Film Review: Joysticks (1983)

Also known as: Video Madness (alternative title)
Release Date: March 4th, 1983
Directed by: Greydon Clark
Written by: Al Gomez, Mickey Epps, Curtis Burch
Music by: various
Cast: Joe Don Baker, Leif Green, Jim Greenleaf, Scott McGinnis, Jon Gries, Corinne Bohrer, John Diehl, John Voldstad, Logan Ramsey

Jensen Farley Pictures, Citadel Films, Liberation Entertainment, 88 Minutes

Review:

“If you’re half the leader I think you are…” – Joseph Rutter, “I am half the leader you think I am!” – King Vidiot

Greydon Clark has made a lot of B-movies in multiple genres. Just before this one, he did Wacko, which I wasn’t a fan of other than the Andrew Dice Clay scenes. Where that one was a teen sex comedy with a horror theme, Joysticks is a teen sex comedy that primarily takes place in and around a video arcade. Also, it’s a more amusing movie than its slasher predecessor.

Like Wacko, this one stars Joe Don Baker, which, in my book, is always a plus. But he’s a much more engaging character and really gets to ham it up in great ways here. His best bits are when he plays opposite of the always fantastic Jonathan Gries, who plays a punk rock moron named King Vidiot.

The plot is about a video arcade that is deemed troublesome by the older busybody community. Basically, take Footloose and switch out dancing for video games… and then add a lot of crude humor and boobies. Baker’s Joseph Rutter is a rich guy that wants to shut the arcade down, so he employs his dimwitted nephews and King Vidiot to help him in his quest.

Now Baker and Gries steal every scene that they’re in but Corinne Bohrer is so entertaining in this as a ditzy, rich Valley girl that it’s hard not to love her over the top performance. Her voice was great in this and she had a lot of charm and charisma that would help her carve out a decent career in the ’80s between this film, Vice VersaPolice Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol, Zapped!, some solid sitcom work and her fairly memorable role opposite of Mark Hamill’s Trickster in the 1990 Flash TV show.

Joysticks is a dumb movie but I mean that in the best way possible. As unwatchable as Clark’s Wacko was a year earlier, this really rights the ship and it worked for me. If you’re into films like Porky’s and Meatballs and also like retro video games, then I’m sure you’ll probably like this too.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other early ’80s teen sex comedies.

Film Review: TerrorVision (1986)

Release Date: February 14th, 1986
Directed by: Ted Nicolaou
Written by: Charles Band, Ted Nicolaou
Music by: Richard Band, The Fibonaccis
Cast: Diane Franklin, Gerrit Graham, Mary Woronov, Chad Allen, Jonathan Gries, Jennifer Richards, Alejandro Rey, Bert Remsen

Empire Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, war stories and monster movies are educational. They’re survival-oriented. They always neutralize the enemy in the end.” – Grampa Putterman

TerrorVision is a strange but enchanting and hilarious body of work. It’s the type of film that could really only come out of the 1980s. It stars Mary Woronov and Gerrit Graham, who both also appeared in Chopping Mall the same year. Both actors have a solid cult following and for good reason, they knew how to pick the right kind of movies that had the sort of elements that would eventually turn them into cult pictures.

The film also stars Diane Franklin, Chad Allen of Our House fame and a young Jonathan Gries, in what may be my favorite role he’s ever played.

The film kicks off with an opening scene on an alien world that uses very obvious miniatures and models that immediately lets you know that the film has no budget but it is going to be a real homage to the special effects style of the 1950s and 1960s. It also directly references its influences by showcasing old sci-fi films of that classic era throughout this movie.

The story is about a suburban family of wacky characters and their obsession with their new satellite dish and television in general. An alien creature accidentally gets beamed into the satellite dish and is then able to escape the TV and eat the family.

One cool thing about the film, is that other than the few shots in the driveway, the film is shot entirely on an indoor set. The sky in the backyard is just a screen and just adds to the magical nature of the movie’s presentation. It’s supposed to look low budget and it succeeds in pulling this off while also having some impressive creature effects. You have to suspend disbelief and realize that this is a comedy and almost parody. It sort of exists in a similar vein to the ’80s version of Little Shop of Horrors.

All the characters are great and entertaining, especially all the bits with the swingers and then all the parts with Jonathan Gries’ O.D.

