Film Review: Master Ninja I (1984)

Also known as: The Master (as a TV series), The Ninja Master (original VHS movie release)
Release Date: 1984 (the original run of the TV series)
Directed by: various
Written by: Tom Sawyer, Michael Sloan, Susan Woollen
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Timothy Van Patten, Sho Kosugi, Demi Moore, Claude Akins, Clu Gulager

Michael Sloan Productions, Viacom, CBS, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t worry, I won’t leave this bar through the window.” – Max Keller

This isn’t really a movie but it was treated as such when it was lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000. This is actually just two episodes of the television show The Master edited into a feature length format and presented as a film to the VHS market circa 1984. The show bombed and only lasted thirteen episodes.

This film version of episoides 1 and 2 doesn’t have a good flow to it. Usually when episodes are diced up and made into “movies” like this, the result is always pretty piss poor.

The thing is, I vaguely remember seeing the show when I was a kid and I kind of liked it. I was five when this came out though and I probably didn’t actually see it till I was like seven or eight but I thought it was sort of cool for the time.

Really though, it’s not a good show by any stretch of the imagination. It works if you are into televised ’80s action cheese. It certainly isn’t horrible but it’s shoddily produced with glaring flaws but it’s got Lee Van Cleef and Sho Kosugi in it, so it’s overflowing in manliness points.

It’d be easy to hate on this, especially in this butchered up format but I’m someone that loves ’80s ninja shit and that’s exactly what this is, even if it’s highly diluted for general audiences. It’s no Revenge of the Ninja or American Ninja but it still firmly represents the ’80s ninja craze with gusto.

The stunts are pretty good in a lot of scenes though.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: Master Ninja II and The Master TV series.

Film Review: The Initiation (1984)

Release Date: December 7th, 1984
Directed by: Larry Stewart, Peter Crane (uncredited/fired)
Written by: Charles Pratt Jr.
Music by: Gabriel Black, Lance Ong
Cast: Daphne Zuniga, Vera Miles, Clu Gulager, James Read, Marilyn Kagan, Hunter Tylo

Georgian Bay Productions, Initiation Associates, New World Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Well, the nightmare ends with this stranger coming in and fighting with my father. And the strange man ends up catching on fire and burning to death. It’s always the same; the last image is of his whole body engulfed in flames.” – Kelly Fairchild, “That’s beautiful. You’ve got all the classic symbols there; mom, dad, fire, strange men…” – Peter

The Initiation was better film in my memory than it was revisiting it for the first time in a couple of decades. It’s one of those great midnight movies I loved watching as a kid in the ’80s and I sort of had a thing for Daphne Zuniga when I first saw her in Spaceballs, a few years after this came out.

The coolest thing about this movie is the setting in the second half. While this is really a typical slasher with some mystery and a twist, the plot is pretty pedestrian and the twist isn’t shocking in the least. Still, the finale is kind of neat and pretty fun.

The setting is supposed to be inside of a large department store but the script was written and the filmmakers couldn’t find a suitable department store in the Dallas area to shoot. So they actually shot this in the massive and tomb-like Dallas Market Center. It doesn’t look anything like a department store but it houses hundreds of showrooms for anything and everything you could possibly throw money away on. It’s also fifteen stories tall and looks like the interior of a modern pyramid hollowed out and adorned with all the flags in the world. The corridors look more like a corporate office building with windows full of consumer goods. It really is a strange and unique setting and I’ve always wanted to see this place in person. Sadly, it’s not open to the public.

The film’s plot surrounds a sorority. The pledges are forced to sneak into a department store after hours to steal a security guard’s uniform. Kelly’s (Zuniga) father has keys to the store so she takes them and plans on just stealing a uniform from the inventory of spare ones. The queen bitch of the sorority has her own plans and sneaks in with some frat bros to scare the pledges on their mission. Of course, there is a slasher on the loose and people get murdered.

I liked that Zuniga’s parents were played by veterans Vera Miles and Clu Gulager, as it added a sense of legitimacy to this canned slasher picture. Vera Miles did some strange movies in the ’80s and Gulager would do just about anything thrown his way, which is why I’ve always loved and respected the guy.

