Film Review: Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans (1987)

Also known as: Deathstalker II (original title)
Release Date: September 12th, 1987 (Japan)
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Neil Ruttenberg, Jim Wynorski
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cast: John Terlesky, Monique Gabrielle, John LaZar, Toni Naples, Maria Socas

Aries Films International, New Horizons Pictures, Concorde Pictures, 85 Minutes

Review:

“You have to get up pretty early in the morning to catch the prince of thieves.” – Deathstalker, “It is early in the morning!” – Princess Evie

I’ve already reviewed the first and third Deathstalker movies because watching these in order doesn’t really matter. Each film seems to have its own tone, a totally different actor in the lead role and they’re mostly total crap.

However, this one is actually kind of enjoyable.

I think that this chapter is the most palatable because it is actually a lighthearted comedy mixed with sword and sorcery and glorious boobs. It has a charm that the other movies don’t and frankly, the two leads in this are more charismatic than the leads in any of the other films.

That could also be due to the fact that I’ve been crushing hard on Monique Gabrielle ever since I saw her in The Return of Swamp Thing, as a kid. Finding out later that she was a Penthouse Pet was a pretty stellar discovery in my teen years.

Like the other films, this one was made by Roger Corman’s studio but he didn’t direct it. Instead, he hired Jim Wynorski, who had just come off of directing the cult classic horror/sci-fi/comedy, Chopping Mall. I think that his style was beneficial to this picture and how it was presented as a more amusing movie than its predecessor.

The story is pretty cookie cutter stuff for cheap Conan knockoffs but it has some unique bits. For one, we are treated to an intergender wrestling match in an actual ring around the midpoint of the film. Also, it doesn’t try to emulate and ripoff Conan as much as the first film and works as its own thing in a similar setting.

The special effects are pretty cheap but everything still looks okay for what this is. It certainly looks better than the European sword and sorcery movies of the era. In fact, it feels similar in visual tone to the first Beastmaster. Sure, it lacks Beastmaster‘s hard edge but it utilizes the night in the same way, keeping things kind of small scale, production-wise, without exposing too many of its budgetary flaws.

All praise aside, this is still a cheap movie, as Roger Corman associated productions go. But out of the Deathstalker pictures, I’d say that it looks the best and uses its budget pretty well.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Deathstalker films and other very low budget barbarian movies.

Film Review: The Return of Swamp Thing (1989)

Release Date: May 12th, 1989
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Neil Cuthbert, Grant Morris
Based on: Swamp Thing by Len Wein, Bernie Wrightson
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cast: Louis Jourdan, Heather Locklear, Sarah Douglas, Dick Durock, Monique Gabrielle

Lightyear Entertainment, Batfilm Productions, Millimeter Films, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Immortality? Yuck! What did you do, sell your soul to the devil?” – Abby Arcane, “More like a lease with an option to buy.” – Dr. Anton Arcane

A friend of mine thought I was harsh on the first Swamp Thing and its director, Wes Craven. But my opinions are my opinions. He was also confused as to why I remembered this one more fondly.

Well, having now seen it again, the first time in about three decades, I still have the same opinion. While this is far from a classic and a pretty mediocre comic book adaptation, it’s still a fun, stupid, popcorn movie.

What makes this one work better for me, which seems to be why others dislike it, is the added comedy element. It’s not trying to take itself too seriously. This film is pretty self-aware, so it hams it up.

I think that the first one was made in an effort to be taken seriously. Craven has only successfully achieved that with the first A Nightmare On Elm Street, his reinvention New Nightmare and his voodoo thriller, The Serpent and the Rainbow.

Jim Wynorski, this film’s director, seems like the just wanted to have a good time making something somewhat lighthearted and goofy in a charming way. The scenes with the kids in this movie are hysterical and they’re more brilliant than anything in the first flick.

I also like that this is Dick Durock’s second time playing the title character and he seems a lot more comfortable and is allowed to let his personality come through. I also liked the return of Louis Jourdan’s Dr. Anton Arcane, even though he got killed in the first picture. This is a wacky, over the top, sci-fi movie… so why couldn’t he come back?

The supporting cast was also decent. Sure, the acting here shouldn’t be used as an example for students in drama class but everyone in the movie looked like they were having a ball and there were three pretty enchanting women in this between Sarah Douglas, Monique Gabrielle and Heather Locklear, who was surprisingly the one I found least attractive. Sarah Douglas has had my heart since Superman II and Monique Gabrielle became the woman of my dreams once I saw her shooting a machine gun.

