie Denier, Robert Glaudini, Dick Murdoch, The Destroyer, Wally George, Adrian Street, Miss Linda

New World Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

I’ve never seen Grunt! until now but it’s something I’ve heard people in wrestling circles talk about for years. I guess I didn’t realize how many old school wrestlers actually appeared in this but it was fun to watch, simply for all the cameos from “Exotic” Adrian Street and Miss Linda to Dick Murdoch and The Destroyer.

The film is done in a mockumentary style as the filmmakers are trying to solve a mystery. They’re obsessed over a wrestling star named The Mask and have theories that he might be an old wrestler named Mad Dog, who killed a man in the ring and was believed to have committed suicide.

It’s a bizarre story with even more bizarre characters that don’t act like normal human beings do in any given situation. But hey, this is about professional wrestling in the ’80s and most people never really understood it on any intimate level, anyway. Well, except for those who worked in it and even then, a lot of those people didn’t fully grasp it either.

That being said, this isn’t a particularly good movie but it’s entertaining if you have the palate for schlock and old school wrestling before it was forever changed by Vince McMahon’s WWE corporate monopoly.

Most of the core characters here were amusing and even if the film just plays like a series of random scenes strung together by a really flimsy and nonsensical narrative, the performances by a few of the key players are enjoyable.

The film does end with the mystery solved but it also leaves you with more questions. It’s the kind of big reveal that felt half-assed and not very well thought out. But it’s not like I watched this expecting it to be some sort of noir-esque masterpiece within the wrestling sphere.

I liked the film, most people probably won’t but for what it is, it was kind of cool to experience.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other old school wrestling films like 1974’s The Wrestler and 1989’s No Holds Barred.

Film Review: Transformers: The Movie (1986)

Release Date: August 8th, 1986
Directed by: Nelson Shin
Written by: Ron Friedman
Based on: The Transformers by Hasbro, Takara
Music by: Vince DiCola
Cast: Eric Idle, Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, Lionel Stander, Orson Welles, Frank Welker, Peter Cullen, Scatman Crothers, John Moschitta Jr., Michael Bell, Casey Kasem, Chris Latta, Clive Revill

Toei Animation, Sunbow Productions, Marvel Productions, Hasbro, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Megatron must be stopped… no matter the cost.” – Optimus Prime

I’ve been meaning to revisit this for awhile, as I’ve also wanted to review the television series seasons after the movie. However, my DVD was missing and I just found it under my DVD shelf. It could’ve been there for years.

Anyway, having dusted this off, the 20th Anniversary Edition, I fired it up and gave it a watch. Man, it’s been too long and it doesn’t matter that I have nearly every line of dialogue still memorized, because every time I see this, it still feels like the first time.

I love this movie and it’s definitely the better film between it and Hasbro’s other major motion picture: G.I. Joe: The Movie. This was also the only one to get a theatrical release, as the backlash this film received, as well as it under performing, made them re-think their strategy.

However, the backlash and criticism was stupid and I wrote about it here.

Beyond that, it doesn’t matter that the franchise’s primary hero was killed off in the first act of the film. In fact, it gave this film much more weight than an episode of the cartoon could have. It also paved the way for a new line of toys and characters, which is really what this franchise was designed for.

For fans of the animated show, this movie was larger than life. It took these beloved characters and their universe and threw them up on the big screen and gave audiences a story that was worth that larger piece of real estate.

Now the plot isn’t perfect and the film has a few pacing issues but the pros far outweigh the cons and Transformers has never been cooler than it was with this movie.

The animation is done in the same style as the television show except it’s much better and the film looks stupendous. Honestly, it still looks great and it has held up really well, even with modern CGI and computer programs doing most of the heavy lifting.

Transformers: The Movie still feels like a living, breathing work of art. It’s an animated film of the highest caliber from an era that was stuffed full of so much fantastic pop culture shit.

That being said, there wasn’t an animated film that I appreciated and enjoyed as much as this one when I saw it. Looking at it now, I still feel the same way, other than a handful of Japanese animes that I discovered later.