As an ’80s slasher picture, I’d say this is a hair bit above average but it isn’t anything special once you take away the unique location. It has a lot in common with The Dorm That Dripped Blood, which also had Zuniga in it. But college based slasher pictures were a dime a dozen circa 1984. In fact, it feels like there was probably a new slasher movie every week in the mid ’80s, as I never seem like I’ve run out of ones to watch and still discover new ones all the time. But it was the peak of the genre and this film was just capitalizing off of the trend.

I still really like The Initiation but it isn’t a film that I want to revisit too often, unless I’m having a marathon or trying to pair up a few movies for a get-together.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Chopping MallThe Dorm That Dripped BloodFinal ExamThe MutilatorGraduation DayThe Prowler and Night School.

Film Review: Tangerine (2015)

Release Date: January 23rd, 2015 (Sundance)
Directed by: Sean Baker
Written by: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
Music by: Matthew Smith (supervisor)
Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O’Hagan, Alla Tumanian, James Ransone, Clu Gulager

Duplass Brothers Productions, Through Films, Magnolia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Bitch, you know I don’t do downers, bitch. You know I’m an upper ho.” – Sin-Dee

I didn’t know much about Sean Baker until after I had experienced his most recent film and my favorite of 2017, The Florida Project. I read about some of his previous work and Tangerine was a film that was pretty highly regarded. I checked out the trailer and read about how it was made and I had to check it out for myself. I’m glad that I did.

For a film shot on a cell phone, it looks fantastic. Baker used three iPhone 5S smartphones to capture everything. He filmed while using an app called FiLMIC Pro, which helps to control focus, aperture and color temperature while capturing video at higher bit-rates than the iPhone’s standard. Baker also used an anamorphic adapter to capture video in a widescreen format. The smoothness of the shots were achieved by using Tiffen’s Steadicam Smoothee. This prevented the film from having that standard shaky-cam effect made famous by found footage movies. In post-production, Baker used Final Cut Pro for editing and Da Vinci Resolve to correct the contrast and color saturation of what he filmed.

The movie had a budget of $100,000 but due to what they saved on cameras and equipment, most of the budget went to businesses who allowed them to use their locations for the film, as well as to extras who were needed in certain scenes.

Tangerine is nearly fully populated by actors with very little to no experience and is made to feel genuine and authentic, as if you just stepped into these characters’ lives for a day. The only known actor in this film is Clu Gulager, who is in one scene as a taxicab customer.

The plot all happens in one day and on Christmas Eve. For the most part, the film focuses on Sin-Dee Rella, a transgender sex worker in Hollywood. She has just gotten out of prison and while sharing a doughnut with her best friend, another transgender sex worker named Alexandra, she learns that her pimp boyfriend cheated on her with a cisgender woman. Sin-Dee immediately loses her cool and goes off in search of this woman with just the knowledge that her name starts with “D”.

The film also showcases a day in the life of Armenian cab driver Razmik. He seems like a decent guy but as the plot unfolds, we learn that he’s into transgender prostitutes and that he also has a wife and a very small child at home. Eventually, Razmik’s story crosses over with Alexandra and eventually Sin-Dee’s story.

The last act of the film is a big crescendo where all these characters’ issues collide in the doughnut shop where it all started. This isn’t a film that’s really shooting for a positive outcome for anyone but is instead a real character study and just a small sample of these people’s lives.

Between this and The Florida Project, Sean Baker has really cemented himself as one of the best contemporary filmmakers that makes character study films. The fact that both of Baker’s films have been pretty much snubbed, in my opinion, by the Academy, except for Dafoe’s performance in The Florida Project, is pretty upsetting. This film, along with The Florida Project, should have had several nominations and both movies are better than many of the films that received Best Picture of the Year nominations for 2015 and 2017.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Sean Baker’s more recent film, The Florida Project. Also goes good with Moonlight.

