Film Review: The Gladiator (1986)

Release Date: February 3rd, 1986
Directed by: Abel Ferrara
Written by: William Bleich
Music by: David Frank
Cast: Ken Wahl, Nancy Allen, Brian Robbins, Robert Culp, Stan Shaw, Rick Dees, Rosemary Forsyth

Walker Brothers Productions, New World Television, ABC, 98 Minutes

Review:

“There’s order to the chaos of the universe – as above, so below. I mean, even here, there’s a natural order posed by me, because here: I am God.” – Joe Barker

I really like Ken Wahl and Nancy Allen, so I thought a movie where Wahl turns vigilante and makes his truck a weaponized killing machine would be pretty badass! Well, I was let down.

Wahl’s truck is actually just reinforced with some heavy add-ons and a harpoon gun that basically immobilizes vehicles. He’s not really doing Mad Max shit but he is still trying to clean up the streets while hunting for the killer driver that murdered his brother and several other people.

I thought that Wahl was pretty good in this but the movie was slow as hell. It has some good, action-packed moments but it just leaves you wanting more and never really delivers in the way that you’d hope.

I felt like Nancy Allen was barely in it, as well.

But this was a movie that was made for television and there is only so much that you could get away with on network TV in the ’80s.

This is just one of those films that sits in limbo: it’s not necessarily a waste of time but it also isn’t worth going out of your way to watch.

Rating: 5/10

Film Review: Sorceress (1982)

Also known as: The Barbarian Women (working title)
Release Date: October 1st, 1982 (Atlanta premiere)
Directed by: Jack Hill (as Brian Stuart)
Written by: Jack Hill (uncredited), Jim Wynorski
Music by: James Horner (reusing themes from Battle Beyond the Stars)
Cast: Leigh Harris, Lynette Harris, Bob Nelson, David Millbern, Bruno Rey, Ana De Sade, Roberto Ballesteros, Douglas Sanders, Tony Stevens, Martin LaSalle

CONACINE, New World Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“I did not train you men in my arts so that you would hunt down and butcher women.” – Krona, “You never could understand the greater values!” – Traigon

This is an ’80s sword and sorcery film that I had never seen. Reading up on it before watching it, it looked like the critical and public consensus were trying to warn me away. For the most part, no one seemed to have a positive take on this movie but I also didn’t care, as I’ll watch anything once.

Considering that this was produced by Roger Corman, I kind of had an idea of its overall quality and style. However, it was directed by Jack Hill and even though he leans heavy into the schlocky side of things, he’s made a few films I kind of adore.

So this is, by academic standards, a bad movie. However, I liked it, as it’s the sort of bad that I enjoy and its wonderful level of cheese was the right flavor.

The costumes and sets are very basic and fairly hokey. The special effects are cheap but kind of cool. The acting is borderline atrocious. Yet, all these parts compliment each other, creating a smorgasbord of B-movie awesomeness.

I like the characters, regardless of how bad their line delivery is. The hero ensemble of the hot twins, the Viking, the satyr and the barbarian was really neat. I especially liked the satyr character and frankly, there aren’t enough satyrs used in movies. Mr. Tumnus doesn’t count because technically he’s a faun.

Anyway, this features a cookie cutter, paint-by-numbers sword and sorcery plot. Being that it came out in 1982, though, it was ahead of the curve in the emerging genre. It certainly came out before the genre peaked and was then beaten to death by schlockmeisters around the world.

The finale of this movie is pretty great. Once the two gods show up in the night sky and have their strange deity battle, things truly turn up to eleven and it’s hard not to enjoy unless you’re a heartless snob that pisses on fun and thinks every movie should be akin to The English Patient.

I know, most normal people couldn’t sit through ten minutes of this flick. However, most normal people, these days, lack imagination and embrace lowest common denominator blockbusters.

Rating: 5.25/10

Film Review: The Philadelphia Experiment (1984)

Release Date: August 3rd, 1984
Directed by: Stewart Raffill
Written by: Wallace C. Bennett, William Gray, Don Jakoby, Michael Janover
Based on: The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility by Charles Berlitz, William L. Moore
Music by: Kenneth Wannberg
Cast: Michael Paré, Nancy Allen, Eric Christmas, Bobby Di Cicco, Stephen Tobolowsky, Michael Currie

New Pictures, Cinema Group Ventures, New World Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“You know, I got it all figured out… Navy owes me 40 years back pay.” – David Herdeg

In my mind, I thought that I had seen this movie once or twice, as a kid. I was wrong. I have never seen this until now and my memory played tricks on me by conflating images of other movies that may not even be remotely accurate. Hey, I’ve done some drugs at different points in my life.

