Cinemax Friday: Maximum Force (1992, directed by Joseph Mehri)


Max Tanabe (Richard Lynch) is Los Angeles’s biggest crime lord, involved in everything from prostitution to illegal fight clubs.  But, because he’s rich, no one can touch him.  He plays golf with the mayor.  He’s paid off the police commissioner (Mickey Rooney).  The police commissioner spends the entire movie riding around in a limo.  How do you think he was able to afford that?

Captain Fuller (John Saxon) needs some new jack cops to take down a new jack gangster so he goes out and recruits three.  Cody Randal (Sherries Ross) works vice.  Rick Carver (Jason Lively) is a “tech expert” who rigs toy cars with explosives.  Mike Crews (Sam J. Jones) is looking to avenge the death of his partner.  Fuller brings them together and put them through an extensive training course.  At the end of it, he tests their skills and their teamwork by bringing in a secret team of ninjas to attack them.

Which begs the question: If you already have a secret team of ninjas, why do you have to recruit and train three detectives to take down Tanabe?  Why not just have the ninjas do it?

So, logic is not exactly Maximum Force‘s strong point but it still has some good points.  For instance, you have to respect any movie that can bring together Richard Lynch and John Saxon, not to mention Mickey Rooney!  Of course, there’s not really much of a reason for Mickey Rooney to be there.  All of his scenes feature him in the limo and they are edited together so awkwardly that it seems probable the he never actually acted opposite any of his co-stars.  But it doesn’t matter because he’s Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney, picking up a paycheck in his twilight years.  As for Saxon and Lynch, they do what they do best and bring gravitas to their otherwise stock roles.

As for the three heroes, they’re adequate even if none of them really shine.  I liked the tech expert the best but that was just because he rigged all of those remote control cars to explode.  Sam J. Jones and Sherrie Ross are both better at throwing punches than showing emotion but that’s what a film like this demands.  Some of the fight scenes are exciting.  There’s a helicopter attack early in the film.  Towards the end of the film, when Mike decides that the team needs some extra help, he calls in an amateur wrestler named Bear who just randomly shows up during the final battle.  Maximum Force knows what its audience wants and that’s the important thing.

A Movie A Day #276: Bad Dreams (1988, directed by Andrew Fleming)


When she was a young girl, Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin) was a member of Unity Fields, a group of hippies led by the insane Franklin Harris (Richard Lynch).  When Harris ordered the cult to join him in a fiery suicide pact, Cynthia was the only one to refuse.  While all of the cult members when up in flames, Cynthia ended up spending 13 years in a coma.  When she wakes up, she has no memory of the incident and finds herself as a patient in a psych ward.  She has a support group to provide therapy.  She has two doctors (Bruce Abbott and Harris Yulin) watching her every move.  And she still has nightmares and visions of the long-dead Harris, appearing around the hospital, sometimes burned and sometimes not.  When the members of her therapy group start to die, Cynthia is convinced that Harris has returned to claim her.

A year before starring in Bad Dreams, Jennifer Rubin made her film debut in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.  That seems appropriate because Bad Dreams would never have existed if not for A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Franklin Harris is only a few bad jokes and a razor blade glove away from being Freddy Krueger’s older brother.  However, if you can see past the movie’s derivative nature, Bad Dreams is not bad.  Some of the deaths are inventive and Jennifer Rubin shows why she should have become a bigger star than she did.  Though Franklin Harris may have been developed as stand-in for Freddy, Richard Lynch is memorably menacing and makes the role his own.  Bad Dreams may have been a clone of another film but not all clones are bad.

