Film Review: The Demolitionist (1995)

Release Date: March 10th, 1995 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Robert Kurtzman
Written by: Brian DiMuccio, Anne Kurtzman
Music by: Shawn Patterson
Cast: Nicole Eggert, Richard Grieco, Bruce Abbott, Heather Langenkamp, Susan Tyrrell, Peter Jason, Sarah Douglas, Tom Savini

A-Pix Entertainment, Two Moon Releasing, 100 Minutes

Review:

“You’re under arrest for the murder of Alyssa Lloyd.” – Alyssa Lloyd/The Demolitionist

If you were to take Robocop and take all the really good stuff out of it, replace the actors with mostly incapable ones, bastardize the plot and make the hero look like Jamie Powell from Charles In Charge, then you would have The Demolitionist. But hey, special effects maestro Tom Savini acts in this!

This movie is terrible with a capital TERRIBLE. It’s mid ’90s sci-fi/action schlock for the straight to VHS market. Granted, even though I lived in video stores throughout my youth, I never rented this. The first time I saw it was in the early ’00s when I was a third shift security guard at a high rise condominium on the beach and this popped up on TBS or TNT at three in the morning. I actually didn’t get to see it with full violence and boobies until I just watched it the other night.

Why did I decide to watch this again? Well, it’s been like fifteen years and even though I knew it was bad, I’m a sucker for terrible motion pictures. So, being a sucker for cinematic shit, reliving this experience was not a disappointment.

First, this film has Richard Grieco in it as the sadistic villain. Grieco was decent on the original 21 Jump Street and his own spinoff of that show, Booker. He also starred in a terrible but fun movie, If Looks Could Kill, which saw him play a high school student mistaken for a James Bond type of spy. Other than that, his acting work has been abysmal and this is no different. Well, it could actually be the big glorious cherry on top of his sundae of shitty performances.

Nicole Eggert of Charles In Charge and Baywatch fame stars as the hero. She’s basically Robocop but a hotter version with a normal head and a body that also doesn’t really look altered. Granted, she’s basically a zombie and needs some special injections to prevent her from rotting away. Sadly, we don’t actually get to see Robozombie eating douchebag brains.

Eggert and Grieco were just atrocious in this. It’s really bad, man. Their acting is actually worse than I remembered. I can’t say that it is wholly their fault though, as this entire production is horrendous. Weirdly, it is directed by Robert Kurtzman, who is actually really respected as a monster movie makeup artist. However, his work in the director’s chair leaves a lot to be desired.

Nothing about this movie is good, other than I have a soft spot for Eggert because I used to crush on her hard when I was a young lad in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

You may be wondering if this cyber turd should be run through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer? Of course it does! The Shitometer can eat and analyze the toughest turds! Even cyber turds! The results read, “Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: Robocop and other clones of its story but this is no friggin’ Robocop.

Film Review: Creepshow (1982)

Release Date: May 16th, 1982 (Cannes)
Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: various stories by Stephen King
Music by: John Harrison
Cast: Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Viveca Lindfors, Ted Danson, Ed Harris, Tom Atkins, Tom Savini, Stephen King

Laurel Entertainment, Warner Bros., 120 Minutes

Review:

“I drove out there with the remains of three human beings… well, two human beings and Wilma.” – Henry

Creepshow was one of the first modern horror films I experienced as a kid. However, I was a kid in the 80s, so this was modern then. Now it is thirty-five years old. Revisiting it now though, is still a real friggin’ treat.

I love this movie. I admit that a lot of my warm and fuzzy feelings for it can be due to the fact that I’m a total sucker for nostalgia but it is a damn good picture for its time. I’m not even a huge anthology horror fan but when these films are good, I absolutely love them.

Creepshow is one of the best horror anthology films of all-time. Each story works and George A. Romero created a true piece of cinematic magnificence outside of his Dead series. Plus, having the help of Stephen King’s pen made this a bit more unique than other films like it.

There isn’t a dull story out of the five that we get within this film. Six stories if you count the intro and ending.

The weakest story is probably the one that stars King himself, as a man that becomes possessed and overcome by some sort of alien plant life. Even that one is entertaining because King plays the role so hilariously. It is also the shortest chapter.

The best story of the bunch is The Crate, which really could have been its own film and worked really well. It is also the longest chapter and feels like a throwback to an H.P. Lovecraft tale. In this story, we see a janitor discover a strange crate under a staircase at a college. It is from an expedition, decades earlier. Inside the crate is a hungry beast that pretty much want to devour everyone. But it is the monster itself that is the star of the movie, in my eyes.

The film has a good all-star cast with two highlights. The rivalry between Ted Danson and Leslie Nielsen is well orchestrated and they play off of each other like the pros they are. The other is the relationship between the quiet and sweet Hal Holbrook and his annoying as hell wife played by Adrienne Barbeau. It is such a comedic mismatch but it works too a t.

The visual comic book style highlights within the film, give it an otherworldly life that really wraps the movie in that old school pulp feel.

