A Movie A Day #208: War Party (1988, directed by Franc Roddam)

On the hundredth year anniversary of a battle between the U.S. Calvary and the Blackfeet Indians, the residents of small Montana town decide to reenact the battle and hopefully bring in some tourist dollars.  The white mayor (Bill McKinny) and the sheriff (Jerry Hardin) both think that it is a great idea.  Even the local Indian leader, Ben Cowkiller (Dennis Banks, in real-life a founder and leader of the American Indian Movement), thinks that it will be a worthwhile for the Indians to participate.  The Calvary’s guns will be full of blanks.  The Indians will play dead.  However, as the result of a bar brawl the previous night, one of the local rednecks, Calvin Morrisey (Kevyn Major Howard), shows up with a gun full of bullets.  After he shoots one of the Indians, Calvin ends up with a tomahawk buried in his head.  Three Indian teenagers, Warren (Tim Sampson), Skitty (Kevin Dillon), and Sonny (Billy Wirth), flee into the wilderness.  Thirsty for revenge, a white posse heads off in pursuit.

War Party is an underrated and surprisingly violent movie.   Franc Roddam brings the same sensitivity to his portrayal of alienated Indians that he brought to portraying alienated Mods in Quadrophenia.  Though, at first, Kevin Dillon seems miscast as an Indian, he, Wirth, and Sampson all give good performances, as does Dennis Banks.  The movie is often stolen by M. Emmett Walsh and Rodney A. Grant, playing renowned trackers who are brought in to help the posse chase down the three youths.  That Grant’s character is a member of the Crow adds a whole extra layer of meaning to his role. Even though the setup often feels contrived and heavy-handed and anyone watching should be able to easily guess how the movie is going to end, War Party still packs a punch.

A Movie A Day #140: The Rescue (1988, directed by Ferdinand Fairfax)

A group of Navy SEALs enter North Korea on a mission to destroy a submarine that has fallen into Kim Il-sung’s hands.  They destroy the submarine but are captured before they can safely cross the border back into South Korea.  With the SEALs facing a show trial and probable public execution, Admiral Rothman (James Cromwell) draws up a plan to rescure them.  The U.S. government, not wanting to escalate the situation, shoots down the plan.  (Americans giving up?  Is Carter still president?)  However, Rothman’s nerdy son, Max (Marc Price), gets a hold of the plan.  Before you can say “Why didn’t anyone else think of this?”, he and the children of the SEALs are sneaking into North Korea and rescuing their fathers!

This is a pure 1980s film.  Like Red Dawn, it shows that America is such a great country that even our teenagers are stronger than the average well-armed communist.  Of the actors playing the rescuers, the best known is Kevin Dillon.  He plays the rebel who smokes cigarettes and rides a motorcycle.  Though their relationship may be strained, his father (Edward Albert) is still happy when Dillon suddenly shows up in North Korea.  Soon, father and son are working together to blow up America’s enemies.  This movie’s about as dumb as they come and it’s another example of Hollywood presenting North Korea as just being the junior varsity version of China but it’s also undeniably entertaining, especially if you don’t care about things like plausibility.  Watch it the next time that Kim Jong-un threatens to blow you up.  Who needs Chuck Norris when you’ve got Kevin Dillon?


Horror On TV: Tales From The Crypt 5.7 “House of Horror” (dir by Bob Gale)

Tonight’s excursion into televised horror is the 7th episode of the 5th season of HBO’s Tales From The Crypt!  

House of Horrors has everything that you could possibly want from a Tales From The Crypt episode!  A dumbass idiot frat boy (played by Kevin Dillon) forces three pledges to enter  a supposedly haunted house.  Mayhem ensues.  This episode is full of atmosphere, dark humor, plot twists, and unexpected turns and it features two wonderfully over-the-top performances, one from Dillon and one from Meredith Salenger as a Southern-accented sorority president who may have a secret of her own.

This episode originally aired on October 27th, 1993.



Insomnia File No. 2: Stag (dir by Gavin Wilding)


What’s an Insomnia File?  You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable?  This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Last night, if you were suffering from insomnia around 2:30 in the morning, you could have turned over to Flix and watched Stag, a dreary film from 1997!

