Film Review: Loaded Weapon 1 (1993)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1 (complete title)
Release Date: February 5th, 1993
Directed by: Gene Quintano
Written by: Don Holley, Gene Quintano, Tori Tellem
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Samuel L. Jackson, Kathy Ireland, Frank McRae, Tim Curry, William Shatner, Jon Lovitz, Lance Kinsey, Denis Leary, F. Murray Abraham, Danielle Nicolet, Beverly Johnson, Ken Ober, Bill Nunn, Lin Shaye, James Doohan, Erik Estrada, Larry Wilcox, Corey Feldman, Whoopi Goldberg, Paul Gleason, Phil Hartman, Richard Moll, J. T. Walsh, Rick Ducommun, Vito Scotti, Charles Napier, Charles Cyphers, Denise Richards, Allyce Beasley, Joyce Brothers, Charlie Sheen, Robert Shaye, Chirstopher Lambert (deleted scene), Bruce Willis (uncredited)

National Lampoon, 3 Arts Entertainment, New Line Cinema, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Nice weather? You think we’re having… nice weather? I guess you didn’t lose the only one that meant anything in your life. I guess you don’t feel burned out by the human misery and despair perpetrated by the criminal vermin that infest every pore of this decaying city, forcing you to guzzle cheap wine and cheaper whiskey to dull the pain that shatters your heart, rips at your soul, and keeps your days forever gray. What flavor Icee you got today?” – Colt

Regular readers of this site probably already know that I’m not a big fan of parody movies outside of Mel Brooks’ work. However, ever now and again, I discover a parody film that is actually quite good.

I never saw National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1 because I didn’t have much interest, even when it came out in 1993 and I was a huge Lethal Weapon fan. These films tend to be predictable, lame and lowest common denominator humor. While this is pretty low brow and a bit predictable, it wasn’t lame and it was actually really well done and executed.

I think this stands above other films like it because it has a really solid cast with several heavy-hitters that just commit to the material so convincingly, it makes everything work. You buy into the goofy jokes and the absurdity of it all and frankly, Emilio Estevez and Samuel L. Jackson had good chemistry. I wouldn’t say that it was on the level of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover but they played off of each other nicely and looked like they were having a blast playing these characters.

WIlliam Shatner and Tim Curry were both enjoyable as villain characters. Shatner went into this with no fucks given and it just made his performance that much more entertaining. I loved his accent, his facial expressions and the guy isn’t just a sci-fi legend, he’s a master of comedic timing.

This ridiculous film is just a lot of fun. If you like buddy action films and have a sense of humor, you’ll probably dig this.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the Lethal Weapon films and the dozen other movies this parodies, as well as other parody films of the time.

Film Review: Escape From New York (1981)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (complete title), Escape From New York City (script title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1981 (USA Film Festival)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Nick Castle
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Issac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Frank Doubleday, Nancy Stephens, Buck Flower, Ox Baker, John Diehl, Carmen Filpi, Jamie Lee Curtis (voice)

Embassy Pictures, International Film Investors, Goldcrest Films International, 99 Minutes, 106 Minutes (extended version)

Review:

“It’s the survival of the human race, Plissken. Something you don’t give a shit about.” – Bob Hauk

When I was a really young kid, walking up and down the aisles of mom and pop video stores throughout Florida, I always used to come across the box art for Escape From New York and stare in awe. It’s one of the coolest and most iconic posters of all-time. Luckily for those who have seen the movie, it actually lives up to the incredible art that adorned the walls of movie theaters and video cassette boxes.

In fact, I’d call this the second most quintessential Kurt Russell movie just behind Big Trouble In Little China. The reason that other film gets the slight edge is because it shows the fun, comedic side of Russell more so than his gruffer more badass performance as Snake Plissken in this movie. Still, this is Kurt Russell at his absolute best and it’s not a surprise to me that he views this film as his favorite.

What’s great about this movie though, is that it doesn’t need to be carried by Russell. You’ve got a pretty solid ensemble cast of great character actors, all of whom bring their A-game and make this a much better picture than it would have been otherwise.

