Rupert Pupkin Speaks: March 2015 ""

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Underrated '85 - John Portanova

John Portanova is an independent filmmaker based out of Seattle, WA. He moved to the city so he could be close to the world-famous Scarecrow Video, but it’s also where he makes horror movies with his production company The October People. These films have included the psychological horror story The Invoking and the alien abduction thriller The Device, both of which he worked on as a writer/producer. His directorial debut, the creature feature Valley of the Sasquatch, is currently on the film festival circuit. You can follow him on twitter at @October_John.


I was born on August 2, 1985, the same day Fright Night and Weird Science hit theaters. These films are favorites of mine and represent the two film genres I love most: horror and the teen/coming-of-age film. Since I spend most of my time talking horror, I want to use this list to focus on some underrated teen movies1985 was a big year for teenagers on film; John Hughes released his magnum opus The Breakfast Club and the top grossing film of the year saw a time-traveling teen trying to get Back to the FutureThe movies I’m going to include on this list aren’t up to the standards of those modern classics, but I enjoy them all for a variety of reasons. There are many more movies from ‘85 that I love, but I wanted to focus on some films that deserve a second look and haven’t been featured on previous “Underrated ‘85” lists.

MISCHIEF (1985; Mel Damski
Mischief fits into the mold of my favorite kind of teen movie, the “hang out” film. These stories don’t center on a big game the characters are training for throughout the film and don’t feature an action climax, instead the characters and their development take center stage. We get to hang out with them and enjoy their relationships without an overarching storyline pushing them from scene to scene.Sometimes these films take place over the course of oneday like The Breakfast Club or Dazed and Confused.Mischief is more in line with Fast Times at RidgemontHigh; we stick with the characters throughout the school year, seeing important milestones and tracking their development.

At the start of Mischief, we are introduced to Jonathan (Doug McKeon, On Golden Pond). Jonathan is a shy teenager with few friends who spends most of his time lusting after Marilyn (Kelly Preston, Jerry Maguire), the girl of his dreams. When a cool new kid named Gene (Chris Nash, The Wraith) moves in next door, the two polar opposites become friends and Gene makes it his mission to help Jonathan get laid. On paper it sounds like a lot of lowbrow teen sex comedies, but Mischief is more sophisticated than you might expect.

The main thing that sets Mischief apart from many of its contemporaries is that it is a period piece. The film takes place in 1956 and everything from the wardrobe to the soundtrack makes it feel like a ‘50s movie. But since the film was made in the ‘80s, its teenage characters are able to do things that never would’ve gotten past the censorsdecades before. Jonathan and Gene have frank discussions about sex and curse just like any teenager I’ve ever met. It adds a real air of authenticity to the characters and the world they inhabit.

I also love that Mischief isn’t just a series of gross-out gags featuring stereotypical characters, a trap a lot of lesser coming-of-age films fall into. Jonathan doesn’t strike out with the ladies because he’s a caricature of a nerd with giant glasses; he’s just a regular guy who lacks confidence.The women in the film, including co-stars Catherine Mary Stewart (Night of the Comet) and Jami Gertz (The Lost Boys), are given more to do than merely be eye candy.They add to the drama and comedy of the film just as much as their male counterparts. And although the film’s most famous moment is a sex scene, it isn’t a set piece built around leering at the characters. We may get nudity, but the filmmakers are more concerned with the sweet and funny interaction between the characters than hitting a skin quota.

I may have been born after this film was released and decades after it takes place, but the makers of Mischiefhave done such a good job portraying what it’s like to be a teenager that every time I watch it I feel as if I’m being transported back to my own adolescence. That’s the power of a great coming-of-age film and Mischief is one of the best that not enough people have seen. 

MY SCIENCE PROJECT (1985; Jonathan R. Betuel
During the summer of 1985, the science fiction teen film reigned supreme at the multiplexes. Back to the Future, Weird Science, Explorers, and Real Genius were all released in quick succession over the course of about one monthMy Science Project wrapped up the cycle and although it doesn’t reach the heights of the films it followed, it is an enjoyable teen adventure that could only have been made in the ‘80s.

Christine’s John Stockwell plays Michael Harlan, a gearhead who cares more about his car than anything else. His obsession with machinery costs him his popular girlfriend and could cost him his graduation. Michael’s science teacher Mr. Roberts (Dennis Hopper, Blue Velvet) tells him that if he doesn’t come up with a standout science project within days, he will fail the class. So Michaeldecides to sneak into a junkyard for military aircraft while on a first date with nerdy Ellie (Danielle von Zerneck, La Bamba). While there Michael discovers a strange machine that opens rifts in time after absorbing large amounts of electricity and is much harder to control than Michael everexpected.

The climax of My Science Project sees Michael and his friends making their way through their high school as the machine causes chaos with the space-time continuum. Every room they enter puts them in a different time period. It’s obvious that much of the budget went into this sequence and while it is enjoyable, I was struck by how it could never be made today. Our leads face mortal danger in the school from a wide variety of villains: gladiators, the Viet Cong, post-apocalyptic mutants, and even a (not entirely convincing) Tyrannosaurus Rex. What do our heroes do to protect each other in this situation? Mow down their enemies with machine guns, of course. These days you would be hard pressed to find any screenwriter who would have teenagers saving the day by running into a high school with automatic weapons. Even fewer would have the leads of their teen comedy murder dozens of people. It makes for a unique tone that I’ve found belongs squarely in the ‘80s: light, fluffy comedies with a smattering of violence and a decidedly un-PC attitude.

