The TSL’s Grindhouse: Red Sonja (dir by Richard Fleischer)


The 1985 film, Red Sonja, invites us to take a journey to a forgotten age, a time of a mythical kingdoms, evil sorcery, epic sword fights, and annoying little child kings who spent a lot of time shouting.  It’s a time of wonder, danger, heroism, and, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Reportedly, the once and future governor of California has frequently named Red Sonja as being the worst film in which he ever appeared.  When you consider some of the other films that have featured Gov. Schwarzenegger, that’s indeed a bold statement.  In Red Sonja, Schwarzenegger plays Lord Kalidor.  Interestingly enough, Lord Kalidor is absent for the majority of the film.  He shows up briefly at the beginning of the film and then he vanishes for quite a bit of Red Sonja‘s 89-minute running time.  Whenever Schwarzenegger does show up, he wears the smirk of a man who knows that he’s going to get paid a lot of money for doing very little actual work.

The majority of the film focuses on Sonja (Brigitte Nielsen), a warrior who lives in one of those vanished ages, perhaps after the War of the Rings but before the sinking of Atlantis.  When we first see her, she’s being spoken to by what appears to be a puff of smoke, which is apparently meant to be some sort of warrior goddess.  The puff of smoke fills tells Sonja about everything that happened to her before the start of the movie, though we never do learn why Sonja needs to be told her own backstory.  After rejecting the sexual advances of the evil Queen Gedren (Sandahl Begman), Sonja was forced to watch as her parents and brother were murdered and then she was raped and left for the dead by the Gedren’s soldiers.  The Goddess promises to make Sonja into a superior warrior, on the condition that Sonja agree to never have sex with a man unless that man can first beat her in fair combat.  Sonja agrees and is sent off to get trained by the Grand Master.  It’s kinda like Kill Bill, if Bill was a puff of smoke.

Jump forward to …. well, I’m not sure how many years pass.  To be honest, it’s next to impossible to really discern any sort of coherent logic to the film’s narrative progression so let’s just give up on that.  What’s important is that there’s this temple and, inside the temple, there’s a glowing green talisman.  Apparently, the talisman created the world but now it needs to be carefully watched over before being destroyed.  Only women are allowed to handle the talisman (Yay!) but they’re not allowed to destroy it unless directed by a man.  (Booooo!)  The temple priestesses are waiting for Lord Kalidor to arrive so that they can get rid of the talisman.  However, Queen Gedren shows up first.  Not only does she steal the talisman but she kills the priestesses as well.

One of the priestesses was Varna (Janet Agren, who you might recognize from Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead).  Varna just happens to be the sister of Sonja.  (Sonja is now known as Red Sonja, because she had red hair.  From now on, I want to be known as Red Lisa.)  Now, Sonja has yet another reason to want to kill Gedren!  Rejecting Kalidor’s help, Sonja heads off for revenge.  Along the way, she meets an annoying child king named Tarn (Ernie Reyes, Jr.), who is upset that Gedren previously destroyed his kingdom.  Despite hating him, Sonja allows Tarn and his guardian, Falkon (Paul L. Smith), to tag along with her.  Despite not being an official member of the revenge party, Kalidor decides to follow after them because he wants to beat Red Sonja in fair combat, if you get what I mean.

Red Sonja is a spectacularly silly film.  The dialogue is stilted.  Even by the standards of the 1980s ,the special effects are poorly executed.  This the type of film where the evil Queen nearly destroys the world not because she has any sort of grand scheme but instead, just because she’s evil and that’s what evil people do.  Brigitte Nielsen delivers her lines with a forced solemnity while Schwarzenegger, Bergman, and the great Paul L. Smith seem to be struggling not to start laughing.

And yet, there’s a sneaky charm to be found in all of the silliness.  For instance, when Sonja does finally reach the queen’s castle, she has to cross a bridge that appears to basically be the skeleton of giant rhinoceros.  No none in the film seems to be surprised to come across a skeleton a giant rhinoceros and, to be honest, there’s no reason for it to be there.  It’s just there and it’s so wonderfully out-of-place that it becomes rather fascinating.  Add to that, while the portrayal of the evil lesbian queen is problematic in all sorts of ways, this is a film about a strong female warrior who doesn’t need a man to rescue her and that was probably even more rare in 1985 than it is today!

