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: 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: Brain Dead (1990)

Also known as: Paranoia (alternative title), Lobotomie (Canada, French title)
Release Date: January, 1990 (Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Adam Simon
Written by: Charles Beaumont, Adam Simon
Music by: Peter Rotter
Cast: Bill Pullman, Bill Paxton, Bud Cort, George Kennedy, Nicholas Pryor, Patricia Charbonneau

Concord Pictures, New Horizons, 85 Minutes

Review:

“My brains are individuals – they’re special – they’re unique.” – Dr. Rex Martin

This film stars two of my favorite Bills but I had never seen it until now. I remember seeing the VHS box art at my local video stores though. It just never appealed to me back in the day and my appreciation for Bills Pullman and Paxton hadn’t completely blossomed in 1990.

Overall, this was a decent picture. I liked seeing both Pullman and Paxton in it, along with Bud Cort, who stole the scenes he was in, and the great George Kennedy. I also enjoyed Patricia Charbonneau, who I mostly only know as the kind scientist from RoboCop 2 but I was crushing hard on her in that movie when I was a wee little lad.

Anyway, this is a weird, trippy movie with a lot of mystery. Mostly, the story is a slow burn that builds up at the right speed but delivers just an okay conclusion.

This is one of those mindfuck movies though and they were really common at the time but unfortunately, this doesn’t come close to the better ones like Jacob’s Ladder or From Beyond.

The plot follows a neurosurgeon (Pullman) that specializes in brain malfunctions that cause mental illnesses. His high school buddy (Paxton), a yuppie businessman from a company called Eunice, asks for help in delving into the brain of a genius mathematician that turned into a psychotic. Really, they are trying to pry into his brain to reveal corporate secrets but the neurosurgeon starts to be effected by the horrors in the mind of the mathematician.

I wouldn’t call the ending satisfactory but the story was interesting enough to keep one engaged up to that point. But most of these mindfuck movies never really deliver anything profound and usually flounder at the climax.

This is a film that steadily builds suspense but comes up short in its final delivery. There’s nothing profound here and really nothing new either.

But this is carried by the performances of its leads and for that, it’s probably worth a watch for fans of this genre.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: Altered States, From BeyondRe-Animator and Jacob’s Ladder.

Film Review: The Fantastic Four (1994)

Release Date: Officially unreleased, once screened on May 31st, 1994
Directed by: Oley Sassone
Written by: Craig J. Nevius, Kevin Rock
Based on: Fantastic Four by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: David Wurst, Eric Wurst
Cast: Alex Hyde-White, Jay Underwood, Rebecca Staab, Michael Bailey Smith, Kat Green, Joseph Culp

Marvel, Constantin Film Production, New Horizons, 90 Minutes

Review:

“What kind of thing have I turned into?” – The Thing

I’ve seen clips of this for years, I enjoyed the documentary on it but never have I seen the movie in its entirety until now.

Man, is this bad. I mean, really f’n bad. Roger Corman, whose cheesiness and low budget mastery I have enjoyed for decades, really took things to an incredibly new low with this in 1994.

But then again, if you watch the documentary on this film, it was made to hold onto the trademark and wasn’t really intended for actual release.

This film was rushed. It was made half assed. But that was mainly due to the producers and not the actors and crew who weren’t clued in to the reality of this production and the intentions of the people pulling the strings.

On the positive side, this surprisingly feels closer to the spirit of the source material than the three big budget Fantastic Four movies that came after it. It takes a few liberties with the origin but isn’t as drastic of a change as the most modern reboot. And fuck, I loved Doctor Doom in this more than the other films because he literally looked like the comic book Doom I grew up with and was just as hammy but in a great way and not an unintentional, terrible way like the Julian McMahon and Toby Kebbell versions.

I also thought that the score was pretty decent for a no budget, mid-’90s superhero flick. If you remember the era, Marvel had nothing but a string of atrocious movies up to this point. Even their television shows before this were shit, excluding The Incredible Hulk, but that show wasn’t as close to the source material as it should have been, let’s be honest.

The thing is, had the producers cared, this could have been a better picture and maybe have done well on the VHS market. It certainly would’ve bombed in the theater but it had imagination and the story isn’t terrible.

Okay, the jewel thief midget character was terrible and I’m not sure why they didn’t just make him Mole Man, as there were a lot of similarities but this movie could have been fine tuned into something at least palatable. It’s like they just ran with the first draft of the script and maybe that’s exactly what they did, as they had to rush this the hell out.

This isn’t unwatchable, if you are a fan of terrible f’n movies or want to see something that is certainly worthy of being riffed by Mystery Science Theater 3000 or RiffTrax. And honestly, I’d probably watch this again before touching any of the big budget Fantastic Four films.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: I guess 2005’s Fantastic Four and its sequel Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and the second reboot, 2015’s Fantastic Four. However, all these movies are terrible.

