BILLY THE KID AND THE GREEN BAIZE VAMPIRE (1987; Alan Clarke)
A minimalist Dystopian head-trip with more than a hint of German Expressionism, centred around the world of professional snooker and featuring a middle-aged Vampire from the North of England facing off against a Cowboy obsessed Cockney wide boy… AND it’s a musical. Directed by the late Alan Clarke (Scum, 1979), and starring Phil Daniels (Quadrophenia, 1979) as Billy the Kid with Alun Armstrong as his fang-toothed nemesis Maxwell Randall, it’s a heightened sensory explosion amidst a social undercurrent of youth versus the establishment in Thatcher’s Britain. If, by the time Bruce Payne belts out the showstopper ‘I’m the One’, you’re not tweeting me in appreciation for introducing you to this wondrous film, then you’re obviously dead inside!
DOG TAGS (1987; Romano Scavolini)
Video stores were awash with Namsploitation movies in the late eighties, but few can hold a candle to the bleak desperation of Dog Tags. Scavolini took six years out after his magnum opus Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1981) but his keen eye for gratuitous gore remained intact, as the heinous depiction of a leg amputation will attest to here (and check out the jaw-dropping fellatio that follows it). Split into three chapters (The Facts, The Getaway and The Chase), Dog Tags sees a group of POW’s discovering a haul of gold on a crashed helicopter, only for greed to prove a divisive desire between the close-knit group. With some fine vistas and a cast that includes the inimitable Baird Stafford from Nightmares, Scavolini’s war film is a sweaty scramble for survival that deserves far more love than lying in purgatory on a thirty-year-old videotape.
VALET GIRLS (1987; Rafal Zielinski)
1987 was a vintage year for Charles Band’s Empire Pictures with iconic slices of B-movie goodness like Creepozoids and Enemy Territory jostling for shelf space in your nearest video emporium. So, while not picking Prison or Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama was next to impossible, I’m going to take a hard left and hail to the demented genius of Valet Girls and Buy & Cell. The former is a cynical look at the fame industry, and tells the story of Lucy (Meri Marshall), a wannabe singer who gets a job with her best friend parking cars at the Malibu mansion of actor Dirk Zebra (Jack DeLeon), while he entertains the industry’s movers and shakers. Dipped in DayGlo colours and decorated with glitter, while employing a costume designer who presumably labels Zandra Rhodes as ‘conservative’, it’s the best and worst of the eighties all wrapped up in an eighty minute time capsule. Featuring characters called Tim Cheeseman, Victor Smegmite and Egypt Von Sand Dunes, it’s Modern Girls (1986) on acid, with the lovely John Terlesky goofing it up as Archie Lee Samples, and Ron Jeremy in the background of seemingly every scene. Only available on tape, Valet Girls HAS been broadcast on MGM HD in the past, so be sure to scour the TV guide to catch this unfairly maligned beauty in all its gaudy glory.
BUY & CELL (1987; Robert Boris)
While I have the deepest of respect for my friend Dave Jay, I have to say that his summation of Buy & Cell as “Shit on a stick” in Empire of the B’s, his essential guide to Charles Band’s early days is somewhat in contrast to my own opinion. Robert Boris cemented a legacy for fine screenwriting throughout his career with iconic features like Electra Glide in Blue (1973), Extreme Justice (1993) and Doctor Detroit (1983) (I make no apologies for the latter, I love that film), and for Buy & Cell he took the rare position of director only for this stockbroker-cum-prison romp. Malcolm McDowell is his sneering best as the prison warden, and Robert Carradine kind of plays Lewis Skolnick’s older brother, but it’s the insanity of the prison inmates that really make this picture the hoot that it is, like Michael Winslow rolling out his loveable (if well-worn) schtick and Roddy Piper hamming it up as a badass cowboy. Left abandoned on VHS, it may well come a distant second to a certian John Landis film from 1983, but as far as comedic Wall Street shenanigans go, anyone with the slightest fetish for eighties-based chucklethons should find much to admire in Boris’s film.