Anyway, I thought that this was a really weird movie, even for ’80s standards and the story was pretty wonky. Still, I did enjoy it and I really liked the bond that developed between the leads: Michael Paré and Nancy Allen.

The story is about these two Navy seamen that were aboard a ship during a strange experiment where the Navy were trying to make the vessel invisible to give them a tactical advantage during World War II. This experiment made the ship vanish but with that, the two seamen were transported through time to 1984. The time travel also gave them some weird sci-fi side effects and one of the men keeps having seizures and electrical phenomenon happening to his body until he eventually explodes into pure energy and disappears. The rest of the film is a race against time, as Michael Paré’s character is trying to solve his dilemma before the same fate happens to him.

This is also an “on the run”/road trip movie similar to Starman and other films where a protagonist is trying to outrun and outwit authorities in an effort to reach their goal.

I liked Paré a lot in this and I always thought that he was an underutilized actor that should’ve reached bigger heights in the ’80s. I also liked Nancy Allen too but she’s been a favorite of mine ever since I saw the original RoboCop, as a wee li’l lad.

The film is entertaining and it was a cool picture in spite of its hokiness and strange premise. It is slow in a few parts and the climax is a bit weird but it’s still a worthwhile experience. Granted, I don’t know if it’s something I’ll ever go out of my way to watch again.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other early ’80s sci-fi and “on the run” movies.

Film Review: Children of the Corn (1984)

Also known as: Stephen King’s Children of the Corn (complete title)
Release Date: March 9th, 1984
Directed by: Fritz Kiersch
Written by: George Goldsmith
Based on: Children of the Corn by Stephen King
Music by: Jonathan Elias
Cast: Peter Horton, Linda Hamilton, R. G. Armstrong, John Franklin, Courtney Gains

Angeles Entertainment Group, Hal Roach Studios, New World Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Any religion without love and compassion is false! It’s a lie!” – Burt

Linda Hamilton had a big career making year in 1984 between this film and The Terminator, which was released months later.

I was never a big fan of this movie, even as a kid, but I guess I appreciate it more now. I mean, it’s certainly eerie and effective. However, everything in it seems kind of pointless, other than it’s cool seeing fucked up, murdering children that pray to some evil god birthed from the mind of Stephen King.

This is an example of why some things work much better as a short story, as this was originally written. There just isn’t enough here to justify a longer story and seeing it adapted into a movie turned it into a slow, drawn out affair where almost nothing really happens, except in the prologue and at the end.

Other than that, half the movie is driving around cornfields and then the other half is hiding from killer kids carrying farm tools.

The story is about kids in a small town following a child preacher who convinces them to kill all the adults. Whenever other adults wander into town, they get sacrificed to the bizarre cornfield god that travels through dirt like the monsters from Tremors.

I do like Isaac, the primary villain in this, though. I always thought he was scary but he also had something a bit off about him. I didn’t know until years later that the actor was actually in his 20s when he played this role. He dies in this but he would return years later in the sixth film. However, I’ve never seen any of the sequels but I may dive into them to review because why not?

Overall, this is slow as hell but I wouldn’t call it boring. As for Stephen King film adaptations, this is one of the poorer ones of the ’80s. A lot of people liked it, though, and I could be in the minority. I just feel like it doesn’t come close to holding a candle to the best of King’s adaptations or the horror classics of its decade.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: its sequels, as well as other Stephen King film adaptations.

Film Review: The Punisher (1989)

Release Date: October 5th, 1989 (Germany)
Directed by: Mark Goldblatt
Written by: Boaz Yakin
Based on: The Punisher by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, John Romita Sr.
Music by: Dennis Dreith
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Louis Gossett Jr., Jeroen Krabbe, Kim Miyori

Marvel Entertainment, New World Pictures, 89 Minutes, 76 Minutes (heavily cut), 98 Minutes (workprint version)

Review:

“If you’re guilty, you’re dead.” – Frank Castle

While I know that this isn’t as good as the 2004 Punisher movie, this is still my favorite film of the lot and Dolph Lundgren really embodied the version of Frank Castle that I envisioned as a kid in the late ’80s, just discovering Punisher comics.

