Film Review: Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994)

Also known as: Phantasm III: The Third Power (Philippines)
Release Date: March, 1994 (Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Films)
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Written by: Don Coscarelli
Music by: Fred Myrow, Christopher L. Stone
Cast: Reggie Bannister, Michael Baldwin, Bill Thornbury, Angus Scrimm, Gloria Lynne Henry, Kevin Connors, Cindy Ambuehl, Brooks Gardner, John Davis Chandler

Universal Studios, Anchor Bay, 91 Minutes

Review:

“It’s been nice knowing you boys, but this kickin’ zombie ass just ain’t my gig.” – Rocky

When Phantasm III came out, I wasn’t really even aware of it. It never hit any theaters near me and even though I read horror magazines and frequented video stores a lot, I must have just glossed over it. It wasn’t until five years later when I saw Phantasm IV on a shelf that I went, “Wait… when did they do a Phantasm III?” Anyway, I rented both of them that night.

Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead is the sort of film that is really enjoyable if you love the Phantasm series but it is probably hard to follow and just bizarre if you don’t already have familiarity with the franchise’s unique universe.

A girl I was dating a few years ago saw this chapter first, as she came over as I was just starting it one night. I told her we could start at the beginning with the first one but she didn’t care about that. In the end, she seemed lost and not really sure about what she watched. When I convinced her to watch all of them and she did, she then liked this film better, as she got the overall context of it.

And that’s the thing, I think that Don Coscarelli relied heavily on the audience of this chapter already having the knowledge of the first two. While that’s understandable, you might want to give a more in depth explanation of the backstory when your sequel comes out six years and fifteen years after its two predecessors. His reliance on filmgoers have prior knowledge only gets worse with each subsequent film after this one.

Still, that’s really my only gripe with this picture. Other than that, I think that this movie is a lot of fun and Reggie looked like he was having a damn good time making this one.

I liked that this chapter relied on the Lurkers more than the tiny dwarf minions. Yeah, they still appear too but the Tall Man’s army seemed more formidable in this movie. Plus, he had that reanimated gang that kept being a thorn in Reggie’s side throughout the story. They were a nice touch.

This also brings back Michael Baldwin in the role of Mike. He was replaced in the second film and even if that other actor was a bit more polished, he didn’t feel like Mike.

We also get to see Reggie team up with a badass little kid and a nunchuck wielding punk rock chick that probably has bigger stones than all the men in the film. Rocky was a cool character and I was sad that she didn’t go on to be in the fourth installment but she does resurface in the fifth (over twenty years later).

I like this film a lot and it certainly fleshes out the mysterious mythos even more. It’s only real downside is that it doesn’t stand well on its own, as a self-contained story.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Phantasm films.

Film Review: Trespass (1992)

Also known as: The Looters (working title), Die Rap-Gang (Germany)
Release Date: December 25th, 1992
Directed by: Walter Hill
Written by: Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis
Music by: Ry Cooder
Cast: Bill Paxton, Ice-T, William Sadler, Ice Cube, Art Evans, De’voreaux White, Bruce A. Young, Glenn Plummer, Stoney Jackson, T.E. Russell, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, John Toles-Bey, Byron Minns

Universal Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“That’s the beauty of gold. It never tarnishes. Lasts forever, too. You can twist it, pound it, even piss on it but it’s always the same gold. It was here long before we were and it’ll be here a long time after we’re gone. I bet you a lot of men have died for the gold that’s just in this one piece.” – Bradlee

Man, I used to have a really high opinion of this film circa 1993 when I copied the VHS tape after I rented it. I mean, you’ve got two of the best gangster rappers of the era along with Bill Paxton and William Sadler, who forever won my admiration after playing Death in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, a year or so earlier.

Plus, this was directed by Walter Hill, the guy that did The Driver, The Warriors, The Long RidersStreets of Fire48 Hrs., Another 48 Hrs. and Red Heat. Additionally, the film was produced and written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, the creative force behind the Back to the Future trilogy.

