Documentary Review: In Search of Darkness: A Journey Into Iconic ’80s Horror (2019)

Release Date: October 6th, 2019 (Beyond Fest premiere)
Directed by: David A. Weiner
Written by: David A. Weiner
Music by: Weary Pines
Cast: Tom Atkins, Doug Bradley, Joe Bob Briggs, Diana Prince, John Carpenter, Larry Cohen, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Sean S. Cunningham, Joe Dante, Keith David, Stuart Gordon, Kane Hodder, Tom Holland, Lloyd Kaufman, Heather Langenkamp, Kelli Maroney, Bill Moseley, Greg Nicotero, Cassandra Peterson, Caroline Williams, Alex Winter, Brian Yuzna, various

CreatorVC, 264 Minutes

Review:

I was anticipating this documentary for a long time. So once it ended up on Shudder, I had to check it out. But holy shit!… I wasn’t expecting this thing to be four and a half f’n hours! Not that I’m complaining but I had to make an entire night out of this thing.

Realistically, this probably would’ve worked better as a documentary television series with an episode focused on each year in the decade. They could’ve expanded even further in that format but then this was crowdfunded and not a traditional production.

Still, this was a cool documentary and while it does jump from film-to-film too fast, it covers a lot of ground. Obviously, it can’t feature every horror film from the ’80s, as there were hundreds (if not thousands) but it does hit on most of the important ones.

This goes through the films in order of their release but it also has a few breaks between each year that focuses on other aspects of ’80s horror.

This is mostly talking head interviews with a few dozen different people, spliced together with footage from all the films they’re talking about. It kind of plays like one of those VH1 I Love the ’80s shows but it is a lot less smarmy. Well, for the most part. There is one guy that kept popping up that I wanted to punch because he was oozing with failed comedian smarm.

Overall, though, this was worth the wait. As I’ve said, I wish it could’ve given more on each film but even four and a half hours isn’t enough time to do more than just scratch the surface with the rich history of ’80s horror.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about ’80s horror and horror franchises.

Film Review: Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)

Also known as: Bill & Ted 3 (informal title)
Release Date: August 27th, 2020 (Malaysia)
Directed by: Dean Parisot
Written by: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Kristen Schaal, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Anthony Carrigan, Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays, Holland Taylor, Kid Cudi, William Sadler, Jillian Bell, Hal Landon Jr., Beck Bennett, Amy Stoch, George Carlin (posthumous cameo), Kelly Carlin, Dave Grohl (cameo), “Weird Al” Yankovic (cameo), Guillermo Rodriguez (cameo)

Dugan Entertainment, Dial 9, Hammerstone Studios, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Seriously, Uncle Ted. When did you get so excellent on Theremin? Your playing rivaled, and I’m not kidding, Clara Rockmore!” – Thea

Man, I really wanted to like this movie. I even went as far as to try and convince myself it was good and was going to pan out okay in the end. It didn’t. In fact, it pretty much killed that part of me that wants another one of these vanity, nostalgia projects to succeed.

Well, I guess Cobra Kai is just a once in a lifetime miracle. But maybe that’s because it wasn’t about vanity and it was just about bringing to life a good, fresh idea without trying to replicate what came before it.

As far as Bill & Ted stories go, this is just more of the same but it feels like a really weak attempt at taking the framework that came before it and just trying to paint-by-numbers while changing a few details.

In the case of this movie, we’re rounding up musical legends from history, while also seeing Bill & Ted travel back to hell as well as alternate futures where they confront different versions of their older selves. So there’s two adventures but it essentially takes the two adventures from the two previous movies and mashes them together in a way.

The journey to round up musicians is undertaken by Bill & Ted’s daughters, who are named after them and act too much like them that they just come across as gender swapped caricatures. Now I can’t trash their performances, as both girls were charismatic and likable but it just felt like the writers would rather lean on familiarity than trying to create characters that were more unique and didn’t just worship and emulate their dads on every level.

In regards to the first two movies, they always felt like a perfect story with a great, definitive ending. This film undoes that by retconning the ending and pretty much ignoring it and the newspaper headlines that appeared in the credits. Granted, the writers claim that they didn’t write those headlines and they were made as jokes by the people who did the credits. Still, fans, for decades, have kind of taken them as canon and why shouldn’t they?

