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: Porky’s (1981)

Release Date: November 13th, 1981 (Columbia, SC)
Directed by: Bob Clark
Written by: Bob Clark
Music by: Paul Zaza, Carl Zittrer
Cast: Dan Monahan, Mark Herrier, Wyatt Knight, Roger Wilson, Cyril O’Reilly, Tony Ganios, Kaki Hunter, Kim Cattrall, Nancy Parsons, Scott Colomby, Boyd Gaines, Doug McGrath, Susan Clark, Art Hindle, Wayne Maunder, Alex Karras, Chuck Mitchell

Astral Bellevue Pathé, Melvin Simon Productions, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Look’s like I’m gonna make a man out of you yet, boy.” – Mr. Cavanaugh, “A man? If being a man means being what you are, I’d rather be queer.” – Tim

Somehow, this low budget Canadian teen sex comedy became the fifth highest grossing movie of 1982. With that surprising success came two mediocre sequels and a slew of other teen sex comedy movies that tried to replicate the Porky’s formula with poor-to-moderate success.

Porky’s is a strange film for me in that I don’t hold it in as high regard as some people but I also feel personally connected to it, as my father lived close to the high school and other iconic spots in the film series. And even though this takes place in the ’50s, I had been to these same places in the ’80s and not much was different.

I like the movie but it’s not something I revisit very often, as there are other teen comedies I prefer much more than this. Sure, this one takes the cake in raunchiness and it just dives right into the subject of teen sex but those things don’t make it a good movie. What works most of all is that you generally like the core characters and over the course of three films, they actually come to mean something to the viewer.

Still, this really is lowest common denominator, gross out, perverted humor. I’m not really saying that’s bad but the jokes and gags are predictable and there’s just an overabundance of it at every turn.

Additionally, this movie could never be made today, as everything… and I mean everything is offensive in the 2020s. Comedy is deader than my dog Chipper, who was hit by a car in 1984. See, most people may be thinking, “WTF, dude! That’s not funny! That’s fucked up!” And I’d just point and go, “See what I mean?!” Truthfully, Chipper wasn’t hit by a car, she was ran over by a lawnmower but I didn’t want my example to be too over the top.

Anyway, Porky’s is still fun if you’re not a sour cunt looking for things to cancel under every rock. It’s most definitely a product of its time and I can get why people that were born after it came out might not enjoy it and may find it off putting but every generation after mine is primarily comprised of pansies and tattle tales. 

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequels, as well as other screwball ’80s teen sex comedies.

Film Review: Stripes (1981)

Also known as: Cheech and Chong Join the Army (original script title)
Release Date: June 26th, 1981
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: Dan Goldberg, Harold Ramis, Len Blum
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Warren Oates, P. J. Soles, Sean Young, John Candy, John Larroquette, John Diehl, Judge Reinhold, Joe Flaherty, Dave Thomas, Bill Paxton

Columbia Pictures, 106 Minutes, 122 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“Who’s your friend? Who’s your buddy? I am, aren’t I? You’re crazy about me, aren’t you?” – John Winger

This is considered one of the all-time great Bill Murray comedies. While I do like it, it was never really at the top of my list. I’m not quite sure why, as it also features Harold Ramis, John Candy, John Larriquette, Judge Reinhold, Joe Flaherty and Dave Thomas: all comedy legends I love.

Stripes is funny and amusing but from a narrative standpoint, it always felt kind of sloppy and pointless. Sure, these new recruit losers (mainly Murray and Ramis) do rise to the occasion and become heroes for a day, however, things in this movie just sort of happen without much purpose.

I get it, though, this is sort of just a goofy, mindless comedy. However, I guess I hold these guys and director Ivan Reitman to a higher standard because they’ve made much better films.

Without Bill Murray and someone as great as Ramis to play off of in nearly every scene, this would be reduced down to just a run of the mill screwball comedy like Meatballs or Porky’s.

I also know that Reitman probably didn’t have much of a budget to work with but this picture looks more like a television movie than a cinematic one. However, the film’s success did pave the way for the Ghostbusters movies, which are, to this day, my favorite comedy films of all-time.

