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: Howling II: … Your Sister Is A Werewolf (1985)

Also known as: Howling 2 (worldwide informal title), Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch (original title)
Release Date: August 28th, 1985 (France)
Directed by: Philippe Mora
Written by: Robert Sarno, Gary Brandner
Based on: The Howling II by Gary Brandner
Music by: Stephen W. Parsons
Cast: Christopher Lee, Annie McEnroe, Reb Brown, Marsha Hunt, Sybil Danning

Hemdale Film Corporation, Granite Productions, 87 Minutes

Review:

“For it is written: the inhabitants of the Earth have been made drunk with her blood. And I saw her sent upon a hairy beast and she held forth a golden chalice full of the filthiness of fornications. And upon her forehead was written: “Behold I am the great mother of harlots and all abominations of the Earth.”” – Stefan Crosscoe

The Howling is a much better movie than its sequel… or any of its sequels. Strangely, I watch this one more. Maybe it’s because of Christopher Lee. Maybe it’s because of just how friggin’ 80s cheesy it is. Maybe it’s the sweet tunes of Stephen Parsons and his band Babel. Maybe it’s because I’ve always loved B-movie queen Sybil Danning. Maybe it’s because I am always amused by C-movie action star Reb Brown. I don’t know, this film is just a perfect storm of shit and awesome.

Now I can’t honestly sell this as a good movie. Anyone I could point towards this will most assuredly hate it. It just hits a certain chord for me. I don’t even know what the hell that chord is and I probably don’t want to know. This is an atrocious movie but it is an awesomely atrocious movie. I mean, it’s dreadful… really dreadful. But I still feel the need to put it in the DVD player every couple of years.

Hell, this movie is so bad that the first thing that horror icon Christopher Lee did when he was cast in Gremlins 2, was apologize to Joe Dante for being in it. Dante directed the far superior original, for those who didn’t know. Lee was not in the original, unfortunately, but one of his iconic horror colleagues, John Carradine, was.

Howling II is a disjointed mess featuring furry werewolf sex scenes, abysmal acting, ridiculous situations, goofy action sequences, a midget that is a master of throwing knives and Christopher Lee wearing very 80s sunglasses in an attempt to fit in at a punk rock bar. Maybe I’m wrong in trashing this film, maybe there is a lot to like.

I just don’t want to be responsible for someone else having a bad time. Therefore, I cannot officially vouch for the absurd delight that this film is. The closing credits alone have to be seen to be believed, as it is one of the most ludicrously edited sequences I have ever seen and I’ve seen a lot of motion pictures.

Howling II is probably no one’s cup of tea except my own. It is the movie equivalent of someone saying, “Hey come over, we’re having tomahawk ribeyes and oysters!” And then you reply with, “I’m just going to stay home and eat these Pizza Rolls, thanks.” Sometimes, you just want those damn Pizza Rolls and some solitude.

Film Review: The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)

Also known as: La dama rossa uccide sette volte, lit. The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (Italy), Feast of Flesh, Blood Feast, The Corpse Which Didn’t Want to Die (US alternate titles), Horror House (Germany)
Release Date: August 18th, 1972 (Italy)
Directed by: Emilio Miraglia
Written by: Emilio Miraglia, Fabio Pittorru
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Barbara Bouchet, Ugo Pagliai, Marina Malfatti, Sybil Danning

Phoenix Cinematografica, Romano Film, Traian Boeru, 98 Minutes

Review:

Italian giallo pictures were a sort of bridge between film-noir and slasher films. No, they really were. The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is a really good example of what I mean when I point that out.

This film is a murder mystery. These two wealthy sisters from a wealthy family have had a violent sibling rivalry their whole lives. There are parallels between them and the legend of the Black Queen and the Red Queen. The sister who is the modern version of the Black Queen believes that she is responsible for the death of her sister, who is believed to be the new incarnation of the Red Queen. Some time later, murders start to happen that are tied to the Red Queen persona. Did the sister somehow survive? Is the guilt-ridden sister in danger? The entire film is a well written mystery and not all that easy to figure out.

The Red Queen exists as a gimmicky, mysterious killer that wields sharp objects. She is a true slasher while the film itself is constructed like a film-noir.

While this giallo is not directed by Mario Bava or Dario Argento, it is still a giallo picture of the highest quality. This is a tremendously good murder mystery and it encompasses all the things that make a giallo spectacular: great cinematography, an emphasis on vivid colors and high contrast lighting, solid direction, insanely beautiful damsels and a cool unidentified killer.