My Science Project is definitely a film where the special effects are the main draw and most of the storytelling effort has been put into action set pieces. But that’s not to say there’s nothing interesting going on character-wise. Michael is someone whose academic future is the last thing on his mind, but he isn’t portrayed as a jock or bully. He’s a soft spoken guy whose world revolves around cars andcan’t be bothered with anything else. Ellie feels a little more like a stereotype at first, the nerdy girl who works for the school paper, but the film makes her a more proactivethan usual girlfriend character by having her make the first move and start getting Michael to open up. Once Ellie and Mike’s romance begins to blossom, the relationship between these two outsiders becomes one of the most enjoyable aspects of the picture. 

Unfortunately writer/director Jonathan R. Betuel (Theodore Rex) keeps the rest of the cast (outside of the very amusing Hopper) as high school stereotypes. Nerds wear satellite dishes on their heads when spying on girls and Michael’s best friend Vince (Fisher Stevens, Short Circuit) is a wannabe tough guy from Brooklyn who spends all of his time talking about his favorite TV shows. It’s quite obvious that Betuel thought Vince would be the breakout character from the film. This is most evidenced as the end credits rolland we are treated to two hallmarks of 80s movies: the recap and the theme song. As “My Science Project” by The Tubes plays on the soundtrack we are shown still images of scenes from the film we just watched. Every so often a clip from the film will pop up in place of a still, but these aren’tscenes from the movie. What we are shown is a series of deleted jokes and lines, all from Vince. The people behind the film were under the mistaken impression that everything Stevens was doing was gold and they couldn’t bear the thought of leaving anything he delivered on the cutting room floor. I didn’t hate Stevens’ performance by any means, but I was only genuinely amused by his shtick when he thought death was imminent during the fight with the T-Rex. As the end approaches Vince bemoans, “17 years of TV down the drain.” Now that’s a feeling of regret I can relate to as I imagine my final moments, which I can only hope will feature a rubber dinosaur.

THE HEAVENLY KID (1985; Cary Medoway
The next film on our list is a sort-of mirror image of the aforementioned Back to the Future. In that film, an ‘80s kid finds himself stuck in the ‘50s. In The Heavenly Kid, a rebel from the early ‘60s finds himself the guardian angel of an ‘80s dweeb. Both films feature fish out of water jokes from our heroes out of time and make sure to give a healthydose of sincerity and heart.

The Heavenly Kid begins back in the ‘60s. We meet resident greaser Bobby Fantana (Lewis Smith, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai) as he plays a dangerous game of chicken. He assures his girlfriend (Jane Kaczmarek, Malcolm in the Middle) that everything will be alright, but a simple mistake ends Bobby’s life in a fiery car crash. Bobby quickly awakens on a subway train and is informed that he has died. Before he can get into Uptown (heaven), Bobby must stay on this subway train in limbo until he can be assigned a task that could earn him his way to eternal bliss. Bobby is finally let off the train in the ‘80s and given his assignment; befriend nerdy Lenny Barnes (Jason Gedrick, Iron Eagle) and act as his guardian angel. 

This set-up leads to the jokey first act wherein Bobby tries to prove to Lenny that he is an angel and can protect him against the bullies who are making his life miserable. The gags in this section range from “Bobby drives a vehicle that to passers-by appears to be moving itself” to “Bobby is shocked at the changes that have taken place in the world since he died”. These sitcom-esque scenarios in the first part of the film will make you think you have this low budget fantasy all figured out, but co-writer/director Cary Medoway (Paradise Motel) has a couple of narrative tricks up his sleeve.

The most interesting twist happens when Bobby comes home with Lenny for the first time. After having his first experience with weed, the angel is shocked to discover thatLenny’s mother is his old flameThis causes Bobby to seriously reconsider if he even wants to continue to help Lenny as that would mean being forced to be around the love of his life after she has moved on and settled down. Eventually Bobby does decide to tough it out with Lenny and even manages to turn the kid from a social pariah to a hip and happening guy. Unfortunately, Lenny lets his newfound popularity go to his head and becomes a jerk to his parents and former friends. 

At its core, The Heavenly Kid is a cheesy teen fantasy that was dated months after opening due to the fashion and music on display. But I still find myself getting into the story and enjoying the nice twists Medoway throws our way. The main reason any of it works as well as it does is because of the solid work from the performers. They bring this world to life and fill it with engaging characters who we hope it’ll all work out for in the end.

TOMBOY (1985; Herb Freed
Tomboy centers on Tommy Boyd (Betsy Russell, Saw III-VII), a female mechanic who’s constantly having to prove her worth to the disbelieving men that enter her shop.Tommy is an avid racing fan and has been toiling away on her own stock car for months during her free time. One day Tommy’s biggest racing idol, Randy Starr (Gerard Christopher, Superboy), stops into the shop and the two immediately hit it off. But after a couple of fun dates, Tommy finds that Randy is too quick to laugh off her intentions of becoming a serious racer. This lack of faith leads to Tommy and Randy being pitted against each other in a stock car race where big time sponsorship, as well as the future of their relationship, is on the line.

Based on that plot description, you’d think that Tomboywould be an empowering film for young female viewers. Tommy is an independent woman who plays by the beat of her own drum and doesn’t give a damn what other people think. Her headstrong attitude and mechanical knowledge make her a target for the less forward thinking of the male population, but she never waivers in her desires. There’s only one problem with viewing the film like this, director Herb Freed (Graduation Day) is only interested in the exploitation potential of making a film about teenage girls. What we end up with is a film that could appeal to budding feminists, but is instead more interested in showing as much flesh as possible to ensure the young boys watching are happy. It makes for a wholly unique viewing experience: a “girl power” movie more concerned with exposing breasts than getting to the heart of Tommy’s quest to be treated as an equal.

