Film Review: Hands of Steel (1986)

Also known as: Vendetta dal futuro (original Italian title), Atomic Cyborg (France), El destructor (Mexico), Hands of Stone (Netherlands), Arms of Steel (Norway), L’enfonceur (Canadian French title), Cyborg (Slovenia), Fists of Steel (UK), Destroyer (Spain)
Release Date: March 26th, 1986 (France)
Directed by: Sergio Martino
Written by: Sergio Martino, Sauro Scavolini, Elisa Livia Briganti, John Crowther
Music by: Claudio Simonetti
Cast: Daniel Greene, Janet Argen, John Saxon

National Cinematografica, Dania Film, Medusa Distribuzione, 94 Minutes

Review:

“When I get through with you, you’ll have to wipe your ass with your nose” – Raul Morales

This film had more international titles than it had extras!

But this film can have as many titles as it wants, as it is a pretty badass and ridiculous flick that has a plot that’s all over the map but doesn’t suffer because its supposed to be a smorgasbord of everything that made ’80s action movies so much fun.

Let me summarize the insane premise: An evil CEO sends a cyborg to assassinate a scientist. The cyborg fails so the CEO sends his other cyborgs to take him out. The cyborg hides in a desert diner with a chick that’s horny for him. All the while he draws the ire of the tri-state arm wrestling champion that wants to prove he’s the strongest man in the desert. The evil CEO is John Saxon and he has a really big laser.

This motion picture is insanely enjoyable and one of the best Italian post-apocalyptic, “knock off everything under the sun” movies.

There’s even a scene where the good cyborg has to arm wrestler a guy that looks like Bear Hugger from Punch-Out!! The insane part about this scene is that the loser gets their hand trapped in a shackle while a diamondback rattler bites them to death.

Now this is just about everything you’d expect from an Italian Mad Max wannabe but then it’s so much more. It’s part Terminator, part RoboCop, part Over the Top and 100 percent toxic masculinity. Plus, this came out before RoboCop and Over the Top, so it’s like the writer/director Sergio Martino was psychic. I mean, he ripped off something that didn’t yet exist!

Speaking of Martino, he’s a guy that directed a lot of the top Italian schlock. You know, the type of schlock that gives schlock a good name and inspires people like myself to find endearing things within movies that the general populace could never tolerate. He’s done giallo, slashers, spaghetti westerns, other post-apocalyptic movies and pretty much something in every cool sub-genre that matters to fans of grindhouse, exploitation, horror and action films.

Hands of Steel is a hell of a ride. It has pretty good, albeit hokey effects. But considering this picture’s budget, it’s all passable and it works. In fact, the scene where the cyborg repairs his arm is pretty impressive.

While I’m sure that most people would dismiss this movie as absolute shit, the opinions and money of the regular moviegoer are why we keep getting subpar blockbusters, countless sequels, spinoffs, remakes and reboots. I’ll take Hands of Steel over some Harley Quinn dressed like a peacock movie.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Italian post-apocalyptic movies of the ’80s.

Film Review: Troll (1986)

Release Date: January 17th, 1986
Directed by: John Carl Buechler
Written by: Ed Naha, Joanna Granillo (uncredited)
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Noah Hathaway, Michael Moriarty, Shelley Hack, Jenny Beck, Sonny Bono, Phil Fondacaro, Brad Hall, Anne Lockhart, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gary Sandy, June Lockhart

Altar Productions, Empire Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“[looking for Wendy in the basement] Have you been playing with dead cats?” – Harry Potter Jr.

This is the first Harry Potter movie and it actually features two Harry Potters. But sadly, this is unrelated to the J.K. Rowling franchise.

This also isn’t related to its sequels, as those are two different movies that stole the Troll name to market themselves better. Which is actually quite odd, as this Troll was far from a success.

Like the real Harry Potter series, though, this is a fantasy movie that features magic and creepy little critters.

It also features Sonny Bono as a pervy swinger, a very young Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Moriarty from The Stuff, Atreyu from The NeverEnding Story and June Lockhart, who is pretty much a legend with close to 200 credits to her name. Also, Phil Fondacaro does double duty as the actual troll in the film, as well as playing a regular character. I love Fondacaro’s work and it’s cool seeing him get to be the centerpiece of a movie.

