Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '88 - Dave Wain ""

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Underrated '88 - Dave Wain

Dave Wain is one half of the creative team behind - an online feast of genre film analysis and leftfield retrospectives. Along with his scribing life-partner, Matty Budrewicz, he’s part of the writing team on the acclaimed tome, It Came from the Video Aisle: Inside Charles Band’s Full Moon Entertainment Studio, which is available now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all good bookstores. Paired with Matty you can regularly find him adorning Blu-ray releases from 88 Films while studiously beavering away on their new book - Schlock & Awe: The Forgotten Films of the 90s Rental Realm. Dave’s day job is spent at the helm of one of the last Video Stores in the UK, while he can be found on Twitter @thedavewain.

ROBOWAR (1988; Bruno Mattei)
While any commentary on the career of Italian schlock auteur Bruno Mattei will ooze enthusiasm for his early eighties work like Zombie Creeping Flesh (1980) and Rats: Night of Terror (1984), the tail-end of the decade gave us a veritable orgy of outrageously enjoyable dreck from the much maligned filmmaker. Shocking Dark (1989) may sit at the top of most people’s must-see Mattei from this period, a fact that’s further solidified by Severin’s lush-looking Blu-ray this year, but for me, it’s ROBOWAR that is the undisputed highlight of this purple patch. Written by the husband and wife team, and frequent Mattei collaborators Claudio Fragasso and Rosella Drudi, it’s a flagrant fusion of Predator (1987) and Robocop (1987) which sees Maj. Murphy Black (Reb Brown) lead a group of commandos through the jungle, whilst being stalked by a killer robot called Omega-1. It’s cinematic insanity turned up to eleven, with scenes of the most epic gunfire blended with a level of slow-motion that would have John Woo salivating. “They’re professionals, they’re the best, and they’re called B.A.M for short” boasts one character as the mission is drawn up, “Big Ass Motherfuckers!”
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GHOST TOWN (1988; Richard McCarthy)
GHOST TOWN has always been a bit of a bastard child in Charles Band’s Empire Pictures era, underlined by the fact that it was directed by one ‘Richard Governor’ – a man who screenwriter Duke Sandefur confessed “I know next to nothing about him, but it is my understanding that ’Governor’ was not his real name”[i]. He was right too, as during our research for the booklet that accompanies the 88 Films Blu-ray release of the film we discovered that ‘Richard Governor’ was in fact the successful Aussie commercials director Richard McCarthy, whose only feature up until that point was Benny Hill Down Under (1977). The whys and wherefores for the absence of his name I’ll leave for another time, but the reason remains that he came on board the project owing to the early departure of Tourist Trap (1979) director David Schmoeller. With its half-finished effects shots, and a score that’s pieced together with familiar cuts from the Empire vault, it’s clear to see that Ghost Town bears the scars of far too many cooks in the kitchen. However, as a rare entry into the sparsely populated Horror-Western genre, and shot in the atmospheric surroundings of Old Tucson Studios, it remains a flawed but unique picture that’s primed for reappraisal.
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THE FRUIT MACHINE (1988; Philip Saville)
Beginning just a couple of miles down the road from me in Liverpool, Frank (Letter to Brezhnev) Clarke’s tale of two gay teenagers who witness a gangland murder in The Fruit Machine, a gay nightclub run by Annabelle (Robbie Coltrane), is a ground-breaking, bold and natural drama with a (still) pertinent dollop of social commentary. Taking its title from a homosexual detection device created in the 50s that was supposed to be able to identify gay men (derogatorily referred to as ‘fruits’), by making them watch pornography while strapped to a dentist’s chair as the device performed a pupillary response test, it’s blessed with a pair of leads In Emile Charles (brother of Craig) and Tony Forsyth who bring an astonishing authenticity to two deftly written characters. That great British thespian Robert Stephens is excellent as the lecherous Opera singer Vincent, while Bruce Payne is typically very Bruce Payne. A couple of kick-ass Divine tracks crop up on the soundtrack, while Oscar winning composer Hans Zimmer contributes one of his early scores, and legendary British cinematographer Dick Pope manages to blend fantasy and reality to create something truly unique.