In this film, we learn that Bill & Ted are old losers and that they’re incapable of fulfilling their destiny. What we also learn, is that it actually isn’t their destiny and, as is the trend with many modern sequels and reboots, the men are dumb idiots and its the female characters that have to come in and save the day. It’s not that I have a problem with female heroes, I just have a problem with downgrading already established heroes and brushing them aside because Hollywood feels guilty about shitting on women for years. Even though we’ve had women heroes and badasses for decades. But I digress.

This film was underwhelming and a disappointment. I wouldn’t call it intentionally “woke” but I do think it’s a product of its time and that it was influenced by the shitty, mundane art of the modern era. These characters and the fans deserved better.

At the same time, I don’t hate this film. It exists, it’s okay, not great and I don’t have to watch it again. Honestly, as a long-time fan of the film series, I’m just always going to see the first two movies as the complete story. It always was before this and that shouldn’t change just because ’80s nostalgia is in and the entertainment industry has to milk its teats until they bleed.

And of course, Rotten Tomatoes likes this.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: its two predecessors, as well as the animated series and really awful live-action show.

Documentary Review: In Search of the Last Action Heroes (2019)

Release Date: September, 2019
Directed by: Oliver Harper
Written by: Oliver Harper, Timon Singh
Music by: Peter Bruce
Cast: Scott Adkins, Shane Black, Ronny Cox, Steven E. de Souza, Bill Duke, Sam Firstenberg, Jenette Goldstein, Matthias Hues, Al Leong, Mark L. Lester, Sheldon Lettich, Zak Penn, Phillip Rhee, Eric Roberts, Cynthia Rothrock, Paul Verhoeven, Vernon Wells, Michael Jai White, Alex Winter, Graham Yost, various

140 Minutes

Review:

When this popped up on Prime Video, I got pretty excited. Especially, because I had just watched Henchman: The Al Leong Story and felt that ’80s action flicks needed more documentary love.

Overall, this was enjoyable and it covered a lot of ground but it also had a beefy running time. However, I felt like they jumped from movie-to-movie too quickly and nothing was really discussed in depth.

Still, this gives the viewer a good idea of how broad, vast and popular the action genre was through the ’80s and into the first half of the ’90s.

I guess the thing that I liked best was that this interviewed a lot of people that were involved in the making of these iconic films. You had actors, directors, writers and stuntmen all taking about their craft and their love for a genre that hasn’t been the same since its peak, a few decades ago.

Now this was a crowdfunded project and with that, you can only do so much. But I wish that some distributor or streaming service saw this and decided to make it much broader like a television series where episodes can focus on specific films or at the very least, spend more time on each era or topic.

Maybe someone will see this, take the bull by the horns and actually do that at some point. But this could be a solid pop culture documentary series like Netflix’s The Toys That Made Us.

For those who love the action flicks of this era, this is certainly worth checking out. Had I known about it when it was raising funds, I would’ve backed it.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other recent historical filmmaking documentaries, most notably Henchman: The Al Leong Story and Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films.

Film Review: Death Wish 3 (1985)

Also known as: Death Wish III (working title)
Release Date: November 1st, 1985
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: Don Jakoby (as Michael Edmonds)
Based on: characters by Brian Garfield
Music by: Jimmy Page, Mike Moran
Cast: Charles Bronson, Deborah Raffin, Ed Lauter, Martin Balsam, Gavan O’Herlihy, Alex Winter, Marina Sirtis, Barbie Wilde

Golan-Globus Productions, The Cannon Group, 88 Minutes

Review:

“It’s like killing roaches – you have to kill ’em all. Otherwise, what’s the use?” – Paul Kersey

Some people are going to wonder why I gave this film a really high rating and why I place it above the original. Well, I can’t give it a 15 out of 10 for just the last twenty minutes, so when I average everything out, the big climax pulls the rating up to a 9 out of 10.

Why?

Because the violent, explosive finale of this motion picture is the best big action sequence in the history of American filmmaking. It’s incredible, it’s badass and it force feeds you so much testosterone that some people have sprouted extra testicles.

As a total body of work, this isn’t a better movie than the first one. But the massive action-filled crescendo of a one man army against a city infested with human cockroaches is the stuff of legend! In fact, for fans of action movies, especially from the ’80s and made by Cannon Films, this is an absolute treat and a pillar of perfection for the genre.

