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DEATH RACE 2050 (2017) ***

To avoid any confusion, I guess I should tell you straight away that Death Race 2050 is a remake/continuation of Roger Corman’s original Death Race 2000. It is not a sequel to the Paul W.S. Anderson remake, or the DTV sequels that were directed by Roel Reine. As with the original, the racers get points for running over pedestrians. There’s a heavy concentration on black humor and social commentary too. While it’s never consistently successful, the movie was a lot more memorable, goofy, and (oddly enough) endearing than I was expecting.

Looking like a cross between Phil Donahue and a Vegas showgirl, Malcolm McDowell presides over the race as the evil Chairman. All the racers have dumb/slightly amusing gimmicks. The Bible Belt religious fanatic Tammy the Terrorist (Anessa Ramsey) bombs the arena before the race in order to jump out ahead on points. Minerva (Folake Olowofoyeku) is a Lady Gaga/Beyonce type of pop star. Jed Perfectus (Burt Grinstead) is a genetically perfect, but sexually confused racer who dresses like Rocky in a shadow cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Of course, our hero is Frankenstein (Manu Bennet), the (supposedly) misshapen racer who is so mangled he has to wear a mask. Annie (Marci Miller) is his sexy navigator who may or may not be working with the resistance (headed by Yancy Butler) to sabotage the race.

While the racers’ personas have been updated to fit the time, the feeling of the film is very much in the vein of the original. Another update is the fact that the unemployed population gets to live vicariously through the racers using Virtual Reality headsets. There also is a kind of a Hunger Games vibe here as the sportscasters wear outrageous costumes. The cars thankfully are a throwback to the original and would seem more at home in Wacky Races than in Twisted Metal.

The race scenes are appallingly cheap though. The cars are obviously only going about five miles an hour with the film sped up. They mostly are only seen going down narrow streets with bad CGI greenscreen effects substituting for a lot of the other terrain. The CGI gore also looks a bit cheap, but some of the practical intestines, guts, and severed heads look pretty cool.

The good news is that there are plenty of laughs here. There are New Jersey jokes, as well as jokes about Baltimore (which has now been christened “Upper Shitsville”), and some of the futuristic name dropping is really funny. In one scene, someone swears to “Saint Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson”. Some of the gags are recycled from the original, but there’s enough of a twist on them to make it all work.

Bennett is a gruff hero set in the Frank Grillo/Gerard Butler mold. Although he’s probably the fourth best Frankenstein of the Death Race franchise, he’s not bad. The real surprise here is Marci Miller. She captures the same sexy appeal that made Simone Griffeth so wonderful in the original. She also gets the best line of the movie when she tells Frankenstein, “I’m transmitting your smell to millions of people”

HANGAR 18 (1980) *

Hangar 18 is a sci-fi movie in the vein of Capricorn One. As with that film, it’s more of a conspiracy thriller than a legit space flick. At least this one has actual space flight and aliens.

James Hampton and Gary Collins are astronauts whose ship collides with a UFO. They arrive home and find their story has been completely discredited by the government. Meanwhile, NASA head Darren McGavin is fiddling around with the spacecraft in the titular hangar. Gary and James try to head on over there and find out what’s going on when they are pursued by government agents who want to silence them forever.

The scene where the aliens crash into the ship is pretty cool. One of the astronauts loses their head, literally. The sight of the headless corpse and decapitated head floating around in space is the only worthwhile part of this boring slog. After that, it's all downhill from there.

From then on, our time is split between Hampton and Collins eluding agents and Robert Vaughn trying to keep the lid on things. It doesn't help that a talk show host and Teen Wolf’s dad don't make for very good action heroes. You know it’s bad when the usually interesting Vaughn and McGavin aren’t given anything worthy of their talents.

The worst part is the end when the government orders the hangar bombed. It would've been an okay downbeat ‘70s type of ending, except they chicken out at the last second and give you a happy ending. That would’ve been fine if they actually filmed the damned ending. Instead of filming a resolution to the matter we just hear a narrator say everyone survived the blast and the world now knows about aliens. Weak.