I loved the fuck out of this movie when I saw it in 1990, once it hit video store shelves in my area. I would’ve loved to have seen it in the theater but I lived in a small town with small theaters that played it safe, didn’t take risks and have now mostly been replaced with better theaters offering more variety… and alcohol.

Dolph Lundgren is just fucking perfect in this and nothing else about the film really matters. Sure, I like Louis Gossett Jr. but he’s kind of a non-event in the picture, as is everyone else, except the mob boss turned vigilante that helps the Punisher fight ninjas in an effort to rescue his kidnapped son.

This wasn’t made by Cannon, it was in fact made by New World, but it has that Cannon vibe to it albeit with an even cheaper budget. Still, its a solid mix of gritty, ’80s action, a badass hero and more ammo wasted than an Argentinian coup.

One sequence that really stands out is where we get to see the Punisher battle a hoard of machine gun ninjas in a decrepit carnival funhouse. Granted, I also loved the big finale that saw our hero and the mobster douche machine gun the crap out of ninjas.

All in all, this is just a badass flick with uber amounts of testosterone, one of the best, most physically intimidating action stars of all-time and it feels true to the source material. It’s certainly better than everything that came after that Thomas Jane Punisher movie. 

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel live-action films pre-MCU.

Film Review: The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

Also known as: Don’t Open the Door, The Overnight Massacre (working titles), The Slumber Party Murders (UK), Slumber Party (France), O Massacre (Brazil), Sleepless Nights (alternative title)
Release Date: September 10th, 1982 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Amy Holden Brown
Written by: Rita Mae Brown
Music by: Ralph Jones
Cast: Michele Michaels, Robin Stille, Michael Villella

Santa Fe Productions, New World Pictures, 77 Minutes

Review:

“Y’know, I think your tits are getting bigger.” – Diane, “Mine?!” – various girls

Man, this is just about as bare bones as a slasher film can get. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, as this does stick pretty close to the core of what made these films great in their heyday. But on the flipside of that, this isn’t as great as the better offerings from this subgenre of horror.

I do like this film, though, as it gets down to the nitty gritty and doesn’t waste a lot of time getting to the gruesome point. Although, the version that I’ve seen over the years, cuts away before you get to see any real gore. Which is pretty weak, considering that the killer’s weapon of choice is a very large power drill.

The weapon isn’t all that original, as the more over-the-top and violent Driller Killer was released in 1979. But it’s certainly a better weapon that just having the guy use some big, generic knife. Also, the drill became the instrument of death in this film series and this is actually a better movie than Driller Killer.

I actually found the simplicity of this film to be refreshing, as many slasher movies get bogged down by trying to make you care about the teens and by trying to make a memorable monster with a cool look. This film just says, “Fuck it!” and gives you normal, kind of generic teens, as well as a killer that’s just some normal dude that escaped a mental hospital. And really, that’s all you need to know. Dude’s crazy, chicks are hot, crazy dude wants to kill hot chicks because he’s crazy.

In its simplicity, it actually works well for the characters because it kind of lets the actresses’ personalities come out, as they’re pretty much just versions of themselves. And with that, you strangely care about them more than them simply playing a trope.

In fact, there’s this part of you that feels bad when one of the heroines actually has to fight back and kill the driller creep because you don’t want them to end up permanently damaged from the ordeal. It’s weird how that worked but I felt legitimately sad that the girls had to go there when typically, in a slasher film, this is just accepted as part of the narrative.

The Slumber Party Massacre is a better film than it should be and that’s really what I like about it. As I’ve said, it’s bare bones but it is damn effective.

Being that this was put out by New World Pictures, also means that it could’ve just had that magical Roger Corman touch. Also, the films in this series are all written and directed by women and maybe that perspective made for a better final product in regards to the final girl formula.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: its sequels, as well as other ’80s slasher flicks.

