Documentary Review: Comic Book Confidential (1988)

Release Date: September 10th, 1989 (Toronto Film Festival)
Directed by: Ron Mann
Written by: Charles Lippincott, Ron Mann
Music by: various
Cast: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Frank Miller, Sue Coe, Robert Crumb, Will Eisner, Al Feldstein, William M. Gaines, Harvey Kurtzman, Harvey Pekar

Sphinx Productions, Cinecom Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

This might be the best documentary on comic book history ever made, even if it is thirty years old and might feel a bit dated now.

I first found this as a kid around 1990 or so. A guy that used to work at my local video store gave me his personal copy to borrow and I had to copy it, which I did and then enjoyed for years until the tape warped to shit. I then got it again via a torrent site but finally, all these years later, I now own an actual copy of it.

I was inspired to watch this again, after checking out the commentary done by Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg on their Cartoonist Kayfabe channel on YouTube. Everyone that’s into comics should check them out, by the way. It’s one of my favorite channels to watch at the moment and I’ve thought about writing about it, as well as a few other channels I enjoy.

Anyway, I love everything about this documentary. All the interviews are pretty engaging and pull you in. It spends time on a bunch of comic book creators from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Everyone gets their time to talk about their work and their creative style.

This also has great music sprinkled throughout and fantastic editing techniques that still look great and that more documentary filmmakers could benefit from using. Creatively, the execution of this documentary felt ahead of its time and honestly, that’s probably why it sucked me in when I was eleven years-old.

Comic Book Confidential also came out in a time when I was drawing my own comic books. This, along with The Comic Book Greats video series, which I’ve also been reviewing episode by episode, were great resources for me as a kid that was trying his hand at the comic book medium.

The highlights for me were seeing Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman talking about their craft. This also made me a fan of the work of Frank Miller, Harvey Pekar and Robert Crumb. It was also my introduction to Sue Coe, who a lot of my straightedge and vegan friends in my teen years were hardcore fans of.

Comic Book Confidential is, hands down, a must own or at the very least, a must see documentary for long-time fans of the comic book medium. Solid, through and through, and its also a fun and interesting experience.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other comic book documentaries reviewed on this site: In Search of Steve Ditko, The Image Revolution and Chris Claremont’s X-Men just to name a few.

Film Review: Mac And Me (1988)

Also known as: Mi amigo Mac (Spanish title)
Release Date: August 12th, 1988
Directed by: Stewart Raffill
Written by: Steve Feke, Stewart Raffill
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Christine Ebersole, Jonathan Ward, Tina Caspary, Lauren Stanley, Jade Calegory

New Star Entertainment, Vision International, Orion Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“You know what I feel like?” – Michael Cruise, “A Big Mac?” – Eric Cruise, “The man’s psychic!” – Michael Cruise

If you look at this as a 99 minute advertisement for McDonald’s and Coke, it’s not that bad. And really, isn’t that what this actually is?

As a kid, I kind of assumed that Mac was a new character in McDonlad’s roster that includes Ronald McDonald, Birdie, Grimace, the Hamburglar and the Fry Guys. I mean, “Mac” even fits perfectly within the McGimmick. But no, I guess this was supposed to be a real movie.

Now this is one of many blatant ripoffs of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. These films were a dime a dozen in the ’80s just as much as Gremlins ripoffs were.

This is also universally panned by just about everyone. However, the hatred towards it is by loads of people that haven’t actually seen it. They just read things on the Internet and have heard the legends about Mac And Me for decades. And while I remembered mostly liking this in 1988, I hadn’t seen it in a really long time and wasn’t sure how it would hold up.

Seeing this now, as it was finally lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the newest season, I still don’t think it’s as bad as the hype would want you to believe.

Now this is still a bad movie but it has a charm that most bad movies don’t. It’s ’80s cheese of the highest caliber and that can be a good or bad thing but it helps this picture, in my opinion. Also, all the kids were really likable and that goes a long way for me in a movie like this.

The story is cookie cutter and the high point is a big party at McDonald’s, which features Mac the Alien disguised as a teddy bear, dancing on tables and flying around the restaurant. But the scene is so bizarre and ’80s kitsch that it’s hard not to love if you grew up in that decade and have a soft spot for really weird, goofy shit.

But I get it, people will always have fun trashing this movie because it’s a bizarre and bad film by critical standards. Looking beyond that, though, it’s still entertaining, fun and lighthearted in a good way. At it’s core, the film is actually kind of sweet.

