Film Review: Pet Sematary (1989)

Also known as: Stephen King’s Pet Sematary (full title)
Release Date: April 21st, 1989
Directed by: Mary Lambert
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Dale Midkiff, Fred Gwynne, Denise Crosby, Brad Greenquist, Michael Lombard, Miko Hughes, Blaze Berdahl, Stephen King (cameo)

Paramount Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Sometimes, dead is better.” – Jud Crandall

With a Pet Sematary remake just a few months away, I wanted to revisit the original 1989 film, as it has been a really long time since I’ve sat down and watched it.

I wasn’t a big fan of it, back in the day, but I did remember that it was legitimately eerie. I wanted to see how it aged and if maybe I missed something when I was younger.

One thing that this movie does really well is suspense. It has a very slow build and it takes time to get to the good stuff but there really isn’t a wasted moment in the movie and it wasn’t too slow or boring. It just crawled forward, scratching away at the surface as it crept closer and closer.

The payoff isn’t fantastic but it isn’t bad either. I’d say that this hasn’t aged well. Even though Miko Hughes made a great creepy kid, the way that his more vicious attacks are shot and edited is pretty shoddy. The moment where he lunges out of the hole in the attic onto his father is pretty cringe even for 1989 standards. I always liked Miko Hughes though and he would go on to be in a lot of stuff in the early ’90s. He was damn good on Full House and he was a pretty capable child actor in things like Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

The big positive of the film is Fred Gwynne, most famous for playing Herman Munster. It’s hard to really peg him and who he is but the film slowly reveals more and more about his past and what he knows about the strange proceedings. Seeing him die in a horrific way was pretty effective, as you do feel pretty bad for the guy.

I also liked that Denise Crosby was in this just coming off of her short stint as Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I haven’t seen her in much outside of Star Trek related stuff but she did a good job here, as she tried to transition into film from television.

Overall, this isn’t a bad film. I enjoyed coming back to it all these years later and I certainly have more of an appreciation for it now but it isn’t in the top tier of Stephen King adaptations for me.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Stephen King movies of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: Back to the Future, Part II (1989)

Also known as: Paradox (fake working title)
Release Date: November 20th, 1989 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elisabeth Shue, Flea, James Tolkan, Casey Siemaszko, Billy Zane, Jeffrey Weissman, Charles Fleischer, Jason Scott Lee, Elijah Wood, Joe Flaherty, Marc McClure (uncredited), Crispin Glover (archive footage)

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“The almanac. Son of a bitch stole my idea! He must have been listening when I… it’s my fault! The whole thing is my fault. If I hadn’t bought that damn book, none of this would have ever happened.” – Marty McFly

Back to the Future is pretty much a perfect film. Back to the Future, Part II isn’t perfect but it’s so damn good, it’s hard to see the flaws unless you really look for them and then, they’re mostly narrative issues that can be dismissed if you look at this with a Doctor Who “timey wimey” sentiment.

This chapter in the classic and awesome film series sees our heroes go to the future, return to an alternate present and then take a trip back to the past where we saw them in the first film. Part II takes you to more places than the other two films combined but it works really well for the middle act of this three act trilogy. It also does the best job of showing the consequences that can arise from disrupting the timeline.

I think that this has the most layered plot and with that, tells a more complicated story. I remember some people back in 1989 saying it was kind of hard to follow but these were also people significantly older than me. As a ten year-old, I thought it all made sense and I still do. Granted, there are some other paradoxes that this would have created and the film just conveniently ignores them but if it were to follow science to a T it would have broke the movie.

The cast is still solid in this film but Crispin Glover is sorely missed. I really wish he had returned to this just because I think it would have made the story better. While he appears in archive footage and another actor stands in for him and wears a mask of his face, this all lead to a major lawsuit that forced Hollywood to change how they use the likeness of non-contracted actors.

