Film Review: Hands of Steel (1986)

Also known as: Vendetta dal futuro (original Italian title), Atomic Cyborg (France), El destructor (Mexico), Hands of Stone (Netherlands), Arms of Steel (Norway), L’enfonceur (Canadian French title), Cyborg (Slovenia), Fists of Steel (UK), Destroyer (Spain)
Release Date: March 26th, 1986 (France)
Directed by: Sergio Martino
Written by: Sergio Martino, Sauro Scavolini, Elisa Livia Briganti, John Crowther
Music by: Claudio Simonetti
Cast: Daniel Greene, Janet Argen, John Saxon

National Cinematografica, Dania Film, Medusa Distribuzione, 94 Minutes

Review:

“When I get through with you, you’ll have to wipe your ass with your nose” – Raul Morales

This film had more international titles than it had extras!

But this film can have as many titles as it wants, as it is a pretty badass and ridiculous flick that has a plot that’s all over the map but doesn’t suffer because its supposed to be a smorgasbord of everything that made ’80s action movies so much fun.

Let me summarize the insane premise: An evil CEO sends a cyborg to assassinate a scientist. The cyborg fails so the CEO sends his other cyborgs to take him out. The cyborg hides in a desert diner with a chick that’s horny for him. All the while he draws the ire of the tri-state arm wrestling champion that wants to prove he’s the strongest man in the desert. The evil CEO is John Saxon and he has a really big laser.

This motion picture is insanely enjoyable and one of the best Italian post-apocalyptic, “knock off everything under the sun” movies.

There’s even a scene where the good cyborg has to arm wrestler a guy that looks like Bear Hugger from Punch-Out!! The insane part about this scene is that the loser gets their hand trapped in a shackle while a diamondback rattler bites them to death.

Now this is just about everything you’d expect from an Italian Mad Max wannabe but then it’s so much more. It’s part Terminator, part RoboCop, part Over the Top and 100 percent toxic masculinity. Plus, this came out before RoboCop and Over the Top, so it’s like the writer/director Sergio Martino was psychic. I mean, he ripped off something that didn’t yet exist!

Speaking of Martino, he’s a guy that directed a lot of the top Italian schlock. You know, the type of schlock that gives schlock a good name and inspires people like myself to find endearing things within movies that the general populace could never tolerate. He’s done giallo, slashers, spaghetti westerns, other post-apocalyptic movies and pretty much something in every cool sub-genre that matters to fans of grindhouse, exploitation, horror and action films.

Hands of Steel is a hell of a ride. It has pretty good, albeit hokey effects. But considering this picture’s budget, it’s all passable and it works. In fact, the scene where the cyborg repairs his arm is pretty impressive.

While I’m sure that most people would dismiss this movie as absolute shit, the opinions and money of the regular moviegoer are why we keep getting subpar blockbusters, countless sequels, spinoffs, remakes and reboots. I’ll take Hands of Steel over some Harley Quinn dressed like a peacock movie.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Italian post-apocalyptic movies of the ’80s.

Film Review: Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

Release Date: August 10th, 1980 (Venice, CA premiere)
Directed by: Jimmy T. Murakami, Roger Corman (uncredited)
Written by: John Sayles, Anne Dyer
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, George Peppard, John Saxon, Sybil Danning, Darlanne Fluegel

New World Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Nanelia, the Akira believe that no form ends until all the lives that it has touched are ended, until all the good that it has done is gone.” – Shad

For a very low budget film that is obviously one of many ripoffs of Star WarsBattle Beyond the Stars is actually… kind of good.

Now you can’t go into this expecting Star Wars quality, this is, in fact, produced by Roger Corman “The King of B-Movies”. But this still works for what it is and doesn’t have a bad look for the time, it just feels more like Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century than A New Hope.

However, it is better than those two iconic shows, as it has the special effects of James Cameron and a score by James Horner. Corman was able to attract these two men and squeezed some magic out of them just before they would go on to have bigger and better careers, a few years later. Cameron would make The Terminator and Aliens not too long after this and Horner did the iconic score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

It’s that early James Cameron magic that actually turns chicken salad into chicken shit here. Reason being, his ship designs were great and each has its own unique and cool look. Plus, the visual effects, primarily the outer space stuff, is better than what was the standard for the time. We were still a few years away from good 3D animation, as would be seen in 1984’s The Last Starfighter.

