Film Review: Wheels of Fire (1985)

Also known as: Desert Warrior, Pyro, Vindicator (German alternate titles), Fuego (Spain), Guerreros infernales (Peru)
Release Date: April 11th, 1985 (Philippines premiere)
Directed by: Cirio H. Santiago
Written by: Ellen Collett, Frederick Bailey, Cameron Frankley, Keith Mortimer, Joseph Williams, Frank Wolfe
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Gary Watkins, Laura Banks, Lynda Wiesmeier, Linda Grovenor

Rodeo, Concorde Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“What’s the matter, sweetheart? You don’t like my looks?” – Scourge, “Maybe as a corpse!” – Arlie

Roger Corman didn’t direct or directly produce this film but he put some money into it. When his previous company New World Pictures refused to distribute the movie, that was more fuel to the fire that became a big lawsuit between the two parties.

Also, Lee Ving was supposed to star in this as the villain Scourge. However, he quit just before shooting. Honestly, it would have been cool as hell to see Lee Ving in this. I was always a fan of the guy even if his roles were always kind of small. But he stands out in both Clue and Streets of Fire. Plus, his punk band Fear was one of the most badass bands of all-time.

This is one of dozens of Mad Max ripoffs. While none of these films are as good as the material they are stealing from, some of them are at least fun and have enough gravitas to justify their existence. This is one of those films.

The good guy is a black leather clad, shotgun wielding badass with a black muscle car and two big balls that each have their own V8 engine. He takes no shit, gives the evil bastards of the wasteland hell and doesn’t care whose car he has to wreck in order to make a point.

Now the acting is pretty awful and this film is also riddled with other issues but this flick is just rough and tough enough to make me not nitpick it apart, as I would with something that didn’t serve up as much testosterone as this.

Ultimately, this is a solid, no budget action movie that doesn’t need to hide its weaknesses, because its strengths are so good.

But if I’m going to pull something negative out of this, I didn’t like how they sped the frame rate up during car scenes to make the vehicles look like they were moving faster. Its kind of jarring but luckily, it doesn’t break the film as it isn’t overused to the point of madness.

If anything, this movie just makes me want to build a beat up, black muscle car and head to the desert with a camera. Point being, this film had to be fun to make and everyone looked like they were having a good time.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Mad Max ripoffs: Battletruck, Metalstorm and Megaforce.

Comic Review: Kobra/Veszélyes őrjárat (Unofficial Hungarian Bootleg)

Published: 1986
Based on: Cobra by Sylvester Stallone and Paula Gosling, The Detached Mission by Yevgeni Mesyatsev

Filmsikerek Kepregeny Valtozata, 32 Pages

Review:

I don’t know Hungarian but I read through this as best as I could. I do have a Hungarian uncle and I asked if he’d translate this for me, as I thought scanning it in and redoing the lettering in English would allow me to share this with the English speaking world but my uncle when asked just said, “I’m not reading your damn comics for you!”

Anyway, this is an ashcan sized bootleg comic book from Hungary that is an unofficial adaptation of the Sylvester Stallone film Cobra. On the flip side there is a second comic book story, which is an adaptation of a Soviet military movie called The Detached Mission (in it’s English translation). I’ve never seen that film but I am a massive fan of Stallone’s Cobra, so I had to pick this up when I came across it, digging deep for obscure foreign movie adaptations in the comic book medium.

The Cobra half of this comic is 20 pages while The Detached Mission is just 12.

While this isn’t full of top notch art, the likenesses of the actors is pretty good. I mean, Stallone looks like Stallone. Brigitte Nielsen looks about the same and Brian Thompson, the Night Slasher, is pretty on point.

The only real problem with the comic is that it adapts the entire movie in 20 pages, which means that it speeds along pretty damn fast and this creates an issue with panel to panel transitions. The gist of what’s happening and the key points of the story are still conveyed but I can’t really speak on the writing, as I can’t interpret it.

This is high energy, full of testosterone and just a fun book to thumb through for hardcore fans of Cobra.

On the flip side, I gave The Detatched Mission story a read but without having seen the movie and due to the language barrier, I’m not sure how closely it is adapted. Still, it was also action packed and badass.