Additionally, this chapter in the franchise has a great ensemble that works well with the great Charles Bronson. You’ve got Ed Lauter as the dickhead cop that allows Bronson to go Bronson on New York City, Martin Balsam as a tough old guy who has done some fine movies in his day, Barbie Wilde who was once a Cenobite, Marina Sirtis from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Alex Winter from the Bill & Ted movies and Lost Boys, as well as the always underappreciated Gavan O’Herlihy as the shitball, scumbag gang leader.

This is one of those movies where guns only run out of ammo if it suits the plot. Bronson literally shoots the damn machine gun for what feels like an eternity. Then when that actually runs out of ammo, his pistols are seemingly powered by Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas cheat codes. Plus, he uses an impractical but insane .475 Wildey Magnum. It’s like he’s got fucking Megatron in his hand! Scratch that, it’s like he’s got a handheld fucking battleship! The developers of the video game series Doom need to rename “God Mode” to “Bronson Mode”.

The film then ends with Bronson running into his apartment to finally reload, after twenty minutes of turning New York City into a carnage filled lead mine. He is then ambushed by Gavan O’Herlihy wielding a gun. But what’s Bronson do? He shoots him, in his own living room with a fucking bazooka! And he stands there after the walls explode into the street, completely unscathed while the corpse of the shitball, scumbag gang leader burns in the street below, covered in the rubble of what used to be Bronson’s apartment.

I remember watching this as a kid and thinking that it was the most epic thing I had ever seen in an action movie. I wasn’t wrong. But sadly, nothing has come along since and lived up to this movie’s stupendous finale. Sure, there are a lot of incredible, high octane action pictures, especially from Cannon Films, but this one took the cake and no one else has ever been able to get a slice.

Death Wish 3 needs more recognition for its greatness. I think it’s dismissed because it’s the third film in a long running series. The first one is beloved but everything after it doesn’t get the same sort of adoration. I mean, I can understand that in regards to parts 4 and 5, but 2 and 3, especially 3, deserve to be shown on a large screen in the center of every town for the rest of eternity.

If you consider yourself an action movie fan and you’ve never experienced the third act of Death Wish 3, you’re an absolute fucking fraud.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Death Wish movies and the Dirty Harry film series.

Film Review: The Lost Boys (1987)

Release Date: July 27th, 1987 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Joel Scumacher
Written by: Janice Fischer, James Jeremias, Jeffrey Boam
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Corey Feldman, Corey Haim, Jason Patric, Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz, Edward Herrmann, Barnard Hughes, Dianne Wiest, Alex Winter, Jamison Newlander, Kelly Jo Minter

Warner Bros., 98 Minutes

Review:

“One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach; all the damn vampires.” – Grandpa

The Lost Boys might not have been the biggest film of 1987 but it was still a pretty huge deal. Every kid and teen wanted to see it. It starred the two Coreys, both of whom were really hot commodities at the time, and it was a teen vampire movie that had comedy and charm.

When I was a kid, I thought David, the vampire played by Kiefer Sutherland was the coolest guy in the film and I was cheering for the vampires to win because who didn’t want to join an undead gang that looked like an ’80s goth band?

This was directed by Joel Schumacher, years before he put nipples on Batman’s suit. Say what you will about the man’s Batman films but this came out when he was at the top of his game and it’s probably his best movie, although I also liked Flatliners and Falling Down.

Schumacher mixed all the elements together really well but the decade of the ’80s sort of had it’s own cinematic magic too. But what you have here is a film that can tap into a child’s imagination, deliver amazement, wonder and still give us something that’s very adult in a lot of respects. This has a lot of lighthearted, funny moments but it also conveys a real darkness and dread that goes beyond other teen or kid horror comedies of the decade. There’s just something primal about this movie that puts it ahead of great films like Fright Night and Monster Squad.

I can’t say that this is a film that boasts great acting but it doesn’t need to. All the actors play their parts really damn well though and they all feel authentic. Unlike a lot of ’80s films featuring young people, this doesn’t try to lump its characters into archetypes or caricatures and I think that’s why this works so much better than other films like it.

The Lost Boys truly is a magical and fantastical experience. It might not play as well for modern audiences lacking the nostalgia for it but I’d much rather watch this than something like Twilight. Full disclosure, I don’t even want to watch Twilight to review it.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: For ’80s teen horror comedy: Fright NightNight of the CreepsNight of the Comet and Monster Squad. For the Coreys: License to Drive and Dream A Little Dream.

