Film Review: Superman II (1980)

Release Date: December 4th, 1980 (Australia)
Directed by: Richard Lester, Richard Donner (uncredited)
Written by: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: Ken Thorne
Cast: Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Margot Kidder, Valerie Perrine, Terence Stamp, Susannah York, Jack O’Halloran, Marc McClure, Sarah Douglas, Marlon Brando (appears only in the Richard Donner Cut)

Film Export A.G., Dovemead Limited, International Film Productions, Warner Bros., 127 Minutes (original cut), 116 Minutes (Richard Donner Cut)

Review:

“Come to me, son of Jor-El, kneel before Zod!” – General Zod

In all honesty, I like Superman and Superman II just about the same. II gets a bit of an edge though just because I like the story better and the threat in the film is a credible threat, as it pits Superman against an adversary that matches his power level.

While I love Lex Luthor, the character, and I also love the mind versus might rivalry, the Gene Hackman version of the character just doesn’t hit the right mark. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Hackman and his character in these movies but he doesn’t feel like the Lex of the comics I grew up with. He is to Luthor what Cesar Romero was to the Joker. He’s damn entertaining and enjoyable but he’s lacking the darkness that’s needed to truly be villainous.

General Zod, however, is an incredible opponent. He was created for this film series but he was so damn good that he would go on to be in the comics. Terence Stamp really brought some much needed testosterone to the table and his minions, played by Sarah Douglas and Jack O’Halloran, were pretty cool villains as well. Man, I was crushing hard on Sarah Douglas when I was a kid.

I also really liked the romance in this movie and usually I don’t care about that crap in these sort of films. I just like how Clark and Lois’ relationship blossomed and how it was really tested and pushed Superman into having to make an incredibly hard decision, which he then had to try and fix because saving the world is his destiny, even if that means he can’t love a human. Yeah, the story around this was actually weird and nonsensical but the point of it and the challenge made me accept it.

Getting back to Lex Luthor though, his role in this film seemed pretty pointless. Once again, he was the top billed star but it’s like they had nothing for him to do. He breaks out of prison, leaves poor Otis behind, breaks into Superman’s house and then aligns himself with Zod, who didn’t need Luthor’s help at all, let’s be honest. Luthor is just sort of wedged into the film just because they had to have a name as big as Gene Hackman’s, after Marlon Brando’s Jor-El was killed off in the first picture. I should note that Brando did film footage for the film but he wanted more money than the producers were willing to pay, so it was edited out of the final cut. He does appear in the Richard Donner cut of the film though.

This chapter in the Superman movie saga is a great extension of what the first movie was. Really, they just feel like two halves of a whole. The movies did a lot of their filming simultaneously because the producers knew there would be a sequel. Some of the filming on II got put on hold though, as it was holding up the production of I and the studio wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to miss its Christmas time release. There was a lot of conflict, behind the scenes, and Richard Donner was fired after directing most of II. He wasn’t given credit for his work and Richard Lester took over. Lester would also go on to direct the terrible Superman III, showing that he wasn’t as skilled as Donner. On a side note, the Richard Donner Cut was released years later, which most people seem to enjoy more.

Despite the backstage politics, this still ended up being my favorite film in the franchise.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Superman: The Movie, the 1980 Flash Gordon.

Film Review: Ghoulies (1984)

Also known as: Beasties (working title)
Release Date: November 8th, 1984 (UK)
Directed by: Luca Bercovici
Written by: Luca Bercovici, Jefery Levy
Music by: Richard Band, Shirley Walker
Cast: Peter Liapis, Lisa Pelikan, Michael Des Barres, Scott Thomson, Mariska Hargitay, Jack Nance

Ghoulies Productions, Empire Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“They call me Dick, but you can call me… Dick.” – Dick

The Ghoulies films were never something that I was all that into. I watched them a few times in the ’80s and ’90s but there were so many better horror films from those decades, that Ghoulies really got lost in the shuffle and only ever seemed to resurface in my mind whenever someone else brought it up in conversation.

That being said, this is a better movie than I remembered. I can’t say the same about the sequels, as I haven’t revisited them in years but I plan to do so in the near future.

