Film Review: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

Release Date: January 19th, 1996
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Quentin Tarantino, Robert Kurtzman
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: George Clooney, Harvey Keitel, Quentin Tarantino, Juliette Lewis, Cheech Marin, Fred Williamson, Tom Savini, Salma Hayek, Ernest Liu, Danny Trejo, Michael Parks, John Saxon, Marc Lawrence, Kelly Preston, John Hawkes

Los Hooligans Productions, A Band Apart, Dimension Films, Miramax, 108 Minutes

Review:

“I know what’s going on. We got a bunch of fucking vampires out there, trying to get in here and suck our fucking blood. And that’s it. Plain and simple. I don’t want to hear anything about “I don’t believe in vampires,” because I don’t fucking believe in vampires, but I believe in my own two eyes, and what I saw, is fucking vampires. Now, do we all agree that what we are dealing with is vampires?” – Seth

I should preface this by saying that I love the hell out of this movie and it’s probably my favorite out of the films that Robert Rodriguez has done. I also hadn’t seen it in a really long time so a revisit was certainly long overdue.

This movie also features my favorite performance by George Clooney, an actor I have always loved and thought was cool, since first seeing him on The Facts of Life and Roseanne, as a kid in the ’80s. I’m glad this cool sitcom guy I liked actually carved out one of the greatest acting careers of his generation and really, any generation.

The reason why I like Clooney in this so much is that it is the greatest departure from the roles he usually plays, which are calm, chill, often times heroic people. While he’s always been cool, this is him at his coolest, going full throttle with no fucks given. It’s a real sight to behold, especially if you consider yourself a Clooney fan and have never seen this.

The rest of the cast is also great with Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis and Quentin Tarantino, who surprisingly did a solid job as his character, a guy that’s pretty much a psychopath.

Additionally, the cast is loaded with other memorable but smaller performances from Salma Hayek, Fred Williamson, Tom Savini, Danny Trejo, John Saxon, John Hawkes, Kelly Preston, Michael Parks and Cheech Marin, playing three different roles.

The thing I like most about this movie is that it’s like two films in one. The first half feels like a Tarantino crime picture and since he wrote it, it makes it that much more akin to say Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown or True Romance. The second half of the film turns into an over-the-top, balls out vampire action movie that is reminiscent of exploitation horror. Being that this has Fred Williamson in it, it just adds to that motif.

My only real gripe about the movie is in its use of CGI special effects, which I thought looked shitty even way back in 1996. The film also uses some incredible practical effects done by maestro Tom Savini. Savini’s work is as superb as always and with Robert Rodriguez having that guy at his disposal, I don’t know why he didn’t let him work out the kinks and help design the more elaborate effects shots. The creature makeup just looks so incredible in this picture that when it resorts to using CGI for vampire transformations or deaths, it’s really fucking jarring and takes you out of this otherwise awesome flick.

Like Savini’s stupendous practical effects, I also thought that the set design and general costumes throughout the picture were incredible. This is such a finely crafted, cool film that unfortunately has the rug pulled out from under it due to the bad CGI moments. Honestly, the CGI really undermines the work that went into creating this unique and fun world.

In the end, though, From Dusk Till Dawn is still a solid fucking movie. The pros definitely outweigh the cons but it’s frustrating that those cons weren’t avoided in the first place.

Rating: 7.25/10

TV Review: 100 Years of Horror (1996-1997)

Original Run: 1996 – 1997
Created by: Ted Newsom, Dante J. Pugliese
Directed by: Ted Newsom
Written by: Ted Newson, Jeff Forrester (uncredited)
Cast: Christopher Lee (presenter), Roger Corman, Hugh Hefner, Fred Olen Ray, Richard Denning, Bela Lugosi Jr., Hazel Court, Robert Wise, Beverly Garland, Gloria Talbott, Sara Karloff, Dick Miller, Caroline Munro, John Agar, Ralph Bellamy, John Carpenter, Richard Matheson, Linnea Quigley, various

Multicom Entertainment Group, 26 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’m glad that this documentary television series was made when it was, in the mid-’90s, as it allowed for the children of multiple horror icons to be involved and to tell stories about their fathers, their careers and their personal lives outside of the public eye.

Additionally, I love that this was able to include a lot of the filmmakers, writers and actors that were involved in a lot of classic horror films. Had this been made today, a lot of these people wouldn’t have been able to tell their stories in their own words, as they’re no longer with us.

Also, I love that Christopher Lee was the presenter of this series, as there wasn’t a more perfect choice available.

