Film Review: Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Also known as: Tetsuo (original title), The Ironman (alternative English title)
Release Date: June, 1989 (Italy – Fantafestival)
Directed by: Shinya Tsukamoto
Written by: Shinya Tsukamoto
Music by: Chu Ishikawa
Cast: Tomorowo Taguchi, Kei Fujiwara, Shinya Tsukamoto

Japan Home Video, K2 Spirit, Kaijyu Theater, 67 Minutes (cut down version), 69 Minutes, 77 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“Together, we can turn this fucking world to rust!” – Metals Fetishist

While there are some things I appreciate about this film, I actually hate it quite a bit.

It’s an absolute clusterfuck and while that’s what it set out to be, that doesn’t mean that putting the idea on celluloid is a good one.

This film looks like an industrial band’s music video from the late ’80s. And I’m not talking about a good industrial band on a major label, I’m talking about an unsigned band of college kids that have little to no talent that “borrowed” some film equipment for the weekend.

In fact, my only real experience in seeing any part of this film was when clips would be playing on screens in goth clubs in the late ’90s and early ’00s. In that setting with goth rock and industrial blaring through the club, it worked. As a film, not so much and in fact, not at all.

The only thing in this film I can really give props to is some of the special effects. While they’re not mind blowing by any stretch of the imagination, they are at least effective. The drill penis is a scary appendage no matter what side of it you’re on.

Apart from that, this is a shrill, spastic and seizure inducing fever dream. It’s really hard to watch and to digest, as none of it makes a lick of sense and it’s insane just for the hell of it because, you know… it’s fuckin’ art, maaan…

This is pretentious crap that gives films like Eraserhead some actual merit because at least there was something competent in that picture that allowed its director to grow into something better and more refined. Granted, I can’t say whether or not Shinya Tsukamoto actually got better, as I have no urge to delve deeper into his oeuvre after this unwatchable skull fuck.

If you have ever wanted to stare straight into the twitching eye of insanity while loaded up on a cocktail of uppers and hallucinogenics, than this might be your movie. But if it is, stay the fuck away from me, please.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: industrial music videos by bands that never got signed, as well as Japanese surrealist gore flicks.

Film Review: UHF (1989)

Also known as: The Vidiot From UHF (working title)
Release Date: May 26th, 1989
Directed by: Jay Levey
Written by: “Weird Al” Yankovic, Jay Levey
Music by: John Du Prez, “Weird Al” Yankovic
Cast: “Weird Al” Yankovic, Kevin McCarthy, Michael Richards, David Bowe, Victoria Jackson, Fran Drescher, Billy Barty, Gedde Watanabe, Emo Philips (cameo)

Cinecorp SAC, Imaginary Entertainment, Orion Pictures, 97 Minutes, 150 Minutes (rough cut)

Review:

“Oh, Joel Miller, you’ve just found the marble in the oatmeal. You’re a lucky, lucky, lucky little boy. ‘Cause you know why? You get to drink from… the FIRE HOOOOOSE!” – Stanley Spadowski

This was one of those movies I used to put on when I was an adolescent because it was pretty mindless, really fun and it featured a guy who I wish had made more movies: “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Known primarily for making parody pop tunes, Yankovic is a pretty talented guy all around and the fact that he wrote and starred in this “loser gets lucky” flick is impressive. Sure, this is a vanity project but Yankovic didn’t just phone in his performance and rely on a big studio to do all the work and foot the bill.

Now I can understand that this won’t be a film that most people will enjoy, especially in 2020, but it truly displays and showcases the guy’s immense creativity. This also feels like a practice run of what could have been if he continued to make motion pictures. In the long run, he’d just need to refine them a bit more and tell a more cohesive story.

That’s not to say that the story is hard to follow, it isn’t, but the film plays like a series of gags and skits with a really simple narrative just there to try and give them a larger purpose. And that’s fine for what this is.