While this film has a good cult following, it still doesn’t get the recognition that it probably should.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The 1986 remakes of Invaders From Mars and Little Shop of Horrors, as well as another film with Woronov and Graham in it, Chopping Mall. It also fits well with The StuffNight of the Creeps and The Video Dead.

Film Review: Real Genius (1985)

Release Date: August 7th, 1985
Directed by: Martha Coolidge
Written by: Neal Israel, Pat Proft, Peter Torokvei
Music by: Thomas Newman, The Textones
Cast: Val Kilmer, Gabe Jarret, Michelle Meyrink, William Atherton, Robert Prescott, Jon Gries, Ed Lauter, Patti D’Arbanville

Delphi III Productions, TriStar Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“This? This is ice. This is what happens to water when it gets too cold. This? This is Kent. This is what happens to people when they get too sexually frustrated.” – Chris Knight

Real Genius is one of those comfort movies from my youth. I loved this film when I was a kid but I was always really into tech stuff and my love for G.I. Joe and sci-fi had me really interested in military weapons science. Although, the kids in this film didn’t know that they are building a superweapon until it was too late.

Val Kilmer, who was the “king of cool” for quite some time between the ’80s and ’90s, felt authentic in his role as Chris Knight, a super genius that was a bit burnt out and just wanted to party and enjoy life. Gabe Jarret was also really good as Mitch, the younger super genius that came to the college at fifteen and roomed with Chris. The rest of the kids also felt real and all of them played their roles to perfection.

William Atherton, quintessential ’80s adult super villain, was up to his old tricks as the authoritative and vindictive heel to the heroes. He was a celebrity scientist with a hit show who was using the university as a means to get super smart kids to create a killer laser for the U.S. military. Atherton’s Professor Hathaway was the Joker to Kilmer’s Batman. Wait… Kilmer would eventually be Batman. Whoa! Imagine an Atherton Joker. And hell, what if Mitch became the Riddler? Okay, I’m distracted… sorry. But now I can’t get the thought of Michelle Meyrink as Catwoman out of my head. Or the Asian kid being Mr. Freeze because he freezes stuff. And Lazlo could be Two-Face… mainly because he’s tall. And well, Kent could be Scarecrow because he’s a jerk and a total pussy. Damn it! Get back on topic!

Anyway, Real Genius is a film that’s a hell of a lot of fun and has a good solid message.

It’s about kids fighting authority and a system they really don’t want to be a part of. A system that exploits them for their talents. And it is a cool movie because the kids fight back and outwit the adults that think they’re smarter than the geniuses they tried to dupe. Ultimately, this is a coming of age movie that deals with the youth’s inability to trust a scary adult world that existed before them and corrupted their parents.

Real Genius is much more than a standard ’80s teen comedy. It is well written with lots of talented young actors that play their parts convincingly. Val Kilmer has done a lot in his long career but this is still my favorite role that he’s ever played.

Can we maybe get a sequel featuring an old, even more burnt out Chris Knight living in Mitch’s basement where Mitch has to deal with “cool uncle” Chris teaching his kids how to have fun because Mitch grew up to be even lamer and more uptight? And Kent could be the district manager over a dozen Radio Barns that are closing down because we live in an Amazon world. And Lazlo could be like a hybrid of Mark Cuban and Bill Gates. I should really just write pointless sequels for a living, I’ve got a lot of unrefined and ambitious ideas, y’all.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: WarGamesD.A.R.Y.L.Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science.

Film Review: Fright Night, Part 2 (1988)

Release Date: December 8th, 1988 (Australia)
Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Written by: Tommy Lee Wallace, Tim Metcalfe, Miguel Tejada-Flores
Based on: characters created by Tom Holland
Music by: Brad Fiedel
Cast: William Ragsdale, Roddy McDowall, Traci Lind, Julie Carmen, Jon Gries, Brian Thompson, Merritt Butrick

New Century/Vista, TriStar Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“It was a performance.” – Charley Brewster, “She cast no reflection!” – Peter Vincent

You know that old sentiment that sequels are never as good as the original? Well, it’s not entirely true, as many sequels have eclipsed their predecessors. However, Fright Night, Part 2 is not one of those.

