Film Review: Arena (1989)

Release Date: March 29th, 1989 (Germany)
Directed by: Peter Manoogian
Written by: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Paul Satterfield, Hamilton Camp, Claudia Christian, Marc Alaimo, Shari Shattuck

Empire Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, I could stay all night, folks, but I gotta go. A hand for the boys in the band, and remember, I hate your guts!” – Space Comic

Arena is such a bizarre and odd movie that I find it impossible not to love on some level.

A doofus Earthling living in space ends up being a fighter in an intergalactic arena that pits him against alien fighters like some sort of bad ’90s fighting game. But I guess this movie was ahead of its time, as it came out in 1989. It didn’t get an American release until 1991, however, and that release saw it go straight to video.

Produced by Irwin Yablans, who made some pretty shitty movies before this, Arena may be the best motion picture that he produced. It’s one of the few that I walked away from that I saw as a positive experience. Because Laserblast and Parasite were absolutely terrible. Fade to Black was decent though, if I’m being honest.

The vibe of the film feels like it is ten years out of date. The sets and the fashion style feel more like an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century than something from 1989. The special effects are also really outdated but this is a film with a scant budget and a lot of that money went into the actual creatures in this film.

While the alien warriors don’t look exceptional, they are still pretty decent. Their movement sucks and it makes the action look goofy as hell but I thought that the detail was good and this movie did a lot with what little it had. On that same token, this isn’t up to par for the era but I can’t wholly knock it. The filmmakers tried to make this work and they achieved more than what most people would have with limited resources.

For some, this will be a hard film to look at. For all, you can’t watch this and remotely take it seriously. But the film seems pretty self-aware and the actors ham it up quite well and seemed to really enjoy the project. Marc Alaimo, best known as the villainous Dukat from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, really steals the show in his scenes. Alaimo was a solid talent that was always fun as a villain. His performance her is no different.

I rented Arena a lot as a kid but I haven’t seen this since I was working at a video store in the ’90s. It was cool to revisit and it still puts a smile on my face.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Robot Jox, Eliminators, Crash and Burn, America 3000 and Hardware.

Film Review: Fade to Black (1980)

Release Date: October 14th, 1980
Directed by: Vernon Zimmerman
Written by: Vernon Zimmerman
Music by: Craig Safan
Cast: Dennis Christopher, Tim Thomerson, Gwynne Gilford, Norman Burton, Linda Kerridge, Morgan Paull, Eve Brent, Mickey Rourke

Compass International, American Cinema Releasing, 102 Minutes

Review:

This was a movie that I was pleasantly surprised by. I honestly didn’t expect much. I thought it would be a typical early 80s slasher picture, which were a dime a dozen. It was a lot more than that though and it also had a lot of character and charm.

Additionally, this has Irwin Yablans name on it as a producer and while he did produce some good stuff, he also gave us those shit sandwiches Laserblast and Parasite. It is hard to forgive films as bad as those two.

The real highlight of this film was the performance by Dennis Christopher. He was really likable, even up to the end, regardless of the fact that he did go on a bit of a killing spree. He seemed like a nice and genuine kid that lost his mind because his mother was horrible and people treated him like dirt. Plus, he was a bit of a social recluse and lived vicariously through movies.

Christopher just did great and put in a strong performance. As the lead character, he stepped out in front of a fairly mediocre script and gave this picture some life that it otherwise wouldn’t have had with a lesser actor or someone not truly embracing the role.

It was actually cool to see a young Mickey Rourke in this too. While he didn’t have a lot of screen time, he made the most out of what he did have.

Linda Kerridge was mesmerizing as the Marilyn Monroe lookalike Marilyn O’Connor. She was the apple of Dennis Christopher’s eye and she did well with the part and the tough task of living up to the iconic comparison.

The premise to Fade to Black is pretty unique for a slasher flick. Our killer, the nice but awkward Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher), gets tired of those who treat him like garbage and loses his mind. He starts picking people off and does so as characters from his favorite movies. At one point he is Dracula, then The Mummy, then Hopalong Cassidy, then James Cagney’s Cody Jarrett from White Heat. His first kill was a reenactment of a scene from the film noir classic Kiss of Death.