Film Review: The ‘Bill & Ted’ Film Series (1989-1991)

The Bill & Ted series was pretty enjoyable when I was a preteen. I’ve owned the box set for several years, since it first came out on DVD. I rewatch through the two films every couple of years or so and hope that the rumors of a third film, which has supposedly been written, are more fact than fiction.

In the meantime, I wanted to revisit this series again, in an effort to review them and because they are still enjoyable popcorn movies to kill some time over a weekend.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989):

Release Date: February 17th, 1989
Directed by: Stephen Herek
Written by: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, Terry Camilleri, Dan Shor, Tony Steedman, Rod Loomis, Al Leong, Jane Wiedlin, Robert V. Barron, Clifford David, Hal Landon Jr., Bernie Casey, Amy Stock-Poynton, J. Patrick McNamara, Frazier Bain, John Karlsen, Diane Franklin, Kimberley LaBelle

Interscope Communications, Nelson Entertainment, Orion Pictures, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K.” – Ted

The first film in the series follows Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves), as they have to ace a history report in order to not flunk out of school. If they flunk out, Ted gets shipped off to military school in Alaska and their band The Wyld Stallyns will never exist and bring peace and harmony to the universe. In order to make sure that they fulfill their destiny, Rufus (played by comic legend George Carlin) shows up in a time traveling phone booth – sending them off on their journey.

Taking a few pages from Doctor Who and Back to the Future, both big franchises at the time, these films add in some good old school rock and roll and two dimwitted heroes who are lovable characters with big hearts and a thirst for fun and adventure.

Excellent Adventure is far from a perfect film. It has its flaws and most of my fondness for it is out of nostalgia but it is still entertaining and funny.

As Bill and Ted traverse through time and abduct several noteworthy historical figures, the adventure unfolds and seeing these figures interact with one another, as well as the heroes, is pretty hilarious.

The special effects are good for the time, the plot doesn’t really matter other than creating a cool scenario and despite its wackiness and complete implausibility, the film just works.

Additionally, the sequence where the historical figures discover the mall is one of the best moments in film from the 1980s. Napoleon taking over the water park is also a classic moment that still plays great today.

The end of the film is their over the top history report and it is pretty friggin’ bad ass. It plays more like a rock concert than a report and helps build the mythos of these two characters becoming rock and roll legends.

Ultimately, this film is exciting, it encompasses many of the things that were awesome about entertainment in the 80s and it has George Carlin in it.

And who doesn’t want to replay the scene where Genghis Khan trashes Oshman’s Sporting Goods again and again?

Rating: 8.5/10

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991):

Release Date: July 19th, 1989
Directed by: Pete Hewitt
Written by: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, William Sadler, Joss Ackland, Pam Grier, Annette Azcuy, Sarah Trigger, Hal Landon Jr., Amy Stock-Poynton

Interscope Communications, Nelson Entertainment, Orion Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“A hit. You have sank my battleship!” – Grim Reaper

Bogus Journey picks up a few years after Excellent Adventure. At this point, Bill and Ted haven’t yet fulfilled their destiny of bringing peace and harmony to the universe.

This film also introduces a villain in De Nomolos and his evil Bill and Ted robots who are sent to kill the real Bill and Ted. The robots succeed and Bill and Ted’s “Bogus Journey” is their trip through Hell and then Heaven, as they are essentially resurrected and gain allies in the Grim Reaper (William Sadler) and a pair of great alien scientists called “Station”.

This film is even more over the top than its predecessor and that works fine but overall, the film isn’t as good. It is still enjoyable and adds more to the building tale of these two future legends but it is missing some of the magic that made the first film work as well as it did.

It is a much darker film and maybe the tone distracts from the lighthearted heroes. Bill and Ted are still Bill and Ted and the Grim Reaper is a fantastic character but the film just feels off.

There just isn’t anything as memorable as what was in the first film. Granted, the sequence where Bill and Ted play the Grim Reaper in several board games in an effort to escape Hell is pretty damned good.

The film ends positively and it shows Bill and Ted on the cusp of greatness. But it leaves you wanting more, as you want to see the next step in their progression. Still, twenty-six years later, we haven’t gotten a sequel.

Well, according to Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, it is finally on its way.

Rating: 7.5/10