Film Review: Cannonball! (1976)

Also known as: Carquake! (UK)
Release Date: July 6th, 1976
Directed by: Paul Bartel
Written by: Paul Bartel, Donald C. Simpson
Music by: David A. Axelrod
Cast: David Carradine, Bill McKinney, Veronica Hamel, Gerrit Graham, Robert Carradine, Belinda Balaski, Mary Woronov, James Keach, Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Kaplan, Roger Corman, Don Simpson, Martin Scorsese (uncredited), Sylvester Stallone (uncredited)

Cross Country Productions, Harbor Productions, New World Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“I thought this car could beat anything on the road.” – Linda Maxwell, “This car’s a winner.” – Coy ‘Cannonball’ Buckman

A year after Paul Bartel directed the cult classic Death Race 2000, he made a very similar film with a lot of the same core cast members, as well as producer and B-movie legend, Roger Corman.

In this film, take the Death Race 2000 concept and strip away the futuristic sci-fi setting, the slapstick uber violence and the plot to assassinate a corrupt president and you’ve essentially got the same film.

Granted, Cannonball! isn’t as good and I kind of blame that on stripping away the things that made Death Race 2000 so unique. This is still really enjoyable, though, and fans of that more beloved flick will probably dig this one too.

The race car driving hero is still David Carradine and he’s re-joined in the cast by Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel (the director), Sylvester Stallone in an uncredited cameo, as well as some of the other bit players.

Like Death Race, the film follows a cross-country auto race, all the wacky characters involved and all the crazy shenanigans of racers trying to sabotage and outperform one another.

I like a lot of the new additions to the cast like the always great Gerrit Graham, Robert Carradine, Bill McKinney, Belinda Balaski and the inclusion of Dick Miller, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Kaplan, Roger Corman (the producer), Don Simpson and Martin Scorsese, who is also uncredited for his appearance here.

The action is good, the comedy still works and this film has that unique Paul Bartel charm.

In the end, this isn’t quite a classic but it did help pave the way for all the other movies like it that followed for years to come.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000, as well as other cross-country racing movies of the ’70s and ’80s like the Cannonball Run films, The Gumball Rally and Speed Zone.

Film Review: Warrior of the Lost World (1983)

Also known as: Mad Rider (European VHS title), Warrior: Exterminador del 2000 (Uruguay), The Last Warrior (Germany)
Release Date: 1983 (Italy)
Directed by: David Worth
Written by: David Worth
Music by: Daniele Patucchi
Cast: Robert Ginty, Persis Khambatta, Donald Pleasence, Fred Williamson, Harrison Mueller Sr., Laura Nucci

A.D.I. Inc., Continental Motion Pictures, Royal Film, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Very bad mothers! Very bad mothers! Very bad mothers!” – Motorcycle

This is the final movie in my quest to review every film ever featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s been a long journey and I’m glad that I saved something I kind of like at the finish line.

At it’s core, this is a terrible and shitty movie. However, it falls into a weird niche that I’m a fan of: European (primarily Italian) ripoffs of Mad Max or other dystopian movies. And like a few others, this one has Fred Williamson in it. It also has Donald Pleasence but I’ll get to the actors shortly.

First off, this is a film that feels like it was rushed. The shot set ups are basic bitch shit and there isn’t much cinematography to speak of.

There’s barely any attention to detail given to anything in this film.

Most of the props are shoddy and cheap and even the super motorcycle looks like a lazily slapped together piece of crap. The effects are weak, the vehicle action lacks excitement and I’ve seen better vehicular carnage with my seven year-old self’s slot car track.

Additionally, despite the greatness of Fred Williamson and Donald Pleasence, the acting is abominable. Robert Ginty is so unlikable as the hero, you’ll find yourself begging for his death almost immediately. Persis Khambatta, who you may remember as the bald chick from the first Star Trek movie, is easy on the eyes but hard on everything else.

But with all that negativity I just dumped out, I still like this movie. And that’s because I love post-apocalyptic, Italian car crash movies that have no qualms about stealing from Mad Max, as well as a dozen other popular sci-fi action films from the era. Plus, Williamson and Pleasence sort of legitimize it and raise it up to a level that it could never reach without either of them.