AKA: Invasion Force. AKA: Space Connection.

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A HERO’S TEARS (1979) **

A masseur is unhappy in his profession. He’s growing tired of massaging fat guys for little pay. When some customers give him some lip, he starts an all-out brawl in the bathhouse. He quits his job and offers to be a tubby guy’s bodyguard. A hitman comes to kill him and when the masseur sees how badass he is, he lets the fat guy be killed so he can pledge allegiance to the assassin. The masseur winds up going to jail, but eventually escapes with the help of the assassin. Their friendship grows when the masseur meets the hitman’s blind sister. He then agrees to help him get enough money for an operation to make her see again.

A Hero’s Tears has a good rhythm early on. The bathhouse fight is full of guys in tighty-whities getting their asses kicked accompanied by comic sound effects and shots of them landing on each other in compromising positions. As far as comic relief fight scenes go, it’s pretty funny. The novel setting also helps make it stand out from similar comic scenes and it actually contains a laugh or two.

I also appreciated the fact that our hero is more or less a coward. The way he threw the fat guy under the bus was good for a laugh. Sadly, once he begins hanging out with the assassin, the whole thing slows down to a crawl. The stuff with the blind sister is equally sluggish. After that, the movie never recovers.

Some fights scenes have lots of blood and others contain plenty of explosions and smoke bombs. However, nothing can really top that bathhouse scene. Although the fights in the third act are decent (I dug the bit where the assassin chopped a guy’s hand off), they pale in comparison to the opening sequence. It’s not terrible or anything, it’s just that no matter how hard it tries, A Hero’s Tears is never is able to duplicate the momentum (or fun) of the first act.

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FullSizeR (7)

The awesome “King Bootmaster” Jang Lee (Ring of Death) Hwang stars as the evil Silver Fox. He orders the death of a group of men on a raft. The lone survivor manages to float downstream where he is rescued by a kind, but sickly monk. He nurses him back to health and teaches him Kung Fu. After his master’s death, our hero then teams up with a female pickpocket and a crotchety old man (who calls everyone “whippersnappers”) to aid him in his quest for revenge.

Although Hwang played the character of Silver Fox in the Secret Rivals series, it doesn’t appear that he’s playing the same Silver Fox in this one. Since the flick was directed by Godfrey Ho, we can probably assume that he was just cashing in on the name. Speaking of Ho, this is the third Godrey Ho film I’ve watched for this column (after Fist of Golden Monkey and Incredible Shaolin Thunderkick), which makes him the unofficial King of the Thrift Store movies.

Ho gives us a lot of flashbacks, which makes the plot play out a in a more interesting fashion than if it was played straightforward. It’s still not enough to keep it from bogging down during the dialogue sequences. There’s a decent amount of action, and while it’s good as far as Ho is concerned, it never really (pardon the pun) kicks into gear either.

We do get some quality fights though. I liked the fight in the restaurant where our hero throws food in people’s mouths, rips their hair out, and tosses a guy UP the bannister of a staircase. The mean old guy also gets a good training scene where he keeps hitting the pickpocket lady in the face with a spoonful of rice. The best training sequence though comes when our hero uses a scissor kick to chop a tree down. These moments help to keep the flick from being just another Kung Fu flick, but ultimately it’s missing the WTF magic of Ho’s zaniest stuff.

AKA: Eagle Silver Fox. AKA: Flying Martial Arts.

Next time on It Came from the Thrift Store: Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies!

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016) ****

As a habit, I try to post my Top Ten Films of the Year list in January or February to give myself a chance to see everything before I set my list in stone. Wouldn’t you know it, days after doing so; I wind up seeing a movie that surely would’ve had a spot on the list had I saw it sooner. Isn’t it always the way?

Manchester by the Sea is a sad, depressing movie that is often exhilarating to watch solely based on just how much sad and depressing stuff happens. I know that seems odd, but hear me out. We’ve all had hard times. I don’t presume to have it as rough as Casey Affleck has it in this flick, nor would I wish what he goes through in this film on my worst enemy. There is a string of unfortunate circumstances that befalls Affleck’s character that is so awful that it gets to a point where you just have to laugh. In life, you have to play the hand you’re dealt. Many of us would take one look at his hand and fold immediately. Affleck hangs in there though. For a while at least.

