Film Review: Deathsport (1978)

Also known as: Death Race 2050 (Germany)
Release Date: April, 1978
Directed by: Allan Arkus, Roger Corman, Nicholas Niciphor
Written by: Nicholas Niciphor, Donald E. Stewart, Francis Doel
Music by: Andy Stein
Cast: David Carradine, Claudia Jennings, Richard Lynch

New World Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“As much as I would enjoy killing you here tonight, I will enjoy watching you die more in the Deathsport tomorrow.” – Ankar Moor

Man, despite being a fan of this film’s style, this was a real challenge to get through, even at just 82 minutes.

Maybe part of the problem was that it had three directors. Also, it was trying to capitalize off of the cult classic Death Race 2000 and was intended to be a follow-up to it but switching out cars for motorcycles. It definitely fails at being anything close to the greatness of Death Race 2000 and another similar film also starring Carradine, Cannonball.

I think the biggest reason as to why this doesn’t have the charm and coolness of those other two films, is that this one wasn’t directed by Paul Bartell. And I think that is most apparent in the dryness of this film and it’s complete lack of clever humor and endearing spirit.

Put out by New World and Roger Corman, this was a bargain basement production. But it was also mired in production issues beyond the budgetary constraints.

The film looks cheap. In fact, it looks cheaper than Death Race even though it was made much later in the same decade. But maybe the clusterfuck of a production just didn’t have the wherewithal to get the best bang for the buck, as Paul Bartell did and as Corman usually does.

The acting is really bad, even for New World Pictures standards. Plus, the action sequences are bizarre and riddled with more mistakes than a typical Corman production.

While the film has an interesting visual style that isn’t too dissimilar from Death Race, it has really bizarre weapons, like transparent swords and these handheld spotlight things that vaporize people.

This also has one of the strangest bits from any Corman production. There are two scenes that feature a naked woman dancing around these suspended silver rods. Then the rods start shocking them, as they dance around, yelping in pain as an old fascist dweeb laughs in amusement.

Deathsport was a real disappointment. Granted, I didn’t go into it expecting it to be on the level of the rare gem, Death Race 2000. However, I had hoped that some of that spirit would’ve made it into this film. It didn’t.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: Death Race 2000 and Cannonball.

Film Review: Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)

Also known as: Q (original title), Serpent, The Winged Serpent (working titles), American Monster (Germany)
Release Date: September 8th, 1982 (France)
Directed by: Larry Cohen
Written by: Larry Cohen
Music by: Robert O. Ragland
Cast: Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, David Carradine, Richard Roundtree

United Film Distribution, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Stick it in your brain. Your tiny little brain!” – Jimmy Quinn

This was originally added to the lineup for the first season of Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In on Shudder. However, it was bumped up in the lineup after the passing of Larry Cohen, the man behind this film, as well as so many other great pictures from a multitude of genres but mostly all fitting under the exploitation, grindhouse or horror umbrellas.

Larry Cohen was one of those guys that video store junkies fell in love with. Me, being a video store junkie, saw most of his films multiple times. But strangely, this is one picture that had eluded me until now. Which is made even stranger due to my love of giant monster movies.

What’s unique about this film is that it was filmed on location in the real Chrysler Building. Cohen went into areas of the building he wasn’t supposed to go but he shot this almost guerilla style while the building’s security weren’t paying enough attention. He went into attics, had actors hanging out of holes in the top and even had them firing off rounds, as shotgun shells rained all over pedestrians on the street 77 stories below.

Unfortunately, the story of this film being made is more exciting than the movie itself. I still like the picture but it’s very slow moving and pretty dry. It’s real saving grace is Michael Moriarty, who Cohen also used in his cult classic The Stuff. Moriarty gives such a powerful, over the top and charismatic performance that I don’t know how the heat he brought to the set didn’t melt the damn celluloid. And that’s not an overstatement. He brought the fire and man, he owns absolutely every scene that he’s in.

The film also stars two greats: David Carradine and Richard Roundtree. But even their natural charisma pales in comparison to Moriarty’s.

