Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '89 - Justin LaLiberty ""

Friday, September 6, 2019

Underrated '89 - Justin LaLiberty

Justin LaLiberty holds degrees in Critical Film Studies and Film Preservation. He is currently the film archivist for Vinegar Syndrome and a freelance projectionist and film programmer. He is a regular contributor to Paracinema and Moviejawn and is working on a book about porn parodies. 

If you’ve never seen an Arizal movie, you haven’t seen action - plain and simple. And this is a good place to start, much less mean and rapey than FINAL SCORE, but equally insane. A go for broke, backyard Michael Bay with the aspirations of Regan era Hollywood masculinity and the budgets and aspirations of Don Dohler. The stunts in this deserve to both be legendary in their accomplishment (especially for this budget) and criminal in negligence, including a Jeep being driven through the top level of an office building and an epic helicopter chase.

BLACK RAINBOW (Dir. Mike Hodges)
Did you know that GET CARTER and FLASH GORDON director Mike Hodges made a super weird clairvoyant murder mystery starring Rosanna Arquette as a medium who can predict murders before they happen? Now you do! It’s a beguiling mix of dark comedy, palpable thriller tension and sweaty southern gothic - pretty much everything I want to discover at once.
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CHAMELEON STREET (Dir. Wendell B. Harris Jr.)
A hard to describe mix of fact and fiction that feels like mumblecore by way of SYMBIOPSYCHOTAXIPLASM. Decidedly - maybe even aggressively - personal, making for a viewing experience that, though rewarding, can be incredibly frustrating if you’re not primed going in. Still, this is fun, heady, cinema that we seldom see now - even on the current indie circuit. It’s sort of strange that this doesn’t have more contemporary cinema champions, even if it gets play on the art-house rep circuit (at least in NY) often enough.
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DEAD-BANG (Dir. John Frankenheimer)
When Frankenheimer goes for it, he really goes for it. This should be USA Up All Night generic genre fodder, but he turns it into a surprisingly prescient assault on the alt-right with alcoholic cop Don Johnson taking on a bunch of neo-nazis and even puking on a dude he chases. Plus, it takes place at Christmas and it doesn’t skirt around that aspect one bit!
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EDGE OF SANITY (Dir. Gerard Kikoine)
If you ever wanted a crack-head Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde movie starring Anthony Perkins, here you go! Only instead of Mr. Hyde, Jekyll turns into Jack the Ripper and starts offing prostitutes on the streets of London. Gleefully, perhaps disturbingly, excessive which even goes past Perkins’ work in CRIMES OF PASSION just a few years earlier. The set design is expressionistic and there’s surreal touches mixed with sleaze - like a masturbating nun in a red room - that really set this apart from the pack of other Jack the Ripper or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde flicks. Plan a shower after this one!
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FAR FROM HOME (Dir. Meiert Avis)
Drew Barrymore and her dad get stranded in a trailer park in a gasless, radioactive, Nevada desert wasteland and the body count starts piling up. The poster looks like something James Foley would have made in the 90s and this almost leans on neo-noir conventions but it's more of a genre hodge-podge of something like BREAKDOWN mixed with FEAR and NOTHING BUT TROUBLE, where every single man in the movie is either a psycho or total dipshit. Drew is awkwardly sexualized (she was 14 when starring in this) and wears three watches on one wrist which drove me insane, Susan Tyrell is the manic and repulsive trailer park owner and Dick Miller is the loose canon sheriff of nowhere. Not bad!
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I, MADMAN (Dir. Tibor Takacs)
The director of THE GATE and the writer of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2 basically made a very 80s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS filled with fun stop motion work, practical gore and an evil doctor that likes to cut off people’s noses, ears and hair and then attaches them to his own face to try and woo the gal he likes. Super weird shit that has all the trappings of a generic 80s slasher yet ends up feeling more like gothic 60s horror filled with the excesses of the time it was made.
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KILL ME AGAIN (Dir. John Dahl)
I could go on and on about how much I love John Dahl’s films (well, all but THE GREAT RAID) and KILL ME AGAIN is one of his very best - easily up there with RED ROCK WEST. It’s more sweltering desert noir, this time with Val Kilmer as a PI hired to help fake a femme fatale’s death. Naturally, she fucks him over and it’s all downhill from there. Full of style - even if not as assured as Dahl’s later genre efforts - and it features Michael Madsen just flat out trashing a room in anger which is worth a watch in itself.
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L.A. BOUNTY (Dir. Worth Keeter)
Worth Keeter, who gave us the insane ORDER OF THE BLACK EAGLE, also gifted us this primo pairing of Wings Hauser and Sybil Danning! Hauser is in full Ramrod mode as a as a psychopath druglord with an Uzi and Sybil is a bounty hunter wielding a high tech assault rifle hellbent on getting justice for her dead partner. Sybil wears super high waisted jeans, Wings has a cross shaped earring - it’s all too much and everything I want at once.

