Film Review: The Great Outdoors (1988)

Also known as: Big Country (working title)
Release Date: June 17th, 1988
Directed by: Howard Deutch
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Stephanie Faracy, Annette Bening, Robert Prosky, Lewis Aquette

Hughes Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“I gotta go to the John, I’ll be right back. Gonna introduce Mr. Thick Dick to Mr. Urinal Cake!” – Roman

I used to watch the hell out of this movie when it first came out on VHS back in the day. I probably single-handedly wore down the tape at my local video store. As a kid, I just loved it and that has a lot to do with it starring two of my favorite movie comedians, as well as just being fun, lighthearted, goofy and a bit of a coming of age tale where it focuses on the oldest kid.

Also, I loved the raccoon and bear scenes.

Seeing this as an adult with a hell of a lot of movie watching mileage under my belt, I still enjoy this film. I think a lot of that enjoyment is due to the nostalgia bug latching onto me like a lamprey but even if I had never seen this, I’m pretty sure it would still amuse me like many other ’80s comedies do.

John Candy and Dan Aykroyd were both at the top of their game and in this, they had good chemistry that provided the moviegoing audience with a great rivalry that blossomed into something positive and strong. And at this film’s core, it’s really about loving your family in spite of your personal differences.

For the most part, this is really just a series of funny gags and sequences. There isn’t much story, as things just sort of happen, but it still does a good job with its characters and establishing their conflicts and their underlying love for one another.

Ultimately, it’s just mindless escapism that will still probably make most people laugh. It has that patented John Hughes charm to it, even if it isn’t as good as the films he personally directed.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s “summer” comedies, specifically Summer Rental, also with John Candy, and One Crazy Summer.

Film Review: Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

Also known as: Space Invaders (Germany), Killer Klowns (Sweden, Mexico, Denmark)
Release Date: May 27th, 1988
Directed by: Stephen Chiodo
Written by: Charles Chiodo, Stephen Chiodo
Music by: John Massari
Cast: Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, John Allen Nelson, Royal Dano, John Vernon

Chiodo Brothers Productions, Sarlui/Diamant, 88 Minutes

Review:

“They took your wife away in a balloon? Well you don’t need the police, pal, you need a psychiatrist!” – Curtis Mooney

Despite coming out at the height of cinematic cheese, Killer Klowns From Outer Space was still a weird movie even for 1988. From a horror and humor standpoint, the tone reminds me a lot of the Ghoulies films, as well as the first two Return of the Living Deads, Night of the Creeps and Maximum Overdrive. Still, this one is even more bonkers.

Honestly, this is a really unique picture that may have been a dud when it came out but has since amassed a huge fanbase becoming a cult favorite once it hit video store shelves and then got passed around by teens in the ’90s while also being a favorite on late night cable television.

The film also has tonal similarities to the 1990 film Spaced Invaders, but that was more family friendly and harder on the sci-fi while being pretty nil on the horror. But that film shares a star with this one, Royal Dano. Strangely, Dano plays just about the same character in both movies: an old farmer with a dog that grabs his rifle when the aliens land near his home.

This film also features Suzanne Snyder, no stranger to science fiction (and horror), as she is probably most remembered for her role in Weird Science but she was also in The Last Starfighter, Return of the Living Dead, Part II and Night of the Creeps.

The plot of the film is pretty simple, some clown-themed aliens land in a small town and start turning people into giant cotton candy cocoons to harvest them. Their ship looks like a giant circus tent, they use circus-themed weapons like killer, mutant popcorn and they like being pranksters.

I remember this movie really freaking people out and it may be the biggest contributor to the irrational fear of clowns that seemed to become more of a normal thing in the ’90s. I mean, I guess Pennywise from the 1990 miniseries It had a lot to do with it too but I distinctly remember this goofy film scaring the crap out of people. I always just thought it was kind of amusing and batshit crazy in the best way possible.

One thing that has held up really well in this film is the practical special effects, especially in regards to the clowns. The suits are great, each clown looks distinctly different and the animatronic masks were incredible for the time. Hell, this movie was made on a pretty small budget and they certainly got a lot out of their limited resoruces.