This series features 26 episodes, roughly 22 minutes apiece. Each episode tackles a different subject, be it a type of monster or a legendary horror actor. Plus, each episode covers a lot of ground for its running time, jumping through history and trying to show the audience everything it possibly can on the subject.

There really isn’t a dull episode, as there are so many different things that can be covered. There could’ve been more episodes and there still would’ve more topics to explore.

I like that this just dives right in and delivers so much. In fact, every episode showed me something I wasn’t aware of and helped me expand my list of old school horror movies that I still have left to watch and review.

All in all, this was pretty great and classic horror fans will probably find themselves lost in each episode, traveling through time and seeing things they still haven’t seen before.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Twister (1996)

Also known as: Catch the Wind (original script title), Wind Devils (working title)
Release Date: May 8th, 1996 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Jan de Bont
Written by: Michael Crichton, Anne-Marie Martin
Music by: Mark Mancina
Cast: Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Jami Gertz, Cary Elwes, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alan Ruck, Sean Whalen, Joey Slotnick, Scott Thomson, Lois Smith, Alexa Vega, Zach Grenier, Patrick Fischler, Anthony Rapp, Jake Busey

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros., 113 Minutes

Review:

“When you used to tell me that you chase tornadoes, deep down I always just thought it was a metaphor.” – Melissa

I hadn’t seen this movie since the theater but I had fond memories of that experience. I just never really went back and watched it again because it was a simple story that was very effects heavy and didn’t offer up much for a repeat viewing unless you’re a real digital effects junkie.

Since I came across it while scrolling through the content on HBO Max, I felt the urge to revisit it just to see how good it actually was and whether or not it’s held up after a quarter of a century. Plus, I really like the cast and it’s stacked with talent from top-to-bottom.

So for the most part, the effects do hold up. Sure, there are a few moments that might look hokey like the famous flying cow sequence but it hardly breaks the mind’s immersion into the film itself. And to be honest, I kind of like the humorous bits like that.

Generally, the tornado effects still look good and as effects heavy as this film is, it never feels like it’s too much. You kind of just get lost in the adrenaline rush of what’s happening and everything just works in the right way. Granted, I’d never want to see this sequelized or turned into a franchise. Once you’ve seen one tornado movie, you’ve pretty much seen them all and this surprisingly didn’t try to milk the flying cow to death.

It’s the personal stories in this that make the film work and make it much more than just a CGI fest.

I loved the chemistry between Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton and even with that, you still find yourself kind of sad over the way Jami Gertz, Paxton’s new fiancé, gets pushed to the side once he falls back in love with the woman he’s trying to get to sign divorce papers.

Hunt and Paxton just made a good couple and they balanced each other out, rather well. I also like that it’s the female half of the relationship that has become obsessed with her work and kind of let the romance fade away while the man steps up and reels her back in and centers her at a point in life when she needed it most. Then again, I always like seeing failed relationships finding a way to rekindle what was lost.

The supporting cast is pretty damn good too. I especially liked Lois Smith as the sort of matriarch of the storm chaser group. I also enjoyed Cary Elwes as the rival snot that gets himself killed because of ego. Philip Seymour Hoffman was enjoyable too, pretty much playing himself turned up to 11.

Twister seems like it’s been forgotten, as the years have rolled on. But honestly, it’s a really good movie in that summer blockbuster genre. I remember it being a big hit with moviegoers and everyone I knew, at the time, loved it quite a bit. When I worked at a video store, we could barely keep it in stock for the first few months.

Sadly, it was usurped by Independence Day, less than two months later and then the summer blockbusters kept getting bigger, louder and even more CGI heavy. 

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: Escape from L.A. (1996)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A. (complete title)
Release Date: August 9th, 1996
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Kurt Russell
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Nick Castle
Music by: John Carpenter, Shirley Walker
Cast: Kurt Russell, Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Georges Corraface, Cliff Robertson, Pam Grier, Valeria Golino, Bruce Campbell, Michelle Forbes, A.J. Langer, Peter Jason, Paul Bartel, Jeff Imada, Al Leong, Breckin Meyer, Robert Carradine, Shelly Desai, Leland Orser

Rysher Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Got a smoke?” – Snake Plissken, “The United States is a no-smoking nation. No smoking, no drinking, no drugs. No women – unless of course you’re married. No guns, no foul language… no red meat.” – Malloy, “[sarcastic] Land of the free.” – Snake Plissken

Full disclosure, I hated this movie when it came out. And frankly, it’s still a fairly bad film for reasons I’ll get into in this review.

However, like other ’90s cringe, such as Batman & Robin, I’ve kind of accepted the movie for what it is and with that, there are things I like within it due to my evolved perspective.

But let me hammer on the negatives first.

