Spirits (1990, directed by Fred Olen Ray)

In this sex-filled take on The Haunting of Hill House, Robert Quarry leads a group of researchers to a haunted house. Amy Goldwyn (Brinke Stevens) is the smart psychic who knows the house isn’t safe but who still gets possessed by a demon and ends up hammering a nail through her palm. Beth (Kathrin Lautner) is the self-described “bitch” who has a lesbian past because this is a direct-to-video 90s film. Harry (Oliver Darrow) is the cocky womanizer who gets seduced by a succubus. The house is haunted by the spirit of a fallen priest and his demonic nuns. Only another priest, Father Anthony Vicci (Erik Estrada!), can save the researchers but that holy water that he’s carrying around is only going to work if he regains his faith and seeks forgiveness for his past sins.

As far as I know, Spirits is only available on VHS. So, if you do watch it, you’re going to need a VCR that works. Considering how easily an old VCR can break down and how it’s nearly impossible to get them repaired, you’re going to need to realize that Spirits could very well be the last tape you ever watch on the old machine. Do you want to take the risk? I took the risk and, for what it is, Spirits is not that bad. It’s a Fred Olen Ray films and it’s got Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer in it so you know what you’re going to get. Still, after I finished it, I realized that, if Spirits had been the last thing I ever watched on that old VCR, I would have been pissed. If my VCR is going to break, I’d rather it break while I was watching a tape full of hours of Must See TV from 1996.

Spirits has a few things to recommend it. Brinke Stevens was one of the best of the direct-to-video scream queens and she actually does give a “real” performance as Amy. The sight of Erik Estrada, playing a tortured a priest as if he was a character on a particularly racy telenovela, was certainly entertaining. Finally, there was Count Yorga himself, Robert Quarry, as the main ghost hunter. Otherwise, Spirits is a typical direct-to-video Fed Olen Ray film, with cheesy music, terrible special effects, and laughable dialogue. There’s a lot of nudity, of course but you can find the same amount of nudity in films that you can safely watch on DVD or Blu-ray. If you’re going to risk the VCR, the movie is going to need to have more to offer.

Horror on TV: Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.17 “Legacy of Terror” (dir by Don McDougall)

Tonight, on Kolchak….

All across Chicago, people are losing their hearts …. literally!  A string of murders are all connected by the fact that the heart has been cut out of the body.  Could it be the work of an Aztec death cult that’s being led by a centuries-old mummy!?

Carl Kolchak is going to find out!

The episode originally aired on February 14th, 1975.  Wow!  Happy Valentine’s Day!


Film Review: Do or Die (dir by Andy Sidaris)

So, imagine this.

You and your BFF are at a luau in Hawaii.  Fires are being spun.  People are dancing.  Drums are being beaten.  It’s almost time to eat the pig and suddenly, you discover that a mysterious old man wants to speak to you.  The man is surrounded by armed guards but you’re used to that.  Both you and your BFF work for the government.  You blow things up and save the world for a living!

Anyway, the old man informs you that he is a master criminal named Kane.  He’s one of those “I’m going to take over the world” types but apparently, you keep thwarting his plans.  He’s a little bit upset about that and why not?  It’s hard enough trying to conquer the world without having somebody continually blowing up all of your friends.  He says that he’s going to have you killed.


But fear not!  Kane isn’t going to kill you right there and then.  It turns out that Kane has a code of honor that he lives by.  He may be evil but he believes in fair play.  So, Kane says that he’s going to kill you later.  Apparently, he’s hired six different teams of assassins.  Over the next couple of days, they’re going to try to kill you.  Fortunately, the team’s aren’t going to work together or anything intelligent like that.  That wouldn’t be fair.  Instead, they’re going to come at you one at a time.  Once one teams fails to kill you, they’re out of the hunt.

How would you react?  What would be the first thing that you and your BFF would do?

Would you make sure your guns were loaded, lock the doors, and then wait for the first team to make their move?

Would you try to make the first move, maybe trying to take out Kane right then and there?

Or maybe you would leave the country and try to start a whole new life under a new identity?

I’d probably go with the third option but that’s not what Donna (Dona Speir) and Nicole (Roberta Vasquez) do when Kane (Pat Morita) tells them that they’ve been targeted.  Instead, they get topless and relax in the hut tub while discussing how much it sucks that someone wants to kill them.