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is a beautiful movie. Sure, it has blood and is full of unsavory acts but giallo movies could take the grotesque and turn it into a colorful and alluring cinema landscape. It is gritty, it is pretty and while it can feel fantastical, it doesn’t feel outside of the realm of possible reality.

More like noir and less like slashers, the film surrounds itself in opulence and beauty but that is typical of a giallo picture. Part of why this film works so well as a piece of art is because it is engulfed in lavishness and luxury.

It takes place in beautiful European locales and all the characters are models and involved in the fashion industry. It feels like a peek into high society but shows the underbelly and the hidden darkness that exists, even in the lives of those who are all smiles and diamonds, all the time. But the beauty is there to give contrast to the darkness and the grotesque and it’s how this all comes together that paints this moving canvas.

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is a fine giallo and one of the best I have seen that wasn’t directed by the maestros Bava and Argento. It also gives us a young Sybil Danning, who no straight man would turn away from.

Film Review: Grindhouse (2007)

While I have seen both Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof multiple times, I never got to see the full-length version of Grindhouse until now.

When it came out in 2007, only one theater near me carried it and it wasn’t there very long, so I missed it. Also, the films were released separately, as expanded editions, when they hit store shelves. There wasn’t a full version of Grindhouse available after its theatrical run.

When I subscribed to Starz via my Amazon Fire Stick, I saw that the full version of the movie was available and thus, I could finally rectify this cinematic injustice. I’m really glad that I did because these films actually play much better in this format, as double-billed companion pieces to one another.

Plus, I finally got to see the trailers, as a part of this overall experience, even though I have seen them on YouTube multiple times since 2007.

Robert Rodriguez’s trailer for Machete was a highlight of the film and it was so good that it became its own motion picture and then expanded into a franchise. Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS trailer was interesting enough, as a trailer, but doesn’t seem like something that will work as a full-length feature. The same can be said for Edgar Wright’s Don’t. Now Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving should be made into a full-length slasher film in the same vein as Machete. Roth has hinted at making it and I hope he eventually does.

This film also spawned a contest for fans to make fake trailers in the grindhouse style. This lead to the full-length feature Hobo With A Shotgun, which was a hell of a lot of fun. I need to re-watch it and review it in the near future.

Moving beyond the fake trailers, we have the two big films that make up the bulk of the Grindhouse experience. So let me get into each film and discuss them on their own.

Planet Terror (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Robert Rodriguez
Music by: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Stacy Ferguson, Bruce Willis, Naveen Andrews, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan, Quentin Tarantino, Tom  Savini, Michael Parks

Rodriguez International Pictures, Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Now you’ve got a gal in your wrecked truck with a missing leg? A missing leg that’s now missing?” – Sheriff Hague

Planet Terror has always been my favorite of the two movies in Grindhouse. That still stands, as I love just about everything about it. It may even be my favorite Robert Rodriguez picture but it is a close race between this, From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete and Once Upon A Time In Mexico.

The film is essentially a zombie outbreak movie but it is really gross, even for that genre. People’s faces start bubbling into puss and there is a lot of blood and other strange bodily fluids oozing out of people throughout the movie. There are also lots of severed testicles and a melting penis. It’s a gross movie but it is still well done and it doesn’t overtake the picture making it a mindless gore festival.

Planet Terror has a lot of depth and character development for a movie loaded with a ton of people. Everyone has an interesting story and it is cool seeing it all play out as these people eventually come together in an effort to escape the growing threat of a zombie apocalypse.

It also really fits the old school 1970s exploitation style of horror pictures that populated grindhouse theaters in big cities. The cinematography really captures the right vibe and kudos to the extra graininess and inconsistent look of different shots in the same sequences.

The practical effects also work well in making this film fit the grindhouse mold. Sometimes there is obvious CGI and it is a reminder that this isn’t a true 70s grindhouse picture but it isn’t a distraction and it serves its purpose well enough.

The cast is also phenomenal. I remember that when I first saw this, that I hoped it would open up doors for Freddy Rodriguez. He’s still not anywhere close to being a household name but his character of El Wray should reappear in some way, in some other Rodriguez picture. He’s a guy too cool to just be confined to this one movie.

This is also my favorite thing that Rose McGowan has ever done. Plus you get a very evil Josh Brolin, an enchanting Marley Shelton, a bad ass Michael Biehn, plus Michael Parks, Tom Savini, Bruce Willis, Lost‘s Naveen Andrews and Quentin Tarantino as his most despicable character to date. Jeff Fahey, who is always stellar, really kills it in this movie as J.T. the Texas B-B-Q king. Also, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas has never looked better.

Planet Terror is unique, even for a film in a tired genre. It takes the zombie formula and ups the ante in every way possible. Rodriguez made a fine picture that should be mentioned alongside other great zombie classics.