UHF isn’t just a straight forward, ’80s comedy; it also features music videos by Yankovic, worked into the film through dreams and daydreams. His character here is a real dreamer and he spends a lot of time existing within the fantasy of his own head. Luckily, a lot of that is able to get out and into the real world, as he has to use his creativity to run his uncle’s failing UHF television station.

Over time, the station becomes a big hit, as Yankovic and his group of close friends are able to build something pretty remarkable.

Speaking of his friends, they are made up by a really good cast that includes a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards, a pre-The Nanny Fran Drescher, Victoria Jackson, Gedde Watanabe, Billy Barty and David Bowe.

I think that Yankovic fans will definitely dig the film. Others, maybe not so much. But this is still a lighthearted, positive film that has some hysterical moments. Granted, some of these gags wouldn’t fly today in our overly sensitive and easily offended modern society.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other loser gets lucky comedies: Brewster’s Millions, Chairman of the Board, Tapeheads, Freddy Got Fingered, The Pest, etc.

Film Review: Heathers (1989)

Also known as: Fatal Game, Lethal Attraction, Westerberg High (working titles)
Release Date: January, 1989 (Sundance)
Directed by: Michael Lehmann
Written by: Daniel Waters
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker, Penelope Milford, Glenn Shadix, Renee Estevez

Cinemarque Entertainment, New World Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw. Do I look like Mother Teresa?” – Heather Chandler

When I saw this around 1990, when it hit VHS for the first time, I was pretty blown away by it. I was also eleven years-old and this was some pretty heavy stuff. But by that point, I already saw Christian Slater and Winona Ryder as two of the coolest young actors in Hollywood.

I probably watched Heathers a half dozen times in my youth but it’s now been decades since I’ve revisited it.

Seeing it with pretty fresh eyes, I think the film has aged really well and it is still effective, even if it was made as a sort of “fuck you” to the overly positive and cliche high school movies of the ’80s, specifically the John Hughes ones.

I can’t quite say that this is as good as my memory’s impression of it but I definitely enjoyed it and thought that it was a really well executed black comedy about teen angst in a decade that tried to gloss over some of the real issues young people faced at the time. But it is also a critique on the young yuppie lifestyle that was promoted in lots of the teen films of the era.

That’s not to say that this film was an original concept. These ideas have been explored before its existence but Heathers does it so well that it is the one film people seem to remember the most when it comes to expressing these ideas.

The first act of the film is damn near perfection. However, the second act is a bit of a slog and it seems to lose some of its momentum.

As an adult, you also see Winona Ryder’s character much differently. Where I found her relatable in my youth, you kind of see that she’s pretty much just an evil asshole like her boyfriend. She could’ve gone to the cops, she could’ve stopped him pretty early on in the story. However, she goes along for the ride and somehow turns out to be the hero in the end. Additionally, a lot of the moral dilemmas weren’t things I really dwelled on as much at eleven years-old when watching an edgy movie that felt cool.

The finale was decent but I feel like the climax sort of doesn’t live up to the amount of chaos this picture tried to build up. However, I don’t know how keen ’80s audiences would’ve been on a film that blows up a school with all the kids still inside.

Heathers is really good though, despite my more adult take on it, thirty-ish years later. It resonated with its fans for a reason and even if it bombed in the theater, it definitely deserves the cult status it quickly achieved after it came out on VHS and the word spread. 

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: things that ripped it off like Jawbreaker and Mean Girls.

Film Review: Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989)

Also known as: Nightmare Vacation 3 (UK, Germany)
Release Date: August 4th, 1989 (limited)
Directed by: Michael A. Simpson
Written by: Fritz Gordon
Based on: characters by Robert Hiltzik
Music by: James Oliverio
Cast: Pamela Springsteen, Tracy Griffith, Mark Oliver, Michael J. Pollard

Double Helix Films, 80 Minutes, 84 Minutes (uncut)

Review:

“Good thing you’re dead ’cause in a couple of years your breasts would have been sagging something terrible!” – Angela

Since I recently watched Sleepaway Camp II, I thought that I’d follow that up with a viewing and review of the third movie in the series.