Stripes is a movie that I still watch about twice a decade, as I can put it on and not think. But ultimately, it’s just never been as beloved by me as it seems to be by many others.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Bill Murray films of the ’80s, as well as comedy pictures directed by Ivan Reitman and John Landis.

Film Review: The Monster Club (1981)

Release Date: April 2nd, 1981 (UK)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Edward Abraham, Valerie Abraham
Based on: the works of R. Chetwynd-Hayes
Music by: Douglas Gamley, various
Cast: Vincent Price, John Carradine, Donald Pleasence, Patrick Magee, Stuart Whitman, Britt Ekland, Richard Johnson, Barbara Kellerman, Simon Ward

Chips Productions, Sword & Sorcery, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Can we truly call this a monster club if we do not boast amongst our membership a single member of the human race?” – Eramus

This used to be one of my favorite anthology horror movies when I was a kid and while it wasn’t my first Vincent Price movie, it’s one that I had on VHS and would watch more than any person probably should have.

The film is really a mixed bag, as anthology horror movies tend to go, but most of the stuff contained within is good and amusing. Even if the disintegrating woman at the end of the first story scared the living shit out of me every time I saw it with young eyes. Frankly, it’s still effective and the best special effects shot in the entire film.

This is incredibly low budget but it also makes the best out of its limited resources and I actually like how bad the monster costumes are in the nightclub scenes, which are sprinkled throughout the film as the narrative bookends.

A lot of this film felt overly hokey and I’m not sure if they were specifically aiming for that but it worked and gave it a charm that it wouldn’t have had if it was more serious or had a budget that better hid its flaws. I love that the movie sort of wears its cheapness and absurdity on its sleeve.

My favorite parts of the movie are the bookend bits, mainly because I like the music, the performances and the banter between Vincent Price and John Carradine. I especially love the scene where Price goes on a diatribe about how The Monster Club needs to open up to humans, the best monster that ever lived.

As far as the actual short horror stories go, I like the first one the best. It was actually effective, emotionally and I liked the characters and the simple story. The vampire chapter was the worst one and it’s really just meh. The final story with the village of ghouls was decent and I liked Patrick Magee in it but it’s still far from great and watching it, you just want to get back to the Monster Club scenes.

Overall, I can’t say that this aged well but it will most definitely excite the nostalgia bug for those who loved the horror and music of this era.

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

Film Review: My Bloody Valentine (1981)

Release Date: February 11th, 1981
Directed by: George Mihalka
Written by: John Beaird, Stephen Miller
Music by: Paul Zaza
Cast: Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck, Don Francks, Cynthia Dale, Alf Humphreys, Keith Knight, Patricia Hamilton

Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC), Famous Players, Secret Films, Paramount Pictures, 90 Minutes, 93 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“[reading a Valentine note] Roses are red, violets are blue, one is dead, and so are you.” – Mabel Osborne

This is a better slasher film than people give it credit for. I’ve heard it catch a lot of shit over the years but it has some sequences in it that are really good and the third act is cool and takes the slasher formula into a unique environment, as opposed to just the woods, a suburban neighborhood or a campus full of young people.

It obviously tried to tap into Halloween‘s success by taking place on another holiday but apart from that and it being a slasher flick, it’s still very much its own thing.

Most of the characters in this are actually likable and I thought it was a better cast than what we get with most films like it. I also liked that the cutest chick in the movie was with the mustachioed fat dude. But he had charisma and was usually the voice of reason within this group of twentysomethings.

The story takes place around a mining town and the slasher wears mining gear. The monster just has a cool look that I thought worked really well. Additionally, having the killer stalk his prey through the mines in the last third of the film was refreshing and neat.

Now the big reveal at the end wasn’t all that shocking but I really liked that the slasher survives and mocks the good people of the town, as he retreats into the darkness of the mine tunnels.

With that, this was left open for a sequel but unfortunately, we never got one. We would get a remake in 2009 but I’ve never actually watched it because it came out in an era where every ’80s horror flick was being remade with bad results. Maybe I’ll check it out and review it in the near future, though.

Anyway, this is a better than average slasher movie from the height of the era. It could’ve used more gore and brutality but it still plays well.