Film Review: The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Release Date: August 16th, 1985
Directed by: Dan O’Bannon
Written by: John Russo, Rudy Ricci, Russell Streiner, Dan O’Bannon
Music by: Matt Clifford, Francis Haines
Cast: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Thom Mathews, Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Linnea Quigley

Hemdale Film Corporation, A Greenberg Brothers Partnership, Orion Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, there’s a bunch of people from the cemetery who are stark, staring, mad, and they’ll kill you and eat you if they catch you. It’s like a disease. It’s like rabies, only faster, a lot faster. That’s why you’ve got to come and get us out of here now… right now!” – Burt Wilson

There are very few movies as awesome as The Return of the Living Dead. It is, hands down, the greatest zombie comedy ever put to celluloid… sorry, Shaun of the Dead. It is also balls to the wall insane from beginning to end while being full of punk teens, great older actors and the best zombie hoard in the history of motion pictures.

Like Dawn of the Dead, which was George A. Romero’s sequel to Night of the Living Dead, this film is also a sequel (in a way), as John A. Russo was the other half of the creative duo that gave birth to that original film back in 1968.

The Return of the Living Dead is an alternate continuity to Romero’s Living Dead universe, though. In fact, the original film is mentioned in this picture, as it is a movie that exists within this alternate timeline. However, the movie is referenced and casually dismissed as a Hollywood version of the “real story”. This film continues off of that original story, which is established in a conversation between two of the characters very early on.

The reason for the split continuities, is that Romero and Russo had creative differences over the property. Romero even went as far as to send Russo a cease and desist order over this film, which effected the marketing but ultimately, didn’t stop the film from being released and spawning its own sequels.

Romero purists will probably hate me for saying this but this is my favorite Living Dead film. It is also my favorite zombie picture. I wouldn’t say that it is the greatest, as far as overall artistry is concerned, but it is the one that I watch the most and have the largest amount of appreciation for. The film is just fucking cool and that is really an understatement.

Initially, Russo wrote a Return of the Living Dead novel and shopped it around Hollywood to be adapted. At one point, Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1 & 2Poltergeist, The Funhouse) was slated to direct the film but that fell through. Ultimately, what we got was this, which is better than what the Hooper film probably would have been.

In this film, we quickly learn that zombies don’t die by destroying their brains. The zombies can be dismembered, have their heads knocked off and still keep coming. They’re essentially impossible to kill. At one point, they cremate a pile of animated zombie parts. However, the smoke from the crematorium goes up into the clouds, which rain onto the graveyard, reanimating the dead. There really isn’t an effective way to kill the zombies, which makes the threat in this film, infinitely worse. Not to mention the fact that they move with speed and want to eat human brains.

I know that they don’t give out Oscars for pictures like these but James Karen put on a performance that was legendary. He was a hilarious and useless doofus that accidentally set the zombie threat free. All he did from that point forward was freak out and whine but he did it with such believable gusto that it is impossible not to be captivated by his absurd character and to love the scenes that he’s in.

We also get Miguel A. Núñez Jr. in my favorite role that he ever played. He’s a punk rocker that kind of acts like a damsel in distress but it works. Linnea Quigley also shows up, gets butt naked and dances on a tomb because this is the kind of stuff she was best known for. It is also her most memorable role, in my opinion. Don Calfa, probably best known as the killer in Weekend At Bernie’s is the guy who works at the crematorium and he’s also fantastic in this. Clu Gulager is perfect as the no nonsense older alpha male lead; Thom Mathews, one of the Tommy Jarvises in the Friday the 13th film series, pulls his weight too.

This film, for what it is, is absolutely perfect, which is why I have to give it the highest score possible. I used to love watching this when it rotated in and out of Joe Bob Briggs’ MonsterVision on TNT back in the 90s but nothing beats watching the unedited non-television version. How else are you going to see the beautiful gore and Ms. Quigley’s glorious breasties? Her bum is quite exceptional too, for the record.

The Return of the Living Dead could make a case for being the coolest movie of all-time. It probably isn’t for everyone but for kids who grew up watching horror in the 80s, this thing is a friggin’ masterpiece.

Plus, it features music from The Cramps, who were the most perfect band to feature in this film. It was tailor made for their tunes.

Film Review: The ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street’ Film Series, Part I (1984-1987)

A Nightmare On Elm Street was my favorite horror film series, as a kid. Today, it still ranks up there and I consider it to be the best of the big horror franchises of the 80s. Sure, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Hellraiser and several others are great but nothing is as imaginative and as creative as the world Freddy Krueger lives in.