Ultimately, this leads to a fantastic showdown between Binford and the Los Angeles Police Department as he stands atop Grauman’s Chinese Theatre wielding a machine gun, quoting James Cagney’s lines from the finale of White Heat.

When Binford is killing or mentally recalling a moment in film, the movie cuts in those famous scenes for reference. The transitions are clunky, surreal and strangely edited but it is effective because of its oddness and disjointed presentation.

Fade to Black is thoroughly enjoyable and it stands out in a subgenre of horror that is incredibly formulaic and cookie cutter. It greatly benefits from the performance of Dennis Christopher and its originality. It is definitely a slasher flick worth its weight in blood.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Parasite (1982)

Release Date: March 12th, 1982
Directed by: Charles Band
Written by: Michael Shoob, Alan J. Adler, Frank Levering
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Demi Moore, Robert Glaudini, Luca Bercovici, Cherie Currie, Freddy Moore, Tom Villard, Vivian Blaine, Rainbeaux Smith

Irwin Yablans Company, Embassy Pictures, Kock International, 85 Minutes

Review:

When the credits started rolling, I saw “Irwin Yablans Company” and instantly knew this would be a big pile of awful crap. You see, they’re the people that gave us that massive donkey turd Laserblast. Having seen that film, which predates this one by four years, I knew that this would have to be another cinematic shitshow. Besides, even if the people at the Irwin Yablans Company somehow multiplied their filmmaking talent by infinity, the number would still be zero because anything times zero will always be zero.

So, as is customary with films this bad, I had to run it through the Cinespiria Shitometer, it comes out as a Type 7 stool, which is defined as “Watery, no solid pieces. ENTIRELY LIQUID.” I swear I’m going to make a Cinespiria Shitometer infographic one day.

The film takes us to the future: 1992, to be exact. In 1992 we don’t have a lot to look forward to. Earth is sort of a wasteland full of gutterpunks and weird sex performers that get off in hardware stores. On the bright side, there are ray guns. That alone makes me excited for whenever 1992 gets here.

But then there is the parasite. It’s this slimy slug thing that’s the size of a fat kid’s thigh. It attaches to people and next thing you know, they have parasites ripping out of their body. There is one cool scene where a parasite bursts out of a dying lady’s face. While the special effects aren’t all that spectacular, there seemed to at least be some effort put into the shot.

Also, this film was made to be seen in 3D. That being said, there are a lot of shots that look bizarre when seeing this in 2D. Lots of creatures and other things jumping at the camera is pretty much all this movie is about.

There is also this evil Agent Smith type guy that drives a black Lamborghini Countach. It doesn’t sound cool like a Lambo though, as they gave it sounds to make it sound like a futuristic car. Who are these people kidding? Any kid from the 80s knows a damn Countach when they see one. It sure as shit wasn’t some future car in the far off year of 1992! Had I seen this movie when I was a kid though, I would’ve probably just geeked out over the car and thought that the movie was actually awesome. Kind of like movies with ninjas. If I saw a ninja or a Countach in a movie, you could bet your ass that I was going to rent it at least another half dozen times from Citeo Video!

Demi Moore is in this movie but she’s not very good in it. I can’t blame her. It’s not like anyone was actually directing the film. But at least she got her shit together and pulled off a solid performance in 1996’s Striptease. To be honest, Burt Reynolds is the one that really carried that film to the top.

Parasite is a shitty movie in every way. There is nothing good about it except for the Lamborghini Countach and even then, they messed up how it’s supposed to sound. I bet the entire budget went to the car rental.