Danger Is Their Business: STUNTS (New Line Cinema 1977)


cracked rear viewer

stunts1

With the success of films like WHITE LIGHTING, CANNONBALL, DEATH RACE 2000, and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (not to mention the continuing fascination with Evel Knenevel), movies revolving around stunts and stuntmen were big box office in the 1970’s. New Line Cinema took note and produced STUNTS, a murder mystery about stuntmen being killed off that gives us a behind-the-scenes look at low-budget filmmaking in addition to a good cast and well-staged action.

stunts2

When stuntman Greg Wilson’s hanging from a helicopter gag goes horribly awry, resulting in him plummeting to his death, his brother Glen arrives on the set determined to do the stunt himself and investigate Greg’s demise. Along the way he picks up B.J. Parswell, an attractive reporter doing a story on stuntmen. Glen’s fellow stuntmen start getting picked off one by one in gruesome “accidents”, and he must find the killer before he becomes next.

stunts3

This basic variation on “Ten…

View original post 338 more words

Halloween Havoc!: GOD TOLD ME TO (New World 1976)


cracked rear viewer

God Told Me To (1976) aka Demon Directed by Larry Cohen Shown: Poster Art

Last year during “Halloween Havoc!”, I took a look at writer/director/producer Larry Cohen’s cult classic IT’S ALIVE . This time around, it’s GOD TOLD ME TO, a  creepily twisted tale tackling mass murder, aliens, Catholicism, and the nature of God himself that could’ve only been made in the paranoiac 70’s, and may be Cohen’s best film.

godtold2

There’s a sniper on a rampage in New York City perched atop a water tower. Fourteen people are dead, and police have the scene surrounded. Det. Lt. Peter Nicholas, a devout Catholic who was orphaned as a child and goes to confession daily,  climbs the ladder in hopes of engaging the shooter before he kills again. When Nicholas asks the killer why he’s caused all this carnage, the man simply replies, “God told me to”, then jumps off the tower, plunging to his doom.

godtold3

This stage the stage for more bizarre mayhem, starting with a…

View original post 660 more words

Soda Pop Cops: THE SEVEN-UPS (20th Century Fox 1973)


cracked rear viewer

su1

Theater screens of the 70’s were awash in blue as the “tough guy cop” film put a chokehold on Hollywood. DIRTY HARRY Callahan took on punks in a series of action flicks, SERPICO took down corruption in New York, and L.A. detective Joseph Wambaugh’s novels were adapted into big (and small) screen features.  Producer Philip D’Antoni helped usher in this modern take on film noir with 1968’s BULLITT starring Steve McQueen, followed by the Oscar-winning THE FRENCH CONNECTION , with Gene Hackman as brutal cop Popeye Doyle.

su2

D’Antoni decided to direct his next effort, 1973’s THE SEVEN-UPS. CONNECTION costar Roy Scheider gets his first top-billed role as Buddy Manucci, head of an elite “dirty tricks” squad that takes down perps whose felonies will land them seven years and up in jail (hence the title; it has nothing to do with the lemon-lime soda!). Manucci’s childhood pal Vito Lucia (Tony LoBianco) is…

View original post 369 more words

Film Review: Trancers II (1991, dir. Charles Band)


vlcsnap-2015-11-14-21h19m40s871

Well, it sure took them a long time to get back to this series. Actually, they did shoot a sequel before this, but I’ll get to that one after I finish the main releases. This one picks up six years after the events of the first one. In that one we left Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) and Lena Deth (Helen Hunt) in the past of Los Angeles. We also got a short sequel bait at the end in the form of McNulty in his female ancestor’s little girl body. For this installment they appear to have gotten back just about every single person of consequence.

vlcsnap-2015-11-14-21h22m01s624

Jack and Lena Deth

vlcsnap-2015-11-14-21h24m53s929

Art LaFleur as McNulty in future

vlcsnap-2015-11-14-21h28m52s133

Biff Manard as Hap Ashby

Even Telma Hopkins returns as Raines and she was barely in the movie.

Even Telma Hopkins returns as Raines and she was barely in the movie.

The setup here is that Hap Ashby got clean and made a bunch of money in commodity speculation. He needs it since he has taken up the hobby of collecting firetrucks. Jack and Lena live with Ashby on his estate. Whistler’s brother is in the past so that means more Trancers are on their way. McNulty is going to go back in time again into his ancestor along with a time machine. The idea is to bring Jack back to the future with Whistler’s brother in tow. Jack’s body in the future is unsuitable to come back to so he needs to return in his new body. There you go, sequel!