Freddy Krueger is a force of nature, in the films and in reality. He went on to be a pop culture icon and even had the highest grossing independent film of all-time.. twice!

In this review, I will cover the first three films in the franchise.

A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984):

Release Date: November 9th, 1984
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Wes Craven
Based on: characters by Wes Craven
Music by: Charles Bernstein
Cast: Robert Englund, John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Heather Langenkamp, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Johnny Depp

New Line Cinema, Media Home Entertainment, Smart Egg Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

The original film was written and directed by the series creator, Wes Craven. This is the film that cemented Craven as a horror maestro. While he had some solid successes before A Nightmare On Elm Street, this film was his first massive hit.

Being created during the height of practical effects, this film features some technical marvels from a filmmaking standpoint. Craven and his crew used several rotating sets to achieve a few different effects and it turned out to be pretty stellar. Also, they were very inventive on how to achieve things visually on a film with such a small budget. This film is a must-see for any film student just for the special effects alone.

In regards to the horror, this is the scariest film out of any of the Elm Street movies. It is dark, it exudes terror and Freddy is a lot more sinister in this. He gets funnier as the series rolls on and almost becomes a twisted anti-hero.

In the first film, he is still frightening. Robert Englund was the perfect actor for the role of Freddy Krueger and he would get more comfortable with the character in each installment. But whether it was Englund not being too comfortable yet, Craven’s direction or both – the character of Freddy is on a different level of dread in this chapter.

Heather Langenkamp was great as Nancy and was always a delight every time she showed up in one of these movies. Johnny Depp was pretty decent as Glen and this was his first film. Amanda Wyss did good in the role of Tina. The film also featured John Saxon, formerly from Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon and the Canadian slasher film Black Christmas, as Nancy’s dad and the top cop on the Springwood police force.

While this film is a technically savvy and paved the way for a lucrative franchise, I found the ending to be odd and kind of pointless. Nancy basically wins by telling Krueger that she takes away any power she gave him and he disappears into a cloud of dissipating photons.. or something. Her mother then sinks into her bed as a skeleton, waving goodbye. It was probably fine for the time but it plays horribly today. It just feels obvious that Craven hadn’t really thought the ending through before shooting it. Besides, Nancy defeating Freddy by ignoring him wasn’t really effective, as we got five more sequels in the regular series, A New Nightmare, Freddy vs. Jason and a remake years later.

A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985):

Release Date: November 1st, 1985
Directed by: Jack Sholder
Written by: David Chaskin
Based on: characters by Wes Craven
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Robert Englund, Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Clu Gulager, Hope Lange

New Line Cinema, Smart Egg Pictures, Heron Communications, 85 Minutes

Review:

Freddy’s Revenge or as it should be retitled, Freddy’s Big Gay Hilarious Gangbang, is a bizarre movie. It ignores the rules established in the first film in an effort to be completely different and to not retread the same story. While I respect the filmmakers’ efforts in not making a clone film, all it did was create a lot of confusion about the established rules and mythos.

The main character is Jesse Walsh (played by Mark Patton). Jesse is a loner and an outcast but weirdly, the hot ginger girl in school likes him.. a lot. In fact, she deals with way too much of his shit and Freddy’s shit just over her high school crush. Besides that, Jesse wants to spend more time with his new guy friend, Ron. He even runs away to Ron’s house after he freaks out about the girl being ready to bang him.

Many consider this to be the gayest horror film of all-time and rightfully so. It is amazing at just how gay it is and that’s not a knock, it is actually pretty fucking cool.

From Jesse and Ron wrestling each other’s pants off, to Jesse’s flamboyant sexual dance while cleaning his room, to the leather bar, to the school coach getting murdered while being tied to shower pipes as his ass is repeatedly slapped by a towel, to Jesse constantly whining about Freddy being “inside him”, to Jesse wanting to sleep in Ron’s room, to Jesse screaming like a girl, to Freddy emerging from Jesse’s body during one of the most obligatory gay exchanges in cinematic history, this is certainly a pretty gay but extraordinarily fabulous movie. Wikipedia has more information on the homoerotic subtext here.

