Film Review: Brain Dead (1990)

Also known as: Paranoia (alternative title), Lobotomie (Canada, French title)
Release Date: January, 1990 (Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Adam Simon
Written by: Charles Beaumont, Adam Simon
Music by: Peter Rotter
Cast: Bill Pullman, Bill Paxton, Bud Cort, George Kennedy, Nicholas Pryor, Patricia Charbonneau

Concord Pictures, New Horizons, 85 Minutes

Review:

“My brains are individuals – they’re special – they’re unique.” – Dr. Rex Martin

This film stars two of my favorite Bills but I had never seen it until now. I remember seeing the VHS box art at my local video stores though. It just never appealed to me back in the day and my appreciation for Bills Pullman and Paxton hadn’t completely blossomed in 1990.

Overall, this was a decent picture. I liked seeing both Pullman and Paxton in it, along with Bud Cort, who stole the scenes he was in, and the great George Kennedy. I also enjoyed Patricia Charbonneau, who I mostly only know as the kind scientist from RoboCop 2 but I was crushing hard on her in that movie when I was a wee little lad.

Anyway, this is a weird, trippy movie with a lot of mystery. Mostly, the story is a slow burn that builds up at the right speed but delivers just an okay conclusion.

This is one of those mindfuck movies though and they were really common at the time but unfortunately, this doesn’t come close to the better ones like Jacob’s Ladder or From Beyond.

The plot follows a neurosurgeon (Pullman) that specializes in brain malfunctions that cause mental illnesses. His high school buddy (Paxton), a yuppie businessman from a company called Eunice, asks for help in delving into the brain of a genius mathematician that turned into a psychotic. Really, they are trying to pry into his brain to reveal corporate secrets but the neurosurgeon starts to be effected by the horrors in the mind of the mathematician.

I wouldn’t call the ending satisfactory but the story was interesting enough to keep one engaged up to that point. But most of these mindfuck movies never really deliver anything profound and usually flounder at the climax.

This is a film that steadily builds suspense but comes up short in its final delivery. There’s nothing profound here and really nothing new either.

But this is carried by the performances of its leads and for that, it’s probably worth a watch for fans of this genre.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Altered States, From BeyondRe-Animator and Jacob’s Ladder.

Film Review: Madhouse (1990)

Release Date: February 16th, 1990
Directed by: Tom Ropelewski
Written by: Tom Ropelewski
Music by: David Newman
Cast: John Larroquette, Kirstie Alley, Alison La Placa, John Diehl, Jessica Lundy, Bradley Gregg, Dennis Miller, Robert Ginty, Wayne Tippit

Boy of the Year, Orion Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t worry about me having dinner, I’ll just lick the crumbs off my filthy sheets!” – Beatrice

This isn’t one of the best comedies of its time period but I enjoyed the hell out of it as a kid and even now, in 2019, I still found the movie to be pretty endearing and charming. But I also know that my opinion is unique, in that most people have forgot about Madhouse and those who haven’t don’t have fond memories of it.

For me, this film works on the strength of its leads: John Larroquette and Kirstie Alley. The two of them had incredible chemistry, felt absolutely believable as a couple and they committed to the absurdity of the film with tremendous gusto.

The comedy style here is pretty typical of the time. It throws two normal people into a very abnormal situation while littering the proceedings with mostly crude and simple humor. But it works because of the charisma of the main cast and most of the supporting players.

I really enjoyed John Diehl, whose murder on Miami Vice still upsets me, and his overbearing wife played by Jessica Lundy. Alison La Placa was also great and we get Dennis Miller in a very minor (and his first) role.

The story follows a yuppie couple who get surprise house guests that are a total pain in the ass. However, as the film progresses, they get more and more house guests and no one will leave. Eventually, their new home has turned into a community of almost a dozen weirdos that push the couple to their breaking point.

What I love about this film is how we see Larroquette and Alley slowly break down and slip into madness. I thought the pacing of the film, in this regard, was perfect.

Also, there is a cat subplot that is a parody of Pet Sematary, which came out a year earlier. It sees the cat die, again and again, but it always comes back to create more chaos. You even get to see the cat die from a cocaine overdose.

This is a simple, fun comedy. But that’s what I like about it.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other outrageous late ’80s/early ’90s comedies.