And I know what you’re saying.  “Really, Lisa?  I could have watched a dreary film!  WHY DIDN’T SOMEBODY TELL ME!?”  Well, sorry.  Your loss.  Maybe next time you won’t be so quick to resist the call of insomnia…

Anyway, Stag eventually turns out to be pretty bad but it actually has a pretty good opening.  A bunch of rich guys get together in a big house and throw a bachelor party.  Whenever one of them first appears on screen, they get a freeze frame that tells us their name and gives us a few biographical facts.

For instance, one coke-snorting character is introduced as “Jon DiCapri: Soap opera star, spokesman for “Stars Against Drugs.”  A drunk guy begging for money is identified as “Timan Bernard: Accountant, Author of ‘Ethics in Business.'”  The pensive fellow standing by the window and a smoking a cigarette is “Daniel Kane: Gulf war veteran, post traumatic stress disorder,” while the guy running around in a wig and lingerie is “Ed Labenski: Contractor, church treasurer.”  My personal favorite of the introductions belonged to the guy with the neck tattoo and the terrible teeth.  We’re told that he’s “Pete Weber: Drug dealer, extortionist. Self employed.”

Of course, Pete Weber is also Andrew McCarthy, playing a character who is far removed from the world of Pretty In Pink and St. Elmo’s Fire.  And Daniel Kane is actually Kevin Dillon, taking part in the type of misogynistic hi-jinks that would later be celebrated in Entourage.  Jon DiCapri is actually William McNamara, who will always be remembered for his memorable death scene in Dario Argento’s Opera.  As for Timan Bernard, he’s played by John Henson, who was the host of that terrible Wipeout show that was on the air forever despite the fact that nobody in the world would admit to watching it.

And they’re not the only ones at this bachelor party!  The bachelor himself is played by John Stockwell, the director of movies like CheatersCrazy/Beautiful and In The Blood.  His best friend is played by Mario Van Peebles.  Even distinguished character actor Ben Gazzarra is at this bachelor party!

As I said, the film starts out well enough, with the men all acting like idiots and pretty much confirming everything that I’ve always suspected about bachelor parties.  But then the strippers show up and there’s a highly improbable accident and soon there are two dead bodies bleeding out on the linoleum floor of John Stockwell’s house.  The rest of the movie is pretty much the men yelling at each other and arguing about what they should do.  Some fear going to jail.  Some want to frame someone else.  Some want to cover up the accident.  A few suggest calling the police but then Andrew McCarthy rips the landline phone out of the wall and, since this movie was made in the 90s, that is literally all he has to do to keep everyone from contacting the outside world.

Despite some decent performances, the film turned out to be pretty tedious.  That said, as I watched it, I found myself wondering how my girlfriends and I would have handled a similar situation.  What if we were throwing a bachelorette party and suddenly Magic Mike ended up lying in the middle of the floor with a broken neck?  To be honest, I get the feeling we’d probably handle it in roughly the same way as the characters in Stag.  We would just be a lot more passive aggressive about it.

“Oh my God, is that guy dead!?”

“I don’t know but that’s what I think Heather said.  But it’s all Amy’s fault and … Bitch, everyone says it’s your fault so unless everyone in the entire world is wrong … whatever, Amy.”

“Oh my God, what are we going to do with him?”

“I don’t know but Vanessa said that maybe we should say that he like never showed up at the party and then she said that Jen said that … oh my God, are those new earrings!?”

“Yeah, do you like them!?”

“They’re so pretty!  Anyway, Jen said that maybe you should like go bury him somewhere…”

“Oh my God, Jen said I should go bury him!?”

“Well, I didn’t hear for sure but Tina said that she heard Vanessa say that Jen said that you should go bury him…”

“That bitch!  I am so going to kick her ass!  Oh my God!”

But anyway, the body would eventually get buried.  Just not by me.

ANYWAY!  What was I talking about?

Right … Stag.

It’s not a very good movie.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. The Story of Mankind

Quick Horror Film Review: The Blob (1988 Version – Dir. by Chuck Russell)

The Year was 1988.

My father was working in a precinct in Manhattan, and on occasion, my family would have to drive into the city to either get his check or help him file / retrieve something there. Whenever we went to Manhattan, we always saw something grand, like the “Ghost Building” which was shimmered in white light (this was actually Rockefeller Center, but my little sister, brother and I never knew). We once even saw the ’89 Batmobile tear through the city on it’s way to deliver the video release of Tim Burton’s Batman to the Tower Records uptown.