There are plot holes galore and a lot of things don’t make sense but it doesn’t necessarily need to. This wasn’t made to make you think, it was made to make you smile… and buy lots of Big Macs and Coke products.

Also, I loved the intensity of the Alan Silvestri score.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other blatant ripoffs of E.T. but if I’m being honest, this is the best of the lot. This also plays well as a double feature with Spaced Invaders.

Film Review: Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988)

Also known as: Elvira (Philippines English title)
Release Date: September 30th, 1988
Directed by: James Signorelli
Written by: Sam Egan, John Paragon, Cassandra Peterson
Music by: James B. Campbell
Cast: Elvira (Cassandra Peterson), W. Morgan Sheppard, Daniel Greene, Jeff Conaway, Susan Kellerman, Edie McClurg, Kurt Fuller, Frank Welker (voice)

NBC Productions, New World Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Please, I don’t think we need to resort to name calling. I think what Calvin is trying to say is that this Elvira is a person of easy virtue, a purveyor of pulchritude, a one-woman Sodom and Gomorrah, if you will. A slimy, slithering succubus, a concubine, a street walker, a tramp, a slut, a cheap whore!” – Chastity Pariah

This film hasn’t aged well. But I used to love it as a kid. And really, I think this only works if you’re already a pretty big fan of Elvira. If that’s the case, you should definitely give this a watch.

It kind of has a similar vibe to the Pee-Wee and Ernest movies from the ’80s. It’s a cheaply made comedy based on a fictional character that was super popular at the time. I liked the trend of these types of pop icons getting to try out film as a new vehicle for their careers, even if Ernest was the only one that achieved real cinematic longevity.

Lumping this in with those other films, it’s the best of them all after the original Pee-Wee movie, 1985’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. But that was also directed by Tim Burton in a time when the guy could do no wrong.

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark does a good job with the pieces it had though. Cassandra Peterson is truly a comedy master. She owns the Elvira character, delivers her lines like a champ and is willing to really put herself out there to let Elvira flourish. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Peterson and how she performs her craft. She absolutely was the best horror host of all-time and could perform at a level that other horror hosts couldn’t. That may be a controversial statement to some but I stick by it.

This movie was a great vehicle for her because she got to spend 90 minutes, hamming it up in her unique style, uninterrupted by bad movies and commercial breaks. I wouldn’t call this the highpoint of her career, as she has continued on for decades, but it is the one body of work that best showcases her talent in the most complete way.

I thought the story was decent, the acting didn’t really matter and you just sort of have to roll with this and enjoy it for what it is.

Edie McClurg was perfect as the small town busybody trying to make Elvira’s life hell. I’ve loved McClurg in so many different things but I liked that she wasn’t just a small character in this.

This film is goofy, funny as hell and it’s hard to feel down if this is on the TV. But it won’t be for everyone, not that it needs to be. Elvira fans should be pretty satisfied with it, though.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other oddball comedies of unique people stranded in podunk communities: To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar and Son In Law.

Film Review: Phantasm II (1988)

Also known as: Phantasm II: The Never Dead Part Two (Australia)
Release Date: July 8th, 1988
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Written by: Don Coscarelli
Music by: Fred Myrow, Christopher L. Stone
Cast: James LeGros, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm, Paula Irvine, Kenneth Tigar, Michael Baldwin (archive footage)

Universal Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“You think that when you die, you go to Heaven. You come to us!” – The Tall Man

I saw this in the theater way back in 1988. I was 9 years-old. I about shit myself and my older cousin thought that the whole fiasco was hilarious. But really, I had already seen the first Phantasm before this and I thought I was pretty prepared. But that scene with the creature thing in the girl’s back really freaked my little brain out. But I’ll explain as I get into the review.

Phantasm II is a fairly good sequel, especially considering that there were 9 years between this and its predecessor.

To get this out of the way, I didn’t like the recasting of Mike but I understand why a larger studio like Universal did it, as Michael Baldwin (who would play Mike in all the other films) didn’t have a lot of acting experience. Still, he was good in the original movie and decent in the ones that followed this. I hold no ill will towards James LeGros but he just sticks out like a sore thumb. That’s not his fault and he did a good job here but he just doesn’t feel like Mike.

At least Reggie and the Tall Man weren’t recast though because I love both of the characters and they are the highlights of this film. Well, Reggie and his four-barreled sawed off shotgun and the Tall Man and his larger collection of killer spheres and minions.