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THE COUCH TRIP (1988; Michael Ritchie)
I know not why, but I’ve gravitated towards the career of Dan Aykroyd since forever. I’d put it down to The Blues Brothers (1980) I guess, with my two older brothers watching the John Landis’ musical extravaganza on repeat when I was a kid. Since then I’ve absorbed everything the beloved Canadian has ever done, even repeat watching Exit to Eden (1994) as a form of masochistic self-test to prove my commitment to the Aykroyd cause! While many may write off the post-Ghostbusters (1984) career of this comedy legend, there does in fact lie a host of undervalued classics like (trust me on this) Nothing But Trouble (1991), Feeling Minnesota (1996) and Celtic Pride (1996). However, at the peak of #UnderratedAykroyd is undoubtedly THE COUCH TRIP; I mean you only have to look at how many contributors to Rupert Pupkin Speaks have listed it in this series. It’s a fast-paced wild-ride of a comedy, with an ensemble to die for that includes Walter Matthau, Charles Grodin, Mary Gross, and Aykroyd’s wife, Donna Dixon. Available on Blu-ray both in the UK via 88 Films and Kino Lorber in the US, this is one film for which I’m happy to join the assembled masses and declare to be the King of #Underrated88
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MORTUARY ACADEMY (1988; Michael Schroeder)
We need to talk about Paul and Mary more often. Agreed? I am of course referring to the unlikely screen coupling of Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov who you’ll remember primarily for the stupendously brilliant Eating Raoul (1982), which Bartel wrote and directed (available on Criterion Blu-ray). While this distinctive duo also cropped up in movies like Jim Wynorski’s Chopping Mall (1986), and Bartel’s own Death Race 2000 (1975), I’m especially fond of them in the wildly uneven yet sporadically hilarious MORTUARY ACADEMY. Following the success of Police Academy (1984), the mid-to-late eighties were awash with every Academy-styled knock-off imaginable, from Neal Israel’s very own Combat Academy (1986), to Empire Pictures’ Princess Academy (1987) (shot in the former Yugoslavia!), to Rick Sloane’s Vice Academy (1989) with Linnea Quigley. Michael Schroeder’s film just about does enough to lift itself above such mediocrity, thanks in no small part to the presence of Bartel (who also co-wrote) as the deliciously camp mortuary owner Dr. Paul Truscott, who has a penchant for necrophilia, while Woronov is fabulously dry as Mary Purcell, Truscott’s assistant. Tracey Walter, Anthony James and Stoney Jackson pad out a satisfying, if clich├ęd supporting cast, while lines like the phone greeting of “Grimm Mortuary. You kill ‘em, we chill ‘em!” ensure your chuckle-o-meter keeps ticking over.
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LADY AVENGER (1988; David DeCoteau)
“The only thing she couldn’t remember… was how to forget!” Having directed close to one hundred and fifty films over a thirty-five year career, it’s safe to say there’s nobody quite like David DeCoteau. Though the Noughties and beyond are hardly likely to bolster the membership of this prolific auteurs fanclub (although I’d heartily recommend the soon-to-be on Blu Final Scream (2001), along with Leeches (2003) and Voodoo Academy (2000)), the eighties were awash with cult classics from the Oregonian, like Dreamaniac (1986), Creepozoids (1987) and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1987). LADY AVENGER rarely rolls off the tongue with the same frequency as the aforementioned no-budget wonders, but along with American Rampage (1989) it’s deserving of some overdue affection. Playing out like a classic revenge movie, Maggie (Peggy McIntaggart) goes AWOL from day release and sets about hunting down the gang of thugs that killed her brother. Sporting a distinctive white vest and red headband, McIntaggart (who’d go on to be Miss January for 1990’s Playboy) leads this female-fronted Death Wish with a cool assurance, ably supported by folk like William Butler and Michelle Bauer – familiar faces to DeCoteau / Charles Band obsessives. To top it all off, we get a dose of total earworm, as Nia Peeples opens the whole shebang with the toe-tapper ‘Back on the Savage Streets’, which was written for fifth season of Fame! It’s the perfect opening for a movie that is under no illusions to the fact it’s just an extremely well-assembled piece of low-brow action fluff, yet one that’s pining for a bells n’whistles boutique Blu-ray release.
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