Film Review: Dead Heat (1988)

Release Date: May 6th, 1988
Directed by: Mark Goldblatt
Written by: Terry Black
Music by: Ernest Troost
Cast: Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Darren McGavin, Lindsay Frost, Vincent Price, Keye Luke, Robert Picardo, Professor Toru Tanaka, Shane Black

Helpren/Meltzer, New World Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“[He shuts the porno mag the clerk’s being reading] Sorry to interrupt your erection.” – Det. Doug Bigelow

Dead Heat is greatly underappreciated. That’s probably because it bombed in the theater and then got brushed aside and barely even made a blip on the cable TV radar in the ’90s. By then it probably seemed really outdated and so cheesy that even late night movie shows didn’t really touch it.

I actually saw this on VHS around 1990 or so and thought it was pretty cool but it just never reemerged anywhere else until it popped up on streaming services within the last couple of years.

I was glad that it was most recently featured on Joe Bob Brigg’s The Last Drive-In, as it needs to be discovered and showcased for a new generation and for the old generation that might’ve missed it.

The film is written by Terry Black, the older brother of Shane.

Shane Black had already made waves after writing Lethal Weapon and The Monster Squad while also working on Predator and Night of the Creeps. Older brother kind of followed little brother here, as the story for Dead Heat is like a mash up of some of those other movies in how it features an action heavy buddy cop story with elements of horror and a bit of slapstick comedy.

That being said, the script was really creative and it provided a movie with a lot of really cool scenes and monster encounters: most notably the zombie animals that came to life despite being halfway butchered.

These scenes worked so well though because the special effects were solid. I mean, this was made by New World and thus, the production operated under Roger Corman economics. Despite that, the practical effects of the monsters looked great.

Additionally, some of the other effects were impressive too, such as the scene where Lindsay Frost decays into nothingness.

The film stars Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo as the two buddy cops but it also stars a great villain duo that features Darren McGavin and legendary Vincent Price. Everyone played well off of each other and all the core actors looked like they were having fun hamming it up and making this bonkers movie.

This is such a weird and unique picture that more people really should check it out. It’s amusing, enjoyable and deserving of more recognition than it initially received.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other goofy horror comedies of the ’80s like the first two Return of the Living Dead MoviesC.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud, TerrorVision, etc.

Film Review: Grunt! The Wrestling Movie (1985)

Also known as: American Mad Dog (Germany)
Release Date: November 30th, 1985
Directed by: Allan Holzman
Written by: Allan Holzman, Tony Randel, Lisa Tomei, Barry Zetlin
Music by: Susan Justin
Cast: Magic Schwarz, Steve Strong, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Lydie Denier, Robert Glaudini, Dick Murdoch, The Destroyer, Wally George, Adrian Street, Miss Linda

New World Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

I’ve never seen Grunt! until now but it’s something I’ve heard people in wrestling circles talk about for years. I guess I didn’t realize how many old school wrestlers actually appeared in this but it was fun to watch, simply for all the cameos from “Exotic” Adrian Street and Miss Linda to Dick Murdoch and The Destroyer.

The film is done in a mockumentary style as the filmmakers are trying to solve a mystery. They’re obsessed over a wrestling star named The Mask and have theories that he might be an old wrestler named Mad Dog, who killed a man in the ring and was believed to have committed suicide.

It’s a bizarre story with even more bizarre characters that don’t act like normal human beings do in any given situation. But hey, this is about professional wrestling in the ’80s and most people never really understood it on any intimate level, anyway. Well, except for those who worked in it and even then, a lot of those people didn’t fully grasp it either.

That being said, this isn’t a particularly good movie but it’s entertaining if you have the palate for schlock and old school wrestling before it was forever changed by Vince McMahon’s WWE corporate monopoly.

Most of the core characters here were amusing and even if the film just plays like a series of random scenes strung together by a really flimsy and nonsensical narrative, the performances by a few of the key players are enjoyable.

The film does end with the mystery solved but it also leaves you with more questions. It’s the kind of big reveal that felt half-assed and not very well thought out. But it’s not like I watched this expecting it to be some sort of noir-esque masterpiece within the wrestling sphere.

I liked the film, most people probably won’t but for what it is, it was kind of cool to experience.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other old school wrestling films like 1974’s The Wrestler and 1989’s No Holds Barred.