First off, I didn’t even remember that Michael Des Barres was in this. As a kid, I always loved him as Murdoc, the total bastard that loved to fuck with MacGuyver on MacGuyver. He is great at being insanely dramatic and he really ups the ante in this film, as the evil Malcolm Graves. The opening scene with him presiding over a demonic ritual was absolutely fantastic and so full of insane ’80s cheese that nearly everything after that scene is a disappointment.

Not to worry though, Des Barres comes back into the film in the third act and the big finale is friggin’ bananas.

The film deals more with witchcraft than just being about little carnivorous killer creatures, though. It’s that witchcraft that brings the creatures to life but this film has a lot of other layers to it. There is a terrifying clown doll for one thing, then there is a pair of weird midget minions and some undead shenanigans.

The highlight of the film is the finale, which sees the monsters tearing shit up while the evil wizard battles the main character and then Jack Nance, who you will probably recognize from Eraserhead or Twin Peaks.

The film has some serious flaws and a lot of mistakes in it but that stuff just adds to the charm.

One mistake that is hard to miss is in the confrontation between Malcolm Graves and his son. Malcolm’s eyes glow green and then they don’t from shot to shot. I don’t know how they fucked this up. Maybe there were some re-shoots done and they didn’t have anymore money for effects, I’m not sure. Point is, this mistake sticks out like a sore thumb.

This is a silly, stupid movie but the formula works. You can’t watch this and take it seriously and it is self-aware enough to know that it just needed to be ludicrous and fun.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: The other three Ghoulies films, the Munchies films, Hobgoblins and Sorority Babes In the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama.

Film Review: Psycho II (1983)

Release Date: June 3rd, 1983
Directed by: Richard Franklin
Written by: Tom Holland
Based on: characters by Robert Bloch
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia, Dennis Franz, Hugh Gillin, Robert Alan Browne, Claudia Bryar, Lee Garlington, Tom Holland

Oak Industries, Universal Pictures, 113 Minutes

Review:

“Mary, I’m becoming confused again, aren’t I?” – Norman Bates

I didn’t know what to expect from a sequel to a Hitchcock classic. Plus, this came out 23 years after the original, was made by a different studio and had a completely different vibe that embraced more of the slasher side than the classic suspense side.

The thing is, this also did a fine job of building suspense and ultimately, it was a damn good story, kept me guessing and wasn’t something that had an obvious outcome.

I really liked the script, I liked the curveballs and I loved that Norman Bates was actually reformed, even if circumstances pushed his buttons and made his resistance to his killer urges weaken over time. But is he the killer in this picture? You would be safe to assume so but the answer to that question isn’t a simple one.

Now I do feel like the ending of the film was a bit sloppy, after such a good story and great build up towards the finale. The ending felt like something that wasn’t decided upon until production had already started and the producers ended up meddling with things. I don’t know if that happened, it’s just a guess, but it had that kind of weird execution in the third act of the story.

The movie was written by Tom Holland, who would later direct Fright Night and Child’s Play. Kudos to Holland for penning a really compelling, smart script that really gave respect to the original movie while also showing respect to the audience. He also had a lot of layers to his story and explored what happens when a once insane man is clinically cured but has to later deal with the social repercussions of his past actions. How will he handle the hatred; how will he respond when pushed against a wall?

Another person I have to give major kudos to is Vera Mills. She really kills it in this, pun intended. Also, she truly committed to this picture and the slasher style killings. She does get taken out in this and that moment is one of the best in the film. Vera goes out like a friggin’ champ and it was cool to see her do that scene.

Meg Tilly was adorable in the film and it was hard to not crush on her character, just as Norman did. She is not who she seems to be at first glance but she develops mutual feelings for Norman and wants to genuinely support him. Sadly, she gets pulled into his chaotic orbit.

Even though a few things I’ve said here may be seen as spoilers, they are very minor ones, as Holland’s script isn’t as simple as it may first seem on the surface. Plus, just because someone dies in this, doesn’t mean that they’re just some victim. In fact, this feels more like a Clue whodunit mystery than a straight up serial killer thriller. And just when you think you’ve got the answers, you realize that you don’t.

It was great seeing Anthony Perkins return to his most famous role. Even within the context of his past crimes, Perkins is so good in this role that you feel for him emotionally. You know he did horrible things but you also get the sense that he is trying his damnedest to move forward and to truly be a good person. When he’s poked and prodded, you get angry for him. I just don’t think anyone else could have made this work quite like Perkins did.