Honestly, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.  The 1991 film, Do or Die, was directed by Andy Sidaris.  In a Sidaris film, a topless hot tub party plays much the same role as the family get togethers that often end the Fast and the Furious movies.  Still, it’s hard not to be a little bit disappointed by their sudden passivity.  After all, Donna is the same agent who previously used a rocket launcher to blow up Erik Estrada at the end of Guns.

Speaking of Erik Estrada, he’s back.  However, he’s playing a different character than he played in Guns.  Now, he’s a heroic agent named Rico.  When Donna and Nicole finally get around to letting their boss, Lucas (William Bumiller), know what’s going on, Lucas recruits Rico to help protect them.  Bruce Christian (Bruce Penhall) and Shane Abilene (Michael Shane) are also brought in as well.  Shane still has terrible aim.  I know that’s a running joke in all of the Sidaris films but you really do have to wonder why the government continues to employ someone who sucks at a huge part of his job.

Anyway, Donna and Nicole eventually head for the mainland but that doesn’t do much good because Kane put a tracking device on her watch and Donna apparently lost several IQ points between the end of Guns and the start of this movie.  At first, they go to Vegas but eventually, they end up in Louisiana.  This leads to the usual remote-controlled boats and helicopters, the same ones that appear in nearly every Sidaris film.  Needless to say, a lot of stuff gets blown up.

And it’s all pretty boring, to be honest.  It sounds like it should be fun, what with all the different assassins showing up and Kane getting more and more frustrated as Donna and Nicole continue to survive.  But, unfortunately, none of the assassins are that interesting.  Most of the film takes place in Caddo Parish.  My family lived in Shreveport for a year and a half.  I like Caddo Parish.  But it really can’t compare to Hawaii as far as photogenic locations are concerned.

Do or Die had potential but it got lost in the hot tub.

Film Review: Guns (dir by Andy Sidaris)

As you can probably tell by looking at the poster at the top of this review, the 1990 film Guns was Andy Sidaris’s attempt to make a Bond film.  Not only does the poster feature a man in a tuxedo and two gun-wielding women but the tag line even reads, “James Never Had This Kind of Help!”

(Of course, that’s not really true, as anyone who has seen Dr. No, Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me, or For Your Eyes Only can tell you.)

Much like a Bond film, Guns features a secret agent fighting to defeat an international conspiracy.  The agent’s efforts lead her and her allies to several different cities in several different … well, really only one country.  Being a Sidaris film, it’s doubtful the Guns really had the budget to film anyplace other than the United States but still, the action does move from Lake Huvasa, Arizona to Hawaii to Las Vegas.  That’s about as close as a Sidaris film ever gets to featuring exotic locations.

(If Lake Havusa sounds familiar, that’s because Jimmy Kimmel gave away at trip to Lake Havusa during the Oscars.)

And like any good Bond film, Guns has a flamboyant and almost comically evil villain.  Juan “Jack of Diamonds” Degas (telenovela star and future reality tv mainstay Erik Estrada) is an international gun dealer and an all-around sociopath.  He’s the type who shoots someone and then smirks about it.  He’s so evil that he’s even got Danny Tejo working as his main henchman!  That’s really evil!  Estrada gives a surprisingly good performance in the role.  Especially when compared to the forgettable villains who appeared in Sidaris’s previous films, Juan Degas feels like a worthy opponent.  It’s not just that he’s evil.  It’s that he’s so damn smug about it.  You can’t wait to see him get taken down.

Degas is planning on smuggling a bunch of Chinese weapons into America through a base on Hawaii.  The only problem is that Donna (Dona Speir) and her new partner, Nicole Justin (Roberta Vasquez), are based in Hawaii!  Degas knows that he has to get rid of them if he’s going to have any hope of succeeding.  (For whatever reason, it never occurs to Degas to smuggle the weapons through Guam or American Samoa. I mean, there are other islands out there.)  When Degas sends two cross-dressing assassins to kill Nicole, they end up not only shooting the wrong woman but also killing a friend of Dona’s as well.

Now, it’s personal!

Except, it was already personal.  In a typical example of Sidaris’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along style of  plotting, it turns out that Degas previously killed Donna’s father.  And now, it appears that it might get even more personal because Degas has kidnapped the Attorney General of Nevada, who happens to be Donna’s mother!