To start, the film looks like shit. From the CGI, to digital matte paintings and other computer generated effects, this looks cheap, artificial and since 1996, has aged incredibly poorly.

The CGI effects were bad for the time even but since that technology advanced rather quickly, it all looks so much worse now. And this film is a great argument as to why practical special effects are better in a lot of ways, especially in regards to the era in which this was made.

John Carpenter has had amazing practical effects work in most of his movies before this one but I guess he had to embrace the emerging technology, despite it being a really poor choice for this picture, which should’ve been dark, gritty and real.

The film is also full of terrible dialogue for the most part. While I still love Snake and he has some solid one-liners, most of the movie’s dialogue is just shit. I think that the good actors in this also underperformed and I guess I’d have to blame Carpenter for that, as he was directing them and then accepting the takes he was getting.

Expanding on that point, though, it looks like the performers are clunkily acting off of nothing. It’s as if there was so much greenscreen work and strangely composited shots that the performances were just off and didn’t match up in the way they were supposed to. This issue could also be due to the fact that this greenscreen style of shooting was still pretty new when used this frequently in a single production.

Additionally, the story just wasn’t good or that engaging. Other than Snake, I didn’t care about any of the characters and while it was cool seeing Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Cliff Robertson and Bruce Campbell pop up in this, they were used too sparingly.

As far as positives go, I did find the makeup and prosthetics work to be really good. But this gets back to my point earlier about the overabundance of digital effects. When Carpenter and his effects team employed practical effects in this film, they looked solid.

Also, I really liked Snake in this, as previously stated, and he got some solid, badass Snake Plissken moments that we would’ve missed out on had this film never been made. As awfully hokey as the surfing scene was, we still got to see Snake “hang ten” with Peter Fonda and then jump onto an escaping car. It was an awfully crafted sequence in the movie but it’s also hard not to love it in spite of its very apparent issues.

In the end, I don’t hate this movie, as I once did. But I do have a hard time trying to get myself to watch it. Honestly, I only watched it this time to review it.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as other John Carpenter sci-fi movies.

Film Review: Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (1996)

Also known as: Gamera 2: Region shurai (original Japanese title), Gamera 2: Advent of Legion, Gamera 2: Assault of the Legion (alternative titles)
Release Date: July 13th, 1996 (Japan)
Directed by: Shusuke Kaneko
Written by: Kazunori Ito
Music by: Kow Otani
Cast: Maki Mizuno, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Tamotsu Ishibashi

Daiei Studios, Hakuhodo, NTV Network, Tokuma International, Toho Co. Ltd., 99 Minutes

Review:

The second of the three Heisei era Gamera films is pretty good. While I think it’s predecessor is a bit better, these movies are really consistent and much better than the original, really hokey Gamera movies from the Showa era.

Now while I like the first one more, this picture does have one of the best looking kaiju villains in motion picture history.

love Legion, even if the monster is a sort of mishmash ripoff of Biolante and Destroyah from the Heisei era Godzilla movies.

Since Gamera, himself, was Daiei’s attempt at ripping off Godzilla in the ’60s, “borrowing” heavily from a more popular franchise isn’t really anything new for this series. Besides, we’ve had some pretty original and cool monsters in the Gamera franchise and even some of them were ripped off for other films: most notably Guiron was used as “inspiration” for Knifehead in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim.

This film picks up a year or so after the events of the previous movie, which saw Gamera destroy a bunch of Gaos. Here, he returns to fight what is the biggest threat he’s ever faced in the franchise. Since this era is a reboot of the franchise, those older movies don’t really exist in the same canon but Gamera’s challenge in this chapter, is still his greatest.

This employs pretty good practical special effects for the time. As I said with the previous review, these ’90s Gamera films are good enough to rival the ’90s Godzilla movies.

Now I don’t like this as much as the 1995 reboot but it’s still a fun, solid, “giant monsters smashing everything” flick. Plus, the villain is cooler than Gaos, which might sound like sacrilege to some diehard, old school Gamera fans but sorry, Legion is just a cool f’n monster that was well-designed and looked really intimidating.

Overall, this is pretty satisfying. If Gamera films are your thing, this era provided the best of the lot and they’re all damn consistent.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Gamera films of the Heisei era.

