and Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot (blog):http://craneshot.blogspot.com
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AMERICAN DRIVE-IN (1985)
Wow. This is one schizophrenic movie. AMERICAN DRIVE-IN begins as a meanspirited take on DRIVE-IN, introducing us to a wide range of characters: a family of fatties who set up a spread outside their car, a couple of old ladies, two gay guys who like bowling, a square councilman out to bust potheads, a horny dude who wants sex from his girlfriend, the crazed projectionist (Buck Kartalian), and our heroes: sweet engaged couple Jack and Bobbie Ann. About halfway through, the comedy goes away when Bobbie Ann is kidnapped by a gang of greasers who sexually assault her and beat Jack badly. It’s weirdly violent, completely out of step with the rest of the picture, and made even more uncomfortable by the comic relief within the rape scene. Then it turns into rape/revenge, which at least provides memorable images of the long-haired, long-legged star Emily Longstreth, dressed in cutoffs like Claudia Jennings in GATOR BAIT, freaking out, and holding the whole place at gunpoint. A very strange film, not unwatchable—in fact, its uncomfortable blend of childish hijinks and revenge melodrama probably makes it more interesting than if it had been one or the other.
BARBARIAN QUEEN (1985)
The late B-movie queen Lana Clarkson, who was murdered by Phil Spector in 2003, stars in this Roger Corman production as the titular Amethea, who swears vengeance against the pillagers who wiped out her village and snatched her fiancé (Frank Zagarino). What else to do but grab a few warrior hotties, including Katt Shea (HOLLYWOOD HOT TUBS) and Dawn Dunlap (FORBIDDEN WORLD), and storm the palace of the tyrannical king? Aside from the sword-swinging violence and sweaty nude bodies, including Clarkson’s quite impressive one, there’s not much here, but with a running time of a mere 71 minutes (!), you don’t need much more. The 5’11” Clarkson was only about 22 years old when she made BARBARIAN QUEEN. She’s quite good—beautiful, of course—handling the action scenes like a pro.
THE BEACH BOYS: AN AMERICAN BAND (1985)
I don’t know how available this excellent documentary is nor have I seen it since it came out, but it was sanctioned by the band and glosses over some of the more sordid details of this consummate surf group's career. Director Malcolm Leo fills it with cool and obscure live, TV, and film appearances. The scenes from THE TAMI SHOW are probably the best known, but the "In My Room" video may be the most fascinating. Highly recommended for fans.
THE BELARUS FILE (1985)
Mature, quiet TV mystery brings back Telly Savalas as Kojak seven years after his series’ cancellation. It squeezes Savalas’ character into some international intrigue involving survivors of a concentration camp in German-occupied Russia. Someone is murdering old Jewish men in New York City. Theo Kojak and government lawyer Dana Sutton (Suzanne Pleshette) discover the victims were inmates at the same camp forty years earlier, and so was Kojak’s friend Peter Barak (Max von Sydow), who has been acting a little weird lately. THE BELARUS FILE isn’t sensational or violent or packed with action and quips. It simply goes about its business, telling an important story by wrapping it inside a police procedural. Savalas does solid work without relying on the “who loves ya, baby” schtick of the series.
CODE OF SILENCE (1985)
Chuck Norris’ best film is a terrific crime drama about a Chicago detective shunned by his fellow cops after he testifies against an incompetent colleague who planted a gun on an innocent teenager he accidentally killed. That means Chuck has to go solo against the very dangerous Luis Camacho (Henry Silva), a Colombian druglord who wants revenge against the Italian mobsters who shot his brother. The great action director Andrew Davis (ABOVE THE LAW, UNDER SIEGE, THE PACKAGE) made it and filled it with incredible Chicago character actors: Dennis Farina, Ralph Foody, Ron Dean, John Mahoney. To make sure you don’t forget it’s a Chuck Norris movie, the finale (in an empty warehouse, natch) features a radio control robot tank. The Chuck Norris movie for those who don’t like Chuck Norris movies.
