Film Review: The Dead Talk Back (1957/1993)

Release Date: 1993
Directed by: Merle S. Gould
Written by: Merle S. Gould
Music by: Don Cheek, George Rhoden, Van Phillips (uncredited)
Cast: Aldo Farnese, Scott Douglas, Laura Brock, Earl Sands, Myron Natwick, Kyle Stanton, Sammy Ray

Headliner Productions, 65 Minutes

Review:

“Tellin’ them innocent kids stories about the dead and their hauntings! That’s the work of the devil. You’ll pay for it. The Devil! That man is the Devil Himself!” – Christy Mattling, “Oh shut up, you potentate of righteousness!” – Renee Coliveil

The Dead Talk Back was a lost film; shot in 1957, it never saw the light of day. Nearly four decades later, however, it was discovered in a warehouse and then found a video release in 1993 by Sinister Cinema. A year later, it was ripped to shreds courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

At the start of this picture, I was taken aback by the really bad opening titles. But once the film cut to the first scene and the fourth wall was broken by the paranormal scientist guy explaining what we were about to see and the “science” behind the dead’s ability to speak to us, I was sort of captivated.

The opening was so bizarre that it was intriguing. It wasn’t something that you really see from the era in which this was made and it showed me that this schlock-y filmmaker was possibly ahead of his time or that he was so bad he broke the rules of the medium without realizing he was doing so. I think it might be a little bit of both because as hammy as it was, it still aroused my curiosity in a way that was positively effective to the narrative of the movie.

Beyond that, however, everything really does sort of turn to shit.

This paranormal scientist lives in a house with a bunch of roommates. One of the girls is then killed by a crossbow, which is pretty brutal and over the top for 1957. Anyway, the paranormal scientist is pretty sure that one of his housemates murdered her. The police also believe this so they hire the scientist to conduct a paranormal investigation.

The scientist interviews his housemates in an effort to draw out clues or a confession. He can’t really talk to the dead yet so he makes it appear that he can, hoping that the experience will cause the killer to crack under the pressure.

The killer is discovered and then the scientist admits to his ruse but says that he will eventually find a way to communicate with the deceased.

I actually like the concept and thought that the plot was interesting, however, it was unfortunately executed poorly and the film is mostly drab and boring despite a few neat highlights.

It keeps you a bit on edge, thinking that something paranormal may actually happen but I like that it doesn’t and that this is realistic in that way, as opposed to going for a cheap, predictable thrill. I’d like to think that this was an intentional subversion of expectations but I think it had more to do with the limitations of the production.

The Dead Talk Back is mostly a bad movie. But it was still engaging in parts and quite unique.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: other crime/mystery movies shown on MST3K.

Film Review: Fatal Fury 2: The New Battle (1993)

Release Date: July 31st, 1993 (Japan)
Directed by: Kazuhiro Furuhashi
Based on: Fatal Fury: King of Fighters by SNK
Music by: Toshihiko Sahashi

Nihon Ad Systems (NAS), 75 Minutes

Review:

While the first movie didn’t age too well, I still wanted to watch the second one, as it bridges the gap between the first and third movies and because I remember the third one being exceptionally good for the time.

These films are based off of the fighting game series of the same name, a series that would eventually evolve into the popular King of Fighters franchise.

I would say that this chapter is a step up from the first one, as it is longer, has more story and also has more fighting and introduces fans to other beloved characters that didn’t fit in the first chapter.

The plot mostly follows the plot of the second game and introduces the villain Wolfgang Krauser, who appears to be a bigger badass than Geese Howard of the original game and film. It also brings in the matador villain Laurence Blood, as every big baddie needs a top henchman. Blood is to Krauser what Billy Kane was to Geese.

I think that the animation here is pretty consistent with the first film but it may be a hair bit better. Where I did notice improvement was in the action, especially the fighting scenes.

Fatal Fury 2: The New Battle expands the story quite a bit and it helps to set the stage for the followup: Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture, which was the finale and the only one that saw theatrical release.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the two other Fatal Fury movies.

Film Review: Fear of a Black Hat (1993)

Also known as: The Trial of N.W.H. (working title)
Release Date: January 24th, 1993 (Sundance)
Directed by: Rusty Cundieff
Written by: Rusty Cundieff
Music by: Jim Manzie, Larry Robinson, N.W.H.
Cast: Rusty Cundieff, Larry B. Scott, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Kasi Lemmons, Faizon Love, Deezer D, Kurt Loder, Lance Crouther, Monique Gabrielle (uncredited)

Incorporated Television Company (ITC), Oakwood Productions, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 88 Minutes

Review:

“The black man was the first sensitive man, long before Alan Alda.” – Tone Def

Fear of a Black Hat was a pretty critically acclaimed film when it came out but unfortunately, it bombed at the box office. But it also didn’t get into a lot of theaters.