Now, just to be clear, I have nothing against breasts. I’m a huge fan. But Tomboy is one of the only films I can think ofwhere nearly every female character is forced to drop her top. When Randy first meets Tommy, a drunken groupie he arrives at the garage with stumbles out of his car with her breasts hanging out of her evening dress. At a pool party thrown by rich kid Ernie (Eric Douglas, half-brother of Michael), 95% of the women in the scene are topless. The only development given to Tommy’s best friend Seville (Kristi Somers, Savage Streets) is that she’s an aspiring actress who uses her sex appeal to try and get ahead. This leads to scenes such as Seville’s sexy audition for a donut commercial and many dance sequences featuring the character in various stages of undress. Even the romantic lead of the movie can’t escape the seediness of it all. When Randy and Tommy have their first fight, it’s while Randy is hanging out in the back room of Ernie’s mansion watching a porno with some friends.

Although I think Freed did this story a disservice by playing it so lowbrow there is still a lot to like aboutTomboy. Betsy Russell is adorable and keeps you interested in Tommy’s plight; she’s easily the best thing about the film. Even if a lot of the jokes are broad, many of them are amusing. There’s also a great supporting performance from Richard Erdman (Community) as Chester, Tommy’s mentor and her employer at the garage.

THE MUTILATOR (1985; Buddy Cooper
Well it turns out I can’t get away from talking horror after all! In ‘80s horror the slasher film reigned supreme. And who were the go-to victims in slashers? That’s right, teenagers. So although many of them were gutted before they could come of age, we saw just as many teenagers onscreen in the ‘80s in slasher films as we did in more typical teen film fare.

The Mutilator is a traditional slasher film that begins in a very untraditional way. Instead of an opening kill that establishes our villain and what he is capable of, we are instead treated to the sight of a young boy by the name of Ed Jr. accidentally killing his mother with a shotgun. Ed was cleaning the gun for his father, an avid hunter, as a surprise for his birthday. For some unknown reason, Ed decides to aim the gun at his mother and pull the trigger. Unfortunately, for another unknown reason, the gun is loaded! When Ed’s father, Big Ed (Jack Chatham, Rockin’ Road Trip), returns home and sees the carnage he attacks the boy, but only for a moment. Following this violent outburst Big Ed walks over to his wife’s corpse and solemnly pours himself a drink. This opening scene is great because it establishes everything we can come to expect from the rest of the film: it makes little sense, features great gore, and is very entertaining in spite of its amateurish qualities. 

Following this matricidal opening, we jump ahead several years and catch up with a teenage Ed Jr. (Matt Mitler,Basket Case 2) at college with a group of friends. We quickly learn that Ed and his father have been estranged ever since the death of his mother, an accident which led to Big Ed becoming an alcoholic. Ed is surprised when hereceives a drunken phone call from his father wherein Big Ed demands that he go out to the family’s beachfront condo and lock it up for the winter. Ed informs his friends of his father’s demands and they all decide that a trip to the beach will be the perfect thing for them to do over fall break.What they don’t realize upon arriving at the condo is that Big Ed is still in the garage. He’s on a raging bender and is hell-bent on making Ed Jr. pay for what happened all those years ago.

The first thing that jumps out at me during the college scenes near the beginning of The Mutilator is the idea of fall break. I’m not sure if it’s an East Coast thing or what, but before this movie I’d never heard of a fall break. I can only imagine that the filmmakers decided that a slasher movie needed to take place on a holiday and so they made up this fictional one, most likely as a different way to refer to Thanksgiving breakFall Break was even the film’s original title until distributors realized that the more bluntThe Mutilator would probably sell more videotapes. 

Whether it’s real or not, after watching The Mutilator you won’t be able to forget about fall break. As Ed and his friends drive to the beach we are treated to one of the most hilarious theme songs of all time in “Fall Break” by Peter Yellen and The Breakers. This ridiculously chipper song would be right at home in a more traditional, cheesy teen film. It does not, however, fit at all in a pretty serious slasher entitled The MutilatorOnce the teens arrive at the condo and the slaughter begins, you’ll feel every gory death scene even more because you were set up for a lighthearted romp during the opening credits. It’s a stark tonal shift that happens again after all the carnage has ended. The film ends on the survivors after they’ve undergone a great deal of trauma and seen everyone they know killed in gruesome ways. As the film fades out on this somber moment, we are treated to the cast laughing through outtakes from the film as “Fall Break” plays once again on the soundtrack and the end credits roll. 