Film Review: Cannonball! (1976)

Also known as: Carquake! (UK)
Release Date: July 6th, 1976
Directed by: Paul Bartel
Written by: Paul Bartel, Donald C. Simpson
Music by: David A. Axelrod
Cast: David Carradine, Bill McKinney, Veronica Hamel, Gerrit Graham, Robert Carradine, Belinda Balaski, Mary Woronov, James Keach, Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Kaplan, Roger Corman, Don Simpson, Martin Scorsese (uncredited), Sylvester Stallone (uncredited)

Cross Country Productions, Harbor Productions, New World Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“I thought this car could beat anything on the road.” – Linda Maxwell, “This car’s a winner.” – Coy ‘Cannonball’ Buckman

A year after Paul Bartel directed the cult classic Death Race 2000, he made a very similar film with a lot of the same core cast members, as well as producer and B-movie legend, Roger Corman.

In this film, take the Death Race 2000 concept and strip away the futuristic sci-fi setting, the slapstick uber violence and the plot to assassinate a corrupt president and you’ve essentially got the same film.

Granted, Cannonball! isn’t as good and I kind of blame that on stripping away the things that made Death Race 2000 so unique. This is still really enjoyable, though, and fans of that more beloved flick will probably dig this one too.

The race car driving hero is still David Carradine and he’s re-joined in the cast by Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel (the director), Sylvester Stallone in an uncredited cameo, as well as some of the other bit players.

Like Death Race, the film follows a cross-country auto race, all the wacky characters involved and all the crazy shenanigans of racers trying to sabotage and outperform one another.

I like a lot of the new additions to the cast like the always great Gerrit Graham, Robert Carradine, Bill McKinney, Belinda Balaski and the inclusion of Dick Miller, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Kaplan, Roger Corman (the producer), Don Simpson and Martin Scorsese, who is also uncredited for his appearance here.

The action is good, the comedy still works and this film has that unique Paul Bartel charm.

In the end, this isn’t quite a classic but it did help pave the way for all the other movies like it that followed for years to come.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000, as well as other cross-country racing movies of the ’70s and ’80s like the Cannonball Run films, The Gumball Rally and Speed Zone.

Film Review: Heathers (1989)

Also known as: Fatal Game, Lethal Attraction, Westerberg High (working titles)
Release Date: January, 1989 (Sundance)
Directed by: Michael Lehmann
Written by: Daniel Waters
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker, Penelope Milford, Glenn Shadix, Renee Estevez

Cinemarque Entertainment, New World Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw. Do I look like Mother Teresa?” – Heather Chandler

When I saw this around 1990, when it hit VHS for the first time, I was pretty blown away by it. I was also eleven years-old and this was some pretty heavy stuff. But by that point, I already saw Christian Slater and Winona Ryder as two of the coolest young actors in Hollywood.

I probably watched Heathers a half dozen times in my youth but it’s now been decades since I’ve revisited it.

Seeing it with pretty fresh eyes, I think the film has aged really well and it is still effective, even if it was made as a sort of “fuck you” to the overly positive and cliche high school movies of the ’80s, specifically the John Hughes ones.

I can’t quite say that this is as good as my memory’s impression of it but I definitely enjoyed it and thought that it was a really well executed black comedy about teen angst in a decade that tried to gloss over some of the real issues young people faced at the time. But it is also a critique on the young yuppie lifestyle that was promoted in lots of the teen films of the era.

That’s not to say that this film was an original concept. These ideas have been explored before its existence but Heathers does it so well that it is the one film people seem to remember the most when it comes to expressing these ideas.

The first act of the film is damn near perfection. However, the second act is a bit of a slog and it seems to lose some of its momentum.

As an adult, you also see Winona Ryder’s character much differently. Where I found her relatable in my youth, you kind of see that she’s pretty much just an evil asshole like her boyfriend. She could’ve gone to the cops, she could’ve stopped him pretty early on in the story. However, she goes along for the ride and somehow turns out to be the hero in the end. Additionally, a lot of the moral dilemmas weren’t things I really dwelled on as much at eleven years-old when watching an edgy movie that felt cool.

The finale was decent but I feel like the climax sort of doesn’t live up to the amount of chaos this picture tried to build up. However, I don’t know how keen ’80s audiences would’ve been on a film that blows up a school with all the kids still inside.

Heathers is really good though, despite my more adult take on it, thirty-ish years later. It resonated with its fans for a reason and even if it bombed in the theater, it definitely deserves the cult status it quickly achieved after it came out on VHS and the word spread. 

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: things that ripped it off like Jawbreaker and Mean Girls.