Also, the scene where the girl is stalked in the room with the miner uniforms dropping from the ceiling is one of my favorite slasher kill scenes of all-time. There’s something spooky, primal and terrifying about it that really makes it stand out.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other slasher films from the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Film Review: Kill and Kill Again (1981)

Also known as: Fighter Gang (Germany)
Release Date: May, 1981
Directed by: Ivan Hall
Written by: John M. Crowther
Music by: Igo Kantor (supervisor)
Cast: James Ryan, Anneline Kriel, Michael Mayer

APC, Again Productions, Kavalier Films, 100 Minutes

Review:

“My father has been working for several years on a project to extract fuel from potatoes.” – Kandy Kane

Man, I saw this so long ago that I barely remember it. I mostly just geeked out a bit at some visual cues that re-sparked my feelings from the first time I watched this, which would’ve been somewhere in the mid-’80s. I think my cousin had this on a bootleg VHS or we rented it from the Movie Van, a cool van that provided us with lots of ’80s horror, sci-fi and action flicks when we had weekend sleepovers.

Watching it now, it’s still good at its highpoints but a lot of it is kind of boring and drab. It wasn’t as action heavy as I remembered or as the trailer implies. Most of the film is actually about building a badass team to go overthrow an insane dictator with a karate army.

One thing that caught me by surprise, though, was how funny this was. I didn’t remember it being so quippy and maybe that’s because I wouldn’t have noticed that as much as a kid. But the jokes were goofy and fun and made this a really lighthearted romp mixed with Cannon Films style action.

In fact, the humor and action mix reminded me a lot of the Amir Shervan pictures of the late ’80s and early ’90s, once the Israeli director came to the United States and made some awesome D-movie classics.

The bulk of the movie is carried by its star, James Ryan. He’s not a guy that worked a whole lot but he’s always been enjoyable to me, as he’s convincing and charismatic in these sort of roles. Other than this film, he’s probably most known for Space Mutiny and Rage to Kill. He has a sort of poor man’s David Carradine thing going for him.

Side note: this movie is apparently a sequel to a film called Kill or Be Killed, which I have never seen. That film is also referred to as Karate Killer and Karate Olympiad. I’ll have to try and track it down so I can review it.

This is a fun movie at its best but you do have to sit through a lot of talking and a lack of action in parts. There are at least enough action sequences worked in, just when you might start getting too bored to care.

The fight choreography is decent, the plot is bonkers, the acting is barely acting but this still has a lot of heart and is mostly enjoyable.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: the Amir Shervan pictures of the late ’80s/early ’90s, as well as most of Cannon’s action flicks from the ’80s.

Film Review: Invaders From the Deep (1981)

Release Date: 1981
Directed by: David Lane, David Elliot, John Kelly, Desmond Saunders
Written by: Gerry Anderson, Sylvia Anderson, Alan Fennell
Based on: Stingray TV series
Music by: Barry Gray
Cast: Robert Easton, Don Mason, Ray Barrett, Lois Maxwell, David Graham

ITC Entertainment Group, 92 Minutes

Review:

Like the recently reviewed Revenge of the Mysterons From Mars, this feature “film” was chopped up from episodes of one of those popular British marionette puppet sci-fi shows.

In the case of this one, it was taken from the show Stingray, which actually exists in the same lore as Thunderbirds. How exactly, I don’t know, as I’m not really a fan of these marionette shows.

This one wasn’t as hard for me to track down as the Mysterons one, as I found a shoddy copy up on a website awhile ago. Luckily, I downloaded it and saved it, as that site is now gone.

You can find the host segments with Joel Hodgson though, if you wanted to see the material that was made when this was featured on the original, local Minneapolis version of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Unfortunately, the MST3K version in its entirety is missing, as far as I know.

Overall, this is pretty hard to watch. The edit is a real hatchet job and honestly, this just feels like more of the same after having just watched Revenge of the Mysterons From Mars.

In fact, Mysterons actually was better even though I also hated that one.

The story is hard to follow but that’s because this is comprised of four different episodes that all had their own plots.