Before I continue, take a look at those screenshots. They do those close portrait shots of the actors a lot in this movie. My guess is not that they couldn’t get the actors in the same place all the time, but that they thought that might happen. As a result, they used that consistently throughout just in case the situation arose. Enter the Trancers!

vlcsnap-2015-11-14-21h32m57s549

vlcsnap-2015-11-14-21h33m09s093

vlcsnap-2015-11-14-21h33m19s095

That’s when one more actor makes a return. Not sure how, but seven years or so after the production of the original Trancers, they got Alyson Croft to reprise her role as McNulty’s ancestor. I think I enjoyed her performance in this movie the most. I love her entrance into the film. She shows up having some trouble riding a bike before falling over.

vlcsnap-2015-11-14-21h33m38s291

However, while McNulty may have trouble riding a bike, he apparently has no issues putting on makeup.

vlcsnap-2015-11-14-21h34m18s141

This is when one more little important piece of information is dropped on us. In the first film we found out that Jack’s wife was killed by a Trancer. However, in this one we find out that someone was sent back to shortly before she died. They sent her consciousness back in time so that this movie can have some funny scenes between Jack and his two wives.

vlcsnap-2015-11-14-21h38m34s240

This is Alice Stillwell played by Megan Ward. You see, while Jack got sent back into the body of Philip Deth shortly after having sex and McNulty ended up in a pretty and funny young girl, Jack’s wife ended up in the body of a mental patient. And not just a mental patient anywhere either.

vlcsnap-2015-11-14-21h41m11s638

That’s Whistler’s brother who goes by the name Dr. Wardo played by the late Richard Lynch. And he has a sidekick.

vlcsnap-2015-11-14-21h39m55s864

Honestly, if the credits hadn’t told me that was Jeffrey Combs, then I could have easily missed that fact. I really have no idea what Lynch and Combs are up to in this movie. It doesn’t matter. Jack needs to rescue his wife and kill Lynch. It’s that simple.

The long second makes a return! Jack makes good use of it to singe some Trancers. He then comforts three ladies who saw the Trancers disappear by telling them it’s okay because they’re biodegradable. The lines in this just aren’t as good as the first one. Alice also uses the long second to hide the time machine after she finds it. It’s not important why it’s near her. It’s for the same reasons why she is even in this movie. It’s convenient for the plot.

vlcsnap-2015-11-14-21h58m42s221

Meanwhile, Alyson Croft continues to be the funniest person in this movie, which is humorous considering Helen Hunt would go on to do Mad About You and Tim Thomerson was once a standup comedian.

vlcsnap-2015-11-14-22h04m13s684

Jack shows up and rescues Alice while they are moving her. There’s a short exchange where she says he’s the only man she’s slept with, she passes out, and he’s says it wasn’t that bad. Kinda funny, but nothing in this movie is as memorable as lines like “Beef? You mean like from a cow?” or “I’m from another time, another world. I don’t even know what you people eat for lunch.”, which were in the first film.

There’s some screwball stuff here between Jack, Lena, and Alice, but who really cares. Trancers show up, Ashby starts drinking again, and Alyson Croft continues to be funny.

vlcsnap-2015-11-15-18h04m01s014

Now our four Musketeers set out to take down Lynch and Combs. But first we get a cameo appearance by one of director Charles Band’s other movies.

vlcsnap-2015-11-15-19h12m05s719

I’ll probably review that eventually. The only really important plot point left here is that Jack is going to have to send Alice back in the time machine since otherwise she’ll die shortly after returning to her body. I say it’s time for highlights.

vlcsnap-2015-11-15-18h51m40s217

vlcsnap-2015-11-15-18h53m40s847

vlcsnap-2015-11-15-19h21m31s635

vlcsnap-2015-11-15-20h37m06s337

The good guys win in a final showdown with Lynch, Combs, and their henchmen. Jack sends Alice back to the future in the time machine after a parting kiss. McNulty returns to his body to inform Raines that Jack has a new home in the past. Then Jack and Lena kiss just like at the end of the first movie.