The Mutilator is the only film writer/director Buddy Cooper ever made. I can only assume that the tonal shifts seen in the credit sequences are a result of his inexperiencewith the horror genre. Maybe he’d seen movies featuringtheme songs and outtakes in the past and so he threw themin here thinking that’s what you doBut that’s not to say Cooper did a bad job with the film. Bizarre or not, these “Fall Break” montages are one of the most memorable things I’ve ever witnessed in a low budget slasher. Cooper also excels at the meat and potatoes of every ‘80s horror film: the gory death scenes. If you can track down the unrated version of the film (currently only officially available on VHS), you will be treated to some of the most brutal deaths found in a slasher film. These scenes come courtesy of FX master Mark Shostrom (Evil Dead II), near the start of his illustrious career. One scene in particular disturbed me in a way few slasher deaths have. Big Ed catches one of the girls in the garage and stabs her in the groin with a giant fishing hook. As she squirms in pain, the tip of the hook proceeds to pop out of her abdomenIf you think you have the stomach for scenes such as that or if you find yourself humming along to “Fall Break” after watching the video below, The Mutilator might just be the slasher for you.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Underrated '85 - Daniel Budnik

Daniel Budnik is the co-author of Bleeding Skull!: A 1980s Trash Horror OdysseyHe is currently at work on another book and a new blog, possibly focused on BJ & The Bear. He believes the world is ready for it.
I’d like to start this list by disclosing a fact. Although I went to see Back to the Future twice in the theaters at the age of 12, I did not see (and have still not seen) The Goonies. Oh, I know of the film. My brother watched it on Beta about 20 times. I’ve seen many of the scenes. But, I’ve never actually sat down and watched the film all the way through. I now wear that fact as a badge of honor.
Anyway…  the five films I’ve chosen are ones that I believe are underrated from the great and glorious year when prime time soaps gave up their #1 spots to sitcoms and the word “Sussudio” became part of the lexicon. I was tempted to add some obscure films. However, I reasoned: if no one’s really seen the film, how can it be underrated? (Well, there’s one on here that is close to obscure but I had to let one pass.)

Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment (1985; Jerry Paris): As anyone who knows me knows, every year I have a Police Academy week in my home. Across seven nights I throw a party and watch all of the Police Academy movies. Last year, attendance was up. Both my dogs stayed in the room. So, there were three of us. Their First Assignment was released at that interesting moment whenthe whole “police academy” concept might have ended with this movie. History, and my dogs, can confirm that this did not happen. Part 2 is the only sequel that has anything close to character development (Tackleberry’s romance). It introduces Lt. Mouser. It has some of the best pranks played on saidlieutenant. Proctor first appears. And the gags are funny. Also, like most of the sequels, characters are forgotten about for long periods of time. (Hooks and Fackler are barely in it.) The editing leaves something to be desired. Jokes that feel like they should be big laughs kind of fizzle out. (The non-shootout in Sweetchuck’s store is an example.) And, there’s very little structure to anything. But, it is still funny and fun. You got the power of Guttenberg on your side. Roll with it!

Loose Screws (1985; Rafal Zielinksi): In rarefied quarters this is known as Screwballs II. Where I live it is just Awesome. Rafal Zielinski can do no wrong! A bunch of guys try to get laid. They dress up as women. There are naked ladies. The guys are really dumbThere are funny “joke” names. (I could be thinking of another movie for any of those points I’ve just listed. It doesn’t matter.) There is nothing resembling logic or storytelling as one has come to know it on the planet Earth. I enjoy a good T&A comedy. I really do. But, I like them with as little sense as possible. King Frat and Fireballs are my two favorite examples. Loose Screws is right behind them. I don’t know if I’ve actually laughed when I’ve watched this film but I’ve always enjoyed myself. Netflix used to have it on their Instant and I used to loop it…  over and over..  and over…  If you only plan to see, say, four or five1980s sex comedies before you die, please include this.

Shadow Chasers (1985)
The lowest rated TV show of the 1985-1986 television season began with a 2-hour TV movie, co-written and directed by Kenneth Johnson of V, The Incredible Hulk The Bionic Woman. And it’s a very entertaining, bordering on wonderful, time. Sort of a post Ghost Busters, pre-X-Files sort of thing. A stuffy British anthropology professor at Georgetown University is, more or less, blackmailed by his head of department into going on paranormal investigations across the United States. He somehow winds up teamed with a tabloid reporter with a taste for Hawaiian shirts. It’s an odd couple! But, really, they’re great. Jonathan MacKenzie and Edgar Benedek go to a small Californian town to investigate the apparent spontaneous combustion of a man in the attic of his huge creepy house. It’s funny. It’s got some scares and it is so, so 1985. One of the best ways to spot 1985 is the music. This is the period when Hollywood began doing all-synth scores, just like cheap exploitation films had been doing for years. The music for Shadow Chasers is the only tricky part about it. With the worst offender being the excessive use of slap bass whenever something suspenseful or scary is supposed to be happening. I’m trying to remember if that worked in 1985 and I’m unsure. Shadow Chasers has another great distinction: it was one of the first (of many) causalities of the NBS Thursday night sitcom line-up. Anything that went up against The Cosby Show andFamily Ties (later A Different World) was doomed to fail. I remember seeing a list of the ratings for one week and Shadow chasers was, literally, at the bottom. But, don’t let that deter you.Shadow Chasers is a cool TV movie and the regular hour-long episodes are pretty great too. Here’s an odd thing: Shadow Chasers has 13 episodes total. Only the first 9 episodes aired on the network. Not that many people actually saw it. But, if you fish around online, you can find quite a lot of fan fiction written about it. Quite a lot. I know, surprised me too.

American Ninja (1985; Sam Firstenberg): Dudikoff! James! Firstenberg! A silly title turns out to be hiding a well-directed, exciting and, at times, almost whimsical action film. What else do I need to say? Give it a try. Part 2 is even better. Part 3 and 4 get a bit weird, especially 3, but they are still entertaining.