Corman also pulled together a decent cast with veterans Robert Vaughn, George Peppard and John Saxon. We also got Sybil Danning, who surprisingly, kept her shirt on the whole movie. Well, she was showing off her tantalizing bits, as much as she could without making this an R-rated film.

The only real downside was seeing Richard Thomas as the film’s young hero. Not to knock Thomas but it’s just hard seeing John Boy from The Waltons being some sort of space faring badass. But I guess Luke Skywalker was a rural farm kid so why not try to use John Boy in the same sort of role?

This is still an enjoyable movie but you really have to be into ’80s sci-fi cheese of the highest caliber.

I’ve always sort of cherished this picture because I saw it at such a young age and it was on television a lot back in the day. It has not aged well but if I’m being honest, it already felt behind the times by the time 1985 rolled around, just half a decade later.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other low budget Star Wars “homages” of the late ’70s/early ’80s: StarcrashThe Black HoleThe Ice PiratesSpace Raiders, Star Odyssey, etc.

Film Review: Mitchell (1975)

Also known as: Kill Mr. Mitchell (Hong Kong – English premiere title)
Release Date: September 10th, 1975
Directed by: Andrew V. McLaglen
Written by: Ian Kennedy Martin
Music by: Larry Brown, Jerry Styner
Cast: Joe Don Baker, Linda Evans, Martin Balsam, John Saxon

Allied Artists Pictures Corporation, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Piss off, kid!” – Mitchell

The only reason people even remember this movie now is because it was featured on one of the most important episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the episode that was the big farewell to original host Joel Hodgson.

Apart from that great episode, the movie itself is absolutely atrocious. It is a massive pile of steaming shit. It’s fucking horrible, if I can be so bold.

Sure, Joe Don Baker is the man. This also has John Saxon in it. But even these two can’t save a picture that is so poorly written and horrendously directed. It is one of those movies where watching too much of it will cause your eyeballs to bleed out of your sockets. It may even induce vomiting and diarrhea.

Yet, I still love Baker and Saxon and for some reason I’ll never understand, I love to torture myself with the worst movies that Earth has to offer. Maybe I should see a therapist but my Uncle Grapes once told me that “therapist” is spelled the same as “the rapist”. He spent a lot of time in a sanitarium though because he tried gluing cats to his naked body to “blend in with the bears”.

So what’s really wrong with this shit pancake of a movie? Well, a lot… frankly.

To start, lets talk about the action. There is a car chase that is so slow and boring that Crow T. Robot of Mystery Science Theater 3000 commented that it made “…Driving Miss Daisy look like Bullitt.” Also, watching Mitchell (Baker) do anything athletic, like running away from gunmen and such, was laughably bad. Although, we get that scene where he waves down a helicopter and it drops a shotgun down to him. I mean, who doesn’t want a shotgun dispensing chopper overhead when bad guys got you surrounded? Maybe that part of the action was kind of cool.

You also have to sit through one of the most awkward and strange sex scenes in movie history. Plus, it is accented by the horrible Mitchell theme song that just won’t go away from the time the picture starts till the very end of the credits when this turkey stuffed with crap finally ends.

Honestly, these could have all been different songs throughout the movie but they all sounded the same and I had to be on suicide watch for 37 days because that’s how long it took to get them out of my head.

Mitchell really is friggin’ dreadful. That being said, it has to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. And the results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.” Ew… gross, Mitchell!

Rating: 2.5/10

Film Review: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

Release Date: October 14th, 1994
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Wes Craven
Based on: characters by Wes Craven
Music by: J. Peter Robinson
Cast: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Miko Hughes, Tracy Middendorf, David Newsom, Fran Bennett, Wes Craven, Robert Shaye, Marianne Maddalena, Sam Rubin, Sara Risher, Nick Corri, Tuesday Knight

New Line Cinema, 112 Minutes

Review:

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is a sequel of sorts to the original series but it is also a standalone film. Reason being, it is supposed to exist in the real world, as Freddy Krueger evolves from being a monster on the screen to manifesting in the real world to terrorize Heather Langenkamp, the actress who played Nancy in the first and third films in the series.