Obviously, this means that it’s time to gather together another group of misfit agents and take down the bad guys.  That means that Savage Beach‘s Shane Abilene (Michael J. Shane) and Bruce Christian (Bruce Penhall) both show up again.  It also means that a lovable magician named Abe (Chuck McCann) gets to help out as well.  Unfortunately, one member of the team is eventually blown up by a remote control boat.

That’s right!  A remote control boat!  For some reason, remote control vehicles were a Sidaris obsession and it’s not a Sidaris film without someone getting blown by either a remote control boat or helicopter.

Anyway, there’s a lot of explosions to be found in Guns but the good thing is that it’s women blowing stuff up and it’s women who are in charge of the entire operation.  That’s the thing with a Sidaris film like this one.  For all of the nudity and the double entendre-filled dialogue, Guns was an action films where women got to shoot the guns, beat up the bad guys, and ultimately save the world from a smirking misogynist.  When Donna picked up that rocket launcher, it was both ludicrous and empowering at the same time.

Guns is one of Sidaris’s better films.  For once, despite all of the usual Sidaris red herrings, the plot can actually be followed and Estrada is an appropriately hissable villain.  While the film may not be able to compete with the best of the Bond films, it’s still more fun that SPECTRE.

A Movie A Day #322: CHiPs (2017, directed by Dax Shepard)

Based on the campy 70s cop show that will live on forever in syndication, CHiPs is about two unlikely partners who, after a rough beginning, work together to catch a cop’s killer and capture a gang of armed robbers.

Officer Jon Baker (Dax Shepherd) is a flaky former motocross champion who joins the California Highway Patrol to try to impress his estranged wife (Kristen Bell).  Baker pops painkillers like candy, throws up whenever he enters an unfamiliar house, and has a knee that randomly goes out.  Baker can’t shoot, fight, or think but he sure can ride a bike.

Officer Francis Llewelyn “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Pena) is actually an FBI agent named Castillo who has been assigned to work undercover to investigate corruption in the CHP.  Ponch is a sex addict who is obsessed with yoga pants and who keeps accidentally shooting his former partner (Adam Brody).

Both Baker and Ponch are given one identifying characteristic.  Baker’s thing is that he always says the wrong thing and then apologizes.  Ponch’s thing is that he always says the wrong thing and then doesn’t apologize.  That is about as deep as things get.

I’m not really sure who this movie is supposed to appeal to.  Michael Pena and Dax Shepard have been good in other productions but they’re both awful here, let down by a script that does not have much to offer beyond tepid bromance and dick jokes.  The humor is too deliberately lowbrow and raunchy to appeal to the people who were fans of the quaintly innocent TV show but it’s also neither meta nor clever enough to appeal to the audience that made hits out of 21 and 22 Jump Street.  I guess the ideal audience for this film would be people who still find gay panic jokes to be hilarious because CHiPs is full of them.  If the last movie you saw was made in 1999 and starred Adam Sandler and David Spade, CHiPs might be right up your alley.

CHiPs is a terrible fucking movie but what really distinguishes it from other terrible movies is the amount of contempt that it seems to have for its source material.  The Jump Street movies might have poked fun at the TV series that inspired them but it was still obvious that the films were being made by fans.  CHiPs can’t even be bothered to use the original’s theme music as anything other than a way to punctuate a few cheap jokes.  Erik Estrada, the original Ponch, does have a cameo but only so he and the new Ponch can talk about eating ass in Spanish.  Otherwise, there is nothing that links the movie to the TV show.  A more accurate title would have been Two Assholes On Motorcycles, except the motorcycles really are not that important to the film.  So, I guess the title would actually just have to be Two Assholes.  That sounds about right to me.

CHiPs proves that not every stupid cop show needs a movie version.  Now, excuse me while I get back to work on my T.J. Hooker spec script…

Music Video of the Day: Pepper by Butthole Surfers (1996, dir. Gavin Bowden)

Just like with Alanis Morissette’s You Oughta Know, Pepper by Butthole Surfers was one of those songs that came at an odd time. That brief little window between the musical renaissance of the early-90s and the musical plague of the late-90s. In between we got interesting transitional groups like Butthole Surfers and PUSA.