Honestly, this one is pretty much just more of the same and it’s fairly consistent to the one before it. My only really gripe about it is that the kills aren’t as creative as they were in the previous installment.

Now there are a few good kills like the lawnmower one but most of them are pretty basic and repetitive. Usually, we see Angela just beat someone to death with a flimsy branch and then follow that up with a stab or a fire.

Pamela Springsteen is really the glue of these two films, as she’s simply entertaining and commits to the bit so well. Even though these are far from the best slashers or horror comedies out there, I could’ve easily watched her return a few more times to do the same schtick. She’s just funny and has a lot of charm, even when she’s brutally murdering someone.

I liked that this movie brought in Michael J. Pollard, as I’ve always liked the guy. He’s mostly a character actor that most people might recognize from Scrooged or Bonnie & Clyde but he always comes off as enjoyable and likable. In this film, however, he plays a scummy pedophile summer camp owner. While his character is weirdly played up for laughs, he handles the controversial material pretty well and you enjoy seeing him get what was coming to him.

Overall, this is a goofy, violent picture that actually doesn’t push the gore as hard as I had hoped for a late ’80s slasher picture but it’s still amusing, entertaining and it kept me distracted from the pandemic that has taken over the world in 2020.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Sleepaway Camp films, as well as the Friday the 13th film series and The Burning.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

Also known as: Gojira vs. Biorante (original Japanese title), Godzilla 1990 (South Korea)
Release Date: December 16th, 1989 (Japan)
Directed by: Kazuki Ōmori
Written by: Kazuki Ōmori, Shinichirō Kobayashi
Music by: Koichi Sugiyama
Cast: Kunihiko Mitamura, Yoshiko Tanaka, Masanobu Takashima, Megumi Odaka, Toru Minegishi, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Yoshiko Kuga, Ryunosuke Kaneda, Kōji Takahashi

Toho Co. Ltd., 104 Minutes, 83 Minutes (VHS screener cut)

Review:

“Godzilla and Biollante aren’t monsters. It’s the unscrupulous scientists who create them that are monsters.” – Dr. Shiragami

This is the hardest of all Godzilla movies to track down if you didn’t actually buy the VHS, DVD or Blu-ray when they came out. It’s been out of print for years and if you want a copy, you’re going to pay an arm and a leg for it. Luckily, I had a hook up because I was too poor to buy this way back when it came out and as much as I love the movie, I’m not going to pay nearly $100 for a copy now.

Anyway, we never got a real sequel to Godzilla vs. Hedorah due to Toho hating it when it came out in 1971. However, this is a sort of spiritual sequel to it in that it pits Godzilla against another environmental threat… or in this case, a biological one.

After the lukewarm reception to The Return of Godzilla and the complete failure of the United States’ King Kong Lives, Toho was really cautious about rushing out another kaiju sequel. Although, the success of The Little Shop of Horrors remake got their attention and I’d have to assume that the plant monster designed for this film was somewhat inspired by the plant monster from that picture.

Although, Toho did hold a writing contest to see if fans could come up with a great Godzilla story worth telling. So I’m not sure how much of this came from fan input or from Toho’s writers trying to emulate The Little Shop of Horrors.

Needless to say, the studio was looking for a new kind of threat for Godzilla to fight and they wanted something fresh that was born out of science run amok. Where Godzilla was born out of man experimenting with atomic energy, Biollante was born out of man experimenting with biological engineering.

The end result is one of the coolest kaiju ever created, as well as one of the greatest threats Godzilla ever faced. Additionally, the monster, like Hedorah before her, had different stages of evolution throughout the movie. This would also go on to start a trend that saw Godzilla fight monsters that would evolve into more dangerous versions of themselves as movies progressed.

Godzilla vs. Biollante is one of my favorite films in the Heisei era and honestly, one of my favorite, overall. It just looks fantastic, I love the monsters and the effects and this boasts some of the best kaiju on kaiju violence in the franchise. Between the early fight where Godzilla fights Biollante in her flower form to the big, grand finale, everything in regards to the kaiju action is tremendous!