In conclusion, I guess I understand why most people like the original more but fuck it, this is a lot more fun, has extra babes, extra cheese, extra charm, better effects and two kid actors that should’ve got their own spinoff movie trying to photograph cryptids in the swamp.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the first Swamp Thing movie, as well as the TV show that came just after this film.

Film Review: Vampirella (1996)

Release Date: September 28th, 1996
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Gary Gerani
Based on: Vampirella by Forrest J. Ackerman
Music by: Joel Goldsmith
Cast: Talisa Soto, Roger Daltrey, Richard Joseph Paul, Brian Bloom, Angus Scrimm

Cinetel Films, Concorde-New Horizons, Showtime Networks, 82 Minutes, 86 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“You are much stronger than I am.” – Vampirella, “At the risk of sounding egotistical, I am stronger than anyone.” – Vlad

I don’t think I even knew about this movie at the time of its release and I worked in a video store then. I was also a fan of comics, horror and movies that were made with the involvement of Roger Corman, the King of B-Movies.

Well, I didn’t expect much from this film but it was still pretty entertaining seeing Roger Daltrey of The Who get to ham it up pretty hard. He looked like he was having a good time, committing to this character and this film, regardless of the production value.

On the flip side of that, I have no issues with Talisa Soto, but I don’t think that she was the best choice to play Vampirella. But the script was bad, the dialogue was terrible, her hair was wrong and her outfit looked like dime store cosplay and didn’t really work. But I also realize that the traditional Vampirella costume is even racier and way more revealing. But it’s not the skin that’s the issue, as much as it is the poor, kind of unflattering design of the suit.

Also, Vampirella should be more curvy. Soto has a great body but it’s more athletic than curvy. Tia Carrere would have been a better fit but she was also probably more expensive in 1995, when this was made. But she looks more the part and if she had the same hair style that she did the first moment you saw her in Wayne’s World, it’s even a better fit.

But nothing would’ve really saved this picture from itself.

The plot was nonsensical and the pacing and editing were pretty bad. I just watched this movie and I don’t even remember what it was about other than an evil alien vampire (Daltrey) escapes from execution, heads to Earth, Vampirella follows and they fight. But hey, Angus Scrimm, Phantasm‘s the Tall Man, plays an elder vampire on their home planet.

Calling Vampirella a disappointment is an understatement. It’s a movie that really shouldn’t have been made. You think Corman would’ve learned after his experiment with Fantastic Four a few years earlier.

Unless you are an absolute die hard Vampirella fan, you should ignore this film. If you insist on checking it out, do so at your own risk. But it is free on YouTube, at the moment.

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Roger Corman’s unreleased adaptation of Fantastic Four, as well as the 1990 Captain America film.

Film Review: Beastmaster II: Through the Portal of Time (1991)

Release Date: June 8th, 1991 (Japan)
Directed by: Sylvio Tabet
Written by: Jim Wynorski, R.J. Robertson, Sylvio Tabet, Ken Hauser, Doug Miles
Based on: The Beast Master by Andre Norton, characters by Don Coscarelli, Paul Pepperman
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Marc Singer, Kari Wuhrer, Sarah Douglas, Wings Hauser, James Avery, Robert Z’Dar, Michael Berryman

Les Films 21, Republic Pictures, New Line Cinema, 107 Minutes

Review:

“He who defies Arklon, shall be destroyed… by Arklon!” – Arklon

This is such a shitty movie but it is a wonderfully entertaining shitty movie.

Where the original Beastmaster is truly a sword and sorcery classic, this film is pretty much just a “fish out of water” comedy with some sword and sorcery elements.

I’m not sure what the filmmakers were thinking with this. It wasn’t like they rushed out a sloppy sequel because this came nine years after the original. But it is very cheaply made and it completely lacks the superior craftsmanship of the previous film’s director, Don Coscarelli.

What saves this film, at least in my eyes, is the over the top performances of its cast. Marc Singer is dry when compared to his cast mates but he’s still enjoyable as Dar and I’ll always be a fan of his version of the character.

However, Singer is pretty much overshadowed by the energetic cuteness of Kari Wuhrer in one of her earliest film performances. He’s also usurped by the charismatic Wings Hauser, as his evil brother Arklon. Plus, you have Sarah Douglas as a sorceress and she’s always fantastic. But the real scene stealer is James Avery, who isn’t in this as much as the other actors but you’re always locked on him when we walks on screen. Avery is used as comedic relief and he’s a master of that but I can’t discount the fact that this entire movie really is comedy.