Rating: 2/10

 

Film Review: Laserblast (1978)

Release Date: March 1st, 1978
Directed by: Michael Rae
Written by: Frank Ray Perilli, Franne Schacht
Music by: Richard Band, Joel Goldsmith
Cast: Kim Milford, Cheryl Smith, Gianni Russo, Roddy McDowall, Keenan Wynn, Dennis Burkley, Eddie Deezen

Irwin Yablans Company, 80 Minutes

Review:

Laserblast has gone on to be a sort of cult film, mainly because it was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. I actually didn’t see the episode when it aired back in May of 1996, where it was the final episode of the show on Comedy Central. It moved to the Sci-Fi Channel the following season. It was also the last episode to feature Trace Beaulieu, who played mad scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester and provided the voice of Crow T. Robot.

I didn’t first see Laserblast until more recently, when revisiting MST3K, in an effort to see every single episode that was still available.

To put it mildly, the film is absolutely atrocious in every way. Yet, somehow, they convinced Roddy McDowell to be in it but he often times would sign on to a pile of shit in spite of his talent. Luckily, he rebounded, somewhat, a decade later with Fright Night (probably best to ignore its sequel, though).

Laserblast also features nerd extraordinaire Eddie Deezen. He pretty much played different variations of the same role throughout the 70s and 80s. He’s probably most known for Grease and its horrible sequel but he was also known for War GamesCritters 2, Steven Spielberg’s 1941Midnight Madness and being a prominent voice actor.

The film also stars a bunch of other people but when I have to point out Eddie Deezen, as a casting high point, it’s probably best to ignore the rest of the people in the picture.

Laserblast is dull, it is stupid and it is a waste of the celluloid it was filmed on. The special effects are some of the worst that I have seen come out of the late 1970s. The spaceship is crap, its animation and physics of movement resemble that of an unintelligent child playing with his toys. The aliens are presented in stop motion of the worst kind in what was an embarrassing homage to the great Ray Harryhausen. The props were even worse, especially the arm-mounted laser gun that looked more like an early prototype of a t-shirt launching air cannon than anything menacing or bad ass.

There really is nothing about the film that is worthwhile. Without MST3K commentary, this would be damn near impossible to sit through. It is uninteresting, ugly and clearly displays a complete lack of talent in the filmmakers.

In reference to this motion picture, Mary Jo Pehl of MST3K said, “The lead guy, Kim Somebody, is another sterling example of how filmmaking is not a meritocracy. The fact that this film was even made proves that ‘anybody can do it.’ You can find this either inspiring or depressing.”

Rating: 2/10

Film Review: God’s Gun (1976)

Also known as: Diamante Lobo (Italy)
Release Date: 1976 (Italy)
Directed by: Frank Kramer
Written by: John Fonseca, Frank Kramer
Music by: Sante Maria Romitelli
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance, Richard Boone, Sybil Danning, Robert Lipton, Cody Palance, Leif Garrett

Golan-Globus Productions, Dunamis Cinematografica, Rovi Film Produktions, The Irwin Yablans Company, Cannon Films, 94 Minutes

gods_gunReview:

What’s better than two of the best western villains in history going head-to-head? Not much, really. Okay, maybe a lot actually, if we’re talking about this movie.

The film pits Lee Van Cleef against Jack Palance. In fact, Van Cleef plays two roles – a heroic priest and his gunslinging twin brother. Palance plays the villain and is just as sinister as he has always been.

The cast is rounded out by Richard Boone, Sybil Danning and a very young Leif Garrett.

God’s Gun is an entertaining enough film and it is a better-than-decent spaghetti western but it isn’t all that special. Van Cleef is always good and Palance is just a solid villain all around. The best part about this film is seeing these two legends come together. Everything else in the movie is pretty cookie cutter and some stuff, even for a spaghetti movie, is a bit hokey.

Compared to the works of spaghetti maestros Corbucci and Sollima, it lacks energy and seems pretty toned down in the violence department, which is bizarre for a film featuring killer rapists running rampant.

The characters are likable, the plot is fine and has a few surprises. Plus, the music was fairly good.

I like the film but I can instantly name a dozen or so Italian westerns that are much better than this one. It certainly isn’t a must-see unless you are an avid fan of Van Cleef, Palance, Boone, Danning or for some reason, Garrett.

Rating: 6/10