Watching Red Sonja, you get the feeling that nobody involved in the film took it all that seriously and that perhaps the best way to handle the movie is to just sit back and have a laugh.  It’s dumb, it’s campy, it often makes no sense but, at the same time, it’s still a lot easier to follow than Game of Thrones.   Like many bad films, it’s only bad if you watch it alone.  Watch it with a group of your snarkiest friends and you’ll have a totally different experience.

Scenes I Love: Predator “Jungle Shootout”


Predator Jungle Shoot

I recently reviewed John McTiernan’s classic scifi action Predator. It is a film that many kids both young and those young at heart loved watching on the bigscreen. The 1980’s some would consider the golden years of action filmmaking.

It was a decade where action instead of dialogue ruled. Where muscle-bound stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone dominated the box-office. Even with the resurgence and current renaissance of the action film genre, many still reminisce about the action flicks of the 80’s and how they truly didn’t make them like they used to.

If there’s ever a great example of just how over-the-top and testosterone-fueled the action films were of this decade of the 80’s (also known as the decade of excess) then one can’t go wrong with showing the uninitiated the jungle shootout scene from Predator.

One doesn’t need to be into guns to appreciate the majesty of this scene.

Review: Predator (dir. John McTiernan)


Predator 1987

It would be accurate for one to say that Arnold Schwarzenegger was king of the 80’s action flicks. He first burst onto the scene in the titular role in Conan the Barbarian then it’s follow-up sequel. Yet, it would be his role in James Cameron’s The Terminator in 1985 that would make him a household name.

He began to crank out action films after action film every year to varying degrees of success and quality between 1984 and 1987. It would be in the summer of 1987 that he would add a third iconic action film role to stint as Conan the Barbarian and the relentless cybernetic killer, the Terminator.

Maj. Dutch Schaefer in John McTiernan’s action scifi Predator cemented Arnold Schwarzenegger as the most bankable movie star of the 1980’s. The film itself has become a go-to classic whenever film fans of all stripes discuss what were some of the best films of the era. Yes, I do categorize Predator as one of the best to come out of the 1980’s. It does more than hold it’s own when stacked up against Oscar winners, festival darlings and indie cult-favorites.

It’s a film that takes the premise that “man is the most dangerous game” to new levels by adding in a scifi element to the story. That scifi element being an extraterrestrial hunter who comes to Earth every so often to hunt. It’s chosen prey tends to be killers, fighters and soldiers at the top of their craft and usually during times of extreme conflict.

The film, as written by the two brothers John and Jim Thomas, actually works like a slasher horror film in the beginning as Dutch and his team of elite commandos trek through the Central American jungle on a rescue mission. A mission that lands the team in finding the grisly remains of another American special forces team. Questions come up as to whether their CIA liaison (played by Carl Weathers of Rocky and Rocky II fame) knows more about the true nature of their supposed rescue mission than he’s willing to let on.

It’s once the team, still being stalked through the jungle by an unseen predator, finally find the people they’re suppose to rescue that all hell breaks loose in more ways than one. The action is loud, messy and exquisitely choreographed and filmed. Unlike some of the action films of the last ten years, Predator succeeds with it’s action scenes for having a director who uses very long takes and little to no hand-held to keep the action geography easy to follow and the action choreography unencumbered by too many edits and cuts.

Even once the team realizes that they were now being hunted and that whoever, or whatever is hunting them, the film still continues to stay on a creative track. When I mentioned that the film plays out like slasher film, it does in way in that the titular character behaves and moves like slasher killers. It seems to be everywhere and nowhere. The very victims it’s hunting only see it when it’s too late and death’s upon them.

The film’s dialogue has been quoted by so many fans that memes have been created around them. Yet, this doesn’t mean that the film is hilarious. What it does have was that masculine, brother’s-in-arms banter and quips that’s become a sort of signature for screenwriter and director Shane Black who was hired to do some uncredited rewrites on the Thomas Brother’s original script. Black would also end up playing one of the commandos in the film.

Outside of Arnold himself, Predator would be best-known for the effects work by the late and great Stan Winston, who would come in to help redesign the title character (with some help from his buddy James Cameron) and the rest as they would say was film history. It would be difficult to go anywhere around the world, show the Predator to some random person and they not know what it is.

Predator was one of those films that people, at first, thought was just a mindless, popcorn flick. The type of cinema that was to be seen then forgotten for better fare. Yet, in the end, Predator ended up becoming not just a classic of its genre, but a perfect example of a film that transcends it’s genre roots to become just a great film, in general.