vlcsnap-2015-11-15-20h45m35s509

But unlike the end of the first movie, there’s no hint at a sequel here. However, they must have changed their minds because there are five more films in this franchise. This one was definitely a step down from the first. Honestly, I really only recommend it if you are a big fan of the first like I am. We’ll see what’s next for Jack Deth in Trancers III (1992).

vlcsnap-2015-11-15-18h03m29s691

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #84: The Forbidden Dance (dir by Greydon Clark)


Forbidden_danceDANCE!

I love to dance, I loved to teach others how to dance, and I love watching other people dance.  If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, then you know that I can not resist a film that features a lot of dancing.  It doesn’t matter if the director is inept.  It doesn’t matter if the script makes no sense.  It doesn’t matter if the actors don’t have a bit of acting talent to use to their advantage.  As long as the film features a lot of dancing, I’m happy.

Seriously, people, when in doubt … DANCE!

Let’s take the 1990 film The Forbidden Dance, for instance.  Now, if I wanted to be nit-picky, I could probably find a lot to criticize about this film.  I mean, this film even has a pro-environmental message and you know how annoyed I can get with message films.  And you know what?  You can do a google search and you can find all sorts of insanely negative reviews of this film.

But you know what?

I don’t really care about any of that.  This is, at heart, a dance film.  It features almost non-stop dancing, so I really can’t be too critical of it.  Add to that, it also features memorable performances from Sid Haig and the late Richard Lynch.  Unfortunately, neither Haig nor Lynch get out on the dance floor because, if they had, The Forbidden Dance would have been legendary.

The Forbidden Dance begins in the Brazilian rain forest.  A tribe of Native Brazilians is happily dancing and basically not bothering anyone.  As we learn later on in the film, the dance that they are doing is called the Lambada and apparently, the Brazilian government tried to ban it “because it was too sexy.”

(Amazingly enough and according to Wikipedia, the Lambada apparently was an actual dance craze back in 1990.  The Forbidden Dance came out on the exact same weekend as a competing film about the Lambada.  That film was called, appropriately enough, Lambada.  Strangely enough, two years ago, I randomly reviewed that film for this very site.)

Anyway, all the dancing and the fun is interrupted by the arrival of Benjamin Maxwell (Richard Lynch), a mercenary who works for a Big Evil Corporation.  Maxwell tells the tribe that they might want to stop dancing and leave because the rain forest is going to be destroyed.

Naturally enough, the tribe’s king responds to this by sending his daughter, Nisa (Laura Harring), to America.  Accompanying Nisa is Joa (Sid Haig), a witch doctor.  However, Nisa and Joa’s attempts to invade the headquarters of Big Evil Corporation results in Joa being arrested.

(Incidentally, you might recognize Laura Harring from David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, where she played a similarly mysterious character who was lost and hunted in Los Angeles.)

Left to fend for herself, Nisa gets a job working as a maid for a wealthy family.  And while neither Mr. nor Mrs. Anderson has much interest in the backstory of the help, their son Jason (Jeff James) is a different story.  As Jason’s mother complains, Jason doesn’t have much interest in anything other than dancing.  And, when Jason spots Nisa dancing in her bedroom, he becomes intrigued with her.  Ignoring the snobbish reactions of his wealthy friends, Jason asks Nisa to teach him the Lambada!

And hey!  Guess what!  There’s going to be a dance contest and it’s going to be televised!  What better way to get a platform to protest the destruction of the Brazilian Rain Forest then by winning the contest?  Standing in the way of this plan: Benjamin Maxwell (who, in one icky scene, demands that Nisa dance for him), Jason’s parents and friends, and the fact that, through a complicated series of events, Nisa ends up being forced to dance in the sleaziest club in Los Angeles.