I don’t want to spoil just how bad he has it, because the way writer/director Kevin Lonergan reveals his past (courtesy of abrupt flashbacks that sometimes interrupt the action) is one of the best parts of the movie. Some might not like this sort of style, but the skillful way Lonergan holds back vital information from the audience, only to spring everything on them at once is really something. While I can’t say I teared up or anything, I can say I walked away with a lump in my throat.

The gist of things is that Affleck’s brother (Kyle Chandler) dies and names him guardian to his teenage son (Lucas Hedges). They don’t exactly hit it off because they don’t have a lot in common. Getting his brother’s affairs in order is the last thing he wanted to do, and being chained to his nephew is another burden he didn’t need. However, they try to make the best of the situation.

I haven’t lost anyone close to me, so I can’t really say how my grief process works. What I can say is that Manchester by the Sea could almost be used as a training film for dealing with the loss of a loved one. Not only do you get to see some great acting and gorgeous cinematography, you get a step by step guideline about what to do when someone you love dies. You’ve got to call the funeral home, inform loved ones, and visit lawyer offices. Again, this sounds like the most depressing movie in the world, but the notes that Lonergan hits are equally funny as they are poignant.

Seriously, I’ve laughed harder during this movie than I have most comedies I’ve seen this year. It’s not because it’s particularly hilarious, but rather that it’s so true to life that you either have to laugh, or cry, I suppose. The dynamic between Affleck and Hedges is particularly great. Hedges’ character isn’t a bad kid. He’s just a dude trying to get a nut. He sees the arrival of his uncle as a serious damper on his quest to get laid.

I’m not even going to tell you the best parts of the movie. I’d rather you to discover those for yourself. Just know that you’ll probably want a Kleenex or two by the end.

I will get a bit spoiler-ish in this last paragraph, so go ahead and stop reading if you want to go in completely cold to the movie. What I loved is that Casey’s character, Lee doesn’t change in the end. We’ve all seen films like this where the sad sack loser changes his ways and learns a lesson. That moment never comes and the flick ends essentially as it began. What matters is that he TRIED to hang in there. In the end, Lee, as he always does, winds up pushing people away. Affleck deserved the Oscar (although to me, Ryan Gosling should’ve won for The Nice Guys) because no matter how down and out Lee becomes, you still feel for him. That’s a testament to not only Affleck’s acting, but to Lonergan’s writing and directing.

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The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was director Roger Corman’s first film for a major studio. I know people give him a lot of shit for his low budget movies, but this really shows what he was capable of when given a decent script, a healthy budget, and some fine actors. While far from perfect, there are several engrossing scenes and Corman’s almost obsessive attention to detail makes it stand out from the rest of the pack.

It’s a gangster picture that chronicles the rivalry between Al Capone (Jason Robards) and Bugs Moran (Ralph Meeker). When tensions come to a boil, Capone plans to murder Moran. Although he misses his target, he guns down several of Moran’s men. It doesn’t seem like much of an ending, but the narrator (Paul Frees) tells us that this senseless loss of life led to a public outcry, which in turn led to a crackdown on mobsters, so there was a happy ending in there somewhere after all.

Corman uses some interesting techniques to keep the story rolling. Whenever things feel like they’re going to get bogged down with a lot talk, Frees busts in and tells us an unending stream of facts about the various gangsters in the room. It works, mostly because the narration is done in a fun, tongue-in-cheek manner, but also because it gives the flick a cool docudrama feel. Even though the structure is heavy on flashbacks, Corman manages to pull it off nicely. There’s always something happening on screen and the while not all the flashbacks were vital to the plot, they at least lend some flourish to the characters.