Seeing this now, I’m much more impressed by it than I would have been as a kid. It’s far from great but it’s a perfect example of what talented filmmakers with passion can create with very little resources. The fact that it’s held up so well is kind of astounding. But this is also why I’ve always had more respect for practical, real effects over digital ones that can look outdated almost immediately. You can hide your film’s financial limitations with a skilled practical effects artist better than you can with cheap, budget CGI.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other bonkers horror/sci-fi/comedy films of the ’80s.

Film Review: Dead Heat (1988)

Release Date: May 6th, 1988
Directed by: Mark Goldblatt
Written by: Terry Black
Music by: Ernest Troost
Cast: Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Darren McGavin, Lindsay Frost, Vincent Price, Keye Luke, Robert Picardo, Professor Toru Tanaka, Shane Black

Helpren/Meltzer, New World Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“[He shuts the porno mag the clerk’s being reading] Sorry to interrupt your erection.” – Det. Doug Bigelow

Dead Heat is greatly underappreciated. That’s probably because it bombed in the theater and then got brushed aside and barely even made a blip on the cable TV radar in the ’90s. By then it probably seemed really outdated and so cheesy that even late night movie shows didn’t really touch it.

I actually saw this on VHS around 1990 or so and thought it was pretty cool but it just never reemerged anywhere else until it popped up on streaming services within the last couple of years.

I was glad that it was most recently featured on Joe Bob Brigg’s The Last Drive-In, as it needs to be discovered and showcased for a new generation and for the old generation that might’ve missed it.

The film is written by Terry Black, the older brother of Shane.

Shane Black had already made waves after writing Lethal Weapon and The Monster Squad while also working on Predator and Night of the Creeps. Older brother kind of followed little brother here, as the story for Dead Heat is like a mash up of some of those other movies in how it features an action heavy buddy cop story with elements of horror and a bit of slapstick comedy.

That being said, the script was really creative and it provided a movie with a lot of really cool scenes and monster encounters: most notably the zombie animals that came to life despite being halfway butchered.

These scenes worked so well though because the special effects were solid. I mean, this was made by New World and thus, the production operated under Roger Corman economics. Despite that, the practical effects of the monsters looked great.

Additionally, some of the other effects were impressive too, such as the scene where Lindsay Frost decays into nothingness.

The film stars Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo as the two buddy cops but it also stars a great villain duo that features Darren McGavin and legendary Vincent Price. Everyone played well off of each other and all the core actors looked like they were having fun hamming it up and making this bonkers movie.

This is such a weird and unique picture that more people really should check it out. It’s amusing, enjoyable and deserving of more recognition than it initially received.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other goofy horror comedies of the ’80s like the first two Return of the Living Dead MoviesC.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud, TerrorVision, etc.

Film Review: Deadbeat at Dawn (1988)

Release Date: November 18th, 1988 (Dayton, Ohio, US)
Directed by: Jim Van Bebber
Written by: Jim Van Bebber
Music by: A-OK, Ned Folkerth
Cast: Jim Van Bebber, Paul Harper, Megan Murphy, Marc Pitman

Asmodeus Productions Inc., 81 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t need your voodoo magic around my neck!” – Goose

While I appreciate filmmakers who can make chicken salad out of chicken shit, Deadbeat at Dawn doesn’t achieve that sort of status for me. Some people really like it and are even impressed by it but it is a tough movie to get through, even for an ’80s action junkie like me, who doesn’t mind over the top violence and the use of primitive practical effects.

The effects are really the highpoint of the movie but even then (and also considering the complete lack of budget) they just don’t cut it.

Deadbeat at Dawn is horrendously acted, terribly shot and while it seems self-aware and proud to be cinematic poop, it doesn’t really climb out of the Port-O-Let to give you some good, solid shit.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s worth checking out if you’ve never seen it and you have a high tolerance for dreck on celluloid. It’s certainly something that should be experienced but there are much better movies that are also made and presented in this style.

I think my biggest issue with it is that there is no silver lining or saving grace hidden within the film. Most movies like this have something redeeming or endearing. This doesn’t.

Sure, I can appreciate the fact that the director/writer/lead actor took his college money, rounded up his homies and shot this thing guerrilla style in the heart of Dayton, Ohio but I can’t look passed how bad it is.

Deadbeat at Dawn really tries to push the bar but others have pushed it much further and with much better results.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other overly gory ’80s action movies like Street Trash and Troma’s War.