I also really like the story, I thought the actors were better than average for these sort of pictures and this movie has pretty solid cinematography for something from the tokusatsu genre.

Plus, this movie just has an epic feel to it that builds off of the spectacle of its predecessor in a great way.

This is one of the best looking and most interesting chapters in the long running franchise.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Heisei era Godzilla films, as well as Godzilla vs. Hedorah.

Film Review: Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)

Release Date: July 5th, 1989 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Jeffrey Boam, Shane Black, Warren Murphy
Music by: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, David Sanborn
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Joss Ackland, Derrick O’Connor, Patsy Kensit, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Jenette Goldstein, Dean Norris, Kenneth Tigar

Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 114 Minutes, 108 Minutes (cut), 118 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I’m too old for this shit!” – Roger Murtaugh

This is my favorite Lethal Weapon movie and in fact, it’s pretty close to perfect on every level.

While most people probably see the first film as the best, I enjoy this one slightly more because it builds off of that foundation and makes it better. Also, this is the film that added in Joe Pesci, who had an amazing dynamic with Gibson and Glover and made this power duo a superpowered trio.

I also prefer the criminal plot in this movie and it takes more of a front seat, as the first film was primarily about dealing with Riggs’ personal problems and overcoming them.

That’s not to say that Riggs’ emotions don’t get the better of him in this film, they do, but the story and the context as to why are much more apparent and the tragedy that befalls his character actually happens in front of your eyes in this chapter. It makes more of an emotional impact on the viewer and because of what he’s already overcome, you understand his drive in the third act of the film and you root for him, and Murtaugh, in a way that you didn’t in the first picture.

Additionally, the villains are fucking superb. Joss Ackland is at his all-time best in this movie as the villainous, racist, South African diplomat, hiding behind legal red tape. I also like Derrick O’Connor as the top henchman. He isn’t quite on Busey’s level from the first movie but he is much better than the standard henchman from most action films of a similar style.

Overall, Lethal Weapon 2 takes the formula that was already established and perfects it. It adds to the series without taking anything away while having a swifter pace that doesn’t leave room for unnecessary filler. The characters are developed more in this chapter and all that is done organically as the story progresses. This is a finely written motion picture that understands the balance it needs between the action genre, comedy, drama and character building. It masters this in ways that other similar films have struggled.

There isn’t a bad thing I can say about the movie, really. It’s just awesome, top to bottom. It has everything I want in a Lethal Weapon movie and none of the stuff I don’t.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Lethal Weapon films, as well as most ’80s buddy action movies.

Film Review: Future Force (1989)

Also known as: C.O.P.S. (Sweden)
Release Date: November 9th, 1989
Directed by: David A. Prior
Written by: David A. Prior
Music by: Mark Mancina, Steve McClintock
Cast: David Carradine, Anna Rapagna, Robert Tessier, William Zipp, D.C. Douglas, Kimberly Casey

Action International Pictures (AIP), Winters Hollywood Entertainment Holdings Corporation, 84 Minutes

Review:

“David Harris? I’m John Tucker, Civilian Operated Police. You have committed a crime and are presumed guilty. You have a right to die. If you choose to relinquish that right, you will be placed under arrest and imprisoned. I haven’t got all night.” – Tucker

This movie is nowhere near as badass as its poster implies.

Also, for a David A. Prior action flick, this one is pretty goddamned dull.

I like Prior films like Deadly Prey and The Final Sanction. Even though they are over the top action films full of cheese, violence and men with more testicles than just a pair apiece, Future Force doesn’t quite bring the same level of badass, insane intensity.

Although there is a pretty sweet and bizarre scene where Carraidne’s cyborg glove starts flying around trying to knockout the baddie.

The film was also kind of a letdown when I saw it as a kid because the police force in this movie is called C.O.P.S., so my little mind in 1989 thought this might be a live action C.O.P.S., you know, that cool cartoon that came on after school in the afternoons. But no, it has no association and rightfully so, as this is one big ass glass of suck.