While it is great to see Roddy McDowall and William Ragsdale reunite, as vampire hunting friends, the film has a massive void from all the other characters who aren’t here. Granted, Chris Sarandon’s Jerry Dandrige is dead and we have a new vampire threat in this chapter but Amanda Bearse is sorely missed, as is Stephen Geoffreys, whose Evil Ed died but reappears in a tease at the end of the first movie.

We do get the additions of Jonathan Gries, a guy I love in everything, and Brian Thompson, one of the most intimidating heavies of the ’80s and ’90s. Plus, Traci Lind is really good, even if she isn’t Bearse, and Julie Carmen is absolutely alluring as Dandrige’s ancient vampire sister, seeking revenge for the events of the first film.

Sadly, this film is pretty damn boring. It has a few good momnets, here and there, but none of them really make up for the overall film being unable to even muster up just a little bit of the magic they had in the first picture. The only time you really feel anything, is when McDowall and Ragsdale are together but even then, it feels like a cheap imitation of the first movie. However, that vampire bowling sequence is fairly amusing.

Fright Night, Part 2 is neither bad nor good. It just sort of exists and isn’t all that memorable. It’s a highly sought after film, as it has been out of print for awhile but I’ve still got an old copy.

If you haven’t seen this sequel but have been dying to because you’re a fan of the first film, just be prepared that it isn’t the lightning in a bottle that was the original Fright Night. You also shouldn’t pay a lot of money just to get your hands on a rare copy of it.

Rating: 6/10

Documentary Review: You’re So Cool, Brewster! The Story of Fright Night (2016)

Release Date: December 2nd, 2016
Directed by: Chris Griffiths
Music by: Lito Velasco

Dead Mouse Productions, 217 Minutes, 146 Minutes (Condensed version)

Review:

If you don’t like Fright Night, we can’t be friends. I mean, seriously, it’s a hell of a good time and was a much needed return to traditional monsters in a decade ruled by slasher films.

This long documentary covers everything you could ever want to know about Fright Night and it even goes into its mostly unappreciated sequel.

The coolest thing about this film and what I love about these modern documentaries about old horror franchises, is getting to revisit the cast and creators all these years later.

It may seem bizarre to have a documentary that is much longer than the subject matter it is discussing but a lot goes into filmmaking and this documentary doesn’t leave a single stone unturned. You get candid looks at the special effects, props making, creature makeup and how certain sequences were shot.

The interviews with the cast, the director and all the other key people were really the best part of this film though. It was especially cool seeing William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Amanda Bearse and Stephen Geoffreys in 2016. Geoffreys’ bits I liked because it showed the man himself and how different he is from the Evil Ed persona. He also discusses how he was apprehensive about performing certain aspects of the character.

Tom Holland, the director, discussed at length about how the whole project came to be, as well as shedding light on what lead him to it.

If you are a fan of the original Fright Night or you’re hardcore and love the whole franchise, this is certainly worth checking out.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Kill Me Again (1989)

Release Date: October 27th, 1989
Directed by: John Dahl
Written by: John Dahl, Rick Dahl
Music by: William Olvis
Cast: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Michael Madsen, Jonathan Gries

Incorporated Television Company (ITC), PolyGram Movies, Propaganda Films, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 94 Minutes

Review:

John Dahl started his career out on a pretty good foot with his directorial debut, Kill Me Again. It is a part of his first three motion pictures that I consider a trilogy. While they aren’t a linked story, all three of those films share a common thread, they are modern noir pictures – two of which take place in the American southwest with the other taking place in New York. The other two films are Red Rock West and The Last Seduction.

Kill Me Again is the weakest of the three but it is still a pretty solid crime thriller with a good cast.

Most of the acting duties fall on the then married Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer. Their chemistry is pretty uncanny, just as it was when it was first seen in the George Lucas and Ron Howard fantasy epic Willow.

Michael Madsen plays a psychotic criminal similar to his role a few years later as Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs. In fact, after seeing this, I’m pretty sure that it was his work in this picture that got him that more iconic part. Also drawing comparisons to Mr. Blonde, Madsen violently tortures a man strapped to a chair in this film. That man is Jonathan Gries, by the way, an accomplished actor but still probably most famous as Uncle Rico in Napolean Dynamite.