Film Review: Troma’s War (1988)

Also known as: 1,000 Ways to Die (alternative title), Club War (Germany)
Release Date: October, 1988 (Tokyo International Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Michael Herz, Samuel Weil
Written by: Lloyd Kaufman
Music by: Christopher De Marco
Cast: Carolyn Beauchamp, Sean Bowen, Michael Ryder, Patrick Weathers, Jessica Dublin, Ara Romanoff

Troma Entertainment, 87 Minutes, 104 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“You try chopping Siamese twins apart with a machete and not change.” – Nancy

I love everything Troma stands for, always have. However, I don’t enjoy a lot of their movies because even if they’re intentionally bad, it is often times too much and despite a few funny moments, here and there, their films get buried too deeply in their own schtick.

However, there are some films that they’ve made that are really damn good for what they are. While Troma War isn’t their best offering, it is definitely one of their better ones and I probably rank it in my top five.

This movie is absolutely insane but that should be expected considering this came from the mind of Lloyd Kaufman during his peak. Plus, it was directed by Michael Herz, who has been behind the camera for three of the Troma films I’d rank above this one: The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke ‘Em High and Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.

The story here is bizarre but basically this picks up after a plane has crashed on an island. The survivors then have to fight a war against the madmen that occupy the island. But this is a Troma film, so things can’t be that simple and cookie cutter.

Troma’s War is a movie that gets more and more bonkers as it plays on. The two craziest bits being the stuff surrounding the Siamese twin character and the stuff surrounding the guy with AIDS. But the over the top, violent and gory action is also insane.

Honestly, it’s a hard movie to describe and it sort of has to be seen to be believed.

Like all things Troma, one should expect terrible acting, questionable direction and the cheapest practical effects imaginable. However, this is just as much imaginative as it is offensive and that makes it much better than the standard Troma schlock.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Troma’s other ’80s and ’90s movies.

Film Review: Brain Damage (1988)

Also known as: Elmer (Germany), Fluido Fatal (Portugal), Sin Control (Argentina, Mexico)
Release Date: January, 1988 (France – Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Frank Henenlotter
Written by: Frank Henenlotter
Music by: Matthias Donnelly, Clutch Reiser, Gus Russo
Cast: Rick Hearst, Jennifer Lowry, Gordon MacDonald

Palisades Partners, 84 Minutes, 86 Minutes (uncut)

Review:

“This is the start of your new life, Brian; a life full of colors, music, light and euphoria. A life without pain, or hurt or suffering.” – Aylmer

I remember seeing parts of this film but I didn’t recall most of it. Usually, my memory is pretty good and I can go back to where I was when I saw something for the first time. But this is such a batshit crazy flick that it may have done something to my brain. Maybe I’ve only seen clips or maybe I was half asleep watching it on television, late at night. Chances are, I was at some party in my teens or twenties and was high as a kite or drunk.

Anyway, I remembered a few things, mostly the evil parasite Aylmer and how impressed I was with the practical effects and detail that were used to bring him to life. I also remembered liking his voice, as it isn’t one you would expect and it’s kind of soothing and comforting.

Brain Damage was directed by Frank Henenlotter, who was most famous for Basket Case before this, a true cult classic that has stood the test of time and is still a hell of a fun movie to watch. This film, however, came out before Frankenhooker and the Basket Case sequels. So Henenlotter still didn’t have a whole lot of experience under his belt. But that doesn’t seem to matter, as this is technically impressive considering how visually stunning it is, as well as how superb the practical effects are.

Now this movie is far too weird to resonate with most people but for those who love ’80s horror cheese of the highest caliber, mixed in with a good bit of bonkers-ness, this might become your new favorite film. It’s weirder and more impressive than Henenlotter’s other two non-sequel outings and it has a weird charm about it.

The star of the film, Rick Hearst, would go on to have a lot of success as a soap opera actor and considering that this is very far removed from that sort of work, I have to tip my hat to him for really committing to this insane movie and putting in a convincing performance despite the absolute absurdity of some of the scenes.

Brain Damage is a hard movie to explain without spoiling too much and I’d rather people watch it, if they haven’t seen it and they’re willing to go on a crazy adventure with a brain parasite that makes his hosts addicted to his sweet blue juice.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other films of Frank Henenlotter, as well as Brian Yuzna’s ’80s and ’90s pictures.