Hell, I can’t believe that Carradine followed up Bird On A Wire with this, as Bird should’ve brought his career back up into the mainstream. He was a solid f’n villain in that and then six months later, he’s doing this movie?! I can only assume that he got paid in video arcade tokens because that’s not real money and he was high on coke and thought it was actual gold. I hope the studio at least sent pizza to his trailer. Wait… who am I kidding? He probably had a wheelbarrow.

Anyway, this is boring, uneventful, Carradine looks bored and out of shape and it’s one of Prior’s worst films, which if you’ve seen his movies, is a really, really low bar.

There is a RiffTrax version of this you can watch though, if you feel compelled to do so.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequel Future Zone, as well as other action schlock with David Carradine from the mid-’70s through the ’90s.

Film Review: River of Death (1989)

Also known as: Alistair MacLean’s River of Death (Germany)
Release Date: May 15th, 1989 (Cannes)
Directed by: Steve Carver
Written by: Andrew Deutsch, Edward Simpson
Based on: River of Death by Alistair MacLean
Music by: Sasha Matson
Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence, Herbert Lom, L. Q. Jones

Breton Film Productions, Cannon International, Pathe Communications, 107 Minutes

Review:

I’m a pretty avid fan of the movies that Michael Dudikoff made for Cannon Films. So I figured that this would be a hidden gem because of that. Plus, it had an interesting premise that saw Dudikoff go to the Amazon to hunt for treasure and Nazis. Honestly, it sounded like a Cannon Films version of an Indiana Jones movie.

I should have been weary though, as Cannon already attempted such a thing with those two Allan Quatermain pictures from the mid-’80s. Neither of them were terrible but they weren’t awesome either.

Maybe Dudikoff is just at his best when Steve James is by his side and he’s either fighting ninjas or guys in weird costumes that hide in the bayou? Whatever the case, this movie is a total fucking dud.

What’s even more sad about the whole thing is that this also featured Robert Vaughn and Donald Pleasence. Two great character actors with solid chops and really long resumes.

Honestly, though, this movie is pretty damn boring for a film that’s premise promised some pretty cool things. While it has action, none of it is very memorable and we’ve seen much better efforts by Cannon Films four dozen times over by the time this rolled around in ’89.

It’s poorly acted, the script is bird cage liner and the direction and fight choreography don’t measure up to the reasonable low standards of Cannon.

For a Cannon Films or Dudikoff completist, I guess this is worth checking out. Just don’t expect to find your new favorite film of the lot.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other Michael Dudikoff action films, as well as other action movies from Cannon.

Film Review: Black Rain (1989)

Release Date: September 22nd, 1989
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Craig Bolotin, Warren Lewis
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Takakura, Kate Capshaw, Luis Guzman, Stephen Root, Richard Riehle, Vondie Curtis-Hall

Paramount Pictures, Jaffe-Lansing, Pegasus Film Partners, 125 Minutes

Review:

“I usually get kissed before I get fucked.” – Nick Conklin

Ridley Scott has done some great films. While Black Rain isn’t often times in the discussion of Scott’s best works, it is one of his best looking motion pictures.

Being that this is pretty much neo-noir, it shares a lot of the same visual style as Blade Runner. However, instead of seeing a futuristic Los Angeles on the screen, we are given modern day Osaka. Or what was modern day in 1989.

Sure, this doesn’t have Replicants and flying cars but it does show us how late ’80s metropolitan Japan wasn’t too far off from Scott’s vision of the future.

The story follows two cops played by Michael Douglas, in maybe his coolest role, and Andy Garcia. They witness a Yakuza hit in New York City, capture the criminal and then have to escort him to Japan, where he escapes and they then have to work with the Osaka police in an effort to catch him and bring him back in.

What the cops soon find out, once their stay in Japan is extended, is that the Yakuza guy they caught is in a massive gang war. Now these two find themselves in the middle of it all while the local Osaka police are slow to act due to their hands being tied by their strict laws.