The film lacked almost everything that made the first film scary. However, it had some of the best effects. For instance, the aforementioned scene where Freddy emerges from Jesse’s body was insane and still plays pretty well today. Even if Jesse’s body was replaced by a robotic dummy, it was there, on the set, and it looked more real than anything modern CGI can do.

Freddy’s Revenge is a bizarre installment to the series but the bizarreness is what makes it special, unique and definitely worth a watch.

A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987):

Release Date: February 27th, 1987
Directed by: Chuck Russell
Written by: Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont, Chuck Russell
Based on: characters by Wes Craven
Music by: Angelo Badalamenti, Dokken
Cast: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Patricia Arquette, Laurence Fishburne, John Saxon, Priscilla Pointer, Craig Wasson, Ken Sagoes, Rodney Eastman, Jennifer Rubin, Bradley Gregg, Ira Heiden, Penelope Sudrow, Dick Cavett, Zsa Zsa Gabor

New Line Cinema, Smart Egg Pictures, Heron Communications, 96 Minutes

Review:

Dream Warriors is my favorite film in the series. Wes Craven came back to write the story, which was then tweaked and fleshed out by Frank Darabont (The Walking Dead, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Mist, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and so many other projects).

This chapter pretty much ignores the second film, it goes back to the rules and mythos of the first movie and expands on it. It brings back old characters, introduces new characters and blends them together well. You care about the old, you care about the new and there is almost perfect harmony with the cast.

This is my favorite group of teens out of any of the films. Actually, they are my favorite group of any teen group from any horror film ever. They were all unique, interesting and had a great dynamic.

The film introduced us to Patrica Arquette as the lead heroine Kristen. It also brought back Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon as Nancy and her father. Laurence Fishburne shows up in this as an orderly at the rehab center where the teens are.

This movie introduces the concept of being able to control dreams in an effort to combat Freddy. Each teen also has a special power or skill set that makes their interactions with Krueger more interesting.

The one thing this film did, that set the stage for every film after it, is that the dream sequences got really elaborate and a lot more creative. We didn’t just have some guy taking teens to a boiler room in their mind in an effort to slash them to bits. We now had Freddy using their fears and things about them to torture them in unique ways. You like puppets? Well, you get strung up by your tendons like a puppet. You like TV? Well, you get killed by a TV. You like titties? Well, titties lure you to Freddy.

Dream Warriors is the perfect Elm Street film. It has everything and it also stars the most iconic characters in the series and opens the door for the future of the franchise.

*Continued in Part II.

Film Review: A Force of One (1979)

Release Date: June 1979
Directed by: Paul Aaron
Written by: Pat E. Johnson, Ernest Tidyman
Music by: Dick Halligan
Cast: Chuck Norris, Jennifer O’Neill, Clu Gulager, Ron O’Neal, Bill Wallace

American Cinema Releasing, 90 Minutes

a_force_of_oneReview:

A Force of One was wedged between two other Chuck Norris “classics”, Good Guys Wear Black and The Octagon. This film fit the same vibe of the other two. They’re almost a trilogy of sorts due to their similar tone and being that they capture that late 70s/early 80s low-budget action film style. They were also the start of Chuck Norris as the star. I’m ignoring Breaker! Breaker!, which preceded these, because it was god awful yet somehow didn’t wreck Norris’ career before it started.

The premise for A Force of One is so goofy and the situations so cookie cutter for the time, that it makes it an amusing film. Basically, there is a karate killer targeting undercover detectives so the police force sends their detectives to learn karate from Chuck Norris (his character’s name isn’t even important). Norris then falls for the lead cop chick, gets caught up in the mess, one of his pupils gets murdered by the karate killer, he discovers that the karate killer is one of his own and he goes out for REVENGE!

There’s nothing exceptional about this film other than it is entertaining for it’s ridiculousness and it helped move Chuck Norris’ career a little further. I can’t comment much on the artistic merits of the film because there really weren’t any. The script was pretty much the same script that has been recycled since this genre began. The acting was less than mediocre. The action was typical and nothing extraordinary. However, there was a generic karate cop killer, so there’s that.

I liked The Octagon, which followed this film, a lot better because at least it had a gang of ninjas and a Double Dare style obstacle course for Chuck Norris to fight the ninjas in.