Film Review: Leprechaun 4: In Space (1996)

Also known as: Leprechaun 4 (shortened title)
Release Date: 1996 (Russia)
Directed by: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Written by: Dennis Pratt
Based on: characters by Mark Jones
Music by: Dennis Michael Tenney
Cast: Warwick Davis, Brent Jasmer, Jessica Collins, Tim Colceri, Miguel A. Nunez Jr., Debbe Dunning, Gary Grossman, Rebekah Carlton, Rick Peters, Geoff Meed, Michael Cannizzo, Ladd York, Guy Siner

Blue Rider Pictures, VIDMark Entertainment, Trimark Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“No one leaves this ship unless I so say! Say so.” – Dr. Mittenhand

This is the point in the Leprechaun franchise where the movies started to get more bad than good. I still like this one, though, as the drastic change of setting at least freshened things up and opened the series up for even more campiness.

Additionally, Warwick Davis is always entertaining in this role and he had some great moments in this picture. There’s the scene where the Leprechaun gets a lightsaber and the awesome kill where the Leprechaun explodes out of a dude’s dick who is about to have some hot sex.

The sets looked incredibly cheap and the CGI effects were extremely subpar, even for the mid-’90s. However, the makeup effects of the mutant spider guy were really good and looked badass.

I also liked the cast for the most part between the commander with the metal head who gives us a weird drag show, the hot doctor, the hot princess and the inclusion of one of my favorite character actors, especially in horror, Miguel A. Nunez Jr.

Positives aside, this is still kind of shit and actually tough to get through in one sitting.

Honestly, this is worth checking out if you really love the Leprechaun character and you have a weird appreciation for horror franchises that end up going to outer space once the well runs dry. If you don’t, you might end up banging your head against the coffee table.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Leprechaun movies starring Warwick Davis.

Film Review: Shootfighter 2 (1996)

Also known as: Shootfighter II (alternative spelling)
Release Date: August 27th, 1996
Directed by: Paul Ziller
Written by: Greg Mellott, Peter Shaner
Music by: Alex Wilkinson
Cast: Bolo Yeung, William Zabka, Michael Bernardo, Debra Ann “Madusa” Miceli

ANA Productions, 93 Minutes

Review:

While the first Shootfighter wasn’t a classic by any stretch of the imagination, it still got a sequel. Although, this one is pretty subpar and lacks the charm of its predecessor.

It stars the same protagonist trio of Bolo Yeung, William Zabka and Michael Bernardo. I like these actors and the characters they play but they seemed a lot less into this movie than the first one. Also, it felt like Bolo was barely in it. Although, I did enjoy his final fight at the end, quite a bit. Mostly because I hated this film’s incredibly weak and unintimidating villain.

This took place and was filmed in Miami. I knew a kid that claimed his uncle was an extra in the film but that kid lied all the time and he thought Hypercolor shirts were still cool in 1996.

There’s honestly not much to say about this film other than it’s damn pedestrian, a pointless sequel and it looked like everyone making the film was just as bored as the audience that would eventually watch it.

Although, it did feature professional wrestler Madusa a.k.a. Alundra Blayze, who fought some other chick in a random bout.

I did mostly like the action and I thought that the fighting arena was kind of cool but neither of these things really elevate the picture into anything worthwhile.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: it’s predecessor and other late ’80s/early ’90s straight-to-video action flicks.

Film Review: The Phantom (1996)

Release Date: June 7th, 1996
Directed by: Simon Wincer
Written by: Jeffrey Boam
Based on: The Phantom by Lee Falk
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Billy Zane, Treat Williams, Kristy Swanson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Remar, Patrick McGoohan, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Casey Siemaszko, John Capodice

Boam Productions, The Ladd Company, Paramount Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“When darkness rules the earth, America’s in financial ruin. Europe and Asia are on a brink of self-annihilation. Chaos reigns. Like I’ve always said, there is opportunity in chaos. And so, my brothers, I give you… [raises out the first skull] The skull of Touganda. This skull is one of three. When all three skulls are united, they will produce a force more than any army on Earth.” – Xander Drax

A lot of people, myself included, slept on this movie when it came out because even for 1996, it looked hokey and cheap. Granted, it was actually made by a larger studio and it was a more expensive picture than one might think.

I feel like the tone was off for what was becoming the popular trends at the time and that this would’ve fared much better, half a decade earlier. But even really solid comic book movies like The Rocketeer and The Shadow struggled to find an audience before this flick was even greenlit.

While I’ve seen this a few times over the years, I think there are things within it that one can appreciate that would’ve most likely been overlooked in 1996.

To start, this is just a fun adventure movie, a popcorn picture at its core that features good actors, cool characters and period piece sets that show you where most of the budget went.

There is a very pulpy vibe to this and it almost calls back to the tone of old school swashbuckling epics without having any real swashbuckling in it.

It mostly taps into the film serial genre that helped make The Phantom character more of a household name in the ’30s through ’50s. For modern audiences, it will play like a superhero picture with elements of an Indiana Jones or Pirates of the Caribbean vibe to it.

