Natural Enemy (1996, directed by Douglas Jackson)

This one’s pretty dumb.

William McNamara plays Jeremy, who was given up for adoption 24 years ago and has never gotten over it.  After killing his adoptive parents, his birth father, someone’s mistress, and a private investigator played by Tia Carrere, Jeremy wants to celebrate his 25th birthday by killing his birth mother, Sandy (Lesley Anne Warren).  However, Jeremy wants to draw out Sandy’s suffering so he comes up with a plot so complex that it’s hard to believe that anyone could actually pull it off.

After Jeremy finds out that Sandy’s new husband, Ted (Donald Sutherland, massively slumming), is the head of a small brokerage firm, Jeremy reads every book that he can find and somehow become an expert on the stock market.  Even though Jeremy could have a high-paying job with any firm, he wants to work for Ted’s little firm.  Ted hires Jeremy and Jeremy proceeds to worm his way into Ted and Sandy’s life.  Jeremy also frames Ted for securities fraud, which leads to Ted losing his job and being blacklisted by all of Ted’s highly ethical Wall Street colleagues.  (Yes, I managed to write that with a straight face.)  Despite the fact that Jeremy is obviously disturbed and that Ted and Sandy’s life starts to fall apart from the exact moment that Jeremy becomes a part of it, only Ted and Sandy’s son, Chris (Christian Tessier), suspects that there’s something strange about Jeremy.

This is one of those dumb revenge thrillers that is dependent upon everyone in the movie being as dumb as possible.  Even Jeremy turns out to be dumb.  After killing almost everyone that he meets, Jeremy suddenly decides to keep one person alive and, of course, that decision comes back to haunt Jeremy in the end.  Jeremy is smart enough that he can trick people into believing that he’s a brilliant stock broker but he’s dumb enough to make an obvious mistake.  Of course, everyone else is dumb enough to to not catch on to the fact that Jeremy is a sociopath so the mass dumbness evens out in the end.

Probably the most interesting thing about this movie is that, somehow, Donald Sutherland ended up starring in it.  Even great actors have to put food on the table and hopefully, Sutherland ate well as a result of starring in Natural Enemy.

Scarred City (1998, directed by Kim Sanzel)

John Trace (Stephen Baldwin) is a patrolman who has managed to shoot four unarmed suspects in one month.  Most people would say that it might be time to put Trace on desk duty but Lt. Devon (Chazz Palminteri) thinks that Trace will be a perfect addition to the SCAR unit.  SCAR is an elite group of police officers who deal with the city’s worst thugs by gunning them down.  A typical SCAR operation involves setting up a fake adult bookstore just so they can ambush a group of men who come in to rob the place.

Even for someone as trigger happy as John Trace, being a member of SCAR proves to be too much.  When the SCAR team murders a group of gangsters who were having a party in a mansion, Trace is disgusted when two prostitutes are blown away as well.  When he discovers a third prostitute, Candy (Tia Carrere), hiding in an upstairs bedroom, Trace helps her escape.  With both the police and the mob now after them, Trace and Candy try to escape the city.

For some reason, Stephen Baldwin appeared in a lot of direct-to-video action films in the 90s.  I guess it was because he had appeared in The Usual Suspects and, at the time, he was also the cheapest Baldwin brother available.  (The Baldwins were hot commodity in the 90s.  Today, you could probably put William, Daniel, and Stephen all in the same film and still have enough money left over to hire a halfway decent cinematographer.)  Stephen has such a goofy screen presence that it was always strange to see him playing either tough cops or hardened criminals.  In Scarred City, he does that thing where he closes his eyes while delivering his lines and he looks even more awkward handling a gun than usual.

However, for a direct-to-video Stephen Baldwin action film, Scarred City isn’t that bad.  The script is surprisingly witty and even the bad guys get their share of good one-liners.  “Pretty fucking dead, sir,” one of the cops yells to their lieutenant when he asks how one of their partners is handling having been shot.  (Later, the same cop looks at her partner’s dead body and says, “Thanks to his dead ass, we’re going to have a parade.”)  Tia Carrere and Chazz Palmentiri both bring a lot of life to their otherwise underdeveloped roles and the action scenes are violent, exciting, and well-shot, which is good since the last half of the movie is a nonstop chase.  Scarred City may just be a B-movie but it’s a good one.

Rock and Roll Creation: Zombie Nightmare (1986, directed by Jack Bravman)

When muscle-bound teen baseball player Tony (Jon-Mikl Thor) does a good deed by stopping a grocery store robbery, he’s rewarded by getting run down by a bunch of stupid teenage joyriders.  Luckily, there’s a voodoo priestess in the neighborhood and, while she can’t revive Tony permanently, she can bring him back as a zombie so he can kill those who killed him.  Soon, Zombie Tony is killing all of the teens (including Tia Carrere) and Detective Tom Churchman (Adam West) is on the case.  Detective Churchman, however, has a previous connection to both the voodoo priestess and the murder of Tony’s father.

Zombie Nightmare is best known for later being shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000.  It was one of the best episodes of MST 3K but Zombie Nightmare is just as great even without commentary from Mike and the Bots.  This film features Jon-Mikl Thor, Adam West, Tia Carrere, zombies, and a heavy metal soundtrack that features Girlschool, Virgin Steel, Thor, and Motorhead!  What more do you need?  Jon-Mikl Thor is actually really convincing as the zombie and it’s always interesting to see Adam West play a role straight.  West even gets to be the bad guy here, and he does it without winking at the camera once.

Jon-Mikl Thor followed up Zombie Nightmare with the even better Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare.  He was also the subject of a recent and revealing documentary, I Am Thor, which should be required viewing for anyone who thinks they want to be a star.