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985; Guy Hamilton): I went to see this in the theater because of the ads with Remo hanging from the Statue of Liberty (which was covered in scaffolding that year as it was being renovated). I really enjoyed the movie. But it did, in fact, feel like a beginning. More time is spent on Joel Grey’s character training Remo than the actual mission. So, I waited anxiously for the sequel. (Hey, if they made a sequel toScrewballs, why not Remo?)It never happened. And my heart was broken. However, it is still a great action/ adventure film as long as one forgives the overly hopeful structure. And, it contains three fantastic action scenes: the gradually escalating training scene, the bit with the dog who can do anything and, of course, the Statue of Liberty scene. That scene still stands as several minutes of some of the most thrilling stunting since Harold Lloyd got scared off that ledge and wound up hanging from a clock back in 1923.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Scream Factory - INVADERS FROM MARS on Blu-ray

INVADERS FROM MARS (1986; Tobe Hooper)
"We don't carry loose change into combat sir."

Let me just start by saying that I miss Karen Black. I miss the time when she was a bankable Hollywood star and was appearing in a variety of memorable and interesting movies. She made so many great films in the 1970s. From FIVE EASY PIECES, CISCO PIKE and DAY OF THE LOCUST to NASHVILLE, THE OUTFIT and even AIRPORT 1975. She was almost obligatory in the 70s and that was a beautiful thing. Sadly, by 1986 she was working in far less high-profile projects and was relegated to lower budget films and TV work. Just prior to INVADERS FROM MARS her most memorable film was Ruggero Dedato's underseen CUT AND RUN in 1985, so it's a cool thing to see her back in a large scale production like this (though many of her films from the 1970s were smaller budget character pieces). And speaking of large-scale productions, Tobe Hooper was no stranger to them and this one is up there as far as ambitious special-effects heavy features for him. Obviously he made POLTERGEIST and LIFEFORCE before this movie and even though this is something of a slight step down from those movies, it's still one of my favorites of his films. There are just certain directors that can handle themselves really well when it comes to incorporating elaborate special effects into their storytelling and Hooper is one of them. Of course it also helps when you have gents like John Dykstra and Stan Winston helping out as he did on INVADERS. Frankly, a director like Hooper produces some of the most fun and remarkable results when working with craftsmen like Dykstra and Winston. And when you add to the equation that this was a movie he made for Cannon Films (and one of their higher budgeted productions at that) and there was very little creative interference from them, what you end up with is a pretty crazy science-fiction fantasy. It really is a case of some amazingly creative and twisted people letting their imaginations run wild in their filling the gaps in a classic science fiction tale. As much as I like the original William Cameron Menzies film from 1953, I have to say that Hooper's remake is just so outlandishly creepy and gooey and disturbing that it really stands out as the one I enjoy a little more. It's been said to death, but there is just something so captivating about watching movies with many-faceted sets and real creatures that the actors are interacting with in front of the camera and you can feel the difference in the effect it has on you when you watch it (or at least I can). So even if INVADERS FROM MARS' story may be a sort of familiar INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS kind of plot, it stands out because of Hooper's vision and the work his special effects team did on the movie. And it certainly doesn't hurt when you have wonderfully capable character actors like James Karen, Bud Cort and Louise Fletcher backing up your leads. Also having a kid actor at the center that doesn't take you out is essential and Hunter Carson (real-life son of Karen Black) does a nice job as well. INVADERS  FROM MARS has a lot going for it as a sci-fi classic from the 1980s, but it is not as well remembered as it should be. Folks should give it a look via this lovely looking new Blu-ray.

Special Features:
This a neat special edition from Scream Factory with some nice supplements. First off is a good commentary track with director Tobe Hooper himself. It's a 
I was very intrigued to hear Hooper talk about the practical effects and how some of them were accomplished. It's one of those movies that is a mix of makeup and visual effects, animatronics and even some carnival-ride-sized apparatus (which were part of the gigantic sets that were built for the film). Hearing stories of this kind of antiquated filmmaking is always quite thrilling to me. It's not that it's any less difficult to make a movie these days, but the idea that so much of it had to be created in real life for the camera to pick up is just a whole other level of magic than what we see now. Hooper took a lot of care in making this remake and even went so far as to take a lot of time re-creating the iconic hill and fenceline that was seen in the original Menzies film. It's a solid commentary and Hooper is frank and reflective in his thoughts on many aspects of the production and his deal with three-picture Cannon Films at the time. Fans will like this track.

-Also included is a cool new 37 minute retrospective, "The Martians Are Coming - the Making of INVADERS FROM MARS". The piece includes interviews with Tobe Hooper, actor Hunter Carson, composer Christopher Young, as well as a couple of the special creature effects artists (Alec Gillis & Gino Crognale). Director Hooper talks about how his original intentions were to make a children's film, which is what he was really ready to make at the time and how INVADERS was expected to be much more of a horror film. Carson talks about working with his mom and how they treated it as a very professional thing while they were on set. He also reminisces about working  with the other actors like James Karen and Louise Fletcher. He really has a lot of memories from making the film and recalls them in far greater detail than I would have expected. As far as Hooper's interview, there is some overlap with what he discusses in the commentary track, but overall the retrospective is good in its ability to give you the sense of what it was like to have been on set during the making of this movie. The effects guys give a little more detail with regards to how some of the sequences were done too which is nice.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Underrated '85 - Cinemonster

Fancy Film Fella and Booze Aficionado, Cinemonster can be stalked on Twitter @ElCinemonster or at Letterboxd. Website being built with Lego as we speak. 
Turk 182! (1985; Bob Clark)
You have to be proud of something you put an exclamation point after, don't you? So plot heavy and engorged with chaos that it almost collapses, this David v Goliath story pits Timothy Hutton's graffiti vigilante against Robert Culp's Mayor of NYC who denied disability benefits to Hutton's brother. His brother, a fire fighter, was was injured while saving some kids from a fire while drunk and off duty. Turk gives a fantastic and detailed picture of a New York that is now solidly in the rear view, and highlights what was a fantastic graffiti culture from the late 70's into the mid 80's. Another solid film from the unsung Bob Clark and reminder of how beautiful Kim Cattrall was. 