Tracking this down wasn’t easy and I did pay a fine penny for this but I have absolutely no buyer’s remorse. I love Cobra and Cannon Films, as well as obscure comics, so this is certainly my cup of tea.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other foreign comic book bootlegs of ’80s action movies.

Film Review: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

Also known as: Mad Max 3 (working title), Mad Max III (Philippines)
Release Date: June 29th, 1985 (Japan)
Directed by: George Miller, George Ogilvie
Written by: Terry Hayes, George Miller
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Bruce Spence

Kennedy Miller Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… Dyin’ time’s here.” – Dr. Dealgood

I always thought of this as the worst of the original Mad Max trilogy. However, revisiting it now, just after watching the first two, I think I enjoyed it more than the original. In fact, I have a lot more appreciation for this film after watching it this time. Plus, it was the first time I had seen it since before Mad Max: Fury Road came out four years ago.

Now this doesn’t have the hard edge of the other films and it does feel like a Hollywood recreation of the franchise with a bigger budget, the addition of Tina Turner (a huge star at the time) and the larger scope of the movie. Those aren’t necessarily bad things, though, and I think that Hollywood sort of legitimizing this film series with a larger, more polished production, is probably what gave it the cultural longevity it’s had.

You also have to keep in mind that these films are really all that Mel Gibson was known for in 1985. Lethal Weapon and a much more lucrative, mainstream career didn’t come until 1987.

What makes this work so well, is the fact that Mel Gibson is so comfortable in this role by this point. Even though we got to know him in the first film, everything changes when his family dies and then in the second picture, he was sort of an unemotional husk with just a glimmer of humanity shining through. Here, that hard, outer husk is torn away and we’re left with a man that has found a way to live again. At least, he’s found a surrogate family and something that he must fight for. While that’s similar to the second film, it’s a much more fluid and human journey here. You don’t feel like he’s just playing the hero because it’s something to do and he hates scumbags, you actually sense love growing inside of him.

However, as much as I love Tina Turner in this, her being the primary villain also tames this movie when compared to the others. She kind of likes Max throughout the picture and she’s just a tough woman trying to maintain order in a town full of shady degenerates. She’s not pure evil like Lord Humongous, Toecutter or Immortan Joe and that kind of makes the threat in this film feel like a minor one.

Granted, the big finale which sees vehicle mayhem and the inclusion of a train car is still quite good. I don’t enjoy it as much as the finale from The Road Warrior but it is very close in quality to that one. In fact, this finale is better shot, looks crisper and has some stellar stunts. However, it is less gritty and thus, not as badass as the finale from the previous film. But it is fun seeing the kids in the film get in on the action during this big chase.

Speaking of the kids, there are a lot of them in this movie. But all the ones that have lines and are key characters are really good. This movie could have gone south really quickly with its overabundance of child actors but they certainly add more to the film than they take away.

This is definitely a film with three acts and each act has a very distinct feeling and tone to it. From a narrative standpoint, this is the best structured film and tells the best story out of all four Mad Max pictures.

Beyond Thunderdome gets a bad rap from some and while I wish it had been more of an R rated film than a PG-13 one, I’m still pretty satisfied with it and I think it’s aged pretty darn well.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: all the other Mad Max films, as well as other post-apocalyptic car and biker movies, most of which were ripoffs of this.

Film Review: The Road Warrior (1981)

Also known as: Mad Max 2 (original title), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (US)
Release Date: December 24th, 1981 (Australia)
Directed by: George Miller
Written by: Terry Hayes, George Miller, Brian Hannant
Music by: Brian May
Cast: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Mike Preston, Max Phipps, Vernon Wells, Emil Minty, Kjell Nilsson, Virginia Hey

Kennedy Miller Productions, Warner Bros., 96 Minutes

Review:

“Two days ago, I saw a vehicle that would haul that tanker. You want to get out of here? You talk to me.” – Max

The Road Warrior is a good example of a sequel being better than its predecessor. Some people might disagree but this was the best version of a Mad Max film until 2015’s Fury Road was released. But this is, in my opinion, the best of the original trilogy that starred Mel Gibson.