The music video is simultaneously dark with it’s lyrics and crime scene presentation, but then we suddenly switch gears to something that looks like a variety show and/or old commercials. Even the cops from the dark part come over to act as backup dancers for the band. On the dark side, Erik Estrada shows up as a kidnapping victim who is being rescued from the lead singer of the band. For people who are older than me, the name means the show CHiPs, which I’m sure is why he is in this music video. However, to people of my generation, he will always be Marco Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar Diego Garcia Marquez from Sealab 2021.

I honestly don’t really get it all too much. To me it’s all about contrast in how songs tend to switch gears from the verses to the chorus and back. Much like the video switches from the police scenes during the verses, then goes to the colorful portions during the chorus and back again. Sometimes it intermixes them a bit, but by and large, they are divided. That’s about all I’ve got other than that I like this song, and the video reminds me of the one for Frontier Psychiatrist by The Avalanches.

However, Wikipedia adds a little more to the story. It tells me that the reason the police and Estrada are shown eating corn from a can is a reference to how music videos are made. Apparently music video directors are told to “have this shot and that shot – how they’re spoon-feeding images to the audience.” Sounds like he is describing making any film. Except maybe Derek Jarman’s Blue (1993), which is just a blue screen while audio plays over it. There had to be more to the quote. Some context that makes the statement make more sense like that he is talking about being given direction by producers and people from the band’s record company about things they have to include.

Lisa has since added even more to the story in the comments.


What Lisa and the Snarkalecs Watched Tonight #75: Chupacabra Vs. The Alamo (dir. by Terry Ingram)

Earlier tonight, the Snarkalecs and I watched the latest SyFy original film — Chupacabra Vs. The Alamo.

Why Were We Watching It?

It’s a little known fact but several of the Snarkalecs — including me — are either from or live in the great state of Texas.  So, seriously — how could we not watch a SyFy film that takes place in San Antonio?

As well, Chupacabra Vs. The Alamo is just a brilliant title!  Of course, with a great title comes great responsibility…

What Was It About?

It’s Cinco De Mayo in San Antonio and you know what the means!  That’s right — thousands of chupacabras are coming across the border and killing all that they see.  Can DEA agent Carlos (played by Erik Estrada) save both his children and the city of San Antonio?  Carlos and a private army made up of bored DEA agents and gangbangers (who, we’re told, are “down for the hood”) end up locking themselves in the Alamo and making a last stand against the forces of goat sucking evil.

What Worked?

Like the best original SyFy films, Chupacabra Vs. The Alamo is the epitome of the type of film that’s fun to watch with a group of friends.  The acting is over-the-top, the chupacabras are cute, and even the scenes were Estrada is obviously just sitting on a motorcycle in front of a green screen have an odd charm to them.  The film had a definite telenovela feel to it and that’s always a good thing.

Even though the majority of the film was obviously shot somewhere other than San Antonio (I’m guessing Canada), I still enjoyed seeing stock footage of the Riverwalk.

(Seriously, I love the Riverwalk!  While I’ve never lived in San Antonio, I’ve visited enough times that I have a lot of very good and very romantic memories of walking along the river.)

Finally, on a personal note, I have to say that the Snarkalecs were on fire tonight!  Within fifteen minutes of the film starting, we had made it a trending topic on twitter.  Some of the funniest tweets I have ever read were the result of us watching Chupacabra Vs. The Alamo.

What Did Not Work?

If any film called for Danny Trejo cameo, it was this one.  Unfortunately, Trejo was nowhere to be seen.  Maybe he’ll show up for the sequel…

 It took about 90 minutes for Estrada and his private army to reach the Alamo and when they did, it turned out to be a totally fake Alamo.  In all fairness, I can not imagine any circumstances that would have led to the Daughters of the Texas Republic agreeing to allow this film to be shot within the Alamo but, speaking as a Texan, I was disappointed at just how poorly this faux Alamo compared to the real thing.

(Also, unlike the rather flamboyant tour guide featured in this film, an actual Alamo tour guide would never wear a gigantic coonskin cap.)

On a related note, as much as I appreciated the fact that the film featured the Riverwalk, it was still hard not to feel that the filmmakers essentially shot about 5 minutes of footage in San Antonio before then going up to Canada to finish the rest of the film.  As a result, the film featured a lot of people saying, “Remember the Alamo!” and random things in Spanish but ultimately, it did not feel like a Texas film at all.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Like the characters in this film, I’m down for my hood.

Lessons Learned

I need to revisit San Antonio sometime soon.

Chupacabra vs. The Alamo - 2013