What’s strange about this film, however, is that it was produced by a larger studio than the first film and therefore had a more substantial budget but a lot of the effects didn’t seem to be as good as the original film. The bits with the killer spheres had noticeable wires and the camera work wasn’t as clean. Also, the rehash of the sphere murder from the first movie didn’t look as good and it cut away at certain parts that the original didn’t. I don’t know if this was to save money on effects or if Universal was trying to tone down the gorier bits. Whatever the reason, the scene didn’t have the effectiveness as the original. And really, this is a sequel, you need to up the ante not tone it down.

There were some violent and gruesome reveals, like when the guy is turned over to reveal a buzzsaw sphere stuck in his mouth, but these were all just effects without the flourish of the gore happening in the moment.

I thought the best effect in the film was the one I mentioned in the first paragraph about the creature in the girl’s back. Basically, Mike finds a girl that’s been tortured, notices something moving on her back and then pulls back her shirt to reveal a demonic head that rises up out of her body. It was a message left for Mike by the Tall Man but it was probably the highlight of the film, other than the big final battle. The animatronics were fantastic and this is the moment that scared the crap out of me, sitting in a theater back in 1988.

Overall, this film is pretty solid and it enriched the Phantasm mythos. It added some new elements and kind of just solidified how cool these films are.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Phantasm movies.

Film Review: Sorority Babes In the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988)

Also known as: The Imp (alternate title), Beast You! (Germany)
Release Date: January 1st, 1988 (Japan)
Directed by: David DeCoteau
Written by: Sergei Hasenecz
Music by: Guy Moon
Cast: Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer, Andras Jones, Hal Havins, Robin Rochelle

Beyond Infinity, Empire Pictures, Titan Productions, Urban Classics, 80 Minutes

Review:

“Old Uncle Impy is just a little bit cranky. No fun being locked up, especially in a bowling trophy.” – The Imp

How in the hell did I not know about this film’s existence until I discovered it watching Joe Bob Brigg’s The Last Drive-In? This stupid and insane horror flick is right up my alley, taps into the Gremlins ripoff craze and features Linnea Quigley looking hotter than she ever did. But maybe that’s just because I’m into bad chicks wearing spiked bracelets and ripped clothes.

Let me be clear, for the average person, this is a terrible movie. For the person that likes low brow cheese and absurdity with a good amount of boobies and violence, this is well worth your time.

The highlight of this, other than staring at Ms. Quigley, is the imp, who appears, grants wishes like a genie and has all sorts of magical powers that are tailor made to the plot and not the rules of the creature’s actual mythology. Also, he talks all jive-ish and shit, which is hilarious.

Now the special effects are terrible, especially in regards to the imp creature but it kind of adds to the film’s appeal and charm for me. I love that the bad guy is really just some rubber hand puppet. He reminds me of the puppet from that ’80s 900-number with that dancing freak in the commercial (see here).

For most people, this movie is a complete waste of time. For me, it was quite welcome coming into my life, as it is rare for me to discover some long lost horror picture, especially from the era where I was an astute student of the genre trying to get my hands on every movie to study and admire, as my aspirations to become a filmmaker grew.

This is incredible ’80s cheese of the highest/worst caliber. It’s reminiscent of that terrible film Hobgoblins but this is a better movie than that. Maybe not by a large margin but it isn’t as easy to write off as shit. It has something interesting and weirdly alluring about it. This isn’t a Troma picture but it’s as good as their best offerings from the ’80s when they were at their best.

Sorority Babes In the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama is a film that only works for a certain kind of old school horror fan. It has a home in a really small niche market and while it isn’t a classic, it should maybe be more known than it is.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Any ’80s Troma movie or early Full Moon stuff.

Film Review: Poltergeist III (1988)

Also known as: Poltergeist III: We’re Back
Release Date: June 10th, 1988
Directed by: Gary Sherman
Written by: Gary Sherman, Brian Taggert
Music by: Joe Renzetti
Cast: Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Lara Flynn Boyle

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Carol Anne! Carol Anne! Carol Anne!” – the whole damn cast, the whole damn movie

Fuck.

Sorry, this made me angry.

Yes, I have seen this film before but it has also been a really long time. While I re-watch the first two every few years, I just remembered this one being so terrible that I never had the urge to see it again. However, it is actually much worse than what I remembered. But since I wanted to revisit all three of these movies for review purposes, I had to tough it out and try to get through this 98 minute mess.

Let me start with the positives of this film to quickly get them out of the way. Surprise, surprise… there is only one positive: the special effects.

