Film Review: Black Moon Rising (1986)

Also known as: Black Rider (Japan), Black Moon (Germany, Finland), Luna Negra (Spain)
Release Date: January 10th, 1986
Directed by: Harley Cokliss
Written by: John Carpenter, William Gray, Desmond Nakano
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton, Robert Vaughn, Richard Jaeckel, Bubba Smith, Dan Shor, Keenan Wynn, Lee Ving, William Sanderson, Nick Cassavetes, Don Keith Opper

Sequoia Productions, New World Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Even the body is unique. it’s made out of Kelvar – the same material they use in bulletproof vests.” – Earl Windom

I vividly remember watching this movie on New Year’s Eve 1990 with my cousin Billy, as we were waiting for midnight and the ball to fall and ring in a new decade.

Why’s that important? It’s not. Other than to say that I remembered watching this, liking it but then never knowing what the movie was and thus, I wasn’t able to see it again until now. Frankly, I had forgotten about it but then I randomly came across the trailer on YouTube while researching something else and it immediately sparked that memory.

And I was pretty stoked because a thirty year mystery had been solved.

However, I’m not sure how I didn’t remember more of the film, as it has a pretty decent cast full of a lot of talent I would’ve known, even as a kid in 1990. Hell, it’s got Bubba Smith in it and I’ve seen the first six Police Academy movies about a hundred times each. Not to mention Lee Ving, who I wouldn’t have recognized as the lead singer of Fear but I would’ve recognized from Clue and Streets of Fire.

The real kicker though, is that this has Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton and Robert Vaughn in it and somehow that slipped down the memory hole.

What I didn’t know until seeing it now, is that it was written by John f’n Carpenter in a time when the dude was most certainly on his A-game.

All that being said, the movie is just kind of okay. It’s not as great as I perceived it as a kid but nothing ever really is. But it’s still an enjoyable action crime film that’s all about a high tech supercar and different people’s attempts at stealing it.

For Linda Hamilton it felt like a fitting role between the first two Terminator movies, as she’s sort of a mix between damsel in distress (most of Terminator) and kind of a badass (Terminator 2). And this was certainly a better role for her in 1986 than her biggest film of that year, the abysmal King Kong Lives.

This also has a scene in it where a car jumps through the window of one skyscraper, flies through the air and then lands safely in another skyscraper. So for those of you that thought that stunt was invented for those Fast & Furious movies, this film did it first, three decades earlier.

Anyway, this was a good, solid way to spend 100 minutes. That is, if you love to watch ’80s action, suspend your disbelief and like a lot of ham and lead in your diet.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other action movies from New World Pictures and Cannon Films.

Film Review: River of Death (1989)

Also known as: Alistair MacLean’s River of Death (Germany)
Release Date: May 15th, 1989 (Cannes)
Directed by: Steve Carver
Written by: Andrew Deutsch, Edward Simpson
Based on: River of Death by Alistair MacLean
Music by: Sasha Matson
Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence, Herbert Lom, L. Q. Jones

Breton Film Productions, Cannon International, Pathe Communications, 107 Minutes

Review:

I’m a pretty avid fan of the movies that Michael Dudikoff made for Cannon Films. So I figured that this would be a hidden gem because of that. Plus, it had an interesting premise that saw Dudikoff go to the Amazon to hunt for treasure and Nazis. Honestly, it sounded like a Cannon Films version of an Indiana Jones movie.

I should have been weary though, as Cannon already attempted such a thing with those two Allan Quatermain pictures from the mid-’80s. Neither of them were terrible but they weren’t awesome either.

Maybe Dudikoff is just at his best when Steve James is by his side and he’s either fighting ninjas or guys in weird costumes that hide in the bayou? Whatever the case, this movie is a total fucking dud.

What’s even more sad about the whole thing is that this also featured Robert Vaughn and Donald Pleasence. Two great character actors with solid chops and really long resumes.

Honestly, though, this movie is pretty damn boring for a film that’s premise promised some pretty cool things. While it has action, none of it is very memorable and we’ve seen much better efforts by Cannon Films four dozen times over by the time this rolled around in ’89.

It’s poorly acted, the script is bird cage liner and the direction and fight choreography don’t measure up to the reasonable low standards of Cannon.

For a Cannon Films or Dudikoff completist, I guess this is worth checking out. Just don’t expect to find your new favorite film of the lot.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: other Michael Dudikoff action films, as well as other action movies from Cannon.