The puppets also aren’t as good as the puppets from series that came after this. This looks and feels like an underwater Thunderbirds but with less skill and care behind the production.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: the Stingray show it’s chopped up and re-edited from, as well as other MST3K features that were just sci-fi TV shows edited into full length “films”.

Film Review: Revenge of the Mysterons From Mars (1981)

Release Date: 1981
Directed by: Robert Lynn, Ken Turner, Brian Burgess
Written by: Tony Barwick
Based on: Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons TV series
Music by: Barry Gray
Cast: Francis Matthews, Ed Bishop, Liz Morgan, Donald Gray

ITC Entertainment, Century 21 Television, Incorporated Television Company, 91 Minutes

Review:

Out of all the Mystery Science Theater 3000 movies out there, this was the hardest one to track down. Mainly, because the episode doesn’t exist in any form that I know of and because this “film” is really just four episodes of the ’70s British marionette sci-fi show Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons poorly chopped up and stitched together like Frankenstein’s monster.

Truth be told, the only way I could watch this was by calling in a favor to an old friend, who then had to call other friends, one of which just so happened to have the original American released f.h.e. VHS tape. My friend was then able to copy it digitally and sent me that file. The quality was shitty but that’s because this old video tape was probably warped and sitting in a box in a basement for close to four decades.

Since I am trying to review every single movie ever featured on MST3K, I couldn’t let this one elude me.

So here we are. I’ve seen it but other than completing my mission of reviewing ever MST3K picture, it wasn’t worth the effort.

To start, I’m not a fan of marionette puppet shows. I could never get into Thunderbirds, Stingray or anything like them. I don’t know why because these things are bizarre and weird enough that I think they should interest me but they all mostly turn into a terrible bore after just a few minutes.

So this one was no different.

But it is made worse by the fact that it really was sloppily edited and hard to follow. Sure, my brain kept trying to turn off but the story was an incoherent mess and because it was really four stories, it just didn’t work being wedged together into a single feature.

All in all, I don’t regret having to go through what I did to see this with my own eyes but its one of those things where its all about the journey and not the reward, I guess.

If you have an interest in this, you can actually just watch the show itself, in HD, with Prime Video. I checked that out for a bit and it is much better seeing this in its original form.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other MST3K features that were just sci-fi TV shows edited into full length “films”.

Film Review: Escape From New York (1981)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (complete title), Escape From New York City (script title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1981 (USA Film Festival)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Nick Castle
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Issac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Frank Doubleday, Nancy Stephens, Buck Flower, Ox Baker, John Diehl, Carmen Filpi, Ted Levine, Jamie Lee Curtis (voice)

Embassy Pictures, International Film Investors, Goldcrest Films International, 99 Minutes, 106 Minutes (extended version)

Review:

“It’s the survival of the human race, Plissken. Something you don’t give a shit about.” – Bob Hauk

When I was a really young kid, walking up and down the aisles of mom and pop video stores throughout Florida, I always used to come across the box art for Escape From New York and stare in awe. It’s one of the coolest and most iconic posters of all-time. Luckily for those who have seen the movie, it actually lives up to the incredible art that adorned the walls of movie theaters and video cassette boxes.

In fact, I’d call this the second most quintessential Kurt Russell movie just behind Big Trouble In Little China. The reason that other film gets the slight edge is because it shows the fun, comedic side of Russell more so than his gruffer more badass performance as Snake Plissken in this movie. Still, this is Kurt Russell at his absolute best and it’s not a surprise to me that he views this film as his favorite.

What’s great about this movie though, is that it doesn’t need to be carried by Russell. You’ve got a pretty solid ensemble cast of great character actors, all of whom bring their A-game and make this a much better picture than it would have been otherwise.

John Carpenter tapped the well of talent that he’s familiar with in Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers, Tom Atkins, Frank Doubleday, Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis (doing a voice cameo) but he also brought in legends like Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Borgnine and Issac Hayes. There are even bit parts for guys who are in a ton of flicks, most notably John Diehl, whose death I still haven’t gotten over in Miami Vice, and Carmen Filpi, who always played the old crazy guy in everything.