Film Review: Troll 2 (1990)

Also known as: Goblins, Trolls (working titles), Troll II (video box title), Monster Valley (Spain, Chile alternate title), The Return of Troll (Netherlands)
Release Date: October 3rd, 1990 (Germany)
Directed by: Claudio Fragasso
Written by: Claudio Fragasso, Rossella Drudi
Music by: Carlo Maria Cordio
Cast: Michael Stephenson, George Hardy, Margo Prey, Connie McFarland, Deborah Reed, Jason Wright, Darren Ewing, Jason Steadman

Filmirage, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Nilbog! It’s goblin spelled backwards! This is their kingdom!” – Joshua

It’s no secret that Troll 2 is a bad movie. With that, it has a pretty large cult following. Many people, however, don’t seem to understand that this is also intended to be a comedy and it seems like it is pretty self-aware. I think a lot of people hate it without understanding it and the intent of its creators.

Personally, I think that Troll 2 accomplishes what it set out to do and exceeds what its intent was. I also think that it wouldn’t have grown into a weird phenomena if audiences didn’t initially misinterpret that intent and thought that this was a serious attempt at low budget horror.

What’s funny about the film, is that the script was written by a husband and wife team and it started out as the wife expressing her anger over all of her friends becoming vegetarians. I think she definitely found a very creative outlet with a lot of good tongue and cheek humor to exorcise that frustration. As a devout carnivore, I understand and empathize with her pain.

Everything about this movie is bad in the text book sense.

The special effects, all of which are mostly practical, physical effects, are bottom of the barrel schlock. But that stuff works within the context of this movie.

Also, the acting is literally laughably bad and I’m not misusing “literally” when I say that. I think some of the poor line delivery was definitely intentional. I’m not saying that their is hidden genius at work but I think that some of the scenes and specific moments give away that this was meant to play out the way it did. But honestly, I don’t know how the actors weren’t ruining takes by laughing out loud. But maybe they were.

The plot is weird, nuts and so far out there that there is no point in trying to take it seriously. You’ve got a crazy witch lady with a troll army that transforms into town folk, who feed you green goo that transforms you into a plant and then another type of green goo so that the trolls can devour your remains. Also, this film has supernatural popcorn and moles in the shape of cloverleafs.

Troll 2 is a much better experience than I thought it would be. I actually put off watching it for years but once I finally did, for the first time a while back, I was pleasantly surprised by it.

Yes, it is still a bad movie regardless of it intending to be and I can’t give it a great rating. However, it is an entertaining watch for those of us who love being entertained by bad movies. In a lot of ways this is to fantasy horror what Tommy Wiseau’s The Room was to romantic drama.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: ’80s little critter films like CrittersMunchies and Ghoulies.

Film Review: Demon Wind (1990)

Release Date: July 5th, 1990 (Germany)
Directed by: Charles Philip Moore
Written by: Charles Philip Moore
Music by: Bruce Wallenstein
Cast: Eric Larson, Francine Lapensée, Rufus Norris, Jack Forcinito, Stephen Quadros, Mark David Fritsche, Sherry Leigh

Demon Wind Productions Ltd., United Filmmakers, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Come on chicken shit. I’ll shove that karate stuff up your ass!” – Dell

What a weird fucking movie.

In fact, I never knew of it’s existence until Joe Bob Briggs unleashed it on me in a recent episode of The Last Drive-In.

It was certainly worth checking out because of its bizarreness.

However, it’s a cheaply made dud that is only saved from completely drowning in its own shit due to how good some of the practical monster effects are for something with an extremely scant budget.

This is an amusing film with weird moments that are certainly worthwhile but this isn’t something that I’d really want to experience again. Or, at least, not for several years.

The scene where the magician dude shows up and does magic and karate is fucking hysterical. It’s one of the greatest introductions in all of film history.

The movie is primarily about this demonic fog that traps some college kids in the vicinity of this haunted, destroyed house with a front door that is a sort of gateway into another dimension. I’m not sure if it is actually a different dimension or time travel or what. Nothing in this movie is very clear.

In the end, this is a good way to kill an hour and a half, assuming that you are a fan of these kind of movies. It also made for a fun episode of The Last Drive-In.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: The Dead Pit, The Devil’s Rain and Night of the Demons.