At a stop light, right by the Flatiron Building, I happened to glance around at some of the construction scaffolds. They always put movie posters on there, and I’d squint to see what was coming out soon. That’s when it caught my eye, a pink poster that looked like someone was swimming underwater. We got a little closer as my dad had to make a turn and I was then able to make it out.

“Oh no.”, I muttered, scrunching down in my seat. “They redid it.” All my childhood fears came flooding up in a wave of memories.

I once saw Larry Hagman’s Beware! The Blob (alternately known as Son of Blob) when I was really little. The idea that a gooey mass could squeeze under doors and through window cracks and anywhere there was a space freaked me out. This wasn’t Michael Meyers looking for his sister, or Jason Vorhees guarding Crystal Lake. There was no reasoning my little mind could use to feel better about it. Add to the fact it was only bothered by the cold, it made every summer a secret “look over the shoulder” one. When I attended my first bowling match for fun in college, I’ll admit I hesitated to step out into the bowling alley, if only for a second.

I never saw the movie in the theatre. I got so caught up in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and everyone talked about Die Hard so much that The Blob became something of a blip to the school kids (from what I remember), but it remembered. I read the poster, and kept tabs on the writer’s names – Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell, who both went on to interesting projects over the years.

Okay, enough about my history with The Blob, let’s dig into the film, which is quite possibly one of the best remakes I’ve ever seen. It hits all of the notes of the original while setting down the groundwork for new directions when some fresh ideas. It’s not perfect, but it’s damn good.

The Blob is a re-telling of the classic 1958 film with Steve McQueen, only this time, Chuck Russell (The Mask) and Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Mist) brought Kevin Dillon and Shawnee Smith aboard. It’s the story of a small town that receives a strange visitor from outer space in the form of a gelatenous mass inside of a meteor. When an old man gets a little too curious with a yard stick, it jumps out on and onto his hand. Needless to say, if you ever see anything fall from the sky, please, don’t go running to check it out. It never really ends well. At least, I’ve never heard of it doing so.

Anyway, like the original, the old man is found by the Gallant Hero (Donovan Leitch) and Heroine (Smith), who put him in their car and head to the local hospital. This results in the death of the old man, but also a twist in that the Gallant Hero is also killed / absorbed by the Blob. Shawnee’s character tries to save him, but to no avail. She’s should consider herself lucky that she made it through okay. While I didn’t see this in the theatre, I always wondered what effect that might have had on the audience. I mean, here you had the would be hero of the story and he’s taken out of the picture in the first act. That had to be amazing, I think.

As with the original, the Blob makes its way to the main part of town by way of the sewer, heading into the local movie theatre. Before getting there, there’s a interesting scene where Meg and Flagg (Dillon) – the bad boy turned reluctant hero – run into the Blob in a diner and hide in a nearby refrigerator. Rather than go with the classic “solidify it all in one piece”, Darabont and Russell decided to make the Blob’s freezing effect more like pieces of quartz. I thought this made things all the more scary – how could one really tell that all of it was ever collected while it was frozen?

One has to feel just a little sorry for Candy Clarke’s character. You run into a phone booth to make a phone call, only to have slime run down the sides. To top it off, you try to make a phone call for the local sheriff (played by Darabont favorite Jeffrey DeMunn from all of his films and The Walking Dead), and as if it answered for her, the Blob puts his decaying face right on the phone booth window. Another twist thrown in the remake is the death of a child. Usually in horror movies, kids are usually spared. Usually. Not so here, and it just adds to the horror of things. No one’s safe unless you’re walking around with some liquid nitrogen, and it’s not like that’s in great supply.

Eventually, we come to find – thanks to a lot of men in white suits and Crossroads Joe Seneca – that the Blob was actually man made, and it’s the scientists fault it came back the way it did. What I found interesting about that was the idea that they felt they had to burn it. Didn’t anyone think of bringing something cold? I mean, they’re scientists. Someone in the group had to have that idea at some point. Anyway, this all ends with a huge battle in the middle of a busy street and the townsfolk hiding in the municipal hall. Meg and Flagg do find a way to get everything fixed, but (as with many horror movies), we’re left with the promise of another sequel.

Overall, I loved The Blob. There’s very little I can find wrong with it, given that the source material was never really Oscar worthy to begin with. This was just a sit down for the adult in me, grab your popcorn and enjoy the film.

The kid in me prefers to watch this in a very cold room, just in case.