Creepshow is so enjoyable and the funny bits are still funny. Yes, it has a real sense of terror but it is a load of fun.

Film Review: The Burning (1981)

Release Date: May 8th, 1981
Directed by: Tony Maylam
Written by: Brad Grey, Tony Maylam, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, Peter Lawrence
Music by: Rick Wakeman
Cast: Brian Matthews, Lou David, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Jason Alexander, Ned Eisenberg, Carrick Glenn, Fisher Stevens, Holly Hunter

Miramax Films, Filmways Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“You’re crazy.” – Karen, “Yeah, I know. Crazy for you.” – Eddy

Sure, The Burning was made to cash in on the success of the previous year’s smash hit, Friday the 13th. In fact, the whole 1980s slasher genre was just riding on the coattails of Friday the 13th and Halloween but that doesn’t take away the fact that The Burning is a pretty good film in its genre and I would dare say, a classic.

Sadly, it is underappreciated today and maybe it wasn’t even that appreciated when it came out, as it was one of many Friday the 13th clones lost in a sea of teenage blood.

In this slasher picture, there is a summer camp caretaker named Cropsy. Some teenage boys decide to play a prank on him late at night. The prank has disastrous results, as the frightened Cropsy accidentally sets himself and his home on fire. He nearly burns to death but falls into the river. Years later, he returns to the camp to get murderous revenge. Of course, he doesn’t just look for the teens who pranked him, he just goes on a killing spree of all teenagers because that’s what you do in a slasher film.

There are a few highlights to this film. The first being the cast.

Several people here would go on to be pretty notable stars. George Costanza himself, Jason Alexander, is in this, slimmed down and with a full head of hair. It is actually weird seeing him very un-Costanza-like. He is almost a cool jock type, which is pretty amusing.

The film also features Leah Ayres, who might be more recognizable as the leading lady in the Jean-Claude Van Damme classic Bloodsport. There’s also Brian Backer, who I will always love for his role as “Rat” in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and his one-off appearance in Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol. You have Fisher Stevens, who would star in the two Short Circuit movies and play the villain in Hackers. Ned Eisenberg, a guy who is in just about everything, plays the generic teen asshole that exists in every proper slasher flick. I also have to point out Carrick Glenn, who didn’t do very many movies, but really steals the show in this and not just because of her bare boobs. The biggest star of this thing, other than Alexander, is Holly Hunter. While her role here is far from massive, she would go on to have a hell of a career.

Another highlight is the special effects and the makeup. This thing was essentially made on a limited budget but the practical effects are absolutely top notch. I actually think the effects in this are superior to the much more famous Friday the 13th. The burnt flesh of Cropsy is fantastic and his face is truly disgusting without looking cheesy or having to be visually obscured to hide some sort of cosmetic imperfection. The raft murder scene is particularly well done, especially the killer’s point-of-view shot where he chops off Fisher Stevens’ fingers.

While so many slasher flicks miss the mark, The Burning just gets it. I’m kind of surprised that this didn’t generate sequels, as Cropsy was a spectacular slasher, his origin story was simple but well-handled and the overall vibe of the picture was a good balance of creepy and fun.

That final pursuit scene, through the woods, is one of the best in the genre, even if Brian Backer was the intended victim and not a damsel in distress. Granted, he was still a damsel in distress and required rescuing from the bad ass male hero. But the ending does make it rather unique, as there isn’t a scream queen present.

The Burning is a remarkable picture for what it is. While it isn’t as beloved, to me, as the entirety of the Friday the 13th film series, I do enjoy it more than the first couple movies in that franchise. It is kind of hard to top Friday the 13th parts IV and VI. However, The Burning is an example of how good a slasher picture can be, even if the vast majority of them are just rehashes of a few that came early in the genre.

Film Review: Machete Kills (2013)

Release Date: September 19th, 2013 (Austin Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Robert Rodriguez, Marcel Rodriguez, Kyle Ward
Music by: Carl Thiel
Cast: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Amber Heard, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr., Walton Goggins, William Sadler, Demián Bichir, Mel Gibson, Charlie Sheen, Jessica Alba, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexa Vega, Tom Savini, Elon Musk, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan

Quick Draw Productions, Troublemaker Studios, Open Road Films, 108 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2013.

“Machete don’t tweet.” – Machete

I was a big fan of Machete when it came out. It kept alive the modern revival of grindhouse cinema, which was reintroduced to the world a few years back by the films Death Proof by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s own Planet Terror. Both films were released together as a double bill feature called Grindhouse. Between the two films, there were a series of faux trailers for other grindhouse pictures. One of those was for a film named Machete. The fake trailer was so popular that Rodriguez decided to make the film. Once that was successful, he decided to make this film. There is also a third planned.

