david j. moore is the author of the books World Gone Wild: A Survivor's Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Movies and The Good, the Tough, and the Deadly: Action Movies and Stars from Schiffer Publishing. His first novel will be published in 2017.--------
The Barbarians (a.k.a. The Barbarians & Co.) – 1987 (Shout Factory DVD)
“Once upon a time, long, long ago, there existed a world of savage splendor … an age made for adventure, a time of darkness, of menace, of sorcery! It was a time when man, woman, and child were ruled by the sword.”
From the Golan / Globus Cannon factory, this movie was supposed to launch “The Barbarian Brothers” (bodybuilding twins, David and Peter Paul) into movie stardom, but instead it probably set them back an entire career in the movie business. They only did a few movies after this, and then became part of the “Where are they now?” club. In this picture, they show that they look good on screen, and depending on your taste, their frat-house behavior in the movie may turn sword-and-sorcery purists off. In a basic plot that recalls most of the barbarian movie cliché’s, the lands are ruled by Kadar (Richard Lynch!), who has a rock star haircut that reminded me of Rip Torn’s in The Beastmaster. Kadar is notable for having a really cool throne, which is seated on a huge, geometrical shape that is supported by a whole bunch of slaves. He’s also got a foxy sorceress and lots of mutant-looking henchmen, but what he doesn’t have is the love and affection of Queen Canary (Amazonian-looking Virginia Bryant), who is a good queen of a peaceful tribe of freaks and circus-performers. She is also in possession of the Belly Stone, a magical red ruby that Kadar really wants to get his hands on. He raids her tribe’s village, takes her captive, and also kidnaps two young twin boys, Gore and Kutchek, whom he throws into a labor camp, and in obvious Conan-fashion, they build up incredible muscle mass while lifting rocks and getting into fights with the prison guards. In about a decade, they turn into “The Barbarian Brothers,” and they escape the moment they see an opportunity. They sojourn into the Forbidden Lands (with a cute, feisty girl sidekick played by Eva La Rue) to retrieve the Belly Stone where it has been hidden and protected by a clunky swamp dragon. They retrieve some sacred weapons from a tomb of an ancient king (some armor, a sword, an axe, and a bow and arrows), and they slay the mechanical dragon (a weak point in the movie). Later, they face Kadar in a cool stand-off, and a new queen is crowned (the cute, feisty girl).
I like this movie. It has a nice sense of scope and a surprisingly effective sense of humor. Cannibal Holocaust director Ruggero Deodato directed this, and it has some nice gore shots, but the movie is very light on nudity. Go figure. David and Peter Paul are fun (up to a point), and their comedy bits are more convincing than when they’re swinging weapons around. The score by Pino Donaggio is very 1980’s-centric, heavy on synths, but it works, and there is even a pop song during the end credits, “Ruby Dawn” that was re-used in another Golan-Globus barbarian movie, Gor.
Counterforce - 1987 (IVE VHS) (djm)
A team of American mercenaries is hired to protect an exiled revolutionary in the Middle East from a dictator (played by Robert Forster) whose encroaching forces are putting the lives of the revolutionary and his family at risk. The team's leader (George Kennedy) assigns his squad (played by the great George Rivero, Isaac Hayes, Andrew Stevens, and Kevin Bernhardt) to stick to the revolutionary (played by Louis Jourdan) through his campaign to appeal to his followers, but when an attempt is made on his life, the mercenaries turn the tables and go on the offensive.
Very similar to Stallone's future Expendables franchise, Counterforce is a really fun vehicle for highlighted Mexican action star Rivero, who gets to show off just how game he is in a movie that he's perfectly suited for. The supporting "B" cast only makes the movie better. If this is your first encounter with Rivero in a movie, make your next one Fist Fighter. Directed by J. Anthony Loma.
Hot Pursuit - 1987 (Paramount DVD)
After bombing his final exam in chemistry, prep schooler Danny (John Cusack) is stuck on campus while his beautiful (and very wealthy) girlfriend Lori (played by Wendy Gazelle) goes off on vacation to the Caribbean with her family. Since he was supposed to go with her, Danny manages to convince his professor to let him make up the test, and so he's free to go on the trip ... but he's too late, missing the plane by a hair. He takes the next one out, but his bad timing ends up turning his life upside down as he runs into all sorts of adventures (some are life-threatening) once he lands in the Caribbean. He gets marooned, runs afoul of a crusty pirate (played by Robert Loggia), and even gets stuck in a Panamanian jail until he's busted out and rescued, and then barely catches a plane outta there, only to have to chase his girlfriend's yacht down just as some murderers have hijacked them! Danny saves the day, and it's all sunshine from there out.
A sort of one-sided teen-centric Romancing the Stone, Hot Pursuit is a lark of an '80s teen film with a likably dry Cusack in the middle of it all. Some of the shenanigans he gets into here are fun to watch, but the movie never soars or keeps its stamina, despite a nifty electronic score by Rareview. Writer/director Steven Lisberger also did Tron and Slipstream, so go figure. Ben and Jerry Stiller play bad guys in it. When I saw this back in the VHS days I loved it, but it's lost some of its appeal over the years.
The Iron Warrior - 1987 (Stormovie DVD R2)
Princess Janna: "These dark powers are taking over my kingdom."