So, look — there’s all sorts of things that I could say about The Forbidden Dance but it features a lot of dancing so I’m inclined to be generous towards the film, especially since Laura Harring and Jeff James both know how to move and look really good dancing together.  I mean, the word Dance is right there in the title. The film promises dancing and it delivers.  Plus, it also delivers Sid Haig and Richard Lynch at their demented best.

So, why complain when you can … DANCE!?

 

Embracing the Melodrama #38: High Stakes (dir by Amos Kollek)


High Stakes

Yesterday, I said that Dance or Die was the most obscure film that I would be reviewing for this series of melodramatic film reviews.  Well, I may have spoken too soon.  Originally, I was not planning on reviewing the 1989 film High Stakes for this series.  Until a few nights ago, I had never even heard of it.  However, I watched it late last night and I realized immediately that I had to include it in this series.

High Stakes is one of those odd, older films that occasionally pops up as filler on Encore, playing in between showings of movies that people have actually heard of.  When I first came across this film listed in the guide, it was mentioned that High Stakes was Sarah Michelle Gellar’s film debut.  However, before all of my fellow Buffy fans get all excited, they should be aware that Sarah was only 12 years old when she appeared in High Stakes and she spends most of her screen time going, “Mommy!”  If not for her name in the credits, you would never suspect that the little girl playing Sally Kirkland’s daughter would later grow up to play one of the most iconic characters in film history.

Sarah plays the daughter of Bambi (Sally Kirkland), an aging New York-based prostitute and stripper who works for the demonic pimp Slim (Richard Lynch).  Bambi hates her life but she does what she has to do to support her daughter.  One night, Bambi finds a man passed out in the garbage across the street from her apartment.  That man is John Stratton (Richard LuPone), a crooked stock broker who has recently grown disillusioned with his greed-fueled life.  John is laying in the garbage because he’s just been mugged.  Despite her natural instincts, Bambi takes sympathy on John and allows him to come up to her apartment.  John and Bambi start to talk about their respective lives, just to have the conversation interrupted by one of Slim’s henchmen showing up at the apartment and demanding money.  John and the henchmen get into a physical altercation and soon, he and Bambi find themselves on the run with $4,000 of Slim’s money.

As directed by Amos Kollek, High Stakes is essentially two different stories.  One of which is rather conventional thriller, in which John and Bambi have to escape from Slim.  The thriller elements are rather predictable, distinguished only by Richard Lynch’s notably unhinged performance.  The other part of the film is the opposites-attract love story between John and Bambi and these scenes work a lot better.  LuPone and Kirkland have a lot of a chemistry and some of the best moments in the film are the ones where the characters simply talk about their different lives.  Kirkland, in particular, does a good job and she manages to bring some unexpected shadings to a stock role.  She’s especially good in her scenes with Sarah Michelle Gellar, radiating a very natural maternal instinct.  By the end of the film, you truly like Bambi and root for her.  Despite all of my natural expectations, High Stakes turned out to be a rather sweet and touching film.

High Stakes may be an obscure film but it’s definitely one to keep an eye out for the next time it shows up on Encore.

Sarah Michelle Gellar and Sally Kirkland in High Stakes

Sarah Michelle Gellar and Sally Kirkland in High Stakes

That concludes the 80s.  Tomorrow, we’ll start in on the 90s.

44 Days of Paranoia #15: God Told Me To (dir by Larry Cohen)


For today’s entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, I want to take a look at the underrated horror/sci-fi/paranoia film, God Told Me To.

This film was first released in 1976. At the time of that initial theatrical run, the film was called God Told Me To Kill. That title proved to be rather controversial and the film was promptly pulled from circulation and then re-released under the new title of Demon. However, since Demon was such a painfully generic title, the name change didn’t do much to help the movie at the box office and, again, it was yanked from circulation and the title was changed for a third time.  Under the name God Told Me To, the film was once again re-released.