Film Review: C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud (1989)

Also known as: C.H.U.D. 2 (France)
Release Date: May 5th, 1989
Directed by: David K. Irving
Written by: M. Kane Jeeves
Music by: Nicholas Pike
Cast: Brian Robbins, Tricia Leigh Fisher, Bianca Jagger, Gerrit Graham, Bill Calvert, Robert Vaughn, Sandra Kerns, June Lockhart, Norman Fell, Priscilla Pointer, Clive Revill, Robert Englund (uncredited cameo)

Lightning Pictures, Vestron Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Meet Bud, party animal of the living dead.” – tagline

Where C.H.U.D. is more of a serious horror film, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud is a straight up teen comedy that doesn’t have much of a connection to its predecessor.

While most people seem to have a severe dislike of C.H.U.D. II, I find it to be the superior film. The reason being is that it is a funny, stupid movie and the original “serious” picture is mostly a boring dud that only excels when the actual C.H.U.D. is onscreen.

In this film, the C.H.U.D.s are just standard zombies. And since the main zombie is Gerrit Graham, this film gets an extra edge it wouldn’t have otherwise had.

But this isn’t completely carried by the great Graham, you’ve also got Robert Vaughn in one of his most hilarious and badass roles of all-time. He’s a military general here and he just goes around blowing shit up. At one point, he fires a f’n bazooka into a diner full of zombies and it creates a massive explosion. The dude just doesn’t give a shit in this flick and it’s fantastic to watch him ham it up and blow shit up.

This also features Brian Robbins of Head of the Class fame. I always liked him as a kid, as he was a cool, smarmy fuck that had quick comebacks and charisma.

C.H.U.D. II is also full of cameos by people as diverse as June Lockhart, Norman Fell and Robert Englund.

While the comedy here is cheesy and may feel very dated, it’s standard, low brow ’80s fare and for fans of the decade, it works.

I also like how creative the ending was. This kills off the zombie horde in a pretty imaginative way, even if it is over the top and completely implausible. Plus, that moment where Bud the C.H.U.D. rips out his own heart to give it to the girl he loves is pretty awesome and quite romantic.

A lot of people see this movie as a joke when compared to the original film but that’s the point. It’s supposed to be a joke and frankly, it’s a joke that works well and thus, this film accomplishes what it set out to do.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other horror comedies of the ’80s.

Film Review: Hangar 18 (1980)

Also known as: Space Connection (France), Columbia 3 (Greece), Invasion Force (Germany)
Release Date: July, 1980 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: James L. Conway
Written by: Ken Pettus, Thomas C. Chapman, James L. Conway
Music by: John Cacavas
Cast: Darren McGavin, Robert Vaughn, Gary Collins, James Hampton, Pamela Bellwood

Sunn Classic Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“This is a Department of Defense operation. You guys couldn’t get outta here with a coffee cup.” – George Turner

This film probably has a worse wrap than it deserves because it was featured in a very early episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, way back before it was even on national television. But if I’m being honest, this is a better movie than what one is accustomed to seeing on MST3K.

I’m not saying this is a good picture, it really isn’t. But it did have some actual ambition driving it.

My biggest gripe about it is that it’s pretty boring overall. Also, the quality isn’t great, as it feels more like a late ’70s television movie than a motion picture that got released in actual theaters.

The story is about a just launched satellite colliding with a UFO. The government tries to cover this up due to a presidential election being on the horizon. An astronaut is killed by the collision and the blame for the accident is put on the two surviving astronauts. So this is basically a political thriller with a UFO cover up at its center.

The film just doesn’t play out as cool as it sounds. It’s drab and slow and the action you do see, isn’t that great.

Some of the little tidbits about this film are actually more interesting than the film itself.

It was one of the few American films released during the Cold War in the Soviet Union. Due to Soviet films lacking action and science fiction, it was hugely popular there, at the time. There was also a version of this with an alternate ending. It was released as Invasion Force but according to super film critic Leonard Maltin, the new ending undermined the whole film.

This could have probably been a better picture in more capable hands or with a better budget but it’s really just kind of an uneventful dud.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other late ’70s to early ’80s low budget sci-fi films.

Film Review: Teenage Caveman (1958)

Also known as: I Was a Teenage Caveman, Prehistoric World, Out of the Darkness
Release Date: July, 1958
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: R. Wright Campbell
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Robert Vaughn, Darah Marshall

Malibu Productions, American International Pictures, 65 Minutes

Review:

“In a wonderful and strange world, before women knew shame.” – marketing tagline

Being that I am a big Roger Corman fan, I’ve seen most of his ’50s and ’60s stuff multiple times over. This film, however, I have only seen in the form of it’s riffed version, courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000,

I probably should buy this for my Corman collection and actually give it a watch without the riffing of Joel and the ‘Bots.