The world is pretty much destroyed in this film. While we saw a world on the brink of collapse in the first picture, by the time we get to this one, the world has been reduced to nothing but desert, as least as far as we know.

With that, the two most sought after commodities are water and oil. But here, oil is basically gold as those who can still run their machines, have a strong advantage over those who can’t.

The story sees Max discover a community that has a good amount of oil but they are being threatened by a vicious gang that looks more like barbarians than normal, well meaning people. The evil gang, led by Lord Humungus, keeps the community trapped behind their walls as they use their vehicles to run down anyone who comes outside. Max strikes a deal with the nice people being terrorized and we see him have to take on these vile villains in the most high octane way possible.

The Road Warrior is both barbaric and fantastical but still grounded in a sort of gritty reality. It came out just before the ’80s sword and sorcery trend took hold and while it has strong similarities to the genre, it doesn’t rely on magic and monsters but instead, machines and human monsters.

The movie feels otherworldly but not in a way that it doesn’t seem plausible or reflective of a possible future for humanity. Coming out during the Cold War, regardless of this being an Australian film, adds a natural heightened sense of fear. George Miller made something that effectively tapped into those societal and political concerns while also making just a badass action movie that has aged well, despite its weird fashion sense. But that ’80s punk meets new wave look also gives the film some of its charm.

While the film certainly doesn’t need to rely on Mel Gibson, his inclusion here adds and extra level of gravitas and personality to the picture. But I also have to give some credit to bad guy character actor Vernon Wells, as the mohawked savage Wez.

The Road Warrior is capped off by a twenty minute action finale that sees the greatest vehicular chase scene in cinematic history for its time. And frankly, it’s only really been upstaged by it’s later sequel Fury Road. I could say that maybe some movies have had better car chases but what gives this movie something special is how there is a variety of weird vehicles from cars, trucks, motorcycles and even a gyrocopter.

I love this movie. It’s one of the top action films of the ’80s and arguably, all-time. It’s simple, it’s tough and it gets the job done while surprising you along the way.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: all the other Mad Max films, as well as other post-apocalyptic car and biker movies, most of which were ripoffs of this.

Film Review: Mad Max (1979)

Also known as: Interceptor (Italy)
Release Date: April 12th, 1979 (Australia)
Directed by: George Miller
Written by: James McCausland, George Miller, Byron Kennedy
Music by: Brian May
Cast: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Geoff Parry, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Roger Ward

Kennedy Miller Productions, Crossorads, Mad Max Films, Roadshow Film Distributors, 88 Minutes, 93 Minutes (Special Edition)

Review:

“I am the Nightrider. I’m a fuel injected suicide machine. I am a rocker, I am a roller, I am an out-of-controller!” – Nightrider

The original Mad Max is quite different than its three sequels. It exists in a time where things aren’t as post-apocalyptic as they would become by just the second film in the series. Granted, the apocalypse seems to exist already, to an extent, but the world isn’t as empty and desolate as what we would see just three years later in The Road Warrior.

Max is a cop in this film and it is his duty to intercept terrible people that terrorize the Australian highways. He’s got a badass car, a cool jacket, cool glasses and eventually, an even more badass car.

As much as I enjoy this film, it is actually my least favorite of the four movies to date. It is high octane and balls to the wall nuts when the action is at its peak but it is also the slowest moving chapter in the franchise. But it was also the template for what would come and George Miller would continue to get better and learn new skills as the series rolled on.

This certainly isn’t a weak film, it’s very good. It just feels out of place when looked at within the context of the whole film series. As its own picture, independent of the other three, it’s a really good demolition derby on screen.

I think the thing that holds this back is it is more of an origin story. The thing is, Max doesn’t really become Mad Max until the end when a biker gang murders his wife and infant son. But that intense moment comes late in the film, which only gives us the true Max for the last ten or twenty minutes.

But don’t get me wrong, the story is good and it is necessary to set the stage for what comes after this picture. I’m just not a big fan of origin stories but that’s not this film’s fault, it’s due to how many superhero movies I’ve seen in my three-plus decades on this planet. But if I am being honest, Mad Max predates nearly all of those movies so it certainly isn’t derivative in that regard.