I liked the monster part of the story but I think that the monster really just comes off as a very generic winged serpent. I felt like Cohen could have come up with something more creative in the creature’s overall design. But really, it still works and this was a film on a scant budget, which was Cohen’s modus operandi.

In the end, this is an entertaining picture if you are familiar with Cohen’s work and have become a fan of it. Plus, if you love giant monster movies, here’s one more to add to your kaiju spank bank.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Godzilla 1985, The Stuff and It’s Alive.

Film Review: Bird On a Wire (1990)

Release Date: May 18th, 1990
Directed by: John Badham
Written by: Louis Venosta, David Seltzer
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Mel Gibson, Goldie Hawn, David Carradine, Bill Duke, Joan Severance, Stephen Tobolowsky

Interscope Communications, The Badham/Cohen Group, Universal Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“You come to Detroit and you rent a Beamer? That’s like going to Germany and eating Jimmy Dean sausages!” – Rick Jarmin

I hadn’t seen this in a decade or so but I forgot how enjoyable this was until I revisited it.

I mean, it has Mel Gibson during the height of his career, coming off of the first two Lethal Weapon movies and the Mad Max trilogy. It also has Goldie Hawn who was the quintessential ’80s comedy damsel in distress archetype. You also have them being hunted by David Carradine and Bill Duke, alongside Stephen Tobolowsky, who I will always just see as Stu from Californication. I also can’t forget the small part Joan Severance has in this as a total badass.

Mel Gibson plays Rick but he has a bunch of different names because he has been bouncing around for fifteen years, as he’s under witness protection after sending David Carradine’s drug smuggling character to prison. Carradine gets out, re-teams with his old partner, played by Bill Duke, and they set out to finally take out Rick, the one man that can stop them from going back to their old ways. Rick runs into his ex-fiance Marianne, played by Hawn, and this exposes him to the bad guys. Rick and Marianne then spend the movie on the run from Carradine and Duke, as they are forced to revisit several people from Rick’s witness protection past.

The plot is pretty good, fairly believable and a nice unique narrative twist that calls back to classic noir. Although, this is not a film-noir in any way, really. It’s an ’80s style action movie with a lot of laughs.

The coolest thing about the entire film is the final showdown, which happens at an indoor zoo exhibit that features tigers, alligators, monkeys and other dangerous creatures ready to make lunch out of anyone that finds themselves in their path. I absolutely love the finale of this film and while it has a hokiness to it, it is just a badass and incredibly well shot spectacle. The sequence of Marianne running from the tigers is better choreographed than one would expect from a simple action comedy from 1990.

The other thing that makes this work so well is that Gibson and Hawn have incredible chemistry and are believable as ex-lovers that fell away from one another, only to reconnect and find the spark is still burning strong.

Bird On a Wire is a better movie than it deserves to be, honestly. That’s not a knock against the filmmakers or actors, it’s just that films like these aren’t typically this good.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Lethal Weapon 2Air America, See No Evil, Hear No EvilWildcats and Overboard

Film Review: Death Race 2000 (1975)

Also known as: Frankensteins Todesrennen (Austria)
Release Date: April 27th, 1975
Directed by: Paul Bartel
Written by: Robert Thom, Charles Griffith
Based on: The Racer by Ib Melchior
Music by: Paul Chihara
Cast: David Carradine, Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone, Sand McCallum, Louisa Moritz, Don Steele, Mary Woronov, Roberta Collins, Martin Kove, Joyce Jameson, Paul Bartel, Leslie McRae

New World Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“As the cars roar into Pennsylvania, the cradle of liberty, it seems apparent that our citizens are staying off the streets, which may make scoring particularly difficult, even with this year’s rule changes. To recap those revisions: women are still worth 10 points more than men in all age brackets, but teenagers now rack up 40 points, and toddlers under 12 now rate a big 70 points. The big score: anyone, any sex, over 75 years old has been upped to 100 points.” – Harold

When Roger Corman stepped away from directing to start New World Pictures, it really opened the door for young filmmakers to usher in a new era of outside-the-box indie pictures. Paul Bartel was one of the premier guys to come out of the Corman camp and while he made a few really good films, none of them had as big of an impact on me as the super stylish and insane Death Race 2000.