While I can’t say that this is better than the first movie, it is my favorite to revisit just for all the things it throws at you. It’s certainly the most entertaining overall and it sort of embraces the absurdity of its subject matter without overdoing it. It’s mostly a comedy but it is balanced well with its more dramatic moments. There is an underlying darkness in this chapter that the other two movies don’t have and I think it gives it a bit of an edginess lacking in the other two. Not that they needed to be edgy but that element works well here.

Back to the Future, Part II is how you do a sequel. It upped the ante, was more creative than its predecessor and enriched its universe, giving it more depth while developing its characters further.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Film Review: Lords of the Deep (1989)

Release Date: June 2nd, 1989 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Mary Ann Fisher
Written by: Howard R. Cohen, Daryl Haney
Music by: Jim Berenholtz
Cast: Bradford Dillman, Priscilla Barnes, Daryl Haney, Roger Corman (uncredited)

Condorde Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 78 Minutes

Review:

For a movie that came out in 1989, this looks like something that was made in 1981. Plus, it is a cheap Roger Corman produced ripoff of 1989’s blockbuster hit, The Abyss.

While I love the Roger Corman films of the ’50s and ’60s, regardless of their flaws, this 1989 production doesn’t have any redeeming qualities. It’s pretty damn dreadful on every level and doesn’t have someone as talented as Vincent Price or Jack Nicholson to make it work.

This wet turd was featured on the latest season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the only known actor in it is Priscilla Barnes, who is still most famous as the replacement of Suzanne Somers on Three’s Company. She was also in Mallrats and The Devil’s Rejects and had a small role in Licence to Kill, the 1989 James Bond picture.

I guess one neat thing about this though, is that Roger Corman actually acts, albeit briefly and just in a few scenes as a corporate executive talking through a television monitor. But even with his voice distorted and his cold stare, he put in a more lifelike performance than the entire cast apart from Barnes, who actually wasn’t terribly bad. Maybe she directed herself.

The special effects here are deplorable and they’re way below Corman’s own standard by the time this was made. His 1980 movie Battle Beyond the Stars has better effects and that’s almost a decade older.

The alien creatures in this were so terrible that they look like some sort of papier-mâché hood ornament for a high school parade float.

Lords of the Deep is bad, really bad. And sometimes I enjoy bad but this was like getting your teeth pulled in slow motion without drugs or booze.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: other very low grade ’70s and ’80s sci-fi pictures.

TV Review: X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men (1989)

Original Run: 1989 (first-run syndication, 1 episode)
Created by: Lee Gunther, Margaret Loesch
Directed by: Ray Lee
Written by: Larry Parr
Based on: The Uncanny X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Robert J. Walsh
Cast: Michael Bell, Earl Boen, Andi Chapman, Pat Fraley, Ron Gans, Dan Gilvezan, Alan Oppenheimer, Patrick Pinney, Neil Ross, Susan Silo, Kath Soucie, John Stephenson, Alexandra Stoddart, Frank Welker, Stan Lee (narrator)

Marvel Productions, New World Television, Toei Animation, Baker and Taylor Entertainment, Metrolight Studios, Disney-ABC Domestic Television, 1 Episode, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Pryde of the X-Men was a pilot for a proposed X-Men animated series in the late ’80s. As far as I know, only one episode was ever produced.

The episode appeared on television in 1989 but I never got to see it until the VHS was available to rent in my local video store.

While the failure of this pilot eventually led to the development of the spectacular X-Men: The Animated Series in 1992, it’s hard to say which version of an X-Men cartoon would have been better because this pilot was damn good.

Also, the great X-Men arcade game from the ’90s was modeled after this cartoon and not the better known 1992 one.

I loved the style of this, as it was very similar to the early seasons of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Transformers. All three of these shows were made by Marvel and Toei. The animation is basically done in the same style and this show even uses some of the same voice talent that were featured in G.I. Joe and Transformers.

This show, at least this one episode, is centered around the arrival of Kitty Pryde to the X-Mansion. The X-Men team here consists of Professor X, Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Dazzler. Lockheed, the dragon, is introduced in this too.

The episode also features the villains Magneto, Emma Frost, Juggernaut, Pyro and the Blob.