Film Review: Captain America (1990)

Release Date: December 14th, 1990 (UK)
Directed by: Albert Pyun
Written by: Stephen Tolkin, Lawrence Block
Based on: Captain America by Joe Simon, Jack Kirby
Music by: Barry Goldberg
Cast: Matt Salinger, Ronny Cox, Scott Paulin, Ned Beatty, Darren McGavin, Francesca Neri, Michael Nouri

21st Century Film Corporation, Marvel Enterprises, Jadran Film, 97 Minutes, 124 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Assassination isn’t worth the trouble. It took me two years to find Sirhan. Three to find Oswald. The King job alone cost me over twenty million dollars. What do we get for our pains? Saints. Martyrs to the cause.” – Red Skull

Somehow this attracted the talents of Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty and Darren McGavin. Although, I’m not sure why. There couldn’t have been much money for them to make and had they read the script, they probably would have ran away. I mean, I can only assume that they didn’t read the script.

This movie has a terrible reputation and it is very apparent pretty much immediately, as to why. At the same time, it’s not that bad and is almost enjoyable for its cheesiness and its lighthearted, playful nature.

It is very clear that Marvel had no idea on how to make movies with their characters at this point in history. Granted, it’s not Marvel’s fault, as they didn’t have the control they have in modern times and they were just selling off the film rights to their key characters in an effort to stay financially afloat. But this was produced by one half of the duo behind Cannon Films and yet it didn’t even come close to matching their action pictures in quality, gravitas or fun.

Matt Salinger looked the part for Captain America but he wasn’t qualified for the role. Really, no one in the cast was qualified to do anything other than the three actors I mentioned in this review’s first sentence.

Red Skull at least looked cool when he was actually Red Skull. However, for the majority of the movie, he is just a scarred up looking Italian mobster guy. This film also has his daughter, known as Sin in the comics, but she is a poor version of the character that doesn’t amount to much.

The story is hard to follow but mostly just because it’s boring and paying attention is hard to do with this movie, as I’d rather mindlessly scroll social media feeds on my smart phone than try to stay locked on this picture.

I can’t say that this is as bad as Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four movie from 1994 but this makes the 1989 Punisher movie look like the 2004 Punisher movie.

This isn’t a film worth watching unless you enjoy torturing yourself or you love Captain America so much that you’ve tattooed his entire costume under your street clothes.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other terrible early Marvel films like 1994’s Fantastic Four and 1989’s The Punisher but at least that one was much better than this. Also, the ’70s Captain America live action stuff and The Incredible Hulk TV movies.

Film Review: Back to the Future, Part III (1990)

Also known as: Three (fake working title)
Release Date: May 25th, 1990
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Mary Steenburgen, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elisabeth Shue, Flea, James Tolkan, Jeffrey Weissman, Marc McClure, Wendie Jo Sperber, Donovan Scott

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Listen up, Eastwood! I aim to shoot somebody today and I’d prefer it’d be you. But if you’re just too damn yella, I guess it’ll just have to be your blacksmith friend.” – Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen

The Back to the Future trilogy is one of the greatest trilogies in cinematic history. It’s damn near perfect and the films are still just as enjoyable now, as they were thirty years ago.

Each one is a tad bit weaker than the previous but since the first one is an absolute masterpiece, the sequels are still better than 95 percent of all the movies ever made.

Part III is my least favorite chapter in the trilogy but it is still one of the best popcorn movies a film fan could ask for.

This takes the Back to the Future formula and throws it into the Old West. I like that they did this and it opens up the series for some fresh takes on some of its tropes but I also feel like the western twist maybe wasn’t strong enough on its own to carry the whole film. What I liked most about the second film, the one I find to be the most entertaining, is that it jumped around and showed us a variety of different times and alternate timelines.

Also, I feel like going further back in time to the Old West might have worked better in the second film. Like maybe they could have flip-flopped the second and third pictures. Which also could have given us the wonderful Mary Steenburgen in two movies instead of just this one where she was actually a bit underutilized. Sure, you’d have to rework some narrative details.

I am going off on some tangents and most people will probably disagree with my take but in the end, this was still a superb motion picture and one of the best from its era.