Death Proof (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: Rachel Levy, Jack Nitzsche, Mary Ramos
Cast: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Zoe Bell, Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Parks, James Parks, Marley Shelton

Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 114 Minutes

Review:

“Because it was a fifty fifty shot on wheter you’d be going left or right. You see we’re both going left. You could have just as easily been going left, too. And if that was the case… It would have been a while before you started getting scared. But since you’re going the other way, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to start getting scared… immediately!” – Stuntman Mike

When I first saw Death Proof, it didn’t resonate with me. I mean, I enjoyed it enough but it just didn’t compare to the work that Quentin Tarantino did before it. I still feel this way but I have more of an appreciation for the film now. Also, seeing it in the Grindhouse format, which is more condensed, serves the film better.

The problem I initially had with the film, and some of Tarantino’s other pictures, is that it is way too talky. Sure, he writes great dialogue but sometimes it can run on for far too long. Death Proof in its longer running time falls victim to this. The condensed Grindhouse version, however, is better balanced.

Another problem with the film, is that many of the characters just aren’t likable. This is especially true for the first group of girls we meet. At least the second group felt more like friends and their conversations came across as more natural and authentic.

Kurt Russell initially knocks it out of the park as the killer driver, Stuntman Mike. However, as the film and his character evolves, he completely loses the cool bad ass shtick and becomes a giant whining weeny. His character transformation isn’t a bad thing, it is just how it is executed that makes it a problem.

The one thing that really makes this a cool picture, however, is the cars and the stunts. Tarantino selected some seriously bad ass automobiles that were homages to films that influenced him. The stunt work and action was amazing and the sequence of the first major accident was shot and executed stupendously.

The problem with the film, being that it is supposed to be a grindhouse throwback, is that it needed more balls-to-the-wall mayhem and less chit chat. The fact that this has a lot more dialogue than Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror but somehow can’t develop characters as well is pretty baffling. Tarantino would just rather focus on cool conversations on subjects that directly interest him than to have any sort of meaningful character development. You just don’t care about these people in the same way you care about those in Planet Terror.

Regardless of my criticisms, I do still like this movie. But to be honest, I still think it is the worst film in Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre. Granted, that doesn’t mean much, as everything he’s done has been fairly great in some way.

In the end, this is still entertaining as hell and who doesn’t love muscle car chaos and kick ass chicks?

Additional directorial credits:

Robert Rodriguez – Machete trailer
Rob Zombie – Werewolf Women of the SS trailer
Edgar Wright – Don’t trailer
Eli Roth – Thanksgiving trailer

Additional acting credits from the fake trailer segments: Danny Trejo, Nicolas Cage, Sheri Moon Zombie, Cheech Marin, Udo Kier, Tom Towles, Sybil Danning, Bill Moseley, Will Arnett, Nick Frost, Jason Issacs, Simon Pegg, Peter Serafinowicz

Film Review: God’s Gun (1976)

Also known as: Diamante Lobo (Italy)
Release Date: 1976 (Italy)
Directed by: Frank Kramer
Written by: John Fonseca, Frank Kramer
Music by: Sante Maria Romitelli
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance, Richard Boone, Sybil Danning, Robert Lipton, Cody Palance, Leif Garrett

Golan-Globus Productions, Dunamis Cinematografica, Rovi Film Produktions, The Irwin Yablans Company, Cannon Films, 94 Minutes

gods_gunReview:

What’s better than two of the best western villains in history going head-to-head? Not much, really. Okay, maybe a lot actually, if we’re talking about this movie.

The film pits Lee Van Cleef against Jack Palance. In fact, Van Cleef plays two roles – a heroic priest and his gunslinging twin brother. Palance plays the villain and is just as sinister as he has always been.

The cast is rounded out by Richard Boone, Sybil Danning and a very young Leif Garrett.

God’s Gun is an entertaining enough film and it is a better-than-decent spaghetti western but it isn’t all that special. Van Cleef is always good and Palance is just a solid villain all around. The best part about this film is seeing these two legends come together. Everything else in the movie is pretty cookie cutter and some stuff, even for a spaghetti movie, is a bit hokey.

Compared to the works of spaghetti maestros Corbucci and Sollima, it lacks energy and seems pretty toned down in the violence department, which is bizarre for a film featuring killer rapists running rampant.

The characters are likable, the plot is fine and has a few surprises. Plus, the music was fairly good.

I like the film but I can instantly name a dozen or so Italian westerns that are much better than this one. It certainly isn’t a must-see unless you are an avid fan of Van Cleef, Palance, Boone, Danning or for some reason, Garrett.