John Carpenter tapped the well of talent that he’s familiar with in Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers, Tom Atkins, Frank Doubleday, Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis (doing a voice cameo) but he also brought in legends like Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Borgnine and Issac Hayes. There are even bit parts for guys who are in a ton of flicks, most notably John Diehl, whose death I still haven’t gotten over in Miami Vice, and Carmen Filpi, who always played the old crazy guy in everything.

The film is about a post-apocalyptic New York City that is walled off from the rest of America and is now run by ruthless gangs. Snake is sent in to rescue the President, who is being held hostage by the baddest of all the gangs. If he fails, he will be killed by an implant that was injected into him. Honestly, that’s a little plot detail that was probably stolen for the Suicide Squad comics and movie. But then again, the whole concept of a walled off metropolis run by gangs was also stolen for the superb Batman story No Man’s Land.

That being said, this film created a lot of urban post-apocalyptic tropes that other films, television shows, books and comics would heavily borrow from.

John Carpenter really made magic with this film though. It was one of those perfect storm scenarios where everything seemed to go right, at least if you’re looking at the final product.

The film looks great, sounds great and has such a thick, brooding atmosphere that there really isn’t anything else like it. Sure, people have tried to emulate and recreate what this movie was but no one else has come close to it. Not even Carpenter, who gave us the sequel Escape From L.A., fifteen years later.

It’s hard to peg what makes this film so great but if I had to, I’d say that it’s everything. From the cast, the visual style, the story and the musical score, which was done by Carpenter, himself, and Alan Howarth, every thing just works and comes together like a perfect casserole.

Escape From New York is moody and cool. It’s a great example of Carpenter using all of his strengths and sort of misdirecting away from his weaknesses. While this isn’t his best film, it’s in his top two or three and definitely takes the cake out of his action flicks.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel, as well as other ’80s and ’90s John Carpenter movies.

Film Review: Death Wish II (1982)

Also known as: Death Sentence (working title)
Release Date: February 11th, 1982 (UK)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: David Engelbach
Based on: characters by Brian Garfield
Music by: Jimmy Page
Cast: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Vincent Gardenia, J. D. Cannon, Anthony Franciosa, Charles Cyphers, Laurence Fishburne III, Roberta Collins

American-European Productions, Golan-Globus Productions, Landers-Roberts Productions, City Films, Filmways Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“You believe in Jesus?” – Paul Kersey, “Yes, I do.” – Stomper, “Well, you’re gonna meet him. [Paul shoots Stomper dead]”

The first three Death Wish movies are classics, as far as I’m concerned. And even if this is my least favorite of the first three, it is still a damn fine action picture with barrels full of flammable testosterone ready to explode off of the screen.

What gives this film an extra edge to the original is that it was put out by Cannon Films, the true maestros of the ’80s action flick. This was an unapologetic balls to wall inferno with Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey returning to form and then getting even more hardcore.

Years have passed since the first movie but this picks up with Kersey, now living in Los Angeles, bringing his daughter home for a visit. Since the first picture, Kersey’s daughter has been living in a mental institution due to how screwed up she is from the opening sequence of the first film that saw her raped while her mother was murdered in front of her.

As Kersey and his daughter arrive home, they are attacked, their maid is murdered and the daughter is abducted and raped by vile thugs. Kersey, without hesitation goes right back into vigilante mode. All the while, his new girlfriend, who he plans to marry, is pulled into Kersey’s violent orbit.

This film has more of a direct focus on its baddies, as Kersey wants to murder the hell out of the gang that took his daughter and were responsible for her suicide. In the first film, Kersey basically just fights street level crime in all its forms. Here, he has no problem fucking up a few thugs but he has his sights on one specific gang.

Death Wish II also does a good job of fleshing out this gang and its members. You know them more intimately than the scumbags from the first movie. One of them is played by a very young Laurence Fishburne but most of them are recognizable and memorable because the film did a good job of giving them all visual cues like the dude with the buzzmullet, the one with the leather dog collar and the one with the frizzy hair and backwards flatcap. Even Fishburne wore thin funky sunglasses that helped identify him in a sea of degenerates.