On paper, Psycho II is a film that should have never been made. The original should have been left alone. But this is a very rare gem, as it’s better than it has a right to be.

The film isn’t as good as it’s predecessor because really, Psycho is a perfect film. But this is a damn good examination of psychological rehabilitation and it somehow makes you care for a man that was once a cold blooded murderer.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Psycho films.

Film Review: Master Ninja I (1984)

Also known as: The Master (as a TV series), The Ninja Master (original VHS movie release)
Release Date: 1984 (the original run of the TV series)
Directed by: various
Written by: Tom Sawyer, Michael Sloan, Susan Woollen
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Timothy Van Patten, Sho Kosugi, Demi Moore, Claude Akins, Clu Gulager

Michael Sloan Productions, Viacom, CBS, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t worry, I won’t leave this bar through the window.” – Max Keller

This isn’t really a movie but it was treated as such when it was lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000. This is actually just two episodes of the television show The Master edited into a feature length format and presented as a film to the VHS market circa 1984. The show bombed and only lasted thirteen episodes.

This film version of episoides 1 and 2 doesn’t have a good flow to it. Usually when episodes are diced up and made into “movies” like this, the result is always pretty piss poor.

The thing is, I vaguely remember seeing the show when I was a kid and I kind of liked it. I was five when this came out though and I probably didn’t actually see it till I was like seven or eight but I thought it was sort of cool for the time.

Really though, it’s not a good show by any stretch of the imagination. It works if you are into televised ’80s action cheese. It certainly isn’t horrible but it’s shoddily produced with glaring flaws but it’s got Lee Van Cleef and Sho Kosugi in it, so it’s overflowing in manliness points.

It’d be easy to hate on this, especially in this butchered up format but I’m someone that loves ’80s ninja shit and that’s exactly what this is, even if it’s highly diluted for general audiences. It’s no Revenge of the Ninja or American Ninja but it still firmly represents the ’80s ninja craze with gusto.

The stunts are pretty good in a lot of scenes though.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: Master Ninja II and The Master TV series.

Film Review: Nightmare (1981)

Also known as: Blood Splash, Nightmare in a Damaged Brain (alternate titles), Schizo (Australia)
Release Date: October 16th, 1981 (New York City sneak preview)
Directed by: Romano Scavolini
Written by: Romano Sacvolini
Music by: Jack Eric Williams
Cast: Baird Stafford, Sharon Smith, C.J. Cooke, Mike Cribben, Danny Ronan

21st Century Film Corporation, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Now Paul, you… you believed in these drugs. And, you rebuilt this man. And you did put him back out on the street. But now, he’s out there killing people. And we can’t have that. Now you find him… and you fix it” – Man with Cigar

Nightmare is an Italian slasher film shot mostly on the Florida Space Coast. Sadly, this isn’t a slasher picture that takes place at NASA but how cool would that have been in the ’80s? Like SpaceCamp meets Friday the 13th. I would’ve loved that shit.

Anyway, this primarily takes place on Cocoa Beach but there are a few New York City scenes as well.

The story follows a psycho that has been released to the public, he goes down to Florida and tries to fight his killer tendencies but he can’t. This all ties back to a horrific event from his childhood.

The film is far from spectacular but it is a good example of extensive gore used in a way that has some actual artistic merit to it. The gory scenes are very well done and as tasteful as they can possibly be. Yes, it is absolutely gratuitous but it feels like there is actual purpose behind it and it serves to have meaning to the plot and to character development. You’ll see what I mean when you get to the big reveal (a predictable one) at the end.

I can name dozens of slasher films that are better than this one and there isn’t a ton of killing but for whatever reason, this one does stick with you and it stands out, as it doesn’t try to emulate or blatantly ripoff other films in the genre, it explores different territory making it fairly unique. Also, I’m a Florida boy and I love the setting.

Strangely, being that this is an Italian film with a slasher premise, it doesn’t tap into the giallo style too much. The only thing remotely giallo, besides narrative similarities to that style and slasher films, is the vivid look of the blood once it really starts flowing. I think the director was more interested in trying to make something much more American feeling than replicating other, more famous, Italian horror directors. Kudos to him for that.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Don’t Go In the HouseBlood RagePieces and Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker.