Mafia vs. Ninja (1985; Robert Tai)
Must be seen to be believed. Preposterous kung-fu film centers around two sewer workers who get pulled into an Asian gang war after they are hired to protect a mafia honcho who is subsequently killed. They, of course, seek revenge and what follows is high grade action, fun fight choreography and performances and effects that will almost cause you to wet yourself. Oh, someone may or may not defend himself with a tree. I suggest you wear Pull-ups. :)

Moving Violations (1985; Neal Israel)
Siblings of more famous actors populate this Neal Israel directed 'Police Academy Light' comedy set in driving school. One of many 'piggyback' comedies of the 80's, it is more enjoyable than most as the cast is charming enough and the laughs are stupid fun. It is probably more notable presently for being some of actor Don Cheadle and DP Robert Elswit's earliest work. 

Insignificance (1985; Ken Russell)
An off-beat examination of fame, guilt and despair wonderfully crafted by Nicolas Roeg, and featuring great performances highlighted by Teresa Russell's turn as The Actress. Clearly a filmed play, but a fascinating piece of cinema never-the-less. You don't see cubism in too many narrative films.
The play, written by Terry Johnson, was inspired by a news piece that he had read that listed an autographed picture of Albert Einstein among the late Marilyn Monroe's possessions.

Beer (1985; Patrick Kelly)
An advertising firm, desperate to keep a brewery client, utilizes and lionizes three schmucks who were sort-of involved with thwarting a robbery at a bar to 'relaunch' the brand. One ridiculous (and successful) ad campaign after another change everyone involved in different ways. Great early performance from David Alan Grier stands out but the cast, highlighted by Rip Torn and Sally Kellerman, are fun as hell. Beer is funnier than it has any right to be and, as with most comedies, goes well with beer.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Underrated '85 - Ira Brooker

Ira Brooker is a writer and editor living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He barely remembers what it's like to watch a well-regarded movie anymore. He writes all over the place, and especially at, and @irabrooker.
(P.S. - check out his Underrated Action/Adventure list:
Tenement (1985; Roberta Findlay)
In a just world, Roberta Findlay would be a highly sought-after guest at business seminars. Maybe more so than any modern filmmaker, she perfected the art of hitting all the right notes to bring in a paying audience while telling a reasonably coherent story and avoiding the frills and flourishes that would bulk up expense reports. That she happened to employ these skills in the service of exploitation cinema seems to have been a matter serendipity. Regardless of genre, Findlay knows more about how to make a movie than just about anyone in the game.

Tenement might be her masterpiece, a nasty, sweaty wallow in violence and nihilism that takes a chillingly neutral view to its own depravity. A gang of flamboyantly attired junkies gets rousted from its squat pad in a New York City apartment building, then comes back that night to exact vicious, vaguely motivated vengeance on the tenants. That’s about all there is by way of plot. From there on out it’s all sweat and tension and torture and impalement and improvised execution devices. Gang members and civilians die horribly and indiscriminately and Findlay never tries to inject a message or a moral into any of it, unless “You sickos like blood and guts and naked ladies, right? Give the ticket take five bucks and that’s what I’ll show you” counts. I have to say I’ve heard far worse messages than that.

Hard Rock Zombies (1985; Krishna Shah)
Hard Rock Zombies is a tough film to categorize. It’s technically a horror comedy, but the horror is by no means scary and the comedy is more rooted in weirdness and surreality than actual gags. It’s infused with a Troma-esque vibe of self-aware, zero-budget, gross-out anarchy but keeps a straighter face than Kauffman and company generally attempt. And it features one of the most delightfully left-field character reveals I’ve ever seen. (I’m itching to tell you what it is, but you really ought to experience it for yourself.)

A quite bad but era-appropriate hair metal band rolls into a rock-hating small town called Grand Guignol intent on playing a show for people who don’t want to hear it. In short order the band members get thrown in jail, craft a creepy love ballad for an underage fan, fall in with the local chapter of undead monsters, and get themselves turned into zombies. And from there it gets weird. Not all of it works and the proceedings sometimes lurch too far over the top, but it’s a ton of fun. (The townspeople’s attempt to protect their heads from zombie attacks is one of my all-time favorite bits of zombie comedy.) If you can dig on genre-juggling, throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks weirdness like Alabama’s Ghost or early Troma, this oughta be right in your ballpark.

Heaven Help Us (1985; Michael Dinner)
I have very little patience for post-American Graffiti nostalgia jaunts and even less for John Hughes-ian teenage coming-of-age movies, which makes for some pretty rocky stretches on my ‘80s movie viewing landscape. Yet somehow this Catholic school throwback does it for me. For one thing, it’s not overly romantic about its period - a lot of things about 1965 look pretty crummy from this angle, not least of which is rampant corporal punishment in our nation’s private schools. 