But strangely, this just isn’t that great. Sure, it’s definitely okay for killing some time on a rainy day when you want an action film to help you with your low T. I don’t have low T though, my plums are solid and full of octane.

I do like this as more of a novelty thing though. You get to see both rappers named Ice come together at a time when they were both effectively breaking into movies. Ice-T killed it in New Jack City and Ice Cube gave a tremendous performance in Boyz N The Hood. You also get a solid cast of other up and coming black actors from the time: Tiny Lister, Glenn Plummer, Stoney Jackson and De’voreaux White. Also, I have always liked Art Evans, he was great in Fright Night, and this may be my favorite role he’s done.

But still, this just falls really flat.

The plot is about these Arkansas firefighters that acquire a map to a stolen religious treasure. The treasure is hidden in an abandoned factory in East St. Louis. They travel there to look for the long lost gold but quickly find themselves in over their heads as they witness a gang murder. The two firefighters then find themselves holed up in a locked room with a hostage, the head gangster’s little brother, and a homeless man. The rest of the film is mostly a standoff that plays out in a lot of different ways but ultimately, the building is set on fire and we get some solid gun play.

Trespass is certainly watchable and makes for a better than decent early ’90s action flick but there isn’t much to make you care about it. It’s not a classic, by any means. But my problem with it, is that it should have been a classic. Look at the talent in front of and behind the camera.

I do still like this film but for Walter Hill, it’s one of his weakest.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other early ’90s hip-hop heavy action films: Judgment NightGunmenSurviving the Game and Deep Cover.

Film Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Release Date: July 31st, 1992
Directed by: Fran Rubel Kuzui
Written by: Joss Whedon
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Paul Reubens, Rutger Hauer, Luke Perry, Hilary Swank, David Arquette, Stephen Root, Thomas Jane, Sasha Jenson, Ben Affleck (uncredited), Ricki Lake (uncredited), Seth Green (uncredited), Alexis Arquette

Sandollar, Kuzui Enterprises, 20th Century Fox, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Does the word “duh” mean anything to you?” – Buffy

Joss Whedon wasn’t a fan of this version of his Buffy character and five years later, he developed a television series that reflected what he saw in his mind. Most fans prefer the television show but I guess I have to be the odd man out or maybe it’s because I am often times a contrarian but I prefer this movie. I’ll explain though, that’s why I’m here.

First, I have always loved Kristy Swanson. This isn’t a battle over who is hotter between Swanson or Sarah Michelle Gellar, as both are gorgeous, but Swanson’s personality and the way she played this role was more my cup of tea. And if Buffy is going to be a valley girl high schooler, Swanson fits the part better for me. Not to discount Gellar’s work because she was great in her own way and played Buffy as a much more complex character. But let’s be honest, she also had seven seasons and 144 episodes to grow in that role, Swanson had less than 90 minutes.

I also love the supporting cast of the movie better. I mean the villains are Rutger Hauer and Paul Reubens for chrissakes! And man, both of those guys ham it the hell up in this and just fit the tone of the film perfectly. Reubens ad-libbed in a lot of scenes and it made for a better movie and for a more entertaining character.

You also have Luke Perry, at the height of his popularity, and I’m not afraid to admit that I watched Beverly Hills 90210 during its peak. It was the hottest show on television and I was in middle school. Plus, I met Luke Perry when I was young, just by coincidence, and he was really f’n cool.

This movie is cheesy as all hell but it is supposed to be. It captures that ’90s teen vibe really well but overall, this is just a really fun movie that I can put on at any time and still enjoy for its absurdity and its awesomeness.

I knew that once the TV show came out, that we’d never get a proper followup to this version of Buffy. But since the TV show has its own comics, it’d be cool if someone did a comic book sequel to this incarnation of that universe. Or hell, maybe even a Buffy vs. Buffy crossover. Who owns the comic book rights now? IDW? Dark Horse? Boom? Dynamite? I don’t know but whoever it is, get on it!

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Other ’90s teen horror comedies: Idle HandsThe FacultyFreddy’s Dead, etc. I also like pairing this with Encino Man for some reason.