The film is about a post-apocalyptic New York City that is walled off from the rest of America and is now run by ruthless gangs. Snake is sent in to rescue the President, who is being held hostage by the baddest of all the gangs. If he fails, he will be killed by an implant that was injected into him. Honestly, that’s a little plot detail that was probably stolen for the Suicide Squad comics and movie. But then again, the whole concept of a walled off metropolis run by gangs was also stolen for the superb Batman story No Man’s Land.

That being said, this film created a lot of urban post-apocalyptic tropes that other films, television shows, books and comics would heavily borrow from.

John Carpenter really made magic with this film though. It was one of those perfect storm scenarios where everything seemed to go right, at least if you’re looking at the final product.

The film looks great, sounds great and has such a thick, brooding atmosphere that there really isn’t anything else like it. Sure, people have tried to emulate and recreate what this movie was but no one else has come close to it. Not even Carpenter, who gave us the sequel Escape From L.A., fifteen years later.

It’s hard to peg what makes this film so great but if I had to, I’d say that it’s everything. From the cast, the visual style, the story and the musical score, which was done by Carpenter, himself, and Alan Howarth, every thing just works and comes together like a perfect casserole.

Escape From New York is moody and cool. It’s a great example of Carpenter using all of his strengths and sort of misdirecting away from his weaknesses. While this isn’t his best film, it’s in his top two or three and definitely takes the cake out of his action flicks.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel, as well as other ’80s and ’90s John Carpenter movies.

Film Review: Blow Out (1981)

Release Date: July 24th, 1981
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Dennis Franz

Cinema 77, Geria Productions, Filmways Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Ya know, the only trouble I ever got into was when I was too careful!” – Sally

After watching Dressed to Kill about a week ago, I didn’t want to waste much time before checking out another neo-noir thriller by Brian De Palma. I decided to go in chronological order so I picked Blow Out over Body Double but I do plan to watch that other one in the very near future.

Another reason why I wanted to get into this one was to see how it measures up to Dressed to Kill, as it came out just a year later and it featured some of the same players in Nancy Allen and Dennis Franz. Also, this re-teams Allen with this film’s lead, John Travolta. The two also starred alongside each other in De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie.

While this is the second film in a row where Allen plays a lady of the night, this character is very different from her character in Dressed to Kill. Here, she is more ditzy and too trusting where in Dressed to Kill, she was sharp as a tack and weary of those around here. I actually really like her in both roles and despite playing similar characters, they’re both different enough to show her range as an actress. And honestly, I’ve underrated her work and didn’t really recognize her ability until seeing her in De Palma’s films.

John Travolta is also on his A-game here and in fact, he’s dynamite. This may be one of the top two or three performances I’ve seen from Travolta and it’s surprising to me that not too long after this, his career sort of floundered and he didn’t bounce back till 1994’s Pulp Fiction.

The real scene stealer though is John Lithgow, who just has the uncanny ability to play crazy, really damn well. He’s played these types of characters multiple times but this is the oldest example of it that I can think of or that I have seen. He’s got the incredible ability to be a lovable patriarch on one had and to be an absolutely chilling bastard on the other. And here, with De Palma’s direction, he is a pretty intense predator that exudes danger from his very presence.

The fact that Travolta’s day job in this film is as a sound engineer for slasher pictures actually adds a lot to the film’s tone and narrative style. While this isn’t a slasher picture, it does present Lithgow as a slasher like character, as he stalks his prey (pretty women) and brutally murders them.

While this film shares a similar tone to Dressed to Kill it is less cerebral and is more of a straightforward political thriller. That certainly doesn’t mean that it is lacking. It still carries on De Palma’s Hitchcockian vibe that has been alive and well in his pictures before this. Because of that, though, this film has an energy and a style to it that is enthralling and intriguing. And despite channeling Hitchcock, De Palma’s films still have a certain panache that is all their own.

Looking at Dressed to Kill and Blow Out side-by-side, I prefer the former. But that doesn’t mean that Blow Out is less of a film. Dressed to Kill was more my cup of tea because it’s damn twisted, somewhat taboo and a bit darker.

That being said, Blow Out is still a fantastic thriller and in the upper echelon of Brian De Palma’s oeuvre.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Brian De Palma’s other noir-esque films: Dressed to Kill and Body Double.