Although the plot may twiddle its thumbs a bit too much here and there, the cast keeps you fully engaged. Jason Robards is somewhat miscast as Al Capone, but he does exude a modicum of authority. He gets plenty of scenes where he gets to yell and slam his fist on the dinner table and he seems to be having fun chewing the scenery. George Segal is a bit hard to buy as a tough-talking gangster. While he’s more at home playing the easygoing Everyman, he equips himself as well as can be expected here. Ralph Meeker fares better as Moran. While he isn’t painted as an out-and-out hero, he at least doesn’t overact as much as Robards.

It’s the supporting cast that really grabs you. It’s a veritable who’s who of B movie favorites and Corman’s All-Star players. There’s Bruce Dern, Jack Nicholson, Dick Miller, Jonathan Haze, Dick Bakaylan, Joe Turkel, John Agar, Alex D’Arcy, Alex Rocco, and Charles Dierkop, just to name a few. So even if you find the avalanche of factual data, rapid-fire narration, and constant flashbacks a bit much; you can always entertain yourself by seeing which lovable character actor will show up next.

RETRIBUTION (1987) *

Dennis Lipscomb stars as a meek artist who tries to commit suicide by jumping off the roof of his apartment building. The paramedics are able to bring him back to life and he awakens possessed by the soul of a killer. He also discovers he has odd psychic powers as he makes people's nose bleed, causes coffee cups to spill, and instigates a bus crash. When Lipscomb is asleep, the killer takes over his body and sends him out to get revenge on the people who killed him.

In one scene, he causes a woman to cut her guts out. In another, he telepathically puts a guy in side of beef and sends through a meat slicer. Finally, he forces a mechanic to blowtorch his own hand off before squishing his face with a cherry picker.

There’s an OK idea for a movie in there. Somewhere. Maybe. The big thing is the running time. It’s 107 minutes long. Cut about a half hour of fat away from the picture and you might have something. (The meeting with the Rastafarian voodoo priest could’ve been chucked and no one would’ve noticed.) Then again, you’d still be stuck with Lipscomb’s terrible performance, so probably not. At least it might’ve helped with the leaden pacing.

Director Guy (The Stepfather 3) Magar does offer up a solid opening scene as people in Halloween masks stand around gawking while Lipscomb jumps off the roof. There is almost no dialogue during this sequence, and on its own, might’ve made for an interesting short film. However, the rest of the film is clunky, cheesy, and dull.

Lipscomb is a total wienie in this movie. When he’s not an annoying nerd, he tries to act scary while possessed. All he really does though is grin maniacally and open his green glowing eyes real wide. He’s pretty stupid looking. It’s kinda funny seeing Hoyt Axton as a cop, although he wasn’t in it nearly enough for my liking. The best performance came from Suzanne (Return of the Living Dead 2) Snyder as Lipscomb’s hooker girlfriend. She’s the only bright spot in this otherwise boring, long-winded and forgettable mess.

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MR. NO LEGS (1979) ** ½

D’Angelo (Lloyd Bochner) is a ruthless kingpin that rules the drug trade in Florida with an iron fist. He uses Lou (Ted Vollrath), a tough, wheelchair-bound enforcer for muscle. Lou doesn’t have legs, but he does have a gadget-filled wheelchair that would make 007 envious. Ken (Luke Halpin from Shock Waves) is one of his underlings. When his girlfriend finds out he’s been dealing, he kills her. Lou makes it look like a drug overdose by giving her corpse an injection before killing Ken. Two cops (Richard Jaeckel and Ron Slinker) investigate her murder and decide to bring down D’Angelo’s organization once and for all.

Not only does Mr. No Legs have the allure of seeing the world’s first double-amputee black belt, Ted Vollrath, it’s also worth checking out just because it was directed by Ricou Browning. That’s right, The Creature from the Black Lagoon stayed on dry land just long enough to make himself a low budget action movie. Something tells me he would’ve done better staying underwater. (He also directed episodes of Flipper, which also starred Halpin.)

Mr. No Legs feels cheap in just about every way. Even with big name stars like Richard Jaeckel, John Agar (also in Return of the Creature), and Rance Howard, it still feels like a homegrown low budget action movie. Imagine if William Grefe directed a warped episode of Dragnet and that might give you an idea of what to expect.