Now this motion picture is pretty damn bizarre. But it’s that ’80s, over the top, “What the fuck did I just watch?” kind of bizarre. The best of all forms of bizarre.

It’s humorous, baffling and amusing. You kind of just have to surrender yourself to the film and let it play out in all of its gloriousness.

Sure, critics hated it, as did most people. But this film’s audience is a small segment of society. And while it’s not a classic, even as far as weird movies go, it’s endearing and charming in an unexplainable way. I guess it’s like Howard the Duck or Ghoulies or Munchies or Garbage Pail Kids or C.H.U.D. II in how they are mostly bad films but they found a way to touch a enough of a certain type of people that they live on as cult favorites.

But above all else, it is the incredible performance by the young Jenny Beck that is the glue that holds this picture together. Almost immediately, she becomes possessed by the evil troll and man, she commits to the bit throughout the entire film. For a child actor without much experience, she was tremendous and has to go down as one of my favorite kids from an ’80s movie.

I love Troll. It is just one hearty spoonful of strange after another.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: it’s amusing but unrelated sequel and then any ’80s horror movie with little creatures.

Film Review: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Release Date: September 24th, 1986 (Chicago International Film Festival)
Directed by: John McNaughton
Written by: Richard Fire, John McNaughton
Music by: Ken Hale, Steven A. Jones, Robert McNaughton
Cast: Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold

Maljack Productions, Greycat Films, 83 Minutes, 75 Minutes (TV edit)

Review:

“How about those Bears?” – Store Clerk, “Fuck the Bears.” – Henry

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a brutal f’n movie. However, it’s also very slow and drawn out more than it needs to be. Now I get the old school suspense thriller style of building up tension but it’s not effective here and it makes 75 percent of this movie pretty damn boring.

I get that this movie has its fans but I’m really not one of them.

Now this film does have three distinct positives.

One, the acting is superb. Michael Rooker is more chilling than ever and since I’m a big fan of Rooker, I do like this film as far as his performance goes. He went to some really dark places here but what’s most interesting about it, is that he showed how capable of an actor he was even in his younger years.

Two, I like the cinematography and how this film was shot. The lighting was done well, the shot framing was better than one would anticipate and overall, the visual aesthetic enhanced the tone of the story, greatly.

Three, the score is unsettling but interesting in a way that also enhanced the film and its effect.

Sadly, the pacing just undoes a lot of the good.

Additionally, this is an extremely violent picture and while I don’t have a problem with gore, when there’s a real purpose for it, this film seems to use it just to push the bar and maybe that’s because the rest of the picture is so dull. The film does seem like it’s trying too hard to be shocking in those scenes.

I’m not sure if this was trying to pass itself off as high art but it’s definitely not high art. It’s not necessarily a proto-Silence of the Lambs, as much as it just feels like a gore riddled Manhunter.

But for fans of Rooker, it is worth a watch for sure.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs.

Film Review: Captain EO (1986)

Also known as: Captain EO and the Space Knights (working title)
Release Date: September 12th, 1986 (Walt Disney World – Epcot Center, Florida)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: George Lucas, Rusty Lemorande, Francis Ford Coppola
Music by: James Horner, Michael Jackson
Cast: Michael Jackson, Anjelica Huston, Dick Shawn, Tony Cox, Debbie Lee Carrington, Cindy Sorenson, Gary DePew

Three D D D Productions, Eastman Kodak Company, Lucasfilm, Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 17 Minutes

Review:

“Now listen, the command considers us a bunch of losers, but we’re gonna do it right this time because we’re the best. If not, we’ll be drummed out of the corps.” – Captain EO

Captain EO is a pretty bizarre short film but it wasn’t made to be viewed in a traditional sense or to even have a traditional narrative. It was made to be an attraction at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Being an attraction it had to be short enough to keep the asses moving in and out of seats.

It was also made to be 3D. While that was hardly a new concept in 1986, it was a concept that had sort of faded away and was somewhat new to a generation of ’80s kids that weren’t old enough to go to the theater to see things like Friday the 13th, Part III in 3D.

However, this was actually promoted as being the first film in “4D”, as it used special effects, lighting, smoke and lasers within the physical theater to enhance the overall viewing experience in the theme park.