THE PACKAGE (Dir. Andrew Davis)
It wasn’t just DEAD-BANG in 1989 that destroyed Christmas decorations, Andrew Davis (who would soon direct one of the greatest action movies of the 90s with UNDER SIEGE) saw fit to set this conspiracy thriller during the jolliest time of the year as well - and it also manages to factor Neo-Nazis into the equation too, coincidence? This feels like a Jack Ryan movie that was tailor made for USA Up All Night with plenty of gunplay and a surprisingly mean streak. The poster may just prominently feature Gene Hackman and Tommy Lee Jones but Pam Grier is also in good form here and Dennis Franz may just be playing the same character he would play in DIE HARD 2 a year later.
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RELENTLESS & HIT LIST (Dir. William Lustig)
The one and only William Lustig unleashed two great slices of thrillers on a budget with RELENTLESS and HIT LIST in the same damn year. First up, in the spring, was the Jan-Michael Vincent and Leo Rossi starring HIT LIST wherein Lance Henriksen plays a hitman who drives a car with a 1KILLR license plate and is being hunted by Vincent and Rossi. Lots of great car stunts in this one and exceptional use of a spike strip, highlighted on its one-sheet. Next up is RELENTLESS, featuring Judd Nelson going Terminator in LA, wearing a leather jacket and sunglasses and offing people that he finds in the phone book. And, yes, there’s good car stunts in this one too!
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THE REVENGER (Dir. Cedric Sundstrom)
A movie originally titled SAXMAN because its action hero plays the saxaphone (joining the ranks of other macho sax players from BULLETPROOF and HARD BOILED) and that’s not even the most ridiculous thing about THE REVENGER. No, that would be Oliver Reed as an aging bad guy who watches snuff films on a wall of CRT TVs while wearing only a bathrobe, sunglasses and a pinky ring. And I didn’t even get to mention that our sax playing hero has a sidekick with an eyepatch, one leg and a big ZACHARIAH poster on his wall.

SHOTGUN (Dir. Addison Randall)
A slice of SOV, neon drenched super sleaze featuring a big, scary motherfucker in a bondage get up beating and slicing up women while a ragtag duo of maybe cops, maybe bounty hunters tries to stop him. Profoundly stupid, mean and all out excessive. Just the way I want my late 80s genre cinema.

The truck that our "skip tracer" and his uber macho, hill dwelling bro build in the later portion of the movie, may rival the beast of a vehicle in TANGO AND CASH.
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SONNY BOY (Dir. Robert Martin Carrol)
It's like that Jet Li movie UNLEASHED by way of the depraved Americana of Andy Milligan and Tobe Hooper, complete with a soulful narration that wouldn't feel out of place in a Terrence Malick flick. WTF cinema at its most perplexing, charming and sincere. And, yeah, it's got David Carradine in drag and bodies that explode. So, if you want excess, this has it in oodles.
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TRUE LOVE (Dir. Nancy Savoca)

"Oh, you fucked up."

That's the last line in Nancy Savoca's Bronx set romantic comedy/disaster film and it pretty perfectly sums it all up. I also married into a Bronx Italian family (who live in the neighborhood this was shot in) and the title TRUE LOVE ends up hitting pretty hard for me, even if this is all far more ridiculous than my actual life is. Near defiant against convention and refreshingly dour, it also contains the most genuine review of LAST TANGO IN PARIS out there.
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