This lacks the edge and darkness of its predecessor and if I’m being honest, I would have preferred a proper sequel. However, I still like this strange movie for all of its batshittery. It’s a very smudged up gem but it’s still a gem. But you also have to be the right sort of film fan for this movie to click for you. The average person isn’t going to find much value in the picture and that’s fine. All this shit is subjective, anyway.

Beastmaster II already had its work cut out for it, as the first film casts a big shadow. But all things considered, this is bizarre and unique enough to justify its existence and at least it wasn’t just a rehash of the previous movie.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery movies of the time, most notably the Conan films. It’s also fun to watch with the other films within its own series.

Film Review: Ghoulies IV (1994)

Also known as: Ghoulies 4 (Germany)
Release Date: August 17th, 1994
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Mark Sevi
Based on: characters by Luca Bercovici, Jefery Levy
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cast: Peter Liapis, Barbara Alyn Woods, Stacie Randall, Raquel Krelle, Bobby Di Cicco, Tony Cox, Arturo Gil

Cinetel Films, 84 Minutes

Review:

“[after shooting an armed robber] Clean up on aisle 4.” – Jonathan Graves

Ghoulies IV isn’t really a Ghoulies movie if you take into account that there aren’t any actual Ghoulies in the picture.

Instead, we get two troll characters that don’t really have much to do with the overall plot and pretty much just crack bad jokes and break the fourth wall. It’s like Deadpool stole their whole shtick.

Now this is related directly to the first film because the main character is the same. However, Jonathan Graves (again, played by Peter Liapis) is no longer some twenty-something warlock. He is now a detective for some strange reason. He also tries to act like Sly Stallone’s Cobra character but is really unconvincing.

Graves’ ex-occultist girlfriend from Hell comes back to steal some magic gem from his necklace. She’s trying to resurrect some dime store Satan guy and nothing is really ever that clear in this movie. It’s crazy shenanigans, has no Ghoulies and is pretty boring, overall.

This is the worst of the Ghoulies films by a landslide. All of the other ones had things that made them enjoyable and entertaining. This one lacks all of that but it also isn’t so horrible that it’s unwatchable. But you don’t need to see it, even if you like the first three movies.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: The other three Ghoulies films, the Munchies films, Hobgoblins and Sorority Babes In the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama.

Film Review: Chopping Mall (1986)

Also known as: Killbots (Belgium/original US theatrical title), Robot Assassins (Spain), Shopping (France/West Germany), Supermarket Horror (Italy), Terror In Park Plaza (Portugal), R.O.B.O.T. (working title)
Release Date: March 21st, 1986
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Jim Wynorski, Steve Mitchell
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cast: Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, John Terlesky, Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson, Barbara Crampton, Suzee Slater, Nick Segal, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Dick Miller, Gerrit Graham, Angus Scrimm

Concorde Pictures, 77 Minutes, 95 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“Let’s send these fuckers a Rambo-gram.” – Rick

Chopping Mall is an unknown film that has grown a good cult following over the years. I saw it on VHS but not until the early ’90s. I’m not sure if it was readily available or distributed in the mid-’80s when it was originally released. It certainly didn’t play in a theater or drive-in near me because Southwest Florida in the ’80s was devoid of any real culture. Well, it still mostly is, thirty years later.

One cool thing about Chopping Mall is that its opening scene stars Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov as the Blands from Bartel’s 1982 movie Eating Raoul. It makes this a sort of crossover film. But then, Dick Miller also pops up as one of the many Walter Paisleys he’s played over the years. In any event, this had a lot of nods to the Roger Corman camp of talent but since his wife Julie was the producer, that makes sense.

The film also has a small role for Gerrit Graham, who popped up in horror movies a lot in the ’80s and ’90s. He even played the husband of Mary Woronov in TerrorVision. And then you also have Barbara Crampton of Re-Animator fame, as well as Kelli Maroney from Night of the Comet.

The premise of this film sees a bunch teens decide to camp out in the local mall overnight, as some of them work at the furniture store where there are beds. You know, so the teens can do that sex stuff that always sets off the monsters in an ’80s splatter picture. What the teens don’t know is that the mall has three robot security guards who have gone on the fritz. This is like Short Circuit if there were three Johnny 5s and they all had a thirst for teenage blood.

This is a really short film but it is full of action, solid practical effects, cheesy non-practical effects, bad acting, hokey ’80s dialogue and breasts. There is also a fantastic head explosion that is Scanners level awesome.

I love Chopping Mall and even though it has that cult following I mentioned, most people have no idea that this crazy gem of a movie even exists.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Night of the CometTerrorVisionThe StuffNight of the Creeps