This film feels small though. Especially when compared to the installments after it. That’s also not a bad thing but everything after this has more of an epic feel to it. Also, the world is much more threatening once we move on past this chapter.

Mad Max is a solid motion picture and a good framework for the character and his world. I just seem to get more enjoyment from The Road Warrior and especially from Fury Road, which is damn close to perfection.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: all the other Mad Max films, as well as other post-apocalyptic car and biker movies, most of which were ripoffs of this.

Film Review: Christine (1983)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Christine (complete title)
Release Date: December 9th, 1983
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Bill Phillips
Based on: Christine by Stephen King
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton, William Ostrander

Delphi Premier Productions, Polar Film, Columbia Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Whoa, whoa. You better watch what you say about my car. She’s real sensitive.” – Arnie Cunningham

I gew up in a time when John Carpenter was king. I was a big fan but somehow I always forget that this is in his oeuvre because I associate it more with the slew of Stephen King adaptations from the time.

That being said, it is still very Carpenter but it is also very much King. I guess it’s a pretty good marriage between two of the top horror icons of that era. And frankly, I still love this film even though I hadn’t seen it in quite awhile and forgot how much I enjoy it.

This still plays very well and is a great film in regards to how it builds up suspense.

I was also really impressed with the special effects, especially in regards to the scene where the car repairs itself in front of Keith Gordon’s Arnie. Man, that sequence is spectacular and considering that it was all done with practical effects in a time when CGI was still very primitive, makes me respect how perfectly they pulled it off behind the scenes.

Keith Gordon carries the film with his performance and he does a fantastic job transitioning from the weakling nerd that he is in the beginning to a kid driven by his obsession for his car and finally, as a character that is completely possessed by evil.

The performances by the other two leads, John Stockwell and Alexandra Paul, were also good. It’s the famous character actors that give this film a bit more seasoning though, as both Harry Dean Stanton and Robert Prosky deliver some really good scenes in the film.

I really liked John Carpenter’s score but his music always had a certain presence that accented the frights in his films. This score is no different and his use of audible effects seemed more refined than what he did in Halloween. Not to take anything away from his audio trickery in Halloween but I think that he really found his groove with it here. And while it may go unnoticed by most people who watch this film, it’s these little flourishes that sets Carpenter apart from the pack and gives his films more of an edge.

This is a good coming of age story that doesn’t have a happy ending for everyone. It’s creepy but it’s effective. And I’ve always loved that there really isn’t an explanation in regards to the car being possessed by evil. It’s a machine that just has to kill.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Stephen King films of the ’70s and ’80s: Maximum OverdriveSalem’s LotCarrieSilver Bullet, etc.

Film Review: Daddy-O (1958)

Also known as: Out On Probation (working title), Downbeat
Release Date: March, 1958
Directed by: Lou Place
Written by: David Moessinger
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Dick Contino, Sandra Giles, Bruno Vesota, John McClure

American International Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Couldn’t help ya if I wanted to, fella. Gym policy.” – Bruce Green

Daddy-O is really only notable for two things.

One, it was the first motion picture scored by movie music maestro John Williams.

Two, it was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Other than those two things, this would probably have been lost to time, an ancient relic forgotten and swallowed up by the massive trash heap of terrible movies that’s buried somewhere deep, underneath Hollywood.

The film stars accordion maestro Dick Contino and a lot of bad ’50s styled pop tunes. It features youth trying too hard to be counterculture, a badly filmed car race and dancing that looks more like mental patients having a party in the seizure ward.

The humor is dry and terrible, the dialogue is atrocious, the direction is ineffective and the cinematography is so basic that it has an app that sends push notifications when it’s pumpkin spice latte season.

Daddy-O, for all its faults, isn’t the worst movie ever featured on MST3K but it is still tough to get through on its own. Like most MST3K movies, it’s best watched within the framework of that show because there’s too much material to riff on and you’d be bored senseless otherwise.

However, I did actually like the music that John Williams contributed to the film. But when the opening credits of booming Williams tunes to the sight of a car wheel spinning is the highlight of a film, you’re left with a long strip of celluloid that would have been more useful cut into 4 inch strips for bookmarks.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other terrible excuses for old school youth movies: The BeatniksUntamed Youth, Catalina Caper and The Choppers.