The character of Lou is pretty cool. His wheelchair has shotguns hidden in its armrests and compartments that store Ninja stars. The problem is he's not in it nearly enough. It’s mostly about Jaeckel’s investigation, and has less to do with Mr. No Legs running rampant (sorry, bad choice of words). Jaeckel is quite good, but even he can’t carry the entire film.

Despite an erratic pace and being burdened with some unnecessary subplots, Mr. No Legs does occasionally spark to life. There’s a great barroom brawl scene that includes transvestites, cat fights, midgets, and Kung Fu. I also dug the scene in which Slinker goes toe to toe with a sword-slinging henchman.

The movie really belongs to Vollrath who proves he can be just as deadly out of his wheelchair. The scene in which he fights someone and hits them in the face with his... uh... nether regions is a sight to behold. Whenever Vollrath's front and center, the flick is enjoyable in a Crippled Masters meets Miami Connection kind of way. It’s just a shame that the scenes without him are nowhere near as entertaining.

Browning’s staging is just on this side of competent. If he was any worse, Mr. No Legs might have skated by on pure camp alone. As it is, there are a few So-Bad-It’s-Good moments, yet there aren’t enough of them to make it a Grade Z classic. Old pros like Jaeckel and Agar lend the film a touch of class, but the non-professionals in the cast are often good for a laugh. (I admit I cracked up when Slinker’s foreign girlfriend said, “No mo' clock an' daggah stuff!")

Browning does do a good job during the final car chase sequence. Sure, it runs on a bit too long and could’ve benefitted from tighter editing. Still, it features cars jumping bridges, and going through trailers, cardboard boxes, and giant blocks of ice (a cinema first, I believe). So it's got that going for it, I guess.

AKA: Destructor. AKA: The Amazing Mr. No Legs. AKA: Gun Fighter.

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FIVE SUPERFIGHTERS (1979) ***

A man in black pajamas goes around the countryside "correcting" people's Kung Fu. (That is to say he kicks their ass.) When he beats up an old Kung Fu master, his three students vow revenge. They go their separate ways and each find new masters to teach them the skills necessary to defeat the man in black.

Five Superfighters ain’t great, but I’ll say this for it: Hardly five minutes goes by in which a Kung Fu fight doesn't break out. While the fights themselves aren't exactly mind-blowing or anything, they occur with such regularity that it's easy to forgive the sequences that are marred by unfunny comic relief or clumsy staging.

The first act in particular is full of fights. The second act adds several training sequences into the mix while still not skimping on the Kung Fu. The finale is action-packed, but by the time it finally rolls around, you might feel a bit numb from it all.

All of this certainly isn’t boring. While the film is action-packed, the action itself isn’t quite an exemplary representative of the genre. Still, it’s hard to hate a movie that has more fighting than talking. That in itself is worthy of praise. I just wish the fights themselves were real showstoppers instead of placeholders. Since The Video Vacuum motto has always been “quantity over quality”, I can’t give this any less than ***.

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KOOK’S TOUR (1970) **

Kook’s Tour was originally intended as a television special starring The Three Stooges. Unfortunately, Larry suffered a stroke and the film was instead shopped to collectors in the early days of consumer video. While it’s fun to see The Stooges in their final film together, it’s more of a curiosity item than a must-see. Even die-hard Stooges fans will probably get restless during the slow stretches.

The Stooges get tired of poking each other in the eyes and decide to retire. They load up on supplies and take their camper around to various fishing spots in the American wilderness. Both Moe and Curly Joe easily catch a bunch of fish, but poor Larry can't even catch a break.

The gang is noticeably older and slower on the draw. Because of that, there aren’t a lot of physical gags. Their wordplay is rather weak too. We do get a funny bit where Larry rigs a camera up in the woods to photograph some wildlife and winds up getting a picture of a couple necking. It’s The Stooges’ pet dog Moose who steals the show though. In fact, he winds up getting more laughs than they do.

The stuff with the Stooges is OK. Although they are far past their prime, they still seem game. However, the nature stuff is pretty dull. The running time is less than an hour long, but because the second half is really heavy on the travelogue footage (mostly to hide Larry’s absence), it feels much longer. Still, as a swan song to a beloved team, it could’ve been a lot worse.