The film does start out like a fantasy sci-fi space opera but quickly evolves into an extended music video for the Michael Jackson song “We Are Here to Change the World”. It also ends on another, more famous Jackson tune “Another Part of Me”.

Now this came out when Michael Jackson was literally the biggest thing in the world, so a partnership with Disney was huge in 1986. Add in the fact that this film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, written by George Lucas, whose Lucasfilm provided the effects, had costumes designed by the team behind Cats and had it’s makeup overseen by the legendary Rick Baker, this project was a pretty big f’n deal.

Also, James Horner, just coming off of his success with Star Trek II and III, provided the orchestral score for the film.

Production was a bit of a clusterfuck and the process took a lot of time with several different groups trying to fix some of the film’s issues but on screen, most of it came off well.

The narrative is pretty incomprehensible and you have to severely suspend disbelief when Captain EO uses dancing and singing to turn an evil space queen and her minions into nice people but when I was a kid, I totally bought into it and it worked. Seeing this again, as an adult, it’s a pretty wonky and strange narrative but I can’t deny the commanding presence that Michael Jackson has on screen. It’s not too dissimilar from his music video for “Thriller”.

Captain EO is a unique experience. It might not be a great one but it’s certainly interesting enough to sit through for just 17 minutes.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and lengthier music videos like Thriller and Ghosts.

Film Review: Neon Maniacs (1986)

Also known as: Evil Dead Warriors (Philippines)
Release Date: March, 1986 (Paris Festival of Fantastic Films)
Directed by: Joseph Mangine
Written by: Mark Patrick Carducci
Music by: Kendall Schmidt
Cast: Leilani Sarelle, Alan Hayes, Andrew Divoff, P.R. Paul, Victor Brandt, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson

Anchor Bay Entertainment, Castle Hill Productions Inc., Bedford Entertainment Inc., 91 Minutes

Review:

“Now let me get this straight. You’re telling me that these, these things are inside the Golden Gate Bridge, one. Two, that they only come out at night. And three, that they’re responsible for the death of fifteen or more kids and three of my police officers? [breaks down laughing]” – Lt. Devin

I never actually knew of this film’s existence but based off of the poster, I’m pretty sure I would have rented this as a kid in the ’80s had I seen the video box somewhere. The only reason I found this is because it was suggested to me by Amazon and it was free for Prime members. Also, that same week, someone else mentioned the film.

Well, it does something kind of cool, which is that it has these monsters that have their own unique looks. They’re either a type of zombie or a breed of demon, it’s hard to really tell, but each one has its own gimmick. Almost like they were trying to turn them into a toy line.

There’s a samurai demon, a berserker demon and a bunch of other weird random ass demons.

But the fun stops there.

The film is dull as hell. The first big encounter with the demon creatures was decent but it certainly isn’t as good as what had become the slasher standard of the time.

Ultimately, this is poorly shot, poorly directed, poorly acted, has terrible sound, awful lighting and I’ve seen better cinematography in an episode of America’s Funniest People from 1989.

This was a tough film to sit through and I’m a guy that watches a large portion of dreadful motion pictures.

That poster is way too cool for this movie.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: The Dead Pit, The Kindred, Slime City and The Brain.

Film Review: Trick or Treat (1986)

Also known as: Heavy Metal do Horror (Brazil), Muerte a 33 R.P.M. (Spain), Ragman (Germany)
Release Date: October 24th, 1986
Directed by: Charles Martin Smith
Written by: Joel Soisson, Michael S. Murphey, Rhet Topham, Glen Morgan (uncredited), James Wong (uncredited)
Music by: Fastway, Christopher Young
Cast: Marc Price, Doug Savant, Lisa Orgolini, Tony Fields, Gene Simmons, Ozzy Osbourne

De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Demonic beasts. Whatever happened to the good old simple love song? “I love you.” Nowadays they have to write some sickness. It’s just absolutely sick and bizarre and I’m going to do my upmost best to try and stop it now.” – Rev. Aaron Gilstom

I used to own this on DVD but somehow in the last decade or two, it got lost. I’ve never seen it streaming anywhere and I didn’t like it enough to want to buy it again, unless I found it in a dollar bin somewhere. But, as of right now, it is streaming on YouTube. It’ll probably get pulled down but it’s there, at the moment.