Pryde of the X-Men hits all the right notes and is a really cool experience if you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s and had a love for X-Men and the other Marvel/Toei animated shows. Man, I really wish this would’ve at least gotten a full season run because this setup was well done and left me wanting more.

I’m glad that we got the 1992 animated series but this could have been good and maybe even great. We’ll never know but this show certainly started off on the right foot.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: X-Men: The Animated Series, as well as G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Transformers.

Film Review: Arena (1989)

Release Date: March 29th, 1989 (Germany)
Directed by: Peter Manoogian
Written by: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Paul Satterfield, Hamilton Camp, Claudia Christian, Marc Alaimo, Shari Shattuck

Empire Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, I could stay all night, folks, but I gotta go. A hand for the boys in the band, and remember, I hate your guts!” – Space Comic

Arena is such a bizarre and odd movie that I find it impossible not to love on some level.

A doofus Earthling living in space ends up being a fighter in an intergalactic arena that pits him against alien fighters like some sort of bad ’90s fighting game. But I guess this movie was ahead of its time, as it came out in 1989. It didn’t get an American release until 1991, however, and that release saw it go straight to video.

Produced by Irwin Yablans, who made some pretty shitty movies before this, Arena may be the best motion picture that he produced. It’s one of the few that I walked away from that I saw as a positive experience. Because Laserblast and Parasite were absolutely terrible. Fade to Black was decent though, if I’m being honest.

The vibe of the film feels like it is ten years out of date. The sets and the fashion style feel more like an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century than something from 1989. The special effects are also really outdated but this is a film with a scant budget and a lot of that money went into the actual creatures in this film.

While the alien warriors don’t look exceptional, they are still pretty decent. Their movement sucks and it makes the action look goofy as hell but I thought that the detail was good and this movie did a lot with what little it had. On that same token, this isn’t up to par for the era but I can’t wholly knock it. The filmmakers tried to make this work and they achieved more than what most people would have with limited resources.

For some, this will be a hard film to look at. For all, you can’t watch this and remotely take it seriously. But the film seems pretty self-aware and the actors ham it up quite well and seemed to really enjoy the project. Marc Alaimo, best known as the villainous Dukat from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, really steals the show in his scenes. Alaimo was a solid talent that was always fun as a villain. His performance her is no different.

I rented Arena a lot as a kid but I haven’t seen this since I was working at a video store in the ’90s. It was cool to revisit and it still puts a smile on my face.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Robot Jox, Eliminators, Crash and Burn, America 3000 and Hardware.

Film Review: Death Spa (1989)

Also known as: Witch Bitch (alternate title)
Release Date: December 1st, 1989 (Japan)
Directed by: Michael Fischa
Written by: James Bartruff, Mitch Paradise
Music by: Peter D. Kaye
Cast: William Bumiller, Brenda Bakke, Merritt Butrick, Robert Lipton, Karyn Parsons, Ken Foree

Maljack Productions, Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment, 88 Minutes

Review:

Death Spa is a film that feels like it was made five years earlier than it actually was. It feels like something from 1984 and not 1989. I know that’s not a big passage of time and the ’80s are the ’80s but it had a sort of mid-’80s pizzazz to it, which was working its way out of cheap horror films by the time this came out and really, it didn’t hit the U.S. market until 1990.

It also feels like it was made by an Italian director on the cheap. It has the same sort of visual vibe as something by Lamberto Bava. It reminds me of his first two Demons movies in its aesthetic, even though it isn’t as gross as those films. This still has some killer gross out moments though, just nothing as utterly insane as Bava’s Demons pictures.

This is also notable for being the final film of Merritt Butrick, who most people will remember as Capt. Kirk’s son David from Star Trek‘s II and III. Weirdly, he is also named David in this. Additionally, this picture has a very small role for Karyn Parsons, who would be best known as Hillary Banks on the ’90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and as Kid’s girlfriend in Class Act. We also get to see Ken Foree strut his stuff but this is no Dawn of the Dead.

Death Spa isn’t a classic, by any means, but it is strange and bizarre. It has a sort of endearing quality because of its uniqueness.