Machete Kills doesn’t hold a candle to the first Machete film. Don’t get me wrong, it was enjoyable and had some awesome moments but it was lacking in energy and in scope. It felt smaller and more linear, whereas the original film was a wild ride taking many different unexpected turns. This film went from point A to point B and then introduced us to a point C. Had it not been for the awesome performance by Mel Gibson as the main antagonist of this film, it would’ve fallen much flatter than it did.

The cinematic style of this movie, mirrored the first and for the most part, stayed somewhat true to the grindhouse vibe. The problem I have with these modern grindhouse films though, is the use of CGI effects. I get that it is more affordable and that these films have a tight budget but the whole essence of grindhouse films is over-the-top violence and action and often times gore. In the old grindhouse days, they had to find ways to pull this off with very limited resources. Part of what made those movies so effective and respectable, was the ingenuity of the filmmakers. This film, like its predecessor really lacks in this area. It takes the easy road and frankly, I expected more from Robert Rodriguez.

I do love that Danny Trejo finally has a starring vehicle though and I do look forward to the next sequel. I could watch new installments of Machete for years to come. He’s a great character and at the end of the day, despite the few issues mentioned above, these films exceed the standard blockbuster action fare that Hollywood keeps pumping out at $300+ million dollar price tags.

Documentary Review: Document of the Dead (2012)

Release Date: November 13th, 2012
Directed by: Roy Frumkes
Music by: Rick Ulfik

Synapse Films, 66 Minutes (1979 cut), 85 Minutes (1989 cut), 102 Minutes (2012 cut)

Review:

Document of the Dead is a documentary that has been released at three different times, as it has been updated and expanded throughout the years.

Initially, it was about the making of Goerge A. Romero’s 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead. Since then, it has looked behind the scenes at some of his other films, as well as checked in with the man and those close to him from 1978 up through 2006.

It is a sort of disjointed documentary, as the additions are very apparent in a way that distracts from the narrative. Also, the documentary jumps around a lot. It is entertaining and informative but it is a mess too.

I am reviewing the 2012 version, the final one released, so I can’t really say if the earlier versions, especially the 1979 original version, were more coherent. Anyway, it is the 1979 material that is the most compelling anyway.

Some of the cool things in this are seeing Tom Savini put the makeup on the Dawn of the Dead zombies, as well as his stunt work. Also, just seeing the behind the scenes stuff is cool, especially on an old school movie like this where DVD extras were still twenty years away.

Document of the Dead, while not a great documentary, is still a cool look into the world of Romero from a filmmaking point-of-view. For fans of Romero’s Dead series, it is certainly worth checking out.

Film Review: Day of the Dead (1985)

Release Date: July 19th, 1985
Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: George A. Romero
Music by: John Harrison
Cast: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joe Pilato, Richard Liberty

Dead Films Inc., Laurel Group, United Film Distribution Company, 100 Minutes

Review:

“What kind of progress? What are you talking about, “make them behave?” What does that mean?” – Captain Rhodes

While Dawn of the Dead is regarded as the closest thing director George A. Romero has to a masterpiece, I consider its follow-up (and the third film in Romero’s Living Dead series) Day of the Dead to be a slightly superior film. I know that some agree with me but that the majority are probably against me.

Maybe it’s because the outside areas of the film where shot in downtown Fort Myers, a city in my county or maybe it is because when this film came out, I was incredibly impressionable and saw it first. I think the real reason however, is that this has the most compelling story of the first three films in Romero’s zombie arsenal. In fact, it has the most compelling story out of any film that Romero has done.

This is the first time, at least to my knowledge, where a filmmaker delved into the zombie psyche and experimented with the idea of how their brains might work. In this film, there is one zombie in particular, named Bub, who shows increasing improvement in his mental functions, in that he recognizes people, likes music, learns how to fire a gun, remembers how to use a phone and builds up an almost father/son relationship with the scientist that is studying him.

To this day, Bub is one of the most iconic zombie figures in the history of film. I would even go on to say that he is the most iconic. That alone, puts this film on a higher level than the other Romero zombie flicks. A lot of credit should also go to the actor who played Bub, Howard Sherman. He didn’t speak but his facial expressions made it so he didn’t have to. His performance is what made Bub the first lovable zombie character in cinema history.

As far as style, this film takes the cake in the Romero zombie world. From the sunny and historic Florida streets to the cavernous and haunting mine underground to the brightly lit zombie lab, this film has a good palate of contrasting tones that go on to shape the emotional narrative of the film.

The great effects of its predecessor, Dawn of the Dead, were once again on display but perfected even more for this film. The death of the character named Rhodes is one of the most gruesome yet awe-inspiring scenes of all-time for a special effects junkie.

Yes, the acting can be a bit cheesy and overly boisterous at times but that adds to the fun of this film. The violence, while there is a lot and it might seem gratuitous to some, never really pushes the bar so high that this becomes some low budget gore fest. There is a pretty stark political and social message in this film and it isn’t lost by a filmmaker inadvertently distracting his audience with shock value tactics.

Romero delivered in every way and this is, in my opinion, his best film.

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