This is also like two buddy cop films in one, as Douglas’ Nick Conklin works with his New York partner for the first half and then has to work with his assigned Japanese partner for the remainder of the film. But unlike your typical buddy cop formula, we’ve got two guys from very different cultures, clashing but ultimately finding respect for one another. It’s kind of like what we would get with the Rush Hour movies nine years later and with less comedy and more testosterone.

The thing that I really like about this flick is not only the clash of cultural styles but the mixing of genres. You’ve basically got a neo-noir Yakuza biker movie. It also has a pretty hard edge to it and is unapologetic about its violence and what modern critics would deem “toxic masculinity”.

Black Rain is a cool fucking movie, hands down. While it is sort of a Yakuza movie seen through Western eyes and made for that audience, it really isn’t too dissimilar from the best films that genre has to offer. Ridley Scott doesn’t specifically try to replicate Japanese gangster cinema, so much as he just tries to make a film within his own style that just happens to take place primarily in Osaka. And frankly, it all seems to fit pretty well together.

Unfortunately, Scott had issues filming in Japan due to the budget. He actually had to shoot the big finale back in California. I really would have loved to have seen a sequel but I’m assuming that Nick Conklin only got one outing because of the financial strain of going back to Japan for another movie.

Then again, Scott didn’t really have much interest in sequels to his films until more recently. So maybe we can get Black Rain 2? Assuming Michael Douglas can still go at 75 years-old. But hey, Sylvester Stallone is bringing Marion Cobretti back, so why not?

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Blade Runner, Someone to Watch Over Me, Rising Sun and ’80s neo-noir.

Film Review: The Return of Swamp Thing (1989)

Release Date: May 12th, 1989
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Neil Cuthbert, Grant Morris
Based on: Swamp Thing by Len Wein, Bernie Wrightson
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cast: Louis Jourdan, Heather Locklear, Sarah Douglas, Dick Durock, Monique Gabrielle

Lightyear Entertainment, Batfilm Productions, Millimeter Films, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Immortality? Yuck! What did you do, sell your soul to the devil?” – Abby Arcane, “More like a lease with an option to buy.” – Dr. Anton Arcane

A friend of mine thought I was harsh on the first Swamp Thing and its director, Wes Craven. But my opinions are my opinions. He was also confused as to why I remembered this one more fondly.

Well, having now seen it again, the first time in about three decades, I still have the same opinion. While this is far from a classic and a pretty mediocre comic book adaptation, it’s still a fun, stupid, popcorn movie.

What makes this one work better for me, which seems to be why others dislike it, is the added comedy element. It’s not trying to take itself too seriously. This film is pretty self-aware, so it hams it up.

I think that the first one was made in an effort to be taken seriously. Craven has only successfully achieved that with the first A Nightmare On Elm Street, his reinvention New Nightmare and his voodoo thriller, The Serpent and the Rainbow.

Jim Wynorski, this film’s director, seems like the just wanted to have a good time making something somewhat lighthearted and goofy in a charming way. The scenes with the kids in this movie are hysterical and they’re more brilliant than anything in the first flick.

I also like that this is Dick Durock’s second time playing the title character and he seems a lot more comfortable and is allowed to let his personality come through. I also liked the return of Louis Jourdan’s Dr. Anton Arcane, even though he got killed in the first picture. This is a wacky, over the top, sci-fi movie… so why couldn’t he come back?

The supporting cast was also decent. Sure, the acting here shouldn’t be used as an example for students in drama class but everyone in the movie looked like they were having a ball and there were three pretty enchanting women in this between Sarah Douglas, Monique Gabrielle and Heather Locklear, who was surprisingly the one I found least attractive. Sarah Douglas has had my heart since Superman II and Monique Gabrielle became the woman of my dreams once I saw her shooting a machine gun.

In conclusion, I guess I understand why most people like the original more but fuck it, this is a lot more fun, has extra babes, extra cheese, extra charm, better effects and two kid actors that should’ve got their own spinoff movie trying to photograph cryptids in the swamp.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the first Swamp Thing movie, as well as the TV show that came just after this film.