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, 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.

Film Review: Dragonslayer (1981)

Release Date: June 26th, 1981
Directed by: Matthew Robbins
Written by: Hal Barwood, Matthew Robbins
Music by: Alex North
Cast: Peter MacNicol, Caitlin Clarke, Ralph Richardson, John Hallam, Peter Eyre, Sydney Bromley, Chloe Salaman, Ian McDiarmid

Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Productions, 109 Minutes

Review:

“[to Galen] It’s a shield. I made it. Might keep the fire off of you, might not. You know, you’re an idiot. You’re going to die tonight. You’ll be ripped, limb from limb. This is the last time I’ll ever speak to you!” – Valerian

I never saw DragonSlayer, which is kind of odd, as it is in a genre I watched a lot of as a kid. I think that I saw trailers for it but it never excited me enough to rent it from the video store.

I wanted to check it out now because I’ve been watching a ton of sword and sorcery and fantasy films from this era. Overall, this wasn’t a disappointment but for the most part, it was pretty drab and uneventful.

But on the flip side of that, I was pretty impressed with the special effects, especially for 1981.

All the dragon stuff comes off remarkably well for the time. I thought the final battle was really entertaining, even if it was pretty hokey and had some noticeable flaws seeing this almost 40 years later in HD. But they’re the sort of minute visual flaws that would’ve been hidden by the technology of the time and I can’t really come down on the film for that. But I find it to be worth mentioning, as this is one of many films that has had its magic ruined or exposed by finding itself remastered in high definition for modern eyes.

The scenes that employ large dragon props and animatronics all work really well though, even today. The scene where the dragon is stalking the virgin in his lair towards the beginning of the film is still pretty chilling and effective.

I also liked Peter MacNicol in this. He was charming and it was fun seeing him much younger than the role I most associated him with, which is Dr. Janosz Poha from Ghostbusters II. Also, the Emperor himself, Ian McDiarmid, shows up in this. And here, he’s actually using the light side of the Force.

DragonSlayer is fun in parts and it was imaginative and the effects were superbly executed. However, it’s slow moving with lots of unnecessary banter and a plot that is too simplistic to be stretched into a 109 minute motion picture.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other fantasy and sword and sorcery films of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Film Review: Body Heat (1981)

Release Date: August 28th, 1981
Directed by: Lawrence Kasdan
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan
Music by: John Barry
Cast: William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, J. A. Preston, Mickey Rourke, Kim Zimmer, Jane Hallaren, Lanna Saunders

The Ladd Company, Warner Bros., 113 Minutes

Review:

“I’m really disappointed in you, Racine. I’ve been living vicariously off of you for years. You shut up on me now, all I have is my wife.” – Peter

Lawrence Kasdan is probably most known for being one of the writers that worked alongside George Lucas on the original Star Wars trilogy, as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark. But here, he not only writes but he directs. And it was his working relationship with Lucas that helped him get this film produced. In fact, Lucas put up some of the money himself, even though he’s not officially given a producer credit.

It’s interesting that Kasdan’s directorial debut was something so different than what audiences had known him for, which were primarily high adventure pictures. But Kasdan made a very true to form film-noir picture. But maybe it was too close and that worked against it; I’ll explain.

Kasdan’s story for Body Heat drew inspiration from the 1944 film-noir classic Double Indemnity. In fact, there are some pretty stark similarities but Body Heat is not a complete rehash and it certainly stands on its own, despite having very similar cues.

The film is really carried by the strong performance by William Hurt. Kathleen Turner stars alongside him as the typical femme fatale and while she’s pretty good, she comes off as more of a caricature of the femme fatale archetype than feeling like she is giving a genuine performance. But I don’t think that’s on her, as she’s proven how capable she is. I think it could be a combination of Kasdan’s direction and writing, as he was possibly trying to squeeze her into an image he had, as opposed to letting her put more of herself into the role.

Still, Hurt offsets the awkward clunkiness of Turner and the rest of the cast between Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, Mickey Rourke and everyone else, keeps the ship moving in the right direction.

The story is pretty good but it’s not anything new, especially if you’re a fan of the noir genre. Despite a few good twists and turns throughout this labyrinthine plot, nothing that happens is shocking and it is kind of predictable in retrospect. In fact, even though I enjoyed this, it didn’t give much of anything new to the genre it emulates.

In regards to it being a modernization of classic film-noir, it isn’t the first film to do that either. But if this is anything, it’s Lawrence Kasdan’s love letter to film-noir and for the most part, it’s a nice love letter that makes its point rather well.

Body Heat certainly isn’t forgettable but it’s a long way off from redefining what noir could be like Blood Simple and The American Friend did. But strangely, I did enjoy this a hair bit more than Blood Simple.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other neo-noir films of the era: Blood Simple, The American Friend and the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Film Review: The Last Chase (1981)

Release Date: April 10th, 1981
Directed by: Martyn Burke
Written by: A. Roy Moore, C.R. O’Christopher
Music by: Gil Melle
Cast: Lee Majors, Burgess Meredith, Chris Makepeace, Alexandra Stewart

Argosy Films, Canadian Film Development Corporation, Crown International Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“This man’s dangerous. This little joyride he’s on is undermining the entire balance of this country.” – Hawkins

Even for 1984 standards, this movie is of such poor quality that I was surprised to find out that this was released theatrically and not just made for TV as a CBS “movie of the week”.

The film stars Lee Majors and Burgess Meredith as two dudes way past their prime but unable to get rid of their youthful tendencies.

The Last Chase takes place in a dystopian future where crazy environmentalists rule society and have outlawed vehicles. Majors plays a former race car driver that has been secretly building a new race car in his garage for twenty years. Burgess Meredith plays an old man that used to be a fighter pilot back when jets were still in use. Majors and some teenage sidekick take his race car on a cross country joyride that angers the fascist government, who then sends in old ass Burgess Meredith to catch these speed demon criminals in a fighter jet.

Does the premise sound awful? It should, because it is.

So Meredith hunts down Majors, shoots at him and we get an elderly vehicular duel with a bunch of unnecessary non-action scenes thrown in to break up the tension that doesn’t actually exist in this picture. I’m not sure what the point of this movie was but at least I finally got to see a Penguin fly.

Anyway, this was featured on the original first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and this isn’t one of the films that the revisited once the show went national on Comedy Central. That’s probably because it bored Joel and the ‘Bots to tears the first time.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Death Race 2000 and Cannonball, both of which are much, much better than this.