I think part of the problem was that the story was very, very similar to Chris Rock’s CB4. And while CB4 beat Fear of a Black Hat to mainstream theaters, Fear was actually made first and was on the festival circuit when Rock’s comedy film hit cinemas.

Looking at the timeline, it’s actually possible that Chris Rock lifted the idea for his film from this one. But whether or not there was thievery involved or it’s just a crazy coincidence, I enjoy both movies and for very different reasons.

That being said, this is the better film of the two. The humor is smarter, I like the authentic documentary style of this one and this movie had more original music created for it, all of which was pretty fantastic even if this was parody.

It’s written and directed by Rusty Cundieff, who also starred as one of the three rappers in the film. He had success later with Tales From the Hood but he also worked on Chappelle’s Show and acted in the films Hollywood Shuffle and School Daze.

Cundieff is a witty writer though and he also had a knack for picking the right actors to star alongside him. Specifically, the other rappers, played by the underrated Larry B. Scott and Mark Christopher Lawrence. I also really enjoyed Kasi Lemmons as the documentary filmmaker that was chronicling the lives of the main characters.

The story is that this is a documentary about a notorious gangsta rap group that are an obvious parody of N.W.A. The film deconstructs what was the rap industry at the time and it’s honestly, a pretty brilliant critique on it. I feel like this hits more points than CB4, which is more of a standard comedy film. Both movies are fun but this one seems to cover more ground and is written in a way that just seems like it was better thought out. Plus, this feels more genuine and real. And I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking Chris Rock’s CB4, it’s just hard to talk about either film without comparing them and discussing, the strengths and weaknesses between them.

Fear of a Black Hat is certainly much more indie feeling and less polished but that is also why it feels more realistic and better in tune with the industry it was examining.

At the end of the day, if you’re going to watch one of these two films, you might as well check out both.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the film that possibly borrowed a lot from this one: CB4.

TV Review: 8 Man After (1993)

Original Run: 1993
Created by: Carl Macek
Directed by: Yoriyasu Kogawa, Sumiyoshi Furakawa
Written by: Kazumasa Hirai, Jiro Kuwata
Based on: 8 Man by Kazumasa Hirai, Jiro Kuwata
Music by: Ryouichi Kumiyoshi

Discotek Media, 4 Episodes, 25-30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This was a sequel to the original 8 Man anime series and manga, which came out in the 1960s. This was also released as a four episode OVA in Japan but there is also a movie edit of the material. I’m reviewing the episodes that were released as an OVA, as that’s the version I could stream via Prime Video.

While I’ve seen some of the original 8 Man series, it’s been a really long time and I barely remember it. I figured I’d check this out though because since revisiting Akira and Ghost In the Shell recently, I’ve been on a bit of a cyberpunk anime kick.

Now this is far from perfect and it almost borrows a lot from RoboCop but I guess one could say that RoboCop borrowed from the original 8 Man. That being said, I think that this couldn’t help but to borrow some of these ideas, as by the time this was being made, RoboCop was at its peak in popularity, had spawned sequels, comics, toys and television shows. Both are dystopian cyberpunk stories with cyborg heroes and baddies outfitted with their own unique tech.

At the same time, this is also influenced by the other cyberpunk anime like Akira and Megazone 23, at least aesthetically and tonally.

The story is interesting but there’s not enough of it there, even over four episodes. Ultimately, by the end, I wanted more. And maybe more episodes were planned and this just didn’t make enough money. It didn’t even come out in the States till years later, so that could’ve had an impact on it financially.

Overall, I really liked the animation and the character design but the thing that I really noticed and enjoyed about this series was the sound and the music. I loved the themes and the sound effects were pretty neat.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other cyberpunk anime: Akira, Ghost In the Shell, Megazone 23, Neo Tokyo, etc.