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FullSizeR (6)

A guy kills his girlfriend’s drunken asshole brother in self-defense and flees the scene of the crime. He then crushes his hand with a rock and vows to never fight again. He gets a job as a dock worker and defends the poor people who try to steal food. When “The Syndicate” moves in, they fire all the dock workers. The workers try to revolt and The Syndicate’s right hand man (Bolo Yeung) kills anyone who messes with them. It’s then up to our fugitive hero to stand up to The Syndicate and take down their muscle-bound bodyguard.

Chinese Hercules suffers from a misleading title. Sadly, Bolo doesn't make like Steve Reeves or Lou Ferrigno and break chains and beat up gladiators and shit. He's just the bad guy’s badass henchman. He’s also pretty good at what he does too. Unfortunately, Bolo doesn't even show up till a half hour into the movie. Even worse, he doesn't kill anyone till it's halfway over. The finale where he decimates dock workers has a kick to it, but it’s a long time coming. If Bolo was front and center more, this could’ve been a classic.

The flick also has an odd structure. The first act with our hero making a vow not to fight is promising and entertaining. He kind of gets pushed to the background though by the time the second act rolls around. This section revolves around the dock workers’ revolt and it’s considerably less enthralling. We get some good action late in the game, but thanks to the ho-hum second act, it never really fires on all cylinders.

AKA: Black Guide. AKA: The Kid from Pier. AKA: Freedom Strikes a Blow.

Next time on It Came from the Thrift Store, we’ll feature another Kung Fu flick, Eagle vs. Silver Fox!

THE CHINESE RING (1947) **

Roland Winters takes over for Sidney Toler as the famous detective, Charlie Chan in this ho-hum entry in the long-running series. When a Chinese princess is found murdered in Chan’s house, he sets out to find the killer. Along the way, Chan learns of a plot involving the smuggling of airplanes and a matter of some missing money. Naturally, more people wind up dead.

Directed by William (Ghosts on the Loose) Beaudine, The Chinese Ring does feature a sturdy set-up. The scene in which the princess is murdered is nicely handled and gets things off on the right foot. Too bad the plot gets increasingly muddled as it goes along and the payoff is so unsatisfactory. Because the pacing is so sluggish, the 67 minute running time feels much longer.

Winters is a bit too low key in his first appearance as Chan. His comic timing isn’t a patch on Sidney Toler or Warner Oland’s and he lacks both men’s screen presence. It also doesn’t help when the snooping reporter and her cop boyfriend get way too much screen time. I guess it would’ve been alright if Mantan Moreland and Victor Sen Young were given more to do. As it is, their comic relief material is noticeably weaker this time around.

Winters does get the best line of the movie though: "Chinese chimpanzee stay out of monkey business."

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MELINDA (1972) *

I’ve sat through a lot of bad Blaxploitation movies in my time, but Melinda is pretty near the bottom of the barrel. I think what’s truly bizarre about it is that is has all the elements necessary to make a classic of the genre. There’s revenge, sex, and a finale jam-packed with Kung Fu. It’s astounding how director Hugh A. Robertson manages to drop the ball at nearly every turn.

The ads said, “YOUR Kind of Black Film!” They sure as shit weren’t talking to me.

Calvin Lockhart stars as an arrogant DJ. One night, he picks up Vonetta McGee at a bar and takes her back to his place to get his freak on. Later, she winds up dead and he sets out to find her killer.

Sounds like all the makings of a good Blaxploitation flick are there, doesn’t it? Robertson never really cashes in on the promise of having a karate-chopping DJ as his lead. I mean you have to wait until the flick is almost over until you get to see any Kung Fu. When we finally do, it’s some of the worst chopsocky you ever saw. Even worse is the fact that you have Jim Kelly (in his film debut) on hand as Lockhart’s teacher and he has virtually nothing to do!