The film is a reinvention of the Freddy Krueger mythos. This is why I am reviewing it as its own thing.

Freddy enters our world, after being killed off in the film series. He needs fear to exist and if no one is making movies, he will evolve beyond them. The premise is bizarre but it gives the franchise a bit more originality and energy to give the audience something compelling and new.

For some reason, Freddy has evolved physically, as well. His scars are very different, he sometimes wears a trench coat and he no longer wears a glove, as his claws have grown organically out of his hand. Additionally, he now has a razor on his thumb. He looks more primal overall but I’m not a big fan of the trench coat.

The film also feels more serious than any of the previous chapters. The ante is upped creatively and it brings more realism to a horror fantasy.

Langenkamp was great, playing herself and having to deal with her child being terrorized and her husband being murdered. Her husband in the film was played by her real life husband.

As for the kid, Miko Hughes was stellar. He was a good child actor in a time when many weren’t. Also, he is the youngest potential victim Freddy has ever gone after on screen.

There are less deaths than normal but the real world feel adds more to those scenes. There is just something sinister and wrong in the scene where the young kid sees his babysitter dragged across the ceiling and gutted by Krueger. Robert Englund as Freddy, was at his evil best.

Watching Heather have to protect her very young son from a monster she unknowingly helped create, is more interesting and emotional than watching another slasher film full of mostly unlikable teens getting slaughtered for the umpteenth time.

I don’t know if a sequel to this could have ever materialized and been as good. It was best that this formula only lasted for a single film. And ultimately, it was a really good film.

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: Black Christmas (1974)

Also known as: Silent Night Evil Night, Stranger in the House
Release Date: October 11th, 1974 (Canada)
Directed by: Bob Clark
Written by: A. Roy Moore
Music by: Carl Zitter
Cast: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Andrea Martin

Film Funding Limited of Canada, Ambassador Films, Warner Bros., 98 Minutes

black_christmasReview:

Some people have referred to Black Christmas as the first slasher film. It is hard to say what the first one was, as people have varying opinions on what exactly makes a slasher. If you consider pictures like Halloween and Friday the 13th to be the true slasher formula, then Black Christmas would be their godfather. In fact, the similarities between Black Christmas and Halloween are undeniable. Also, When A Stranger Calls borrows a lot from this picture. Needless to say, Black Christmas was a highly influential film on the horror genre.

The film takes place in a sorority house over the Christmas holiday. The girls keep getting strange and perverse phone calls. As the story progresses, one girl is murdered in the attic. Then the housemother is killed when she discovers the body. The police start investigating the missing girl and suspect the phone calls are related. More girls die, more weird phone calls happen and it all comes to a big crescendo once it is revealed that the killer is making the calls from within the house.

Directed by Bob Clark, who would go on to make the beloved A Christmas Story and Porky’s, this movie was the best of his career. Granted, Clark also gave us those atrocious Baby Geniuses films. But Black Christmas is an exceptional piece of work.

There were a lot of really artistic shots and the overall cinematography was impressive. The film had the warmth and welcoming feel of Christmas, all while generating a real sense of terror. The famous shot of the killer’s eye at the end is still one of the best moments in horror history. Clark really knew what he was doing with this film and he executed it brilliantly. Not only does Black Christmas still stand up today, over forty years later, but it is better than any modern horror picture in recent memory.

It is also worth mentioning that the performances by Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder were outstanding. It is easy to see why Kidder went on to have a pretty good career through the 70s and 80s. Keir Dullea, Hussey’s possibly psychotic love interest, gives one of his most memorable performances since he was Dr. David Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Then you have John Saxon, who came across as a much kinder and less drunk version of his detective character from the first and third A Nightmare On Elm Street movies. Also, you get to see a young Andrea Martin before she went on to become one of the stars in the great sketch comedy series SCTV.

Slasher pictures aren’t really known for being great pieces of filmmaking. However, Black Christmas really breaks that mold and it set a standard that was hard for others to measure up to.