Film Review: Gunmen (1993)

Release Date: May 21st, 1993 (Hungary)
Directed by: Deran Sarafian
Written by: Stephen Sommers
Music by: John Debney
Cast: Christopher Lambert, Mario Van Peebles, Denis Leary, Patrick Stewart, Kadeem Hardison, Sally Kirkland, Big Daddy Kane, Kid Frost, Rakim, Eric B., Doctor Dré, Ed Lover

Davis Entertainment, Gary Gunmen Productions, Dimension Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Put the gun down? Put the gun down? I’m gonna put the gun down your fuckin’ throat!” – Dani Servigo

Gunmen is one of those ’90s action films that probably should have been a straight-to-video release but actually got a brief theatrical run. It wasn’t successful and sort of just came and went very quickly. While it’s not a very good movie, it is still decent and has a pretty solid early ’90s cast. Plus, it has cameos from a lot of legitimately good rappers from the era.

This is a buddy movie, where you never know when and if the buddies will turn on each other while seeking out the money they’re on the hunt for. They are also on the run from a drug kingpin’s minions, who also want the money for themselves. The buddies are played by Christopher Lambert and Mario Van Peebles. The drug kingpin is played by Patrick Stewart with his top minion being Denis Leary. Like I said, it’s an interesting and kind of cool cast.

For the most part, the film is fun but it also has a plot that just seems to be all over the place. It’s not well written and if it wasn’t for the charismatic cast, this film would be completely forgettable. It’s also minimal on the action. For something called Gunmen, I expected a movie similar to The Expendables or Predator without the alien or Commando with more than one buff badass.

The film does have a lot of good stunts though. There just wasn’t enough shoot’em up stuff for a film with a title that implies such. In fact, I don’t think Gunmen is an accurate title. And the poster implies a squad of badasses. But alas, we get a duo with a little help from Kadeem Hardison (a.k.a. Dwayne Wayne from A Different World).

I did like the location shooting and the look of the picture was good. It had a grittiness to it and where it was high octane, it really went for the gusto. I just wish it had more of those moments.

The finale was decent but nothing exceptional. The last twenty minutes of the film are the best, so at least it built towards something and delivered.

But ultimately, this is a run-of-the-mill ’90s action flick without a lot of flourish or much of anything to set it apart from the pack. But I really loved Leary and Stewart in this.

Lambert and Van Peebles would go on to co-star together in the third Highlander movie a year later.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Mean GunsPosseHighlander: The Final Dimension, Survivng the Game and Who’s the Man?

Film Review: The Faculty (1998)

Also known as: The Parasite (Japanese English title)
Release Date: December 25th, 1998
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Kevin Williamson, David Wechter, Bruce Kimmel
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: Elijah Wood, Jordana Brewster, Shawn Hatosy, Clea DuVall, Josh Hartnett, Laura Harris, Robert Patrick, Bebe Neuwirth, Piper Laurie, Famke Janssen, Usher Raymond, Salma Hayek, Jon Stewart, Danny Masterson, Louis Black, Duane Martin, Daniel von Bargen

Dimension Films, Los Hooligans Productions, Miramax Films, 104 Minutes

Review:

“I’m not putting that hack drug up my nose – it’s so eighties!” – Stokely, “Aliens are taking over the earth. Weigh it!” – Zeke

I thought I had seen this film before and maybe I did but watching it now, it was all new to me. Granted, at the time when this was a current movie, I was dabbling in extracurricular substances. Angsty Gen-X teen shenanigans, am I right?

And I guess this film isn’t too different from my head space in the era in which this came out. I was dabbling in the party hard lifestyle and all it had to offer like most of the kids in this movie.

Anyway, this film had everyone in it. Seriously, this cast was loaded with talent to the point that it is pretty unbelievable when watching it today. In fact, I’m surprised this wasn’t a hit or didn’t get a much larger cult following. It kind of came and went but it also came out in a time when there were a lot of films like it.