Andrew McCarthy and Kevin Dillon are solid as the respective sensitive hero and gold-hearted bully, but it’s the supporting players who really sell it. How am I not gonna like a movie with John Heard as a hipster monk, Yeardley Smith as a baby-faced nerd, future porn star Stephen Geoffreys as a hypersexual schoolboy and Larry “Bud” Melman as a deranged bridge attendant? Sure, Donald Sutherland is barely conscious as the head of school, but his apathy is canceled out by Wallace Shawn’s brief but unforgettable fire-and-brimstone lecture on the dangers of carnality. Maybe the sum of Heaven Help Us isn’t quite as great as its assorted parts, but those parts are choice enough to make it one of the few ‘80s teen movies for which I’ll go to bat.

Sloane (1985; Dan Rosenthal)
Now, don’t get me wrong - Sloane is not a good movie. Sloane is in fact quite a bad action movie of the ilk that could have only come out of the 1980s. But Sloane is nonetheless an immensely watchable movie for one reason only: Robert Resnick’s performance as Phillip Sloane, possibly the most intensely unlikable action hero ever to anchor a movie. 

Less a man than a sentient bundle of smug, Sloane plunges into the Manila underworld to rescue an embezzler’s kidnapped wife, armed only with his wits, his utter lack of charisma and his snide condescension toward every soul who crosses his path. Oh, and also some automatic weapons which he employs frequently and lustily against dozens of Filipinos, regardless of provocation. Take all of this, stir in a healthy dose of misogyny and one of the most inexplicable late-movie plot twists ever filmed and you’ve got Sloane, a movie that demands to be seen if only because we all have some manner of penance to pay.

Interface (1985; Andy Anderson)
This might be the most 1985 movie of 1985, a priceless relic of the brief era when personal computers were sliding from a nerds-only obsession to an in-home tool and family plaything. The action centers on a small-college computer club that runs an illicit hacking-for-hire business to fund its elaborate LARP-style paintball games (the club members dress up in voice-distorting cyberpunk masks and take commands from an all-knowing computer program). When a chance encounter with drug dealers turns the hackers into accidental vigilantes, they lean into the role and soon find themselves executing evildoers and letting their innocent computer professor take the rap.

Shot on location on a Texas campus for what couldn’t have been more than the meagerest budget, Interface might have been a real gem if it had stuck with its hacker vengeance storyline. Unfortunately, much of its middle third is squandered on the falsely accused professor trying to crack the case while engaging in tedious screwball antics with a victim’s widow. Even so, this is well worth watching as an amiable, ambitious time-capsule from a starry-eyed era when we were willing to believe computers could do just about anything if you just knew which buttons to press, up to and including electrocuting your enemies over the telephone.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Underrated '85 - Stephen Scarlata

Mr. Scarlata is a personal friend of mine and he and I are were very much raised on a lot of the same 80s junk/goodness. One of his favorite movies is THE PIT. He's a cool fella. He was also one of the producers on JODOROWSKY'S DUNE which is currently available on Blu-ray:
You should follow him on twitter here:
and letterboxd here:

Also, check out his recent Underrated Action/Adventure list because it is awesome:

STATIC (1985; Mark Romanek)
Strange and quirky film that reeks of the mid 1980’s. Mark Romanek’s film debut was considered unreleasable until it stuck a cord and became a success in England. Keith Gordon gets fired from his job at a crucifix factory in order to work on an invention that will enable him to see into heaven.

INVASION USA (1985; Joseph Zito)
Joseph Zito’s slasher-in reverse starring Chuck Norris as a Jason Vorhees like ex-CIA agent hunting down terrorist in south Florida. If you’re a fan of the 80’s, Friday the 13th and action films this one won’t disappoint. This could be Chuck Norris best film.

CUT AND RUN (1985; Ruggero Deodato)
Ruggero Deodato’s big budget sweaty jungle epic. Drug smuggling with babies, Michael Berryman in full-on psycho mode with a machete, brutal jungle booby traps and Willie Aames from Charles in Charge. Please try to track down the uncut version.

DETECTIVE (1985; Jean-Luc Godard)
Godard’s Detective is a film that solely takes place in a hotel. We follow a detective obsessing over a murder of a prince two years prior. What I find interesting is the 1980’s video surveillance aesthetic and also as the film moves on the hotel itself starts to transform into a character.

USA NINJA (1985; Kuo-Ren Wu)
1985 was the year of the ninja. Fallen between the cracks of Sho Kosugi and Micheal Dudikoff was Ninja in the USA. This film relies more on martial arts and has some impressive fight scenes and outrageous villains.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Underrated '85 - Neil Wilson

Neil Wilson (@dirmgr) is a professional computer programmer and amateur movie enthusiast in Austin, Texas.  Last year, to honor the 30th anniversary of one of the greatest years in film history, he watched 365 movies released in 1984.  This year, he's continuing on into 1985 and hopes to uncover some more mid-80s gems.

Stone Pillow (1985; George Schaefer)

US Release: November 1985
Lucille Ball had been in over 40 movies before her first television appearance, but it's TV that really made her a star. So it's fitting that her final movie role would be this made-for-TV drama in which she plays Flora, a jaded, feisty, no-nonsense homeless woman who knows all the tricks needed to survive the New York City streets. Daphne Zuniga is Carrie, a naive, fresh-out-of-college girl struggling in her job at a homeless shelter. While out on a fact-finding mission to try to better understand the homeless, Carrie encounters Flora just in time for both of them to get mugged. Mistaking her for a runaway, Flora grudgingly takes Carrie under her wing to gives her a first-hand look at what it's like to live on the streets.

