Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2018 - Dave Wain ""

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - 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 one of the authors of 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 scribbling liner notes for an assortment of Blu-ray releases from 88 Films, while studiously beavering away on their new book - Schlock & Awe: 1001 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

I swore back in January that 2018 would be solely focused on our book, but as best laid plans do indeed frequently go to waste, I got distracted! Print media and Blu-ray commissions came in, and I also took my eye off Letterboxd – the backbone to compiling a thoroughly decisive list for Brian’s site! Anyway, I’m sure I’ve missed some, and apologies for the overwhelmingly nineties slant, but here are my 2018 Film Discoveries…

SCORPIO ONE (1998; Worth Keeter)
“90% of the world’s wars could be avoided with one well-aimed bullet…” muses the world-weary CIA Director Parlow (George Murdock), “…I miss the old days.” There’s something undeniably old-school about Steve Latshaw’s scripts, be it a nod to another era or a misty-eyed glance into the past, and that’s precisely what he intended. “Andrew Stevens gave me this unfinished space shuttle script” he told me last year, “So I read it and pitched an alternative idea to him. “How about we do Ice Station Zebra (1968) in space?” I asked, and he said go for it!”

After a disaster on space station Scorpio One that leaves all of its crew members dead, the CIA turn to one of their crack agents, Jared Stone (Jeff Speakman), sending him into space with a team of five elite Rangers to investigate what happened.

As with Memorial Day, another Keeter / Latshaw collaboration from ’98, there’s a real conspiratorial feel to this with the plot being orchestrated from within the Government courtesy of Sen. Treadwell, played with typical gruff assertion by great Lance LeGault. In fact, Speakman is largely outshone by this cast of veteran players, with Steve Kanaly superb and the aforementioned Murdock first class. Prior to shooting, Robert Carradine told Andrew Stevens that Latshaw’s script was the best first draft he’d ever read. That assertion may serve to flatter, but it’s certainly an indication of just how good the core of this picture is.
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CASUALTIES (1997; Alex Graves)
Gary Preisler had the ignominy of his other scripting venture (National Lampoon’s Gold Diggers (2003)) described by the Washington Post as “Stupefyingly Hideous”, which perhaps makes the fact that Casualties sits in the upper echelons of nineties DTV moviedom all the more remarkable. With West Wing directing legend Alex Graves co-scripting and on megaphone duty too, Caroline Goodall stars as Annie Summers, a woman enduring a life lived in fear owing to the violent tendencies of her abusive husband Bill (Jon Gries).

Solace arrives in the shape of a cookery class, her weekly opportunity to break free from her marital shackles and express herself. It’s here that she meets Tommy (Mark Harmon), a recent addition to the group, and someone who seems keen to assist her in eradicating Bill from her life. Everything suddenly seems to be falling into place for Annie, but there’s more to her new cooking buddy than meets the eye.

With over three hundred episodes of NCIS in the can, it’s easy to forget just how much of a good film actor Mark Harmon is, and here he’s excellent as the seemingly good-natured, yet devilishly shady Tommy. Priesler and Graves’ script is prone to the occasional cliché, but it’s impossible not to get drawn in to the films addictively twisting narrative, while at the same time wincing at the brutality of a very satisfying ending.
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DEAD ON (1994; Ralph Hemecker)
“Have you ever seen Strangers on a Train?” asks a scheming Erin (Shari Shattuck) to a complicit Ted (Matt McCoy), while they hatch the idea of a tit-for-tat scheme to murder each other’s spouses.

Mr. Hitchcock has a lot to answer for in the direct-to-video world of the nineties, but as imitations go, then Ralph Hemecker’s film rightfully sits among the best of the seductive thrillers that defined the video stores of the decade.

Hemecker began his career creating title sequences, with TV crime-drama Silk Stalkings among his notable early work. It’s here that he caught the attention of the series’ producer Stu Segall who swiftly enlisted the young filmmaker for the project that turned out to be the sole screenplay of April Wayne, a bit-part actress who had risen to prominence as a model for Swimsuit International in the eighties.

Despite the appearance of the sultry Shattuck, who in ’94 was fresh from a leading role in Jim Wynorski’s Point of Seduction: Body Chemistry III, the eroticism comes across as both seldom and sporadic. Such subtlety serves the script well, giving room to the narrative and enabling you to appreciate what is at times a genuinely thrilling feature.
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Both director Karen Arthur and screenwriter Camille Thomasson shared a similar level of success and prolificacy within the TV movie business, but it’s unlikely they did anything as good as The Disappearance of Christina.

Joe (John Stamos) is obsessed with his job and has very little time for his wife Christina (Claire Yarlett), resulting in the knock-on effect of a strained relationship. However, with the opportunity of a sailing trip with their friends Lily (Kim Delaney) and Michael (Robert Carradine), they dutifully pack their bags and head for ocean, unaware that Christina won’t make it back alive.