Trick or Treat was a fun film to revisit all these years later and I’ve only seen it twice before this: once when I bought it around 2001 and then way before that in the late ’80s when I rented it from my local video store while friends and I had one of our many horror marathons.

The film stars Skippy from Family Ties as basically a heavy metal version of Skippy. His real name is Marc Price and he’s done some other movies too but he will always be Skippy to me. It also stars Doug Savant as the high school bully. He’s probably most known for being Matt, the gay dude on the original Melrose Place and for having a long stint on Desperate Housewives. He also played a serial killer in a fairly bad film called Paint It Black, where he murdered people, covered them in clay and turned them into art like Dick Miller in A Bucket of Blood.

The film also has two very notable cameos, so notable that the cameos were used to sell the movie to audiences. The cameos are by Gene Simmons of KISS, who plays a radio DJ, and Ozzy Osbourne, who plays a reverend wanting to destroy the evil that is rock and roll.

The plot follows Heavy Metal Skippy, a fairly normal kid apart from listening to devil worship music. He is bullied by the jocks like every other loser from an ’80s teen movie. When he comes across the last and only copy of a vinyl record recorded by his dead hero, he plays it backwards. It doesn’t open up a gate to Hell in his backyard but it does resurrect his rock and roll hero, who is basically a lightning powered rock star fueled by Satanic evil and pretty much down to kill everyone and everything. The way Skippy finally defeats him is absolutely ridiculous but at least the demon Satan rocker murdered the crap out of that douchey bully Doug Savant.

Trick or Treat isn’t a film that boasts good writing, good acting or even good special effects. It’s passable though, simply because it is so insane that it just works and is an entertaining watch.

It probably doesn’t deserve to be as good as it is, as its technical merit leaves a lot to be desired and it is littered with questionable editing choices but it is something I would probably watch more often than I have, if I still had my DVD copy of it.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Rocktober Blood, Black Roses, Brainscan and Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare.

Film Review: Psycho III (1986)

Release Date: May, 1986 (Seattle International Film Festival)
Directed by: Anthony Perkins
Written by: Charles Edward Pogue
Based on: characters by Robert Bloch
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey, Roberta Maxwell, Donovan Scott

Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Conservative clothes never go out of style.” – Norman Bates

As impressed and surprised as I was by Psycho II, I was kind of hoping that the magic would sustain into the third film in the series. Also, considering that this one was directed by Anthony Perkins, a man who knew Norman Bates better than anyone on the planet, I was hoping that he’d bring some real depth to the character and story.

Well, this doesn’t live up to the quality of Psycho II and it’s nowhere near as clever but it works alright as an ’80s slasher picture, as long as you aren’t looking for a massive body count or an overabundance of gore.

The film benefits greatly from the performances of Perkins, as well as Jeff Fahey, who has been a favorite of mine for years and who always brings a little something extra to every movie that he’s in.

Although, apart from the two male leads, the rest of the cast is pretty damn weak.

Also, the story just isn’t there for me. It’s kind of like a rehash of elements from part II but mostly comes off as a fairly mindless slasher movie. It lacks the psychological terror of the first two pictures and Perkins doesn’t seem to have the acumen, behind the camera, to really propel this story forward visually or from narrative standpoint.

The script, however, is pretty terrible and it doesn’t seem to understand some of the things that worked so well before. For instance, it has always been assumed, at least by me, that Norman was actually speaking to himself in his mother’s voice. Here, it’s as if his mother’s voice is in his head because we often times see Norman reacting to the horror of her requests as she talks to him off screen. It takes the magic away and there’s just something more batshit about Norman speaking, as his mother, to himself. The film also cuts to shots of Norman’s dead mother pointing and changing her position from shot to shot without his assistance. Maybe the film is trying to take some sort of artistic liberty in trying to show these moments through Norman’s eyes but it doesn’t work.

Where you weren’t sure if Norman was the killer in part II, that mystery is gone here, as he’s pretty much just a slasher, cutting his way through some ladies. But he still has that good side in him and doesn’t necessarily want to do evil but the ending of the second film set him off and there are certain moments in this one that pull the triggers to propel Norman to murder, once again.

This isn’t a waste of time, if you like the Norman Bates character, but this chapter in the original string of films is weak. I can’t speak yet for the fourth and final film, as I haven’t seen it and I actually can’t find it streaming anywhere.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: The other Psycho films.