Now I can’t call this a better film than the original but it’s a very worthy successor to it. It seems darker, more violent and it doesn’t waste time trying to make a political or social message to the viewer. It just trusts that you hate garbage humans and that you relish in seeing them suffer for their sins. And man, Charles Bronson makes them fucking suffer.

Death Wish II is what an action movie should be: no nonsense, guns blazing, unapologetic masculinity.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Death Wish movies and the Dirty Harry film series.

Film Review: The Fog (1980)

Release Date: February 1st, 1980
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: John Carpenter
Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, John Houseman, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers, Buck Flower

Debra Hill Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know what happened to Antonio Bay tonight. Something came out of the fog and tried to destroy us. In one moment, it vanished. But if this has been anything but a nightmare, and if we don’t wake up to find ourselves safe in our beds, it could come again. To the ships at sea who can hear my voice, look across the water, into the darkness. Look for the fog.” – Stevie Wayne

I was never a huge fan of The Fog but for some reason, I like this film a lot more now. I did enjoy it when I was younger but it wasn’t something I felt the need to revisit as often as the typical slasher films of the day. This has slasher elements to it but it certainly is not a clone of HalloweenFriday the 13th or anything else similar.

This is a quintessential John Carpenter flick. It also stars just about all of his top dogs except Kurt Russell and Donald Pleasence. You do have Adrienne Barbeau, in what is my favorite role of hers, as well as Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins and Carpenter regulars Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis. The cast also boasts Hal Holbrook, who starred with Barbeau two years later in Creepshow. We also get to see Janet Leigh, Curtis’ real mother who is most remembered for Psycho.

The threat in this film is a mysterious fog that rolls into a small coastal California town. The fog carries some swashbuckling zombies that want their gold back. The nautical zombies don’t actually swashbuckle, instead they use their blades like a slasher would.

Barbeau plays a single mother who owns a lighthouse where she broadcasts over the radio. From atop the town, she can see the fog rolling in and tries to give the town a play-by-play on what is happening but ultimately, the ghosts come to haunt her as well.

I like this film a lot and I think it is underrated, even if it did get a crappy remake in 2005.

Unfortunately, the swashbuckling ghost zombies aren’t the most unsettling thing about the picture. Something about the Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis hookup was just bothersome to me. I like both actors but when this was made Curtis was 21 while Atkins was 44. As a 38 year-old man, I can’t even talk to a 25 year-old girl and find anything in common with her, just sayin’.

The Fog is a solid movie. It also has one of the best scores that John Carpenter has ever produced. It uses its fog and lighting effects perfectly and the monsters are damn cool.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Halloween II (1981)

Release Date: October 30th, 1981
Directed by: Rick Rosenthal
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Charles Cyphers, Lance Guest

De Laurentiis Entertainment, Debra Hill Productions, Universal Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“He was my patient for fifteen years. He became an obsession with me until I realized that there was nothing within him, neither conscious nor reason that was… even remotely human. An hour ago I stood up and fired six shots into him and then he just got up and walked away. I am talking about the real possibility that he is still out there!” – Dr. Loomis

Picking up immediately where the first film left off, Halloween II is a perfect continuation of Halloween, In fact, although I am in the minority, I like it a bit better than the first, even though they are both pretty much on par, as far as quality.

In this film, Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode is carted off to the hospital after she has been stabbed by Michael Myers in the previous film. She is sedated and put into immediate danger because of that. Lance Guest a.k.a. the Last Starfighter a.k.a. the last guy to kill Jaws is a paramedic that develops a crush on her and vows to keep her safe.

Donald Pleasence returns as Dr. Sam Loomis and he is still on the hunt for Myers and has pretty much gone batshit crazy, at this point. I love Loomis’ insanity in this, even though he is supposed to be a psychologist and there is no way the cops would let this crazed madman run around town on Halloween with a loaded gun, which does actually lead to a teen being killed (in the most awesome way possible) and Loomis still packing heat.