I also didn’t know that this was a Robert Rodriguez film. But when this came out, I wouldn’t have really known who he was yet even though I had seen From Dusk Till Dawn and Desperado.

The story is pretty simple, an alien parasite is taking over the minds of people. Basically, it borrows heavily from Invasion of the Body Snatchers and a lot of other similar stories. This takes place in a high school though and the aliens have pretty much taken control of most of the faculty and a lot of the students. As the film rolls on, a group of teens discovers what’s happening and they decide to stop the invasion.

This was a much better movie than I anticipated when I fired it up nearly twenty years after its release. I was surprised with how fun and nuts it was. There are some parts that don’t make a lot of sense, like the whole opening scene if you reflect on it after watching the rest of the movie. However, Robert Rodriguez gave it a certain spirit that made me think of one of his other films: Planet Terror. Now this wasn’t Planet Terror levels of insane but it was edgier and cooler than other films like it from the late ’90s.

This also had some really impressive special effects and visuals. The scene where the alien queen, in human form, is walking naked through the locker rooms and the shadows of her invisible intertwining tentacles cast shadows all over the room is so fucking cool. Seriously, I loved this moment in the film and it really legitimized the picture as something much better than its contemporaries.

The Faculty is a greater film than it needed to be and that is the mark of a great director. I feel like it was certainly held tightly under the studio thumb and that Rodriguez would have made something pretty insane if he made this later in his career but he was still able to put his unique stamp on it and turn out a film that was damn good.

The film also features the worst Josh Hartnett hairstyle ever captured on film.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Disturbing BehaviorTeaching Mrs. TingleUrban LegendIdle Hands and other late ’90s teen horror.

Film Review: Demolition Man (1993)

Release Date: October 7th, 1993 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Marco Brambilla
Written by: Daniel Waters, Robert Reneau, Peter M. Lenkov
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Nigel Hawthrone, Benjamin Bratt, Denis Leary, Bill Cobbs, Glenn Shadix, David Patrick Kelly, Jack Black, Jesse Ventura, Rob Schneider (uncredited), Adrienne Barbeau (voice)

Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 115 Minutes

Review:

“We’re police officers! We’re not trained to handle this kind of violence!” – Erwin

I remember liking Demolition Man a lot but I haven’t watched it since its theater run in 1993. Really though, I never had much urge to revisit it, even though, on paper, it should certainly be my cup of tea and because it stars Stallone and Snipes.

It’s just not a very good movie. Where it works it works well but 75 percent of it is pretty weak and dull.

I do love the action but there isn’t enough of it. There is just too much filler and too many gags in this. It’s really a comedy with some action even though it’s not technically labeled a comedy.

The premise sees a cop and a criminal from the future of 1996 (keep in mind this came out in 1993, not far from 1996) get cryogenically frozen only to wake up in the 2030s. The film then uses almost every breath to poke fun at stupid mutton head Stallone because he’s from a time of testosterone Neanderthals and a total fish out of water in a bullshit utopia where people wipe their asses with sea shells and have sex without physical contact. Some of the bits are funny but the film just beats this shtick over your head at every possible turn. It’s amusing for the first fifteen minutes but then it’s like, “Okaaay! I fucking get it! Move on!”

The best thing about this picture is that it pits Stallone against Snipes. Stallone was already a megastar and in 1993, Snipes was just on the cusp. And frankly, this really helped to give Snipes some serious credibility just because he got to face off with the great Stallone.

Additionally, Sandra Bullock was virtually unknown when she was in this and it is probably the role that opened doors for her. A year later, she was in Speed and then a year after that she starred in The Net.

This movie really didn’t need to be 115 minutes. It should have been more like 95 with twenty minutes of the filler and redundant humor left on the cutting room floor. It would have then had a better balance between the action and the story. It also could have whittled down on the number of characters.

Also, for an R rated film, other than a glimpse of nice boobies, this felt like it was PG-13. This would have been a much better film if someone like Paul Verhoeven directed it, as he could have brought that original Robocop or Total Recall tone to it. This felt like it wanted to be similar to the tone of those movies but it was more like The Running Man but with extra layers of cheese.