While it is still exciting it is a bit bogged down by the scenery and is the slowest of the three films, which also adds to my thoughts on it not being the best choice for the final chapter. This feels more like a second act and when it ends, it ends quite abruptly.

But I love the tone of the film and it still captures the amazing Back to the Future spirit. It also probably would have played better, at least for me, if they kept making these and just didn’t cap it off at three films like every other movie franchise of its time. They could’ve given us two more of these pictures, had they made them shortly after this one and frankly, I’m pretty sure they would have maintained the same quality had they utilized the same creative team.

Back to the Future, Part III is the weakest of the three but the bronze medal winner in the strongman championships is still stronger than just about everyone else in the world.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two Back to the Future movies, as well as ’80s Steven Spielberg and Joe Dante Films.

Film Review: RoboCop 2 (1990)

Also known as: RoboCop II (working title)
Release Date: June 22nd, 1990
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
Written by: Frank Miller, Walon Green
Based on: characters by Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Dan O’Herlihy, Tom Noonan, Belinda Bauer, Gabriel Damon, Robert DoQui, Felton Perry, Willard E. Pugh, Frank Miller, John Glover, Fabiana Udenio, Patricia Charbonneau (uncredited)

Tobor Productions, Orion Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

“Sometimes we just have to start over, from scratch, to make things right, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’re going to build a brand-new city where Detroit now stands – an example to the world.” – The Old Man

Do you remember that time that RoboCop showed up on a WCW pay-per-view to rescue Sting from the Four Horsemen? Well, that was a stunt to promote this movie. That being said, it would have been a better stunt to promote the third film, as this one wasn’t quite as cheesy as that terrible professional wrestling segment. Spoiler alert: the third movie is terrible but I’ll review that one at a later date.

RoboCop 2 is no RoboCop but it is still a pretty solid sequel, all things considered, and it is still to this day the second best RoboCop film.

Now this isn’t, by any means, a classic. It is, however, a pretty good example of a sequel that can expand on an already established mythos and expand on it in a new way, enriching the world these characters live in and giving us new material that isn’t simply just a retread of the already proven formula.

Peter Weller is still excellent and I was glad that we got to see more of him playing off of Nancy Allen. They have a nice chemistry, which existed in the first movie but didn’t really flourish until the end of it. Sadly, this would be the last time they’d share scenes together, as Weller dropped out of the series before RoboCop 3 was filmed.

The real scene stealer in this film is Tom Noonan, who just plays creepy bad guys so damn well. This was the first time that I remember seeing him but he went on to be one of my favorite character actors of his day. Although, the scenes with the young Gabriel Damon, who plays the child gangster Hob, were pretty f’n great too. The villains here aren’t as great as Kurtwood Smith and Ronny Cox in the first RoboCop but they are still fantastic foils and gave RoboCop two new types of threats that he didn’t face in the first movie.

I also liked the girl, Angie, and the top level henchman that looked like a cross between Joe Bob Briggs and Elvis.

Additionally, I love that Tom Noonan’s Cain is made into a new cyborg, appropriately called “RoboCop 2”. This was the first time that we got to see RoboCop fight a big villain that was similar to himself and not just a human meatbag. Granted, he has two run ins with ED-209 in the first film but those were relatively easy confrontations for him.

I liked that they really embraced the dark humor a bit more in this film too. The use of kids as legitimate juvenile delinquents in an almost post-apocalyptic Detroit was damn cool. Especially when I saw this as a kid.

A real standout for me though was Willard E. Pugh. I talked about him a bit when I reviewed the severely lackluster The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 because he stood out in that film and was pretty funny and the same can be said here. In this film, he plays the mayor of Detroit and he’s just so enjoyable that it’s almost a crime that he didn’t come back for RoboCop 3. Other than this film, he is probably most famous for playing Trustus Jones in CB4.

My only real complaint about this film is that the score was all new. Basil Poledouris did not return so I guess they didn’t use his iconic themes. The score here is decent but it lacks the extra gravitas that the original RoboCop theme had. Poledouris would return for RoboCop 3, however.

RoboCop 2 is a sequel worthy of following its predecessor. It’s hard to capture lightning in a bottle twice, or so they say, but this was much better than other sequels to sci-fi classics.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the first RoboCop movie and the first two Terminator movies.