Film Review: Twins (1988)

Also known as: The Experiment (working title), Twiins (alternative spelling)
Release Date: December 8th, 1988 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: William Davies, Timothy Harris, William Osborne, Herschel Weingrod
Music by: George Delerue, Randy Edelman
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, Kelly Preston, Chloe Webb, Bonnie Bartlett, David Caruso, Marshall Bell, Maury Chaykin, Tony Jay, Frances Bay, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Jason Reitman, Catherine Reitman, Heather Graham

Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

“My name is Julius and I am your twin brother.” – Julius Benedict, “Oh, obviously! The moment I sat down I thought I was looking into a mirror.” – Vincent Benedict

When Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the absolute top of the action film world, he decided to be in a comedy. At first, that may have seemed crazy. But the end result was this great picture that in my opinion, is a true comedy classic of its era.

Granted, this also had Danny DeVito in it, who never disappoints, and it was directed by Ivan Reitman, who was a great comedy director at his creative peak.

I think this film has actually aged really well too. Sure, it’s definitely a product of the ’80s but it is still a very human story that is carried by the charisma and chemistry of its two stars.

Schwarzenegger and DeVito just felt like a natural pair and even if they aren’t really brothers and don’t look the part, as that’s part of the gag, they just clicked and their connection and relationship felt truly genuine. And maybe Schwarzenegger doesn’t get enough credit as an actor but this allowed him to show his range and he did stupendously well in the role. It’s damn near impossible not to love him in this. And even if DeVito is a shithead for most of the film, you understand why he’s broken and I find it hard not to sympathize with his character and sort of grow into loving him as well.

At its core, this is just a feel good movie and it came out in a time where family dynamics were changing. I think that for a lot of people, it gave them hope that even if their upbringing might not have been the ideal, cookie cutter situation, that maybe, in some way, they could find the people in their life that would become family.

It’s really hard to peg but this is just a film that resonated with me at an early age and it still does. I don’t really think that has to do with nostalgia and for me, at least, it has to do with how good this is top to bottom from the characters, the story and their emotional journey.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Ivan Reitman comedies.

Film Review: Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)

Also known as: Nightmare Vacation 2 (UK, Germany)
Release Date: February 28th, 1988
Directed by: Michael A. Simpson
Written by: Fritz Gordon
Based on: characters by Robert Hiltzik
Music by: James Oliverio
Cast: Pamela Springsteen, Renée Estevez

Double Helix Films, 80 Minutes

Review:

“Easy. I’ve got great recommendations from doctors, psychiatrists, even clergymen. I did my time. Two years of therapy, electroshock, was on every pill you ever heard of, plus an operation. I’m completely cured. If I wasn’t they wouldn’t have let me out. How do you know so much about me?” – Angela

Over the years, I’ve noticed that fans of the original Sleepaway Camp are split on whether or not they like this almost parody sequel. It’s certainly goofy, somewhat bizarre and it isn’t in the same league as its predecessor but it has charm to it while being amusing and giving its audience some unique and creative kills.

Unfortunately, Felissa Rose does not return to the role of Angela in this one, but that may have been for the best due to the tone and comedy approach of this installment. And even though Rose will always be the Angela, I thought that Pamela Springsteen was great in the role, especially for how hammy she played it with nothing less than pure enthusiasm and spirit. Seriously, I enjoyed her so much in this that I’m actually excited to check out its direct sequel.

Side note: Felissa Rose would return to play Angela again, years later, in a more serious installment.

Anyway, this was a pretty cheesy and enjoyable picture. And by “cheesy” I mean cheesy in the best way possible.

The film is stuffed full of great kill sequences, I especially liked two of them.

The first is the one where Angela is literally bludgeoning and stuffing a camper into an outdoor toilet.

The other is the one that parodies the top slasher franchises of the era, as it has homages to A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre all in the same scene.

I mostly dug the rest of the cast as well, as they all played archetypes well, especially the buff, jock counselor with the ’80s power mullet.

Now I can’t quite call this a classic like its predecessor but it’s definitely a film that should be rotated into a horror/comedy marathon. Especially during these troubling COVID-19 times, where most of us are stuck at home.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Sleepaway Camp films, as well as the Friday the 13th film series and The Burning.