Perhaps my favorite ALIEN ripoff, THE TITAN FIND aka CREATURE is, of course, about a gooey space monster with big teeth that chomps on astronauts with paper-thin personalities. The second film by writer/director William Malone, CREATURE does a nice job creating a mood and delivering cheap violent thrills on a $750,000 budget. The miniature work and production design by future Oscar winners Robert Skotak (ALIENS) and Dennis Skotak (THE ABYSS) are very good, as are the many gore effects. Really, the goo is the best reason to watch CREATURE—faces are ripped off, heads explode, and blood splashes everywhere. Klaus Kinski cameos as a lascivious, sandwich-chomping astronaut, and pretty Wendy Schaal (THE ‘BURBS) is likable as a brainy scientist (who is forced by the script to do some pretty idiotic things).
THE CRIME KILLER (1985)
I have no idea who Greek filmmaker George Pan-Andreas is, but he certainly assembled a wonderfully inept and frequently hilarious vanity production. He directed, wrote, and plays Zeus, a cop who is tossed off the force for killing two corrupt cops in self-defense. After the U.S. President’s wife and child are murdered, the CIA forces Zeus to return to crime fighting, not that Zeus needs much urging. After all, he is the Crime Killer. After the titles finally roll (illustrated by Greek imagery that has nothing to do with the movie, like a statue that fires beams from its eyes!), it's one mockable moment after another, including gratuitous 'Nam flashbacks, slow-mo kung fu (that shows the actors' kicks missing one another by a mile), inappropriate humor, crazy plot points and ridiculous dialogue. I'm sure the story of how George Pan-Andreas talked someone into giving him money to write, direct, and star in this movie is fascinating.
GUILTY CONSCIENCE (1985)
Mystery masters Richard Levinson and William Link, who created COLUMBO, wrote this clever whodunit that plays like a backstage view of their writing sessions. Anthony Hopkins is a vain criminal attorney who wants to murder his wife (Blythe Danner), and plays various scenarios in his head in an attempt to pick out the fatal flaw in them that will get him convicted. Director David Greene (FATAL VISION) stages them like fantasy courtroom scenes with Hopkins playing both the defendant and prosecuting attorney. I wish I could say more, but almost every scene of this made-for-TV movie is either a clue, a red herring, or a surprising plot twist.
HOLLYWOOD HARRY (1985)
The only film directed by Oscar-nominated actor Robert Forster (JACKIE BROWN) is a goofy comedy featuring a very broad performance by Forster as a down-and-out drunken Hollywood private eye named Harry who is hired by a rich Southerner to find the only copy of a pornographic movie featuring his teenage daughter. At the same time, Harry finds himself taking care of his impulsive 14-year-old niece Danielle (Kathrine Forster), who has run away from home to live with her Uncle Harry. I'm sure everyone involved had a fun time making this picture, and it's amusing to see Forster, who normally plays intense action roles, mugging it up like Jerry Lewis.
LIGHT BLAST (1985)
Amazingly ridiculous, hilarious, and action-packed picture casts CHIPS star Erik Estrada as a tough cop who is introduced stripped to his briefs to defuse a hostage situation. Erik gets the case when rejected scientist Ennio Girolami (THE NEW BARBARIANS) creates a death ray and uses it to melt the skin from his victims (like in the climax of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK). There is a ton of action, including wild slo-mo shootouts, explosions, car chases, squibs, you name it. Near the end, Estrada steals Albert Arciero’s racecar and jumps practically every hill in San Francisco. As usual, director Enzo Castellari mixes live stuntwork with unconvincing miniatures to add to the film’s bizarre tone.
THE MEAN SEASON (1985)
Miami-lensed mystery stars Kurt Russell as newspaperman Malcolm Anderson, who feels burned out at his job and is considering a move with his girlfriend (Mariel Hemingway) to sedate Colorado. But then, here comes The Big Story He’s Been Waiting For in the form of a serial killer (Richard Jordan) who begins calling Malcolm and giving him sneak previews of his next murders. Philip Borsos (THE GREY FOX), a talented Canadian director who died of leukemia much too young at 42, handles the suspense like a real pro. Jordan, who also sadly died young, is an excellent foil for Russell, even though he’s mostly heard and not seen as just a malevolent voice on the telephone. Richard Masur, Joe Pantoliano, Richard Bradford, William Smith, Andy Garcia, and Rose Portillo offer support.