Now the general creature effects are actually worse than the two films that predate this, but there are some really good optical effects in regards to how mirrors were used in this picture. There are several scenes where a character is moving on one side of the mirror and evil haunted shit is happening in the reflection. These effects were pulled off magnificently for being done in an era where this couldn’t be achieved through CGI or other easier modern means. There are a few spots were the effect doesn’t work because there are two different actors having to mimic the same movements, like when Nancy Allen’s back is turned away from her evil reflection, but for the most part, this stuff came off great.

But seriously, that’s it for the positives.

I should mention that Tom Skerritt was pretty okay too but I miss Craig T. Nelson.

The rest of the film is plagued by an atrocious script that should have been bird cage liner. Then there is just a slew of unlikable characters who give the audience a clinic on terrible acting and line delivery. Most importantly, this is, by far, the most unimaginative film in the series. The mirror idea was cool to explore but this is all that the movie has going for it and they do it to death. There are literally walls of mirrors and glass in just about every fucking room in this film.

The third act of the movie is just actors running around screaming each other’s names over and over and over and over and over again. Fuck, the final act of this film is mind numbingly repetitive and infuriating.

Plus, this undoes the whole point of the second film, which was about the family’s love for one another overcoming evil. Now Carol Anne’s parents shipped her off to an aunt’s house in Chicago and the family isn’t together. So… yeah, what the fucking fuck?!

It’s terrible that Heather O’Rourke died before this film came out and that it probably ruined any chance for another sequel but regardless, this film alone killed the franchise anyway. I mean, it didn’t just kill it, it took a big ass hippopotamus shit on it.

Man, did this franchise fall into the murky depths of awful.

I think it is best to just ignore this chapter in the franchise and to see the ending of the second film as the true ending of the story. This was just some terrible fan fiction.

And Jerry Goldsmith is terribly missed because this movie’s score sounded like a drunk ape pounding its fists onto a Radio Shack keyboard.

I have to go puke now.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: The other two Poltergeist films. Ignore the remake. And really, you should probably ignore this one too.

Film Review: Hot to Trot (1988)

Release Date: August 26th, 1988
Directed by: Michael Dinner
Written by: Hugo Gilbert, Stephen Neigher, Charlie Peters, Andy Breckman (uncredited)
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Bobcat Goldthwait, John Candy (voice), Dabney Coleman, Virginia Madsen, Tim Kazurinsky, Mary Gross, Burgess Meredith (voice)

Warner Bros., 88 Minutes

Review:

“[about the atrium in his new apartment] What is this a little yard?” – Fred B. Cheney

When Bobcat Goldthwait handed this script back to his agent, he wrote on the cover, “Why would I do this?” His agent returned the script after writing “$”. Needless to say, the script is terrible and the movie bombed but it was the most money that Goldthwait made at the time.

Many people will tell you that this is a terrible movie and it mostly is but it is a stupid movie with some solid comedy players and you don’t watch a film about the weirdest guy from Police Academy and a talking horse and expect to see Terms of Endearment.

Not only do you have Bobcat Goldthwait, who was a comedian I absolutely loved as a kid, but you get the voices of John Candy and Burgess Meredith playing horses, the always stupendous Dabney Coleman, Bobcat’s heterosexual life partner (at least in the ’80s) Ted Kazurinsky, as well as Virginia Madsen and a small part for Mary Gross.

The plot is about this dimwitted son of a rich woman who passes away. His stepfather (Coleman) is a slimy shyster that wants to weasel Bobcat out of his half of a lucrative financial firm. Bobcat also inherits a horse who goes on to give him amazing stock tips that makes Bobcat a superstar in his company. The majority of the plot deals with the rivalry between Bobcat and Coleman and ends with Bobcat playing a jockey, racing his John Candy voiced horse in a derby against Coleman’s prized steed for control of the company.

Yeah, the plot is friggin’ ludicrous but I still enjoy the picture because Bobcat and Coleman have always made me laugh, even in their dumbest moments. I also really love their scenes together which are accented by the absurdity of Coleman’s mouth prosthetic that gave him buckteeth throughout the entire film.

Originally, Elliot Gould was the voice of the horse but the test screenings went so poorly that the film was delayed for about a year and the horse’s lines were re-dubbed by John Candy who ad libbed his lines and ignored the script. Also, it’s worth noting that Bobcat’s role was originally intended for Joan Rivers and the script went through rewrites when Rivers turned the film down and Bobcat was cast.

Most people hate this movie. I just can’t. It’s completely asinine but I guess that’s what I like about it.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: The classic TV series Mister Ed, the Police Academy movies with Goldthwait and Kazurinsky in them and the John Candy films Armed and Dangerous and Who’s Harry Crumb?