The threat in the film is this health spa that is haunted by what seems like ghosts living in the club’s high tech system. But then we learn about this dead sister character and she has some sort of witchy powers. I don’t know, it’s a mess and kind of confusing but I don’t watch pictures like this for any sort of coherent anything. Death Spa is really just a total mind fuck.

There are good gory bits like a chick being melted by some sort of acid stuff and a guy whose stomach area starts spraying blood because a workout machine crushes his arms or something. The physics and general anatomy rules that apply in the real world just don’t apply here. It’s very apparent that the filmmakers slept through school, probably flunked out and stole a camera and the keys to a gym to make this picture. The cast was probably just paid in cheap beer and Quaaludes.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: Killer WorkoutChopping Mall and Hide and Go Shriek.

Film Review: Kickboxer (1989)

Also known as: Karate Tiger 3 – Der Kickboxer (Germany)
Release Date: April 20th, 1989 (West Germany)
Directed by: Mark DiSalle, David Worth
Written by: Glenn A. Bruce, Mark DiSalle, Jean-Claude Van Damme
Music by: Paul Hertzog, Stan Bush
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Alexio, Dennis Chan, Michel Qissi

Kings Road Entertainment, Cannon Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

“[to Kurt during final fight] You bleed like Mylee. Mylee… good fuck!” – Tong Po

Way back in 1989, it was Kickboxer that turned me into a big Jean-Claude Van Damme fan. I loved Bloodsport too but that’s just about all I had to go on. This film proved that Van Damme wasn’t a one-off success and had something that gave him an edge over the other martial arts action stars at the time.

Kickboxer follows two brothers. One is an American kickboxing champion, the other is essentially his water boy. When the champion gets paralyzed in a fight with the sadistic and evil Thai champion, Tong Po, the younger brother, Kurt, swears revenge. Kurt seeks out a Muay Thai master to teach him the art. In what seems like two weeks, he is suddenly a master himself and he crushes some chump in the local arena and calls out Tong Po.

What I remembered most about this film from my youth was that Tong Po was legitimately a scary ass MFer. I remember the rumor that floated around with middle school aged males that Tong Po was real. It didn’t matter that an actor was listed as playing him, every eleven to thirteen year-old boy was convinced that this guy existed as he did on screen, that’s how convincing he was.

Another thing that I remembered were the sweet training montages. It feels like half of this movie is training montages accented by Stan Bush songs. When I was young, like every boy, I wanted to be as badass as Van Damme. It was never about seeing what you could do in a real fight because let’s face it, no one wants to actually get kicked in the face, it was about whether or not you could train your body to emulate what Van Damme did in his training montages. Because if you could do a split or drop coconuts on your abs or kick up straight in the air at 180 degrees without tearing your groin or falling over, you were pretty sure you could conquer some 8th grade bully.

I know I am going on some tangents here but I think it is important to understand the context of what early Van Damme films were to a culture of prepubescent boys that rented these movies weekly circa 1990 or so.

Kickboxer is one of the absolute best things Jean-Claude Van Damme has ever done. It isn’t an acting clinic by any means but its masculine and goofy spirit is something special. It hasn’t particularly aged well but it is still a really fun film to revisit and it is better than most films like it. Hell, I’d take any Van Damme picture over a Steven Seagal movie. Seagal is the guy our out of shape dads watched and lived vicariously through. Van Damme was the guy we lived through because he had an amazing physique and could do some impressive, athletic shit. We didn’t care that he was into ballet before fighting. It kind of made him even more badass, actually.

This, along with Bloodsport, spoke to a generation of boys needing an icon. Sure, we had Schwarzenegger and Stallone but those guys couldn’t do martial arts for shit and Van Damme came on the scene when martial arts films were dominating the action genre, at least at video stores. The early to mid-’80s gave us stellar ninja movies and after that we got Van Damme, who was like a ninja that finally took his mask off and said, “Let’s do this!” before kicking some douchebag in the teeth.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other early Van Damme films: BloodsportLionheartDouble Impact, etc.