David Frank’s sultry, yet mischievous opening score sets the tone perfectly for this neo-noir, though with films like Call Me (1988) and Poison Ivy (1992) under his belt he’s perfectly suited to the job. Stamos fills the brash, fiery nature of Joe very well, although it’s Delaney who really shines here, with Arthur having written Lily as such a nuanced character with a fascinating personality.

There’s red herrings aplenty, blended with the occasional hallucination, and although the eventual reveal may not be accompanied with a sharp intake of breath, it should nevertheless manage to raise a satisfying grin.
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THE FINISHING TOUCH (1992; Fred Gallo)
Whenever the stars decided to align above Roger Corman’s Concorde Pictures, they were capable of putting out DTV movies that sit comfortably among the best DTV’ers of the decade, and The Finishing Touch is one such endeavour.

Sam Stone (an excellent Michael Nader) is investigating a series of murders that have enveloped the local nightclub scene. However, with his ex-wife hell-bent on going undercover to expose the killer, Stone finds himself faced with the headache of protecting her and preventing the next victim from being killed.

A bonafide Corman protégé, Fred Gallo debuted with the cheerfully cheap Alien homage Dead Space (1991), while leading the line of his sophomore piece is a script by Anthony L. Greene that really pops with wise-cracks and sassy one-liners. Familiar faces like Clark Johnson and Ted Raimi add to the sense of comfort viewing here, although it’s the presence of Arnold Vosloo as Mikael Gant, an artist obsessed with images of sex, who really lights up the screen with a flawless British accent that intensifies his creep factor.
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THE SITTER (1991; Rick Berger)
Charlotte Armstrong was a well-published American author and recipient of an Edgar Award for her novel A Dram of Poison. No stranger to her work being adapted for the screen, her novel Charlotte was originally turned into a screenplay by Daniel Taradash for the fabulous noir, Don’t Bother to Knock (1952), with Marilyn Monroe and Richard Widmark. Four decades on, filmmaker Rick Berger went back to Armstrong’s book for The Sitter, adapting it into a TV movie for the Fox Network.

Slotting perfectly into the psycho-of-the-week template that dominated the early nineties, Nell (Kim Myers) is a troubled girl who fortuitously gets the opportunity to babysit the cherubic daughter of an out-of-town couple. Ruth (Susanne Reed) has travelled with her husband Dennis (James McDonnell) to catch his speech at a conference, but after her sister wails on child-minding duty, the pair are desperate for someone to mind little Melissa (Kimberly Cullum), but little do they know that the softly spoken young woman they’ve been recommended is prone to bouts if frightening mental instability.

Myers may forever be recognised as Lisa Webber from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (1985), but The Sitter eradicates that immediately with her portraying the dowdy, old movie obsessed schizophrenic with pitch-perfect menace. Brett Cullen pops up halfway through as a polished insurance guy who regrettably gets involved in Nell’s mania, while character actor Eugene Roche puts in a great performance as her put-upon Uncle Carl, who regrettably recommended her for babysitting in the first place.

MIDNIGHT RIDE (1990; Bob Bralver)
Lara (Gersak) is desperate to escape from the clutches of her possessive husband Lawson (Dudikoff), so one night she speeds off with the intention of heading cross-country and getting a divorce. Acquiring a hitchhiker for company (Hamill), he initially seems genial, but will soon become her worst nightmare as Lara is forced to accept that the man she’s running from is the only person that can save her.

Stuntman extraordinaire Bob Bralver (Roadhouse (1989), Darkman (1990)) holds the megaphone on this, his sophomore feature after the horror movie Rush Week (1988). It’s the producer that will ring most bells though, as it’s none other than Egyptian schlock-meister Ovidio G. Assonitis. Although he may have given us the drecktastic Tentacles (1977) and The Visitor (1979), this Cannon production actually comes highly recommended. The ride it takes along the coattails of The Hitcher (1986) is plain to see, but thanks to a deliciously against-type performance from Mark Hamill, who excels in the psycho-hitcher role, Midnight Ride stands as one of the best DTV’ers of 1990.
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INVASION FORCE (1990; David A. Prior)
Is this the New Nightmare (1994) of action movies? It’s certainly comparable, as we join the set of a low budget action movie being made for AIP (the actual production company of Invasion Force). The shoot is already in chaos due to a tight budget, a tempestuous British producer (David Marriott), and an egotistical lead (David ‘Shark’ Fralick). However, when a disgruntled Special Forces Officer (Lynch) and his heavily armed squadron of soldiers parachute in, with the intention of storming the nearby city, it’s up to this motley film crew to use all their guile and ingenuity to halt this invasion of rebels.

The most remarkable thing about the six features that Prior made in 1990 is their originality coupled with an absence of repetition. In an era defined by cookie cutter action movies at the behest of Video Industry, the filmmaker was always able to deliver a unique vision. Granted, Invasion Force is markedly flawed. The first couple of reels dawdle somewhat, while the whole piece never quite lives up to the ambitious nature of the pitch, but with a canny ending and a likeable ensemble of characters, it ranks highly in the auteurs cannon. Check out his brief cameo during the final shot, as the director yelling “Cut!”
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