Musclebound Mess: HERCULES IN NEW YORK (RAF Industries 1969)


cracked rear viewer

Well, I can finally cross HERCULES IN NEW YORK off my bucket list. This fantasy-comedy starred the team of bespectacled, scrawny comic actor Arnold Stang and musclebound ‘Mr. Universe’ Arnold Strong. Who? Why, none other than the Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, making his film debut as the Greek Demi-God paying a visit to modern-day Earth. Hercules is all-powerful, and can only be defeated by one thing… a lousy script!

The plot, if you can call it that, has half-human Herc pining to go to Earth against father Zeus’s wishes. Zeus finally relents and transports the headstrong Herc to Terra Firma, where he befriends Stang playing Pretzie, so named because he sells pretzels. Brilliant! The two then have a series of adventures. Herc battles an anemic looking grizzly bear in Central Park! Herc becomes a pro wrestler! Herc falls in love with a mortal! Meanwhile, on Mount Olympus, Juno conspires with Pluto to get rid…

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A Movie A Day #114: Scavenger Hunt (1979, directed by Michael Schultz)


When game designer Milton Parker (Vincent Price) dies, all of his greedy relatives and his servants gather for the reading of his will.  Parker’s lawyer, Benstein (Robert Morley), explains that Parker is leaving behind a $200 million dollar estate to whoever can win an elaborate scavenger hunt.  Dividing into five teams, the beneficiaries head out to track down as many items as they can by five o’clock that evening.  Among the items that they have to find: a toilet, a cash register, an ostrich, a microscope, and an obese person.  Hardy har har.

The five teams are made up of a who’s who of sitcom and television actors who had time to kill in 1979.  The Odd Couple‘s Tony Randall is Henry Motely, who is Parker’s son-in-law and who works with his four children.  Soap‘s Richard Mulligan plays a blue-collar taxi driver named Marvin Dummitz (because funny names are funny) who teams up with his friend, Merle (Stephen Furst).  The Mary Tyler Moore Show‘s Cloris Leachman (an Oscar winner, no less) gets stuck with the role of Milton’s greedy sister, Mildred.  She works with her conniving lawyer (Richard Benjamin) and her stupid son (Richard Masur).  Maureen Teefy plays Milton’s niece while his nephews are played by Willie Aames and Dirk Benedict.  Cleavon Little, James Coco, Roddy McDowall, and Stephanie Faracy play the servants.

It doesn’t stop there, though.  Avery Schreiber plays a zookeeper.  Meat Loaf plays a biker who beats up Richard Benjamin.  Ruth Gordon, Stuart Pankin, Pat McCormick, and Scatman Crothers all have cameos.  Even Arnold Schwarzenegger makes an appearance as a gym instructor who knocks Tony Randall out of a second story window.

There are a lot of famous people in Scavenger Hunt.  It’s just too bad that the movie itself is barely watchable and not at all funny.  It tries to go for the zaniness of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World but, unless watching Willie Aames steal a clown head from Jack in the Box is your idea of hilarity, the film never comes close to succeeding.  Michael Schultz directed some classic films (like Car Wash) during the 1970s but, unfortunately, he also directed Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and this.

Scavenger Hunt used to show up on a late night television, where it was always advertised as starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  (He barely has five minutes of screentime.)  It was released on DVD/Blu-ray earlier this year but watching for the cameos is the only reason to take part in this Scavenger Hunt.

Here’s The Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring Mobile Strike Super Bowl Spot!


If the Celebrity Apprentice is canceled (and it looks like it will be, judging from the ratings that its been bringing in), at least Arnold Schwarzenegger can fall back on his job as the Mobile Strike spokesman.

For the record, I think Arnold was great in Maggie.  I’ve never played Mobile Strike and probably never will but I think he’s actually kinda charming in this commercial.

 

Horror On TV: Tales From the Crypt 2.2 “The Switch”


Tonight’s excursion in televised horror comes the second season of HBO’s Tale From The Crypt.  Originally broadcast on April 21st, 1990, The Switch tells the story of an elderly millionaire (William Hickey) who is desperately in love with a younger woman (Kelly Preston).  When she tells him that she’s looking for a younger man, he goes to extreme lengths to become that younger man.

The episode was directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and features good work from both William Hickey and Kelly Preston.  And, of course, the whole story ends with a sardonic twist that, once again, reminds the viewers that the universe is just as random and meaningless as Werner Herzog says it is.

Enjoy!