Stone Pillow is a far cry from the comedy roles that made her famous, and her trademark red is completely gray, but you can't help but recognize Ball's voice as she completely owns this movie. It's a captivating drama that manages to be an effective social commentary without feeling awkward or heavy-handed. Zuniga does a fine job in her supporting role that thankfully takes a back seat to Lucy's lead, and I was pleasantly surprised to find an uncredited appearance from Mike Starr.

Poison Ivy (1985; Larry Elikann)

US Release: February 1985
Summer camp movies are one of mankind's greatest inventions, right up there with electricity and the wheel. And Poison Ivy has to be one of the best summer camp movies ever made. It's not that there's anything all that unusual or innovative about it, but it's just done really well. There are the usual camper stereotypes, like the athlete, the fat kid, the nerd, the fast-talking con artist, and the runaway, but there's more depth to their characters than you might find in one of the lesser movies. Michael J. Fox (probably mostly known for Family Ties at this point, since Back to the Future and Teen Wolf wouldn't hit theaters for another few months) is the big star, as noted by his appearing no fewer than four times on the VHS cover art, but Nancy McKeon (The Facts of Life) has the more nuanced role as the assistant nurse who is attractive and draws the attention of many of males of varying ages but is much more than a sex symbol. On the other hand, Adam Baldwin's "head counselor with a stick up his ass" role does seem pretty one-dimensional, and Robert Klein's camp director gives a few enthusiastic speeches but is otherwise pretty insignificant. Despite a fairly prominent credit on the VHS cover, Jason Bateman is nowhere to be found in the movie.

At times, Poison Ivy feels a lot like a younger and tamer version of Revenge of the Nerds. Many of the campers are misfits but they mesh well together, and the camp's big "color wars" competition a lot in common with the Greek Games. It also reminds me of the 1990 "who's who of network television" movie Camp Cucamonga, which makes sense because Bennett Tramer wrote them both (along with a fair amount of Saved by the Bell). Poison Ivy is probably familiar because it doesn't do much that hadn't been done before, but it does it well and with a great dose of nostalgia to boot.

Heavenly Bodies (1985; Lawrence Dane)

US Release: February 1985
Jane Fonda's early 1980s workout videos made aerobics popular in the home, but it didn't get much big-screen attention until Heavenly Bodies. It features Cynthia Dale as Samantha, who manages to escape her boring day job and join up with friends KC and Patty to turn a dilapidated warehouse into an aerobics studio. Sam's upbeat attitude and nonstop energy help to quickly grow the membership, and she even signs a deal with the local pro football team to whip their players into shape (and gets a love interest in the process). Things really take off when Samantha lands a gig hosting an early-morning workout show on TV, but that doesn't sit well with Debbie, the girlfriend of a rival gym owner who thought she had the show locked up. When Debbie convinces an investor to buy the Heavenly Bodies building and terminate their lease, Samantha does a little Network-style rant on her show and challenges the other gym to a marathon aerobics competition for the building.

In defiance of all known laws of mathematics, this movie is approximately 150% montage. There are three separate montages (Samantha at her old job, fixing up the building, and doing aerobics with ever-increasing class sizes) before we encounter a scene with any substantial dialogue. You won't find any needless exposition here, and it's practically a master class in "show don't tell" filmmaking. It's cheesy at times, motivations aren't always clear, and it's unlikely to inspire anyone to get off their butt and start exercising, but it is a movie that's fun to watch and even stands up well under repeat viewings.

The Party Animal (1985; David Beaird)

US Release: January 1985
More than a decade before VH-1 ran its Where Are They Now? series, The Party Animal somehow managed to spoof it. It's a documentary-style look back at the college career of Pondo Sinatra, a guy with only sex on the brain but thus far a complete lack of experience. His experienced roommate Studly agrees to help him, but his efforts (like a wardrobe makeover and an utterly ridiculous Cyrano de Bergerac sequence) just don't seem to pan out. Even Studly's mentor Elbow can't seem to get him over the hump. It's only when a professor makes a reference to an aphrodisiac in a lecture that Pondo's luck begins to change.

There is nothing subtle about this movie. It's more about quantity than quality, and while some of the gags miss the mark badly (like an uncomfortably racist scene, or a drug sequence that goes on too long without much payoff), a lot of them work. It's not as classy as your higher-brow sex comedies like Porky's or The Last American Virgin, but it's also willing to venture into territory that other movies wouldn't dream of touching (e.g., a scene in a sex shop where Pondo browses while a couple of employees have a conversation on arms reduction in the voice of Marlon Brando). The premise may have been done to death, but there's stuff in The Party Animal you won't find anywhere else.

The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik Yak (1985; Just Jaeckin)

US Release: January 1985
In one of the most ridiculous of the Indiana Jones clones, Tawny Kitaen plays the titular Gwendoline. She's looking for her father, who never came back from a mission to find a rare butterfly. For some reason, she latches onto a guy named Willard (who has about as much charm and machismo as you'd expect from someone with that name) and finagles him into being her guide on a mission to find out what happened. And despite learning almost immediately that her father is dead, they set off into dangerous territory to try to figure out exactly what happened and to find that elusive butterfly.

This is really just a boob delivery mechanism masquerading as an action-adventure film, and it accomplishes that quite effectively if not brilliantly. A jungle storm necessitates disrobing to fashion a means of capturing the rainwater. A cold night spent tied up by superstitious natives requires what basically amounts to phone sex in order to keep warm. And the final act takes place in a no-boys-allowed hidden city that is kind of a sexy Coliseum of topless chariot racing and hand-to-hand combat. This isn't the place to look for classy, edge-of-your-seat excitement, but few movies deliver trashy over-the-top absurdity as well as this one.