It’s just sad how slow moving and boring half the movie is. What’s even more frustrating is that when something threatens to happen, Robertson immediately pulls back and allows the film to squander any potential promise. Take the ending for example where the villain tosses Lockhart’s woman in a gazebo full of snakes. You’d at least expect the villain to land in there in the end, right? No, instead the bad guy just gets shoved over a (small) garden wall and Lockhart punches him a few times. What’s up with that? Why would you introduce a concept as cool as a gazebo full of snakes and then do NOTHING with it? Heck, no one even gets BITTEN by a snake! The hell?

What’s really wrong is that they never incorporate the hero’s two passions: Music and karate. It would’ve been awesome if he was a DJ who threw sharpened 45s that cut people like Ninja Stars. Or at least have a scene in a record-making factory where he kicks a bad guy into a record press and he says, “You just got remixed!” Do I have to think of everything?

SCREAM FOR HELP (1984) ****

Michael Winner made Scream for Help in between Death Wish 2 and Death Wish 3. If that doesn’t clue you in to how awesome it is, I don’t know what will. Okay, you need more convincing. The score was by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, which at some points sounds exactly like Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page’s score from Death Wish 2 and Death Wish 3. (Not that I'm complaining, mind you, because those scores are awesome.) Okay, you need more convincing. The script is by none other than Tom Holland, who wrote it just before he made Fright Night, and like that film, it features the same kind of likeable teenage lead that grown-ups never seem to believe.

If Death Wish 3 and Fright Night were Winner and Holland’s gym day, Scream for Help was their 90 minutes worth of cardio before hitting the weights.

Christy (Rachael Kelly) thinks her mom’s new husband (David Brooks) is cheating on her. Even when she gathers proof, her mom doesn’t believe her. When she learns that her new stepfather is planning to kill her mom for the inheritance money, Christy takes it upon herself to protect her at all costs.

You could sum up Scream for Help as Nancy Drew vs. The Stepfather, but there’s more to it than that. Like Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Christy is plucky and resourceful. The way she turns the tables on her evil stepfather will make you cheer, and trust me, the insane finale will give you plenty of moments to cheer.

Holland’s script is a nice amalgam. It’s not just a horror movie or a revenge picture or a simple thriller. There are several layers here and you never quite sure where it's gonna go. The build-up to Christy and her stepfather’s confrontation is tense and the finale is a doozy. Does it sometimes call for people to do stupid things in the name of suspense? Absolutely, but when it happens in the name of nasty villains getting their just desserts, I can't complain at all.

Sure, some parts feel like a Lifetime Movie, but since Winner is at the helm, it's all kinds of sleazy. Scream for Help contains lots of gratuitous nudity (there’s a scene where a woman rises from her chair and her boobs pop out of her robe for no reason whatsoever) and mean-spirited violence. That is to say, I loved it.

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MERCENARIES (2014) ** ½

You’ve got to hand it to The Asylum. Sometimes they get so excited to make a rip-off that they jump the gun and make it before the movie they’re ripping off even gets off the ground. Then, while in production, the film winds up being canceled and The Asylum is stuck with… gasp… an original production!

That was the case with Mercenaries. When a female version of The Expendables was announced, The Asylum went ahead and green-lit it. Of course, the female Expendables never got made, so they were left with a movie that ALMOST seems pretty original. (Well, it’s more or less like a female Dirty Dozen, but it’s still pretty cool.)

Brigitte Nielsen is a crazed warlord who kidnaps the President’s daughter. Brigitte is a bit of a loose cannon. Since men make her paranoid, she only trusts female soldiers. That gives a government agent (Cynthia Rothrock) an idea: Assemble an all-female team of female prisoners to infiltrate her “Citadel” and rescue the President's daughter.

Zoe Bell, Kristianna Loken, Vivica A. Fox, and Nicole Bilderback are the members of the team. Each has their unique skill. All the actresses are game and seem to be having fun blowing stuff up and kicking the crap out of people. Rothrock also chews the scenery slyly as the Lee Marvin of the group. The most surprising thing is that Nielsen is excellent as the villainess. She doesn’t phone it in and seems genuinely threatening. The scene where she tries to seduce Bell