Still, this is an entertaining movie. It just isn’t great, isn’t a classic and hasn’t aged very well.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Stallone’s version of Judge Dredd. Also The Running Man and Robocop 3, which is a terrible movie but also deals with a faux utopian future with poor people living under the streets.

Film Review: Independence Day (1996)

Also known as: ID4 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: June 25th, 1996 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, Alessia Duval
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Vivica A. Fox, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner, James Duval, Harry Connick Jr., Mae Whitman, Ross Bagley, Lisa Jakub, Giuseppe Andrews, Dan Lauria, Frank Welker (voice), Tracey Walter (uncredited)

Centropolis Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 145 Minutes

Review:

“I saw… its thoughts. I saw what they’re planning to do. They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet… their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on… and we’re next. Nuke ’em. Let’s nuke the bastards.” – President Thomas Whitmore

This is still one of the greatest blockbusters ever made. It really was the Star Wars of the ’90s and nothing from that decade can top it as far as massive popcorn movies go. It set out to be as epic as possible and it succeeded.

Granted, it also birthed a string of films that had to be bigger and larger in every conceivable way and the whole formula got watered down and ineffective pretty quickly but it all started here and this is still the best massive disaster movie ever made.

Sure, this isn’t a perfect film. Blockbusters very rarely are. They aren’t made to win Oscars, well except for visual effects and sound, and they certainly aren’t acting clinics for up and comers in Hollywood that see themselves as the next generation’s Daniel Day-Lewis. These films aren’t supposed to be high art, they are supposed to be incredibly fun escapism where a crowded room of dozens can cheer and stuff their faces with triple buttered, quadruple salted popcorn and sodas the size of Hulk’s fist. Independence Day knew exactly what it was and exactly what it needed to be. Honestly, it is the most Spielberg movie not directed by Spielberg.

This movie works so well because it had such a talented and solid cast and everyone just had chemistry with each other. It didn’t matter which two or three people were on screen at the same time, they all just fit well together. The various personalities and characters meshed and complimented one another, giving every major player a purpose. Hell, Will Smith is the top billed star and he doesn’t even come into the film until the 26th minute. There is such a good balance between all the core people and their tasks.

That being said, this is so well written in how it handles a large ensemble cast and how it also moves through time leading up to the initial alien attack. The first 45 minutes of this movie are great. You don’t even get action until this thing’s been running for almost an hour but you are at the edge of your seat with every sequence in the first act. And then when the aliens do attack, it is a sight to behold and frankly, the special effects still look magnificent by modern standards.

I also love how patriotic this film is. It takes American ideas and American Exceptionalism and puts them on a global scale. “Yo, America figured out how to kill these unkillable aliens! Let’s pony up and follow their lead!” And this was made by a German dude, Roland Emmerich. But I think it is clear that this taps into what America was founded on and why those things are important. The burning desire for freedom and liberty and having the stones to step up to the plate when those things are being taken away.

Speaking of which, President Whitmore, through the magic of Bill Pullman, gives one of the greatest speeches of all-time, which still fires me up and gets me all emotional every friggin’ time I hear it. I’d vote for the guy.

After seeing this and having already experienced Stargate and Universal Solider, I really thought Roland Emmerich was going to be the director of the future. Well, he immediately dropped the ball with his Godzilla movie and really hasn’t been the same since. But this was the greatest film he ever directed and that’s okay. This would be an incredibly hard picture to top and that is even more apparent after its sequel came out a few years back and sort of missed the mark.

Look, I just love this film. Within the context of what it is supposed to be, it is nearly perfect. It has some flaws and some convenient plot developments but I don’t care about that stuff when it comes to a movie like this. Could Jeff Goldblum really hook up his Apple laptop to an alien mothership? Who gives a shit. Logic and common sense don’t need to get in the way of the fun I’m having.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: It’s sequel, even though that one didn’t live up to the hype. Also, other epic disaster movies from the era but this one is ultimately the king.