Film Review: Final Exam (1981)

Also known as: Examen Final (Spain, France), Examen (Germany)
Release Date: June 5th, 1981
Directed by: Jimmy Huston
Written by: Jimmy Huston
Music by: Gary S. Scott
Cast: Cecile Bagdadi, Joel S. Rice, DeAnna Robbins, Sherry Willis-Burch, Ralph Brown, John Fallon, Timothy Raynor

Avco Embassy Pictures, Motion Picture Marketing, 89 Minutes

Review:

“People are killed every day for no reason at all.” – Radish

This film has characters named Radish and Wildman in it. What’s not to love, right?

Final Exam is one of the seventy dozen slasher films to come out in the early ’80s. It is also one of the most forgettable. It tries to be several things at once but fails at all of those things.

This is a film with multiple personality disorder. It wants to be a teen sex comedy and also wants to be a clone of everything better than it in the slasher genre. It doesn’t meld the two things together very well and it doesn’t do either of the two things very well either. It’s not funny, not scary and the biggest crime against it is that there is barely any blood in it.

Another problem with the film and I’m not sure if it’s an attempt to be artistic or just pure laziness but the slasher has no backstory, no name, no real motivation that you’re ever made aware of and looks generic as hell. He’s just some dude that looks like Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men but severely deficient in coolness.

The dumbest thing in this entire film is the sequence where some frat bros stage a fake terrorist attack on the school in an effort to create a distraction so their other frat bros can cheat on their exams. Seriously, these doofusauruses roll up onto the university lawn in a van and start machine gunning people and then steal the corpses of their victims. Of course, none of this is real, as the corpses come to life, laughing their asses off in the van. It’s a bizarre scene that just comes off as random nonsense that contributes to the overall nonsense that is this stupid movie.

Final Exam sucks. I love slasher films, even really bad ones, but this is such an awful pile of shit that the flies would rather commit suicide than hang around this massive mound of crude excrement.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Other college/school themed slasher pictures of the era: The ProwlerGraduation DayNight SchoolThe Dorm That Dripped BloodBlack ChristmasThe House On Sorority Row and The Initiation.

Film Review: Wacko (1982)

Also known as: The Last Horror Show (working title), Wacko Weekend (Sweden), Crazy Doctor in Love (Philippines)
Release Date: May 28th, 1982 (Minneapolis premiere)
Directed by: Greydon Clark
Written by: Jim Kouf, Dana Olsen, Michael Spound
Music by: Arthur Kempel
Cast: Joe Don Baker, Stella Stevens, Elizabeth Daily, George Kennedy, Julia Duffy, Scott McGinnis, Andrew Dice Clay, Charles Napier

Jersey Farley Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Death to all teenagers who fuck.” – Lawnmower Killer

Like other Greydon Clark movies, this is fucking terrible. Well, unless you want to see a young Andrew Dice Clay dressed up as Superman. But even then, that’s over pretty quickly and this film is really hard to sit through.

It also doesn’t help that Julia Duffy has a scream that is like nails on the chalkboard. What makes it even worse is that she has to scream constantly and for long durations. I wanted to throw a fastball through my television set just to shut her up. It was like a banshee fucking a turkey that’s getting fucked by a horse. Sorry, I don’t know how else to describe it.

This film is also supposed to be a comedy but it’s not funny at all. It’s just a 90 minute festival of cringe and baffling bizarreness.

I guess this is supposed to be similar to the Police Academy style of humor but it doesn’t work and the screenwriters don’t have a funny bone in their bodies and none of the actors ever felt like they cared how they delivered their funny bits.

Joe Don Baker has done some terrible shit in his career but he’s still a pretty good actor on his best days. This is the worst thing he’s ever done though, at least out of the dozens of films I’m aware of.

George Kennedy is in this too and he plays a doctor that is always trying to peek at his underage daughters when they’re sleeping in their panties. Was this funny in 1982? Because I’m pretty sure it was just fucking creepy back then too.

I don’t know. There isn’t much to say about this other than it is horrible in every way and no one should ever watch it.

Rating: 1.25/10
Pairs well with: James Gunn tweets from 2008.