When I started reviewing MST3K movies, I didn’t do it in any particular order and there wasn’t any real planning. I just started watching them pretty randomly while checking them off of the list. It’s pretty fitting that I ended this long, arduous quest with this picture. It’s just the perfect type of schlock for MST3K and it’s one of the movies that I actually like out of their nearly bottomless toilet bowl of cinematic poo.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other foreign ’80s Mad Max ripoffs.

Film Review: Teen-Age Strangler (1964)

Also known as: Terror In the Night (re-release title)
Release Date: 1964
Directed by: Ben Parker
Written by: Clark Davis
Music by: Danny Dean
Cast: Bill Bloom, John Ensign, Jo Canterbury, John Humphreys

Ajay Film Company, American Diversified Services, Original Six, 61 Minutes

Review:

“And he didn’t steal no bike either! I did!” – Mikey Walton

Mystery Science Theater 3000 never ran short of juvenile delinquent movies from the ’50s and ’60s and this picture is just one more to add to the list.

While this is a terrible movie, it’s kind of interesting in that this one is a proto-slasher film. There isn’t any actual slashing but there is a serial killer that is targeting teens and strangling them to death. I guess you could also consider this an American giallo, although it’s devoid of a vibrant color palette and anything resembling actual style.

This only clocks in at 61 minutes but it is still a slog to get through. It lacks excitement is littered with bad acting, questionable directing decisions and it’s a “how to” on how not to light a film.

It has an interesting enough plot though, as it’s about a delinquent kid suspected of the murders, who is actually innocent, but has no alibis to deflect suspicion.

In the end, the killer isn’t even a juvenile delinquent so maybe by 1964, these films were making some social progress and didn’t blame everything on angst-y teens in car/biker culture.

Despite all its flaws, it does have one thing working for it and that’s the light rockabilly score by Danny Dean, who is probably most known for fronting the rockabilly band Danny Dean and The Homewreckers. While that band wasn’t massively successful, Dean was a pretty talented musician for his scene and his contribution in this film, at the very least, gives it a feeling of authenticity.

Sadly, the film itself doesn’t do much to capitalize off of the tunes and mostly cancels out Dean’s work, as everything else is so lackluster that it drowns out the positives.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: other juvenile delinquent movies that made it on to MST3K.

Video Game Review: Spy Hunter (NES)

I wanted to replay the arcade version of this game but I couldn’t get the rom to work on MAME. So I went back and played the original Nintendo port of the game, as I still own the cartridge.

This is one of those games that I used to play a lot, whether it was the arcade or Nintendo version. Granted, at the time, I didn’t know that it just replays in cycles and that there isn’t really an end to it.

The NES version of the game was the one I played most and for a port of the arcade version, it’s really well done and not too different.

Spy Hunter is still fun to play but I guess I am less motivated at trying to conquer it since you actually can’t. It’s an endless loop and because of that, there’s not much about it that feels rewarding.

In fact, the most rewarded I ever felt playing it, as a kid, was when I used to reach the boat dock and then got to play the boat stage, which usually led to a pretty quick death.

Based off of the game’s box art, which featured a bunch of vehicles, I always assumed that the game had all sorts of playable modes that were just really hard to access, due to the game’s difficulty once you get to the boat stage.

Other kids my age thought the same thing, as there was always that one kid that claimed he flew the plane or drove the motorcycle. Now I know that those kids were liars.

Anyway, this is still a good game and a good way to kill twenty minutes but without a real objective, it seems kind of pointless.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other vertical scrolling vehicle shooters for NES.

Film Review: Black Moon Rising (1986)

Also known as: Black Rider (Japan), Black Moon (Germany, Finland), Luna Negra (Spain)
Release Date: January 10th, 1986
Directed by: Harley Cokliss
Written by: John Carpenter, William Gray, Desmond Nakano
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton, Robert Vaughn, Richard Jaeckel, Bubba Smith, Dan Shor, Keenan Wynn, Lee Ving, William Sanderson, Nick Cassavetes, Don Keith Opper

Sequoia Productions, New World Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Even the body is unique. it’s made out of Kelvar – the same material they use in bulletproof vests.” – Earl Windom

I vividly remember watching this movie on New Year’s Eve 1990 with my cousin Billy, as we were waiting for midnight and the ball to fall and ring in a new decade.

Why’s that important? It’s not. Other than to say that I remembered watching this, liking it but then never knowing what the movie was and thus, I wasn’t able to see it again until now. Frankly, I had forgotten about it but then I randomly came across the trailer on YouTube while researching something else and it immediately sparked that memory.

And I was pretty stoked because a thirty year mystery had been solved.

However, I’m not sure how I didn’t remember more of the film, as it has a pretty decent cast full of a lot of talent I would’ve known, even as a kid in 1990. Hell, it’s got Bubba Smith in it and I’ve seen the first six Police Academy movies about a hundred times each. Not to mention Lee Ving, who I wouldn’t have recognized as the lead singer of Fear but I would’ve recognized from Clue and Streets of Fire.

The real kicker though, is that this has Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton and Robert Vaughn in it and somehow that slipped down the memory hole.

What I didn’t know until seeing it now, is that it was written by John f’n Carpenter in a time when the dude was most certainly on his A-game.

All that being said, the movie is just kind of okay. It’s not as great as I perceived it as a kid but nothing ever really is. But it’s still an enjoyable action crime film that’s all about a high tech supercar and different people’s attempts at stealing it.

For Linda Hamilton it felt like a fitting role between the first two Terminator movies, as she’s sort of a mix between damsel in distress (most of Terminator) and kind of a badass (Terminator 2). And this was certainly a better role for her in 1986 than her biggest film of that year, the abysmal King Kong Lives.

This also has a scene in it where a car jumps through the window of one skyscraper, flies through the air and then lands safely in another skyscraper. So for those of you that thought that stunt was invented for those Fast & Furious movies, this film did it first, three decades earlier.

Anyway, this was a good, solid way to spend 100 minutes. That is, if you love to watch ’80s action, suspend your disbelief and like a lot of ham and lead in your diet.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other action movies from New World Pictures and Cannon Films.

Film Review: Girls Town (1959)

Also known as: The Innocent and the Damned (reissue title)
Release Date: October 5th, 1959
Directed by: Charles F. Haas
Written by: Robert Hardy Andrews, Robert Smith
Music by: Van Alexander, Paul Anka
Cast: Mamie Van Doren, Mel Tormé, Ray Anthony, Paul Anka, James Mitchum, The Platters

Albert Zugsmith Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 89 Minutes

Review:

“This is Chip’s father.” – Michael Clyde, “You killed my son!” – Mr. Gardener, “I’m sorry for you, Mr. Gardener, but you’re dialing the wrong number.” – Silver Morgan

This movie was the focal point of the first episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s sixth season, the first full season to star Mike Nelson. It was also the last episode that I needed to cover for that season, as I had watched and reviewed the rest of the pictures from that lot. In fact, I have one episode left in season four and then a handful or so in season five.

So on this journey of reviewing every film featured on MST3K, I have come across a lot of ’50s delinquent movies. While this one is equal to the quality of the rest of the lot, which doesn’t say much, this may be the most star-studded of them, as it features rising star Mamie Van Doren, as well as musicians Mel Tormé, Paul Anka and The Platters. It also has James Mitchum in it but James’ career never rose to the heights that his father’s did.

Sadly, despite the musical flourish, Girls Town is a pretty boring movie.

The story follows Van Doren’s Silver Morgan, who is sent to a Catholic reform school, where she doesn’t quite fit in. Additionally, Silver has been accused of killing a rapist but the girl that actually did the killing was Silver’s sister. The sister is then blackmailed by a creep who is into “hands-off drag racing”. The same creep has plans of selling the sister off to some Tijuana slave traders.

Yes, that’s really the plot. I didn’t pull any of that out of my ass. It’s fucking insane, I know.

And well, the film itself is just a baffling mess that deals with heavy subjects like rape, sex slavery and swooning over Paul f’n Anka. That’s pretty hardcore shit for 1959!

Anyway, there’s nothing all that noteworthy about the film, other than its cast and how nuts the story is.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other delinquent movies featured on MST3K.

Film Review: The Wraith (1986)

Also known as: Turbocop (Mexico), Interceptor (Germany)
Release Date: October, 1986 (Tokyo International Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Mike Marvin
Written by: Mike Marvin
Music by: Michael Hoenig, J. Peter Robinson
Cast: Charlies Sheen, Nick Cassavetes, Sherilyn Fenn, Randy Quaid, Clint Howard, Griffin O’Neal

New Century Entertainment Corporation, Alliance Entertainment, Turbo Productions, 93 Minutes

Review:

“You listen to me, you son-of-a-bitch! There’s a kid out there usin’ his car to kill people, not that it’s such a big deal since it seems to be your gang he’s got it in for… so, if you guys try to take the law into your own hands, and that killer turns up dead, I’m gonna see you all sniffin’ cyanide in the Arizona gas chamber.” – Sheriff Loomis

This is one of those movies that used to come on late at night on cable, usually with an introduction by Joe Bob Briggs via TNT’s MonsterVision. I always got glued to the set whenever it was on though, as there is just something so surreal and bizarre about it.

The plot is basically the same as The Crow, except the dead guy looking for revenge isn’t an invincible goth dude with a pet bird. Instead, he’s Charlie Sheen and he has the ability to turn into a ghost car. But then, that’s kind of confusing because he ends up giving the car to his little brother at the end, as he goes off into the sunset on his motorcycle with Audrey from Twin Peaks.

Anyway, Tucson is overrun by a gang of race car thugs. They bully people into racing them, cheat to win and then take their car. Charlie Sheen in his previous, less dreamy form, was murdered by the gang because he was having sex with Audrey from Twin Peaks, who the gang leader is obsessed over.

Sheen comes back, turns into a ghost car a.k.a. a Dodge M4S Interceptor and kills the gang members, one at a time, in races that end with them usually being blown to bits. Although, their bodies remain intact with their eyes looking like they’ve been burnt out. I guess Ghost Car Charlie sucks their souls out through their eyes or something. Honestly, it’s not really clear.

The film also stars Nick Cassavetes, son of John, as the gang leader, Clint Howard, as a a guy that looks like a ginger Beavis with glasses, and Randy Quaid, as the no nonsense sheriff that ain’t got time for all this supernatural shit. But the sheriff doesn’t really care about solving the case, as the ghost car is killing off the scumbags of Tucson.

I can’t particularly call this a good film and really, it’ll resonate with a certain type of movie fan. Mostly, fans of ’80s schlock with a sci-fi and supernatural bent. Really, this is a common late night cable movie of the late ’80s and ’90s, so if that’s your thing, you should enjoy this.

There’s not much plot to muck up the insanity and surrealness, which in these type of movies is a real plus. We don’t need all this wacky shit explained, just serve it to us in mass amounts and let us feast.

I can’t say that this is a movie that helped anyone’s career but I certainly don’t think that it hurt anyone’s either. It’s a hearty helping of ham with a dopey but fun script, executed as well as it could be with ’80s special effects and a tight budget.

Plus, it’s got a lot of solid car action.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The Crow, which may have somewhat ripped this story off.

Comic Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

Published: May 20th, 2015 – August 5th, 2015
Written by: Nico Lathouris, Mark Sexton, George Miller (story)
Art by: Peter Pound
Based on: Mad Max: Fury Road by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris

Vertigo Comics, DC Comics, 151 Pages

Review:

Typically, movie adaptation comics aren’t very good. Sometimes one will surprise you. But I guess that this one is unique in that it isn’t an actual adaptation of Mad Max: Fury Road but is instead, an anthology prequel that follows some of the main characters, establishing their backstories before the events of the film.

Also, these stories come from George Miller himself. Now I’m not sure how involved he was with this, as he could’ve written a very detailed outline or this could have just been taken from his notes when he wrote the film. Either way, the finished product is damn good for fans of the movie and the franchise.

This also confirms that this Max is the same Max that Mel Gibson played and that all the films do share continuity. It delves into Max’s previous tales to add context to where the man is by the time Fury Road starts. And with that, his story here also comes with some extra tragedy to help set the stage for Fury Road.

What’s also interesting, is that this comic has ties to the video game continuity, as the big bad from the 2015 game is seen within the pages of this comic and is referred to by name. You even have an understanding of where he stands in the bigger picture alongside Immortan Joe.

The plots of all the stories here are intriguing and I’d say that this is a must read if you want a fuller experience than just what you get with the film. I love added context and none of this seems like it was done just to cash in on the film’s success, as the people behind this cared about the movie and the world its characters inhabit.

I really dug the art style too, as it felt in tune with the movie but also had an older, grittier pulpy feel to it. I liked the muted colors and the high contrast. Emotions were conveyed well on the faces of the characters and while it may feel somewhat understated, it’s pretty damn perfect and gets the job done.

Sadly, I bought and read this digitally, as I was unsure about it. Now that I’ve read it and loved it, I’m going to round up the single floppy issues.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the Mad Max movies, specifically Fury Road. Also, the 2015 Mad Max video game.

Documentary Review: Road to Wasteland (2017)

Release Date: June 24th, 2017 (France – TV)
Directed by: Sébastien Antoine, Vivien Floris
Written by: Sébastien Antoine, Vivien Floris

AB Productions, 53 Minutes

Review:

I’m glad that I watched this documentary simply for the fact that it made me aware of this subculture within Mad Max fandom, as well as the annual Wasteland event that sees these people come together to show off their Mad Max inspired vehicles.

This was a pretty straightforward documentary with typical talking head interviews but everyone had a good story, a cool vehicle and expressed their love of this weekend festival with convincing passion.

No one here seemed like they were overselling or that they weren’t genuinely in love with this event. It’s the kind of the passion that rubs off and makes you want to experience it as well.

This was only 53 minutes, as it was made for television but this could have been longer and been just as interesting.

I’ve seen about a billion documentaries about different types of fandom and they are all pretty much the same. But few are this cool.

If you are a fan of the Mad Max films or even a part of some subculture born out of that, you’ll probably find great enjoyment in this.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about specific fandoms.

Film Review: Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

Release Date: July 7th, 1971 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Monte Hellman
Written by: Rudolph Wurlitzer, Will Corry
Music by: Billy James
Cast: James Taylor, Warren Oates, Laurie Bird, Dennis Wilson, Harry Dean Stanton

Michael Laughlin Enterprises, Universal Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Performance and image, that’s what it’s all about.” – G.T.O.

1969’s Easy Rider really left its mark on people, especially the film industry. It’s pretty apparent that it had an effect on this picture, as far as its tone and narrative. But that’s not a bad thing, as Hollywood really started to evolve around the turn of the ’70s. Films got darker, more personal and much more experimental, as indie filmmakers started to redefine what a motion picture could be.

I also find it interesting that this came out the same year as Vanishing Point, which also features a cool car, a plot full of hopelessness and a gritty realness that wasn’t common in films before this time.

Now this can feel like a slow moving picture but it’s got a lot of energy and a strong spirit. None of these characters are all that likable but there’s something about each of them that is intriguing and lures you into their orbit.

I really think that the glue of the picture is Laurie Bird, who plays a character simply referred to as “The Girl”. She is the object of every man’s desire in this film and it is kind of unsettling, as she is very much a minor and isn’t, in any way, glammed up or all that beautiful. She’s pretty obviously a runaway that sleeps her way to free rides across the country with no real direction in life and no personal aspirations to speak of. But her part in this really puts the other characters into perspective, as they are all vying for her companionship, even though she’s just a ghost that comes into their lives for a brief moment in time, probably because she’s got nothing else to do. And ultimately, she bolts at the end of the story, leaving the men pining over her in her dust.

If anything, this film is a strong character study with understated performances, except in regards to Warren Oates’ G.T.O. Oates was stellar in this as a pathological liar, who gives riders in his car a different backstory every step of this journey. But he provided just about all of the personality in the film, even if he comes off as a middle aged loser running away from a life he failed at.

The plot is pretty lose and not focused but it doesn’t need to be, as we aren’t so much concerned with the beginning and the end of this “race” in the film, so much as we are just peeking into the lives of broken people in an era where America sort of had a dark cloud over it between the Vietnam War, the Nixon presidency, a drug boom and coming out of the Free Love Movement.

This will not be a film that everyone will enjoy and those looking for car action should look elsewhere. Maybe check out the original Gone In 60 Seconds. But for those who enjoy films like Easy Rider and Vanishing Point, they’ll probably also enjoy this.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Vanishing Point, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and Easy Rider.