BLOOD HARVEST (1987; Bill Rebane)
Tiny Tim, the russet-haired falsetto may be etched into the annals of musical history on the back of his hit Tiptoe Through the Tulips, but when schlockmeister Bill Rebane spotted the gawky singer performing at a carnival in Wisconsin in 1985, he knew he had to cast him in his next movie. It’s a real oddity, where we find Jill (Itonia Salchek) returning home to her folks’ place, only to find them missing and a spree of murders beginning to haunt the town. As she makes inquiries as to her parents’ whereabouts, she reconnects with her former beau Gary, and his whacked out brother Mervo, face caked in clown make-up, and dressed in a patchwork suit of many colours. Despite Tiny Tim’s childlike persona, it translates here as desperately creepy to the point of repulsion, as this leering, ungainly bear of a man acts as the perfect foil with a serial killer at large. Rebane also works against type, his camera leering over the frequently exposed Salchek, and stacking Blood Harvest with some shocking brutality. With three minutes cut from the UK VHS, and Retromedia’s OOP disc missing a portion of the smut and brutality, the US video release remains the Holy Grail.
TERROR NIGHT (1987; Nick Marino)
“Terror Night was a major low in my career. If I could have, I would have taken my name off it”. Perhaps that’s not the most ringing endorsement of a movie for Underrated ’87, and speaking to Kenneth J. Hall about the experience, I have every sympathy for his disdain. Having said that, despite its obvious flaws, I can’t help but have a pang of affection for this natty little slasher. It’s the concept that endears me, as the notion of a Golden Age movie star (John Ireland) on a murder spree to stave off the demolition of his estate, while dressed as various characters that he’s played, is such a fine idea! With a cool cast that features William Butler and Staci Greason the year before they coupled up in Friday 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988), as well as Michelle Bauer, Dan Haggerty, Alan Hale Jr and Aldo Ray, they’re all a perfect distraction to the off-screen shenanigans. “I was hired by the producer, Nick Marino, to rewrite and direct the film,” Hall told me recently. “I couldn’t work with him though and left the movie, so Fred Lincoln (The Last House on the Left (1974)and notorious porn director) shot the majority of the film. Meanwhile Andre de Toth filmed some Shakespearean nonsense with John Ireland, but both his and Lincoln’s name are missing from the final product.”
IT’S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE (1987; Larry Cohen)
The late eighties were the start of a boom time for Larry Cohen, and with a cost efficient two picture deal in place at Warner Brothers (the other being the lamentable Return to Salem’s Lot), Cohen felt the time was right for a third chapter to the movie that brought him his greatest success. My notes for It’s Alive III pretty much just have Michael Moriarty’s name scribbled ad infinitum, coupled with little heart-shaped doodles in black biro. It’s an astonishing performance where he stars as Stephen Jarvis, a divorcee and parent of one of the notorious mutant babies, who sails off to a remote island to rescue his deformed son who was banished there by court order. “How would you feel if you were born into a world that looked at you and wanted you dead?” he screams at the judge. It’s an insane concept, but Cohen thrives on absurdity, encapsulated perfectly by the sight of Moriarty leading a sea shanty aboard a ship as they sail to the island of ostracised children. The end result is a film that deftly mixes bold social commentary (AIDS, abortion and the cult of celebrity) with jet black humour and wincing horror to be one of the most unlikely jewels in Cohen’s gem-laden career.
STRIKE COMMANDO (1987; Bruno Mattei)
I don’t know who coined it, but it’s rare you see the name Bruno Mattei without it being swiftly followed by ‘The Italian Ed Wood’. The justification of that is a debate for another day, although anyone familiar with Zombie Creeping Flesh (1980) or Rats: Night of Terror (1984) will likely raise a wry smile at the mere mention of the journeyman director. While that grot-tastic horror twosome has hit the dizzy heights of Blu-ray, his action spectaculars still languish on tape, most notably the unintentional hilarity of Strike Commando. “He’s no ordinary solider. He’s a WAR MACHINE!” – that’s Sgt. Michael Ransom (Reb Brown), who’s in North Vietnam hunting Russians and graciously taking cringeworthy compliments from the locals (“You are American. You are our master”). With a script by the director of Troll 2 (1990), Claudio Fragasso, and featuring the gravelly-voiced macaroni combat stalwart Christopher Connelly in one of his last roles, there’s enough explosive action here to melt the plaque in your teeth. Still unconvinced? Then just watch it for Ransom’s response to the young Vietnamese boy on his deathbed who says “Tell me about Disneyland…”