Not surprisingly, given this chaotic release history, God Told Me To never quite got the attention that it deserved. Over the years, the film has developed a cult following among those (like me) who have discovered the film on DVD or Blu-ray.  But God Told Me To still remains something of an unknown film.

In God Told Me To, Tony LoBianco gives an excellent performance as Peter Nicholas, a tough New York police detective and devout Catholic.  As the film starts, Nicolas is burned out on his job. He’s separated from his mentally unstable wife (played by Sandy Dennis) but can’t bring himself to divorce her and marry his girlfriend (Deborah Raffin) because it would go against his religious beliefs.

Nicholas finds himself investigating a serious of seemingly random murders that all have two things in common.  First, the murderers are all “average” people, the types who would you never expect to commit such terrible crimes.  Secondly, when captured, each murderer dismisses his crimes by explaining, “God told me to.”  As Nicholas investigates, he discovers that every murderer can be linked with a mysterious figure named Bernard Phillips (played the late, great Richard Lynch).

Nicholas’ investigation leads him to discover that Phillips was the product of a virgin birth, causing Nicholas to both question his own religious faith and to wonder wither or not Phillips is just another crazy cult leader or if he might be God himself…

And that’s about all I can tell you without running the risk of totally spoiling the film.  Let’s just say that God Told Me To is one of those films where nothing is quite as it seems.  Since the film establishes early on that literally anyone could be a potential killer, the viewer is forced to watch every character who wanders through the scene, looking for any hint that he or she is about to snap.  This is a film that keeps you off-balance and, unlike a lot of horror films, it  features a twist that’s both plausible and unexpected.

God Told Me To was directed by Larry Cohen, an exploitation veteran who has been responsible for some of the most thought-provoking B-movies in cinematic history. Like many of Cohen’s films, God Told Me To is something of a mess but it’s a fascinating mess.  Both Peter Nicholas and Bernard Phillips prove to be fascinating characters and, during the film’s final third, Cohen takes both of them in unexpected directions.

God Told Me To is one of those films that every fan of horror and cult cinema should see at least once. If you haven’t seen it, now is the perfect time for you to discover it for yourself.

Other entries in the 44 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind

Guilty Pleasure No. 5: Invasion U.S.A.


InvasionUSA

Time to put up a new guilty pleasure that goes way, way back for me. This flick came out a year after the ultra-violent, thus equally awesome Red Dawn. As a very impressionable young boy that film had me and my brother and a select group of friends coming up with ways to form our very own Wolverines. While our plans were really just an excuse to play war games in the playground it was the following year in 1985 when this latest “guilty pleasure” had my brother and I moving up to a new level doomsday prepping.

That film was the Chuck Norris classic bloodbath: Invasion U.S.A.

Instead of the Soviet military invading the U.S. mainland this time around it would be Latin American communist guerrillas led by a Rogue KGB agent who would be doing the invading. Well, invading the suburbs and malls of Florida at least. Just like in true exploitation fashion the film would use the fear Americans had of foreign terrorists (this was the era of the airline hijackings, hostage takings and cafe bombings) finally putting it in their heads to strike at the American heartland.

But who would stop them if none other than the poor man’s Sylvester Stallone. He was no Rambo, but his name has become even more feared in popular culture. He is Chuck Norris and he’s the country’s only savior against hundreds of well-armed terrorist guerrillas and the rogue Soviet leaders. For a pre-teen set this was a flick that opened up the imagination to new levels of violence (thus awesome playground wargaming afterwards) and epic action. It’s not a surprise that it would be the Cannon Films group led by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus (proprietors of some of the 80’s best and most violent action films of the era).

This film has become a sort of cult classic amongst action film aficionados. It’s literally a film that puts on the action gas from the start and doesn’t let up. Even has grindhouse stalwarts like Richard Lynch and Billy Drago to give it some exploitation creds.

They sure don’t make action flicks like this anymore. Which really is a damn bloody shame.

On a side note: this is one flick I hope Lisa Marie, Leonard and these Snarkalecs they seem to be hanging about it to view one night if it ever airs on TV.