Film Review: Death Race 2050 (2017)

Release Date: January 9th, 2017 (Turkey premiere)
Directed by: G. J. Echternkamp
Written by: G. J. Echternkamp, Matt Yamashita
Based on: Death Race 2000 by Robert Thom, Charles B. Griffith
Music by: Gunter Brown, Cindy Brown
Cast: Manu Bennett, Malcolm McDowell, Marci Miller, Burt Grinstead, Folake Olowofoyeku, Anessa Ramsey, Yancy Butler

Universal 1440 Entertainment, New Horizons Pictures, Universal Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Europe, Asia, cancer; we kicked ’em all in the ass! The only thing that can kill an American is another American!” – The Chairman

There is a drastic difference of opinion on this film based off of critics and non-critics. The film has a 3.7 out of 10 on IMDb yet it has 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. According to Google, however, 55 percent of people have said they like this movie.

I think that the really low rating on IMDb is due to the fact that the average person doesn’t understand the context of this film and what it is supposed to be. Looking at it at face value with no knowledge of its lineage probably makes it too confusing, zany and bizarre to make a whole lot of sense. And I don’t think that this film should have to rely on knowledge of its source material to work, it should be able to stand on its own. But since I do know the source material very well, I see this much more positively than the average bear. I think that the professional critical consensus is high because the critics understand what this is.

The point is, this is supposed to be cheap looking, insane, shoddy and really f’n weird. It is both a remake and an homage to the 1975 film Death Race 2000. This was made to be a more accurate remake to the original film than that awful Jason Statham movie was, which itself birthed some awful sequels.

I was initially unsure of what this was because going into it, I didn’t know whether or not it was a sequel, a remake or what. But it is a remake that is updated to take in some things that reflect how technology has evolved since the 1975 original. There are now VR experiences, camera drones, a drone car and a bunch of other new stuff. Still, this is as true to the original as you can get.

But maybe it is too true and that sort of hurts this film. It takes some liberties here and there but it is generally the same film and since it isn’t anywhere near as good as the cult classic Death Race 2000, it almost makes this film’s existence kind of pointless. I think it would have been better to actually just go with a straight up sequel.

I did like the cast for the most part. It is hard to replace the great cast of the original, which boasted the talents of David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Martin Kove and Mary Woronov. However, Manu Bennett played Frankenstein in this film and I loved him as Deathstroke on CW’s Arrow. Malcolm McDowell plays the Chairman, who is essentially the President. The rest of the cast is made up of virtual unknowns but Anessa Ramsey stole every scene she was in as Tammy the Terrorist. Additionally, I love, love, loved the character of Minerva, played by Folake Olowofoyeku.

Death Race 2050 was a good homage to Death Race 2000 and it was fun for fans of the original but without any knowledge of that 1975 film, I could see where this would just baffle and confuse people. It isn’t the type of film that works nowadays and the political and social commentary would just be over the heads of most.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Death Race 2000 and some of the modern grindhouse revival films: Turbo KidHobo with a ShotgunKung Fury, etc.

Film Review: Deathstalker III: The Warriors From Hell (1988)

Also known as: Deathstalker III: Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell (full title), Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell (alternate)
Release Date: 1988 (Mexico)
Directed by: Alfonso Corona
Written by: Howard R. Cohen
Music by: Israel Torres, Alejandro Rulfo
Cast: John Allen Nelson, Carla Herd, Thom Christopher, Terri Treas

Concorde-New Horizons, New Classics, Triana Films, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Potatoes are what we eat!” – Khorsa

I have never seen a Deathstalker movie that I have liked, so finding one that was featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is no surprise. And really, this is probably the worst film out of the four.

The movie starts with an evil barbarian horde pillaging a village because that’s how all these kinds of movies start. People die, a hero rises from the ashes and has to crush the evil. However, the evil is some short, scrawny, bald guy that wears giant furs and looks like the host of some swingers party that no one wants to be at. He’s like the guy that tried to bang his secretary to get revenge on his wife who is “disinterested in sex”, except the secretary wouldn’t touch him and quit her job and the dude just planted evidence to look like he had an affair because no one wants him: his wife, his secretary, the bears at the gay biker bar, no one.

The hero is no better. He spends the duration of the film’s 86 minutes trying out different accents, none of which work. He’s also just some pretty boy soap actor from Santa Barbara. All I remember from that show was the opening credits sequence, which made my Auntie Belle smile everyday like a fat kid with a coupon book to Chet’s Burger City.

Deathstalker III is just a long, awful, meaningless, mundane build up to a final showdown between a fur covered mid-life crisis having Saturn car salesman and a pretty boy trying out accents to woo ladies that would be more at home in a Chubbies advertisement than wielding a sword.

I remember actually renting this as a kid because I thought the video box art was incredibly f’n badass! That poster represents the movie in no way whatsoever. The only thing accurate about it is the swords. Yes, they exist in this movie but the hero certainly isn’t some Fabio-esque barbarian book cover model. In fact, the filmmakers should be sued by anyone that ever saw the video box on a shelf and wasted 99 cents on a lie. It’s like buying a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue with Heidi Klum on the cover, only to open it and see that all the other sexy bikini shots are of Rosie O’Donnell and Oprah Winfrey.

This is an appalling movie that must have been a cruel joke by the filmmakers involved. Even though Roger Corman is a producer, albeit uncredited, this is a blight on his name and he’s the King of B-movies.

This is a Z-movie, that’s how bad it is.

Deathstalker III: The Warriors From Hell can’t escape the clutches of the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Rating: 1/10
Pairs well with: I guess the other Deathstalker films but this will be the worst part of the pairing.