The film is about a transcontinental race from New York City to Los Angeles, a race where the drivers earn points for killing human targets. The more offensive the target, the higher the points. So babies and old people are prime meat for the sadistic drivers and their high octane killing machines.

The movie takes place in a not-too-distant future where society has kind of evolved similar to those more modern Purge movies. America is a fascist state and this grand motor race is patriotic. Those who die, as victims of the drivers, are considered heroes and their sacrifices usually come with rewards for their loved ones.

Within this severely screwed up America is a group of rebels who are trying to end the race and overthrow the sick and twisted president in an effort to reestablish an America that is closer to what the Founding Fathers fought for. There is a lot of political and social commentary sprinkled in throughout the film and it almost exists as a response to the American government’s expansion into the world and its quest for occupation and control. It makes sense that this was made at the tail end of the Vietnam War.

The film stars David Carradine as Frankenstein, the most elite of all the racers. He is a literal living legend but he has his own ideas on the race and his government’s politics, which play out subtly as the film progresses, leading to a big rebellious crescendo at the end.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by a very young Sylvester Stallone, who was a year away from Rocky fame, as well as Paul Bartel’s favorite collaborator, Mary Woronov. We also get Roberta Collins, who spent a large part of her career in exploitation films, a young Martin Kove, a decade before becoming the iconic John Kreese from The Karate Kid films, Joyce Jameson, who was a part of a lot of Corman’s ’60s horror productions, Don Steele, a charismatic and over the top shock jock from the ’70s, as well as two beautiful ladies: Simone Griffeth and Louisa Moritz, both of whom play navigators to the two top drivers. Paul Bartel even has a small cameo as Frankenstein’s doctor when the iconic racer is first introduced in the film.

One thing that makes this picture work so well, is that it is a tongue in cheek critique on the government and society but it doesn’t beat you over the head because of how ridiculous and stylized everything in the film is. Every character is more or less a caricature, every car has some sort of bizarre and hokey gimmick and things are so over the top and goofy that you don’t find yourself buried in serious subject matter. And maybe the political statements are sort of lost in this circus of a film but the sentiment seems pretty clear, even if it’s not fine tuned enough to be specific.

Bartel would follow this up with another action car picture for Roger Corman called Cannonball. That one also starred David Carradine and is enjoyable but it doesn’t stick out in quite the same way Death Race 2000 does.

This would also spawn a horrible remake that had even worse sequels. Eventually, a true sequel to this was made called Death Race 2050. I haven’t seen that one yet but I plan to give it a watch in the very near future.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any Paul Bartel directed film but most notable Cannonball!

Film Review: Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II (1989)

Release Date: March 1989
Directed by: Charles B. Griffith
Written by: Charles B. Griffith, Lane Smith
Music by: David M. Rubin
Cast: Mel Welles, Robert Jayne, David Carradine, Lana Clarkson, Sid Haig

Concorde Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

After the experience of the first Wizards of the Lost Kingdom, which came to me via the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I had to also sit through the second film because for some reason, someone thought it deserved a sequel.

Both films are very similar and also pretty different, Mainly, the first movie feels a bit more creative. The second film feels better directed and more coherent but also kind of lazy. The main difference between the productions of the two films is that this one was done solely by America where the first film was a co-production between the US and Argentina.

The cast is a bit better in this one too. Well, mainly just because David Carradine and Sid Haig are in it. Carradine fills in for the Bo Svenson role but he does seem bored. Sid Haig is decent as the villain but at least he commits to his roles despite how bad the production is.

Overall, even though I trashed the first movie quite a bit, it gets the edge when you compare these two duds. Sure, the special effects and costumes were laughably bad but it still had more creativity and was just more imaginative, even if the script was a mess.

On a positive note, there isn’t a third sequel… that I know of.