MURPHY'S ROMANCE (1985)
James Garner earned his only Academy Award nomination for his crisp role as amiable Murphy Jones, the widower owner of a drugstore in the tiny Arizona town where determined divorcee Emma (Sally Field) moves to start her new life with young son Jake (Corey Haim). Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch's sharp screenplay makes it clear that these two independent-minded survivors with equally strong senses of humor are destined to be together, despite the obvious age difference, but the fun is seeing them realize slowly realize it. Garner is great portraying a well-rounded character who seems to have been written especially for him, since it capitalizes on the actor's noted persona as a crusty iconoclast, and his chemistry with Field is impeccable.
THE RAPE OF RICHARD BECK (1985)
Richard Crenna won his only Emmy for his brave dramatic performance in this ahead-of-its-time TV movie as a chauvinist homicide cop who is reassigned to Sex Crimes as punishment for his less-than-progressive views on rape and its victims. Unfortunately, Beck’s enlightenment comes after being raped while chasing a pair of drug dealers into the Seattle Underground. Director Karen Arthur tastefully portrays the assault off-screen, but Crenna’s performance and her sure direction leave no doubts about the terror Beck experiences. If you’re looking for THE RAPE OF RICHARD BECK on DVD, check the more PC but generic title DEADLY JUSTICE that does this moving film no favors.
Arthur Penn directed this entertaining action movie starring Gene Hackman as a regular Dallas lumberyard owner with a beautiful wife (Gayle Hunnicutt) and an estranged teenage son (Matt Dillon). When Hunnicutt is kidnapped in Paris, Hackman reveals to Dillon that he is actually a retired CIA agent, and that Hunnicutt has been kidnapped for revenge! The father-and-son team flies to France to track down the kidnappers themselves. The action scenes are well done, and Hackman is believable in his role. Obviously.
TERROR ON TAPE (1985)
A must for Michelle Bauer fans. This is merely a cheap collection of gory clips from other videos released by Continental Video, including VAMPIRE HOOKERS, CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD, and Fred Olen Ray's SCALPS. Some of the stars featured within the clips are James Earl Jones, John Carradine, and Lydia Cornell. Cameron Mitchell hosts the wraparound segments as the zombie-like owner of a video store (a very cheap-looking set) trying to frighten his customers by showing them these clips. Bauer scores as a leather-wearing sexpot who can only achieve orgasm by being scared.
Charles Band’s low-budget production, made and released by his Empire Pictures, is one of the most imaginative science fiction films of a decade filled with very good and great ones. Much credit should go to debuting screenwriters Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, who demonstrate a real knack for the genre, but the movie wouldn’t work without leading man Tim Thomerson as tough-guy hero Jack Deth, a rebellious cop patrolling post-earthquake Los Angeles of the 23rd century. Without getting too much into the clever story, Deth time-travels to 1985, takes up with a cute Santa’s elf (Helen Hunt), and seeks nefarious cult leader Whistler (Michael Stefani), who is creating zombies (or “trancers”). Great dialogue, a mix of action and humor, colorful performances, and one of Empire’s best scripts add up to a real sleeper sci-fi movie.
Everyone forgets WITNESS was nominated for eight Academy Awards. Half thriller and half love story about a young Amish boy witnessing a murder in a Philadelphia train station, cop Harrison Ford discovering the killer is a policeman, getting shot, and holing up in disguise in an Amish community, where he falls in love with Kelly McGillis as the boy’s widowed mother. The romance is actually more interesting than the cops-and-killers stuff, though it’s fun to see Danny Glover as one of the heavies. Ford and McGillis are a compelling couple — their romance being a forbidden one.