Film Review: The Dead Pool (1988)

Also known as: Dirty Harry in The Dead Pool (poster title), Dirty Harry 5 (alternative title)
Release Date: July 13th, 1988
Directed by: Buddy Van Horn
Written by: Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, Sandy Shaw
Based on: characters by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink 
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Patricia Clarkson, Liam Neeson, Evan Kim, David Hunt, Michael Currie, Michael Goodwin, Jim Carrey, Marc Alaimo, Justin Whalin, Guns N’ Roses (cameo)

Malpaso Productions, Warner Bros., 91 Minutes

Review:

“Well, opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one.” – ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan

This is it, the fifth and final Dirty Harry movie. It’s also the one that most people seem to like the least. However, I like it a tad bit more than the fourth film, Sudden Impact.

While far from great, I like this movie because it features an interesting plot, even if it’s not executed greatly. Also, the car chase scene with the remote control bomb car blew my mind, as a kid, and I still love the hell out of that whole sequence 32 years later.

Clint Eastwood is still great as Dirty Harry and this movie feels like it fits better within the series, as a whole, where the previous movie took him out of San Francisco and made him do cop work while essentially on vacation.

I like his energy, here, and at this point, the character is really just an extension of Eastwood and he can coast through this thing on auto pilot and still nail it.

This movie also benefits from having a young but capable Liam Neeson, alongside Patricia Clarkson and a very young and not so comedic Jim Carrey. I really dig the hell out of Carrey in this and even if his performance isn’t anything close to perfect, he did show that he was capable of acting beyond the requirements of his earlier comedic roles.

This film is short and sweet, just being around ninety minutes and not over two hours like the drawn out chore that was Sudden Impact. It’s action packed, moves briskly and doesn’t waste time on trying to make a more complex plot. These films don’t need to be that, they just need to kick ass, take names and then kick more ass.

I feel like the ’80s Dirty Harry pictures can’t really compete with the solid ’70s ones. However, this is still a better than decent ’80s action flick that knew how to get to the point while amassing a respectable body count in the process.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Dirty Harry movies, as well as the Death Wish series.

Film Review: Return of the Living Dead, Part II (1988)

Release Date: January 8th, 1988 (premiere)
Directed by: Ken Wiederhorn
Written by: Ken Wiederhorn
Music by: J. Peter Robinson
Cast: Michael Kentworthy, Marsha Dietlein, Dana Ashbrook, James Karen, Thom Matthews, Phil Bruns, Suzanne Snyder, Thor Van Lingen, Jason Hogan, Mitch Pileggi

Greenfox Productions, Lorimar Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“I feel like we’ve been here before. You… Me… Them!” – Joey

I think that this movie gets unfairly shitted on, simply because it is not the pinnacle of perfection that its predecessor was. That being said, this is still a damn enjoyable zombie comedy and seeing James Karen and Thom Matthews return, as new but similar characters, was pretty awesome.

While this film took some minor missteps that kept it from being as iconic as the first movie, it’s still one of the more fun horror pictures of the ’80s.

This picks up shortly after the events of the first film, as we see the zombie-creating Trioxin accidentally released on a new town. Zombies rise from the grave, infest the town and try to eat all the brains they can possibly stomach.

We follow a group of survivors, as they try to find a way out of town but ultimately get trapped by a military blockade and thus, have to fight the undead in an effort to survive the night. Of course, many of them don’t survive. However, unlike the first film, which had a much better ending, some characters do make it out unscathed.

Apart from the fairly optimistic ending, the film made a few other mistakes.

First of all, this just isn’t punk rock enough. That’s the element that really made the first picture so fucking cool. The characters were punk rock dipshits and it was fun seeing them try to make it out alive but ultimately, fail.

Secondly, the film’s score is really generic and weak compared to the tunes of the first movie, which just ties it back to the film not being punk rock enough.

Thirdly, the setting isn’t as gritty and interesting. The film takes place in a suburban neighborhood that is still under construction. It reminds me a lot of the neighborhoods from E.T. and Poltergeist but it’s unfinished, which just means that it was probably cheap and easy to shoot there at night.

Fourthly, the film doesn’t feature Linnea Quigley as Trash. I need my Trash! Or just Linnea Quigley. She could’ve played another role.

In the end, the characters were all good and the story was decent enough. I thought that the big finale was actually well done, other than the town not getting nuked. It should’ve been nuked.

If you are a fan of the original and you haven’t seen this, it’s definitely worth a watch. Don’t expect the same level of greatness but it’s still a good compliment to the first flick that builds off of it nicely.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the first Return of the Living Dead, as well as other zombie comedies.