The story of Kill Me Again isn’t anything a noir fan hasn’t seen before but it is a good homage to those great old classic tales that featured femme fatales, deception, conspiracy, greed and murder. In this picture, Faye (Whalley) and her abusive boyfriend Vince (Madsen) rob a mobster transporting a briefcase full of $850,000 in cash. Faye then turns on Vince, knocking him out in a gas station bathroom. She escapes with the money and seeks out a P.I. named Jack (Kilmer) to help her fake her death. Of course, Faye also double crosses Jack and we get a dysfunctional love triangle where the femme fatale is playing both sides against one another while trying to escape the mob, who are in pursuit of the stolen money.

The film isn’t long and it speeds along pretty quickly, as every scene is pretty pivotal to the plot and advances things forward at a swift pace while still developing the characters and exploring their relationships and inability to trust one another.

Although the ending wasn’t that satisfying and was sort of a quick and simple way to wrap things up, the film doesn’t suffer because of it. All the suspense and tension were really well managed. You never once think that anyone isn’t really out for themselves and they are all fairly deplorable characters but the actors played the roles quite well and kept you engaged in the story.

Dahl’s work would improve after this but for a debut film, he certainly created something better than most directors’ rookie pictures. Plus, he was able to assemble a good cast that made the material come alive.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: The Monster Squad (1987)

Release Date: August 14th, 1987
Directed by: Fred Dekker
Written by: Shane Black, Fred Dekker
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Cast: Andre Gower, Duncan Regehr, Stephen Macht, Stan Shaw, Tom Noonan, Jonathan Gries, Jason Hervey, Mary Ellen Trainor

Home Box Office, Keith Barish Productions, TAFT Entertainment Pictures, TriStar Pictures, 82 Minutes

monster_squadReview:

The Monster Squad is one of the best kids movies from the 1980s. Coming out in the decade when I was a kid, I was more susceptible to the pop culture of this era than any other. Also, when this film came out, these kids were essentially the same age as me. I also loved classic monsters like these kids, so it wasn’t a hard film for me to connect to.

This film is constantly compared to The Goonies, which was a bigger budget, more popular film that had Steven Spielberg’s and Richard Donner’s names on it. The Monster Squad had Shane Black’s and Fred Dekker’s names on it. At the time, neither were really well known but Dekker had written and directed the pretty stellar Night of the Creeps a year prior. Both men have gone on to make some great films and still work together on some projects. They’re currently working together on a reboot of Predator (Shane Black acted in the original).

Getting back to The Goonies comparison, I find this film to be much better. In fact, I felt that way even in 1987 when this movie came out. To start, you’ve got a group of kids fighting five of the classic Universal Monsters: Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man, the Mummy and the Gillman (or as many call him, “the Creature From the Black Lagoon” or just, “the Creature”.).

While Dracula and the Mummy both look very much like their Universal Monsters incarnations, the other creatures are updated. The Gillman is now scary and frightening, while the Wolf Man is more bad ass. And while still on the monsters, Duncan Regehr (best known as Zorro in the late 80s) was a perfect Dracula, Jon Gries (Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite) did a fantastic job as the human form of the Wolf Man and Tom Noonan (known for being the Ripper in Last Action Hero) truly owned the role of Frankenstein’s monster and should be considered one of the best to play that character.

The other thing that makes this film better than The Goonies, in my opinion, is that the kids are more real. They cursed, they were often times perverts, they watched slasher films and their parents didn’t give a shit and they felt like boys I’d hang out with at school where the Goonies crew was cool but they seemed like a bunch of kids doing their own thing and came off as less authentic and less organic.

I also love the names in this movie. The token fat kid is called “Fat Kid” even though he reminds people that his name is Horace. The creepy old recluse dude that ends up being totally awesome is only ever called “Scary German Guy”. The character of Patrick has a slutty sister that is only ever referred to as “Patrick’s Sister”. By the way, “Fat Kid” is way better than Chunk from The Goonies, as he doesn’t just eat ice cream and do the truffle shuffle. No, the token fat kid in this movie, picks up a shotgun and saves the kids who bullied him – winning their respect.

This film is campy as hell, fun as hell and just a great fucking motion picture. If you love The Goonies but haven’t seen this, you are doing yourself a huge disservice. If you love classic monsters, you definitely need to get off of your ass and watch this now.

Rating: 9/10