Sure, this is no Akira but for something produced by an American company, it’s light years ahead of its domestic competition. Hell, I even prefer it over the best Disney movies of the ’80s.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the original Transformers television series, as well as G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

Film Review: Deadbeat at Dawn (1988)

Release Date: November 18th, 1988 (Dayton, Ohio, US)
Directed by: Jim Van Bebber
Written by: Jim Van Bebber
Music by: A-OK, Ned Folkerth
Cast: Jim Van Bebber, Paul Harper, Megan Murphy, Marc Pitman

Asmodeus Productions Inc., 81 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t need your voodoo magic around my neck!” – Goose

While I appreciate filmmakers who can make chicken salad out of chicken shit, Deadbeat at Dawn doesn’t achieve that sort of status for me. Some people really like it and are even impressed by it but it is a tough movie to get through, even for an ’80s action junkie like me, who doesn’t mind over the top violence and the use of primitive practical effects.

The effects are really the highpoint of the movie but even then (and also considering the complete lack of budget) they just don’t cut it.

Deadbeat at Dawn is horrendously acted, terribly shot and while it seems self-aware and proud to be cinematic poop, it doesn’t really climb out of the Port-O-Let to give you some good, solid shit.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s worth checking out if you’ve never seen it and you have a high tolerance for dreck on celluloid. It’s certainly something that should be experienced but there are much better movies that are also made and presented in this style.

I think my biggest issue with it is that there is no silver lining or saving grace hidden within the film. Most movies like this have something redeeming or endearing. This doesn’t.

Sure, I can appreciate the fact that the director/writer/lead actor took his college money, rounded up his homies and shot this thing guerrilla style in the heart of Dayton, Ohio but I can’t look passed how bad it is.

Deadbeat at Dawn really tries to push the bar but others have pushed it much further and with much better results.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other overly gory ’80s action movies like Street Trash and Troma’s War.

Film Review: The Last Horror Film (1982)

Also known as: The Fanatic (UK), Love to Kill (Germany), Fanatico (Spain), Fanatismo Letal (Venezuela), Fanatical Extreme (US video title)
Release Date: October 9th, 1982 (Spain – Sitges Film Festival)
Directed by: David Winters
Written by: Judd Hamilton, Tom Klassen, David Winters
Music by: Jeff Koz, Jesse Frederick
Cast: Caroline Munro, Joe Spinell, Judd Hamilton, Filomena Spagnuolo, David Winters, Susanne Benton

Shere Productions, Winters Hollywood Entertainment Holdings Corporation, Troma Entertainment, 87 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve seen enough fake blood to know the real thing when I see it.” – Jana Bates

I recently revisited Maniac, which starred Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro. I knew about this movie, which also starred both of them and came out just two years later. I’ve never seen it but since I cherish both actors, I figured that seeing this was long overdue.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, I just knew that a New York City cab driver goes to the Cannes Film Festival in France due to his obsession over a film starlet.

One thing I didn’t expect from this was the comedy element. But I actually enjoy it quite a bit, as it lets Spinell really ham it up. The scenes between him and his mother, who is played by his real life mom, were funny as hell and their personal chemistry comes through in a very charming way.

Side note: For those that don’t know, Spinell was really close to his mom and despite his life as a character actor and party animal, he always kept his mom close. Little did I know that he actually included her in one of his films.

Beyond that, I really like Spinell and Caroline Munro when they’re together. This is the third time they’ve been in the same movie after Maniac and the cheap Italian Star Wars ripoff, Starcrash.

The really cool thing about this movie, is that like Maniac, it almost has giallo notes to it. Plus, setting it in Cannes and filming it during the festival created an awesome and unique atmosphere for something so dark, violent, gory and borderline slasher-y.

Additionally, the filmmakers rely on your knowledge of Spinell’s past characters, specifically his role in Maniac, to play off of and to set up a really good twist ending that you won’t see coming.

Seeing this, I was surprised to find out that I actually prefer it to Maniac, even though it’s nowhere near as well known and was sort of lost to time for a few decades before Troma decided to dust it off and distribute it on DVD.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Maniac, which also stars Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro, as well as other late ’70s and early ’80s horror and slasher films.