Film Review: Red Rock West (1993)

Release Date: May 14th, 1993 (Italy)
Directed by: John Dahl
Written by: John Dahl, Rick Dahl
Music by: William Olvis
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Lara Flynn Boyle, Timothy Carhart, J. T. Walsh, Dwight Yoakam, Robert Apel, Dan Shor

PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Propaganda Films, Roxie Releasing, 98 Minutes

Review:

“You must be Suzanne. You look pretty enough to eat.” – Lyle

John Dahl started out making neo-noir films in the late ’80s and early ’90s. This was the second one of three and comparing it to its predecessor, Kill Me Again, I’d say that the films are very consistent.

Two of the most intense actors of the last few decades, Nicolas Cage and Dennis Hopper, face off in this film and man, it is really entertaining to watch.

These are my favorite types of roles for Dennis Hopper. I love it when he’s a murderous psycho or just a twisted bastard in a neo-noir cinemascape. It is hard to watch him here and not have your mind make connections to his roles in The American Friend and Blue Velvet.

I thought the cast in this was pretty good, other than Lara Flynn Boyle. I’ve never really been keen on her, even though I know she was popular with a lot of filmgoers and Twin Peaks fans at the time. She just doesn’t work as a noir-esque femme fatale for me. I can’t really peg why but when I compare her to Joanne Whalley’s femme fatale in Dahl’s Kill Me Again, there is no comparisson. Whalley nailed the role, Boyle didn’t. Also, Whalley looked like a goddess, Boyle looked like a small town mayor’s wife. Sure, that may seem incredibly superficial but this is a femme fatale we’re talking about. The trope is the trope and here it wasn’t convincing.

Red Rock West seems a bit more refined than Dahl’s previous picture but I preferred the story of the first one better. This excels because of the scenes with Cage and Hopper playing off of one another. While I thought Val Kilmer and Michael Madsen also had a good rivalry in Kill Me Again, the two male leads here take the cake.

Overall, the two films are very similar and pretty much equal. Where one lacks, the other gains. It’s almost as if you could cherry pick the good bits of each and make one incredible movie out of them.

I can’t yet compare these two films to Dahl’s The Last Seduction, as I haven’t seen it yet. But it is on the docket and I’ll probably review it very soon.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: John Dahl’s other neo-noir films: Kill Me Again and The Last Seduction.

 

Film Review: RoboCop 3 (1993)

Release Date: May 1st, 1993 (Japan)
Directed by: Fred Dekker
Written by: Frank Miller, Fred Dekker
Based on: characters by Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner
Music by: Basil Poledouris
Cast: Robert John Burke, Nancy Allen, Robert DoQui, Felton Perry, Rip Torn, Mako, John Castle, CCH Pounder, Stephen Root, Jeff Garlin, Shane Black, Bradley Whitford

Orion Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Well, I gotta hand it to ya. What do they call ya? Murphy, is it?” – The CEO, “My friends call me Murphy. You call me… RoboCop.” – RoboCop

RoboCop 3 should not exist. Well, at least in the form that it does.

For one, Peter Weller left the series and Nancy Allen’s Lewis gets killed off pretty early on, leaving us with a movie mostly devoid of the actors and characters we’ve come to care about except for a few minor side ones like the the police sergeant and Johnson.

Not even Dan O’Herlihy came back to play the Old Man in charge of OCP. I guess his absence was explained by OCP being bought by a Japanese company. So instead of the great O’Herlihy, we got a bored looking Rip Torn as the new head of OCP. Johnson was still there though, even if he felt out of place hamming it up with new office buddies.

The story deals with a bunch of poor people getting violently thrown out of their homes so OCP can steal the land and build Delta City, which has been an overused plot point since the first movie. RoboCop catches feelings for the poor people, especially after meeting a four year-old girl that hacks ED-209s and watching Lewis get gunned down by a private military company hired by OCP. There’s also some terrible cyborg ninjas in this. Oh, and RoboCop gets a pointless gun arm and a lame as shit jetpack.

The special effects in this are laughably bad, even looked at within the context of the era this was made in. This is a much cheaper looking movie than RoboCop and RoboCop 2 by a wide margin. ED-209 looks about the same but I’m sure they just reused one of the robots from the first film. RoboCop himself is a new actor but he’s wearing Peter Weller’s suit, which was too short for the new actor and caused him a lot of pain.

RoboCop 3 is just one costly shitshow that has nothing redeeming hidden within it. I’ve only seen this one a few times but I’ve watched the first two at least a dozen times each. This is just really hard to sit through and pretty much a pointless film, overall.

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: the first two RoboCop movies but they’re far superior and I guess any bad RoboCop ripoffs with an extremely low budget, hokey effects and crappy acting.

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?