While it’s not particularly well-acted, the core cast still give good performances that really show that they’re committed to this film’s pulpy goodness. Treat Williams’ over-the-top antics as the villain are superb and I liked him immensely in this. I also thought that Billy Zane made a really solid Phantom and Kristy Swanson was a good choice for her role. I can’t say that this is Catherine Zeta-Jones’ best work but she did look like she was having a blast hamming it up in this goofy but stylish movie.

The Phantom is far from being a classic in the superhero genre but its much better than a lot of the other offerings in the pre-Dark Knight and MCU era. Frankly, I wish it would’ve done well enough to have had a few sequels but since this felt somewhat dated for 1996, I can’t imagine any sequels connecting with the audience of that era.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other comic book adaptations of the era like The Shadow, Dick Tracy, The Rocketeer and the early, cheap Marvel attempts at live-action.

TV Review: Boston Common (1996-1997)

Original Run: March 21st, 1996 – April 27th, 1997
Created by: Max Mutchnick, David Kohan
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Cast: Anthony Clark, Traylor Howard, Hedy Burress, Steve Paymer, Roger Rees, Tasha Smith, Vincent Ventresca, Sam Anderson, Margot Kidder, Zach Galifianakis

KoMut Entertainment, Castle Rock Entertainment, Columbia TriStar Television, Sony Pictures Television, NBC, 32 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Recently, while on YouTube, I went down the sitcom rabbit hole and started to rewatch a lot of the stuff I used to like, back in the day. I was curious to see how these shows held up and if I would still enjoy them. This one, particularly, was one I would watch in the late ’90s when the USA Network would do that morning block of shows called USAM.

Boston Common was unfortunately short-lived, as it was a mid-season replacement in its first season and then only got a full second season later that same year.

I remember thinking that Anthony Clark was hilarious and I was crushing hard on Traylor Howard, who played the apple of his eye on the show.

In 2020, I still enjoyed this quite a bit. It’s hokey in the way that traditional multi-cam, studio audience sitcoms were back then but it has character and depth beyond what’s on the surface. The characters develop well over the short time they had to exist and it’s hard not to find something to like in all of them. Even Jack, the pompous professor.

Shows like this don’t seem to really work nowadays but its a shame. They were a good, light-hearted way to escape from reality. And even if they did touch on some tougher or topical subjects, they always did it in a way that was more palatable and fair than the heavy-handed, overly biased shows of today.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other late ’90s sitcoms.

Film Review: Original Gangstas (1996)

Also known as: Warzone, Hot City (working titles)
Release Date: May 10th, 1996
Directed by: Larry Cohen
Written by: Aubrey K. Rattan
Music by: Vladimir Horunzhy
Cast: Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Paul Winfield, Isabel Sanford, Ron O’Neal, Richard Roundtree, Oscar Brown Jr., Christopher B. Duncan, Dru Down, Shyheim Franklin, Robert Forster, Charles Napier, Wings Hauser, Godfrey Danchimah, Bushwick Bill (cameo)

Po’ Boy Productions, Orion Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Big talk coming from a faggot who don’t even know what sex his mother is.” – John Bookman

Strangely, I’ve never seen this until now. I actually owned the soundtrack, back in the day, but I never did get around to seeing the film.

This was directed by Larry Cohen, a guy who helmed a few blaxploitation classics back in the ’70s and then made a career out of directing some iconic B-movie horror flicks. This also re-teamed Larry Cohen and Fred Williamson, who worked together on Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem.

The film is a sort of modern homage to the blaxploitation films of the ’70s while also capitalizing off of the early ’90s urban movie craze. It doesn’t just callback to the blaxploitation era by re-teaming Cohen and Williamson, it also brought in other actors from blaxploitation and general exploitation movies: Jim Browm, Pam Grier, Ron O’Neal, Richard Roundtree, Robert Forster and Charles Napier.

Sadly, the plot is pretty weak and the film isn’t very good. I had higher hopes for it, as Larry Cohen can knock the ball out of the park when he wants to.

This is bogged down by a shitty script, shitty dialogue, predictable scenarios and absolutely nothing that doesn’t feel derivative. It’s a carbon copy of all the carbon copy hood movies of its era and adding in blaxploitation legends doesn’t raise the film up, it actually just holds those actors down. They’re better and more capable actors than what we get in this picture.

Frankly, Original Gangstas misses its mark but that’s not to say that it’s unwatchable. I enjoyed it simply because these actors were all together in one movie. However, if you take them out, this is abysmal and completely forgettable.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: the blaxploitation films it is an homage to, as well as early ’90s urban cinema.