But anyway, I just revisited this, as I’m trying to work through all the MST3K featured films for review purposes.

The only real highlight is the terrible dinosaur battles that is comprised of stock footage of lizards fighting. And they’re scenes you’ve probably seen in similar films already, as Corman tends to recycle stuff that doesn’t cost money or is very cheap to obtain.

I guess the fact that Robert Vaughn is in this is also a highlight. He’s fairly charming but this is a production that his presence can’t save.

Now while I love a lot of these bad Corman cheapies, this one lacks the magic of some of the others and it isn’t as endearing in its weirdness.

Still, it’s not terrible and if you have the right kind of mind and stomach for Corman cheese, it’s worth a glance.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman sci-fi movies of the later 1950s.

Film Review: Superman III (1983)

Also known as: Superman vs. Superman (original script title)
Release Date: June 17th, 1983
Directed by: Richard Lester
Written by: David Newman, Leslie Newman
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: Ken Thorne, John Williams (themes), Giorgio Moroder (songs)
Cast: Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Robert Vaughn, Annette O’Toole, Annie Ross, Pamela Stephenson, Jackie Cooper, Margot Kidder, Marc McClure, Gavan O’Herlihy

Cantharus Productions N.V., Dovemead Films, Warner Bros., 125 Minutes

Review:

“I ask you to kill Superman, and you’re telling me you couldn’t even do that one, simple thing.” – Ross Webster

Out of the original four Superman movies, the first two were good, the last two were not so good. However, Superman III is still much better than Superman IV. And it does actually work as a film depending upon your perspective. But I’ll get into that.

The producers of this film series did some really bizarre stuff with this chapter.

First off, they had some issues with Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder. Hackman was completely written out of the film and replaced by Robert Vaughn as a very Lex Luthor type of character named Ross Webster. He had an evil sister and a girlfriend that was probably supposed to be Miss Tessmacher in the original version of the script.

As far as Margot Kidder went, she was limited to just two scenes and the producers brought in Annette O’Toole to play Lana Lang, a new love interest for Clark Kent. Oddly enough, O’Toole would go on to have a ten year run on Smallville where she played Clark Kent’s mother Martha Kent.

The strangest change of all was the inclusion of Richard Pryor. As great as the man was, this took Superman and turned it into a straight up comedy movie. The producers had heard that Pryor was a fan of the series though, so they threw a bunch of money at him and got him in this picture. Pryor later said that he didn’t like the script but he couldn’t say “no” to the money.

The big shift in tone works against the film series and it turned things into a joke.

However, if you just look at this as a Richard Pryor movie that just happens to have Superman in it, it works in that regard. Now it isn’t Pryor’s best and it is probably one of his worst, as his comedies are all pretty damn good, but as a comedy film this isn’t a complete waste. Frankly, this is how I have to perceive the movie in order to enjoy it.

In fairness, getting past all the weird creative choices, I did like the additions to the cast. I thought O’Toole was nice and sweet and I liked her. Her ex-boyfriend, played by Gavan O’Herlihy (Airk from Willow) was a fun character and a solid ’80s douche. It’s the villains that really stood out for me though. Robert Vaughn is fantastic in this cheese fest and is arguably better as a Luthor character than Gene Hackman. Annie Ross, who played his evil sister was a convincing witch of a lady and Pamela Stephenson was more than satisfactory as this film’s stand in for Miss Tessmacher.

I liked this movie a lot more as a kid but the two sequences I enjoyed most are still enjoyable for me today. Those are the two big battles: Superman vs. Superman and Superman vs. the super computer. I do have to point out that the scene where Annie Ross gets sucked into the computer and turned into a killer cyborg scared the crap out of me when I was four. Now it’s silly as hell but silly in the best way. I also feel like this was a real missed opportunity because the super computer possessing people could have been a good Brainiac story. Originally, Brainiac was supposed to be a villain in this, as was Supergirl.

A lot of people hate Superman III and I understand their frustration with it. But a lot of time has passed and if you just look at this as a Richard Pryor movie with Supes in it, it’s not so bad.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: The other films in the Superman series with Christopher Reeve. Also, the Richard Pryor films 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.