Ator: "So I noticed!"
Following the events of The Blade Master, Ator the Fighting Eagle (played for the third time by Miles O'Keeffe) is alone, living the life of a vagabond. He has flashbacks to his life as a child when he had a twin brother (which is an outright baffling plot change from the events of Ator, the Fighting Eagle, the first film in the series), and he feels a shift in the balance of the world when the kingdom of Dragor is under siege by an immortal witch named Phoedra (played by Elisabeth Kaza). For more than a decade, Phoedra has been a scourge on the land, terrorizing innocent folk and the king of Dragor. When she kills the king and tries to kidnap Princess Janna (played by blond-haired beauty Savina Gersak), Ator steps in and meddles with Phoedra's scheme and goes up against her champion, the masked Trogar. With Ator and Janna on the run, Phoedra will have to contend with the might of the Fighting Eagle if her plan is to succeed.
The most stylish of the first three Ator films, The Iron Warrior is a good standalone entry, but when we learn that Ator is a twin, it obviously conflicts with the events of the first film, which stated that he was a prophesied child, and not a twin as this film suggests. If you can get past that small digression, this outing gives O'Keeffe his best adventure as the sword-wielding warrior, and the film is clearly influenced by the likes of Excalibur, Conan the Barbarian, and perhaps even Krull if you reach far enough. Some of the stylistic flourishes come with 80's glam, complete with flashy make-up, hairstyles, and an obsession with vanity. The first time we see Ator, he's flexing in front of a mirror on a mountaintop, and then the next scene shows a naked Princess Janna, who is being dressed by her handmaids, and she then proceeds to admire herself in front of a mirror. It's weird. From director "Al Bradley" (Alfonso Brescia). Followed by Quest For the Mighty Sword, another Ator adventure, but without O'Keeffe.
Less Than Zero - 1987 (Fox DVD)
Upon high school graduation, rich kids Clay (Andrew McCarthy), Blair (Jamie Gertz), and Julian (Robert Downey Jr.) have high hopes and great prospects. Clay and Blair plan on taking six months off before college, and Julian is given a sweet gig by his father, who runs a record company. In six months, everything falls apart: Blair cheats on Clay with Julian, who has begun spiraling out of control with substance abuse. Julian has squandered his father's good will and has run himself over fifty thousand dollars of debt to his drug dealer Rip (James Spader). It's gotten so bad with Julian that he becomes homeless and stoops so low as to pimp himself out for a quick fix, and Rip's enforcers are out to get him. Blair summons Clay to help her get Julian some much-needed support, but Julian is toxic and can't be helped. With a good heart and a firm resolve to help his friend any way he can, Clay tries an intervention (while navigating the perils of dealing with Rip), leading to a realization that he might be too late.
Based on the book by Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero perfectly encapsulates the high-class drug scene of the 1980's with teenagers trapped in the middle of it. As directed by Marek Kanievska, it evokes a chilling sense of youth circling down the drain. The performances (particularly by Downy Jr.) are outstanding. This is the complete flipside to the sort of thing John Hughes was doing at the same time. It's depressing and should leave you feeling lost. The film is beautifully photographed by Edward Lachman, and nicely scored by Thomas Newman, whose starkly evocative and dreamlike score should stimulate the sense of cinematic style that filmmaker Kanievska was going for.
Scorpion - 1987 (Mill Creek DVD) (djm)
"Do you have stock in this newspaper, or something? It says you're a hero again."
Steve Woods (played by Tonny Tulleners) is a hero of a bygone era. He is a Vietnam vet who once led a rescue mission to reclaim POWs, and now as a Federal agent, he's the guy they call when no one else can do the job. He lives on a houseboat, he wears short shorts, he has a porno mustache, wears big black shades, and he knows some serious karate. He's the real thing. When he's called in to quell a terrorist takeover of a grounded airplane, he boards the plane without a weapon, is yelled at by the terrorists, and in a split second, he's handled the situation with such ease and speed that it's some kind of movie miracle that he doesn't even attempt to deliver a one-liner, a quip, just something to make light of what he just did, but he's not that guy. He walks off the plane, and gets on with his life ... until the next job. The next job has him overseeing a team that is supposed to protect a valued witness, a Middle Eastern terrorist who will be leading the government to a major terrorist organization, and when that goes bad and ends up with Steve's best friend dead, Steve, with his laser determination and his ability to get any job done despite his feelings (which he has), catches up with the culprit responsible for his friend's death. I should also mention that Steve is the kind of guy who wordlessly tosses his gun aside when he has the opportunity to use his bare hands and feet to kick their ass instead of shooting them.
A wonder to behold, Scorpion is exactly the sort of movie that guys like Astron 6 and hipster filmmakers like to parody and glorify when commemorating 80's action films. It's got an amazing synth score, some unbeatable moments of macho cool, and the star - Tonny Tulleners - looks like the Marlboro Man. Tulleners, who lamentably never made another movie, is the only man on Earth who beat Chuck Norris three times in martial arts competitions. How's that for a moniker? I love everything about Scorpion. Tulleners, with his rough edges and unseasoned acting capabilities, should have made a dozen more movies, but he would have always been in Chuck's shadow, which is an irony I cannot comprehend. This was from Crown International. William Riead wrote and directed it.