The hospital setting is a good twist on the story and it takes it out of the typical suburban setting that slasher films always seem to take place in, if not at a summer camp. Besides, the place was practically empty (not sure why but who cares?) and it allowed the staff to do that sex stuff that always gets characters snuffed out in a proper slasher pic.

Michael Myers went on to show that he is even more indestructible than the ending of the first film implied. It also expanded the cool Halloween mythos, which I like in the original film series even if a lot of fans prefer the completely random seeming killing spree of this film’s predecessor. It is also really damn cool that this is literally the same night as the first movie.

Curtis is heralded as a scream queen and one of the best and she certainly gets her screams in here. She is more of a damsel in distress, once again, but at least in her later appearances in the film series, even though those films are shit, she grew some iron balls and took on Michael head on.

This film doesn’t build suspense as well as the first but it ups the gore quite a bit, which isn’t a bad thing in these types of pictures. The gore level certainly isn’t something that just takes over the film and makes it a pointless blood feast. Everything still works in this outing.

While Jamie Lee Curtis would leave the franchise for 17 years after this chapter, it was a good use of her character and helped develop where things would go when Michael Myers would return in Halloween IV. He skipped out on Halloween III because that film, an awesome picture, was its own unrelated story.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Halloween films.

Film Review: Halloween (1978)

Release Date: October 25th, 1978
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: John Carpenter
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers

Compass International, Falcon Productions, Debra Hill Productions, 91 Minutes

Review:

“I met him, fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding; and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.” – Dr. Loomis

I’m not a massive fan of Halloween, the original film, as most people are. While I have loved slasher movies since I was a kid, and while I love the Halloween franchise, as a whole, my first real love in horror was Freddy Krueger and A Nightmare On Elm Street, followed by Jason Voorhees and Friday the 13th.

In debates, hardcore Michael Myers fans always want to point out that he came first. Yes, he did debut before Freddy and Jason. But despite the public consensus, Myers was not the first slasher. He may have popularized the genre but Halloween wasn’t anything new, even in 1978. There was Black Christmas, a nice little slasher from Canada that came out in 1974 and was actually a better movie, in my opinion. The Italians, specifically Mario Bava and Dario Argento, were also making giallo films for well over a decade before Halloween and those were the prototype for the slasher pictures of the 70s and 80s.

Not to take anything away from the greatness of Halloween but it was hardly original. Although, it may have been a lot cooler, due to the look of Michael Myers, and that’s what made it a cultural phenomenon that people still embrace four decades later.

By slasher standards, however, Halloween really isn’t that good. I’m sorry but there are a lot better films in the genre. Most of the stuff that happens to build suspense is completely nonsensical and goofy when not seen through nostalgic goggles.

The thing that saves this film are the elements that work for it. Primarily, Donald Pleasenca as Dr. Loomis and “The Shape” a.k.a. Michael Myers are the real glue of this picture.

The film also benefits from its look, which is a testament to how talented John Carpenter was behind the camera. He captured mood and tone in just the right way. He also enhanced this picture with one of the most famous scores in horror film history. His theme for the film is still creepy as hell and will never not be included on people’s Halloween playlists for the rest of time.

Jamie Lee Curtis got her real start in this film but even though the character of Laurie Strode is highly regarded as a supreme scream queen, she doesn’t do much other than stab Myers in the eye with a coat hanger. She’s mostly a damsel in distress and only defends herself with animal instinct once she is cornered and completely exposed to the killer. She certainly wasn’t anything like the badass Nancy was from A Nightmare On Elm Street or some of the leading ladies from the Friday the 13th films.

I don’t want to sound like I am trashing Halloween, I do truly love the film. I just kind of see it for what it is. It was significant and popularized slasher films in the United States. It also doesn’t hurt that it is simply called Halloween.

I’m also that asshole that thinks that Halloween III, the one without Michael Myers, is far superior to any of the Myers films for the fact that it is truly horrific, original, bizarre and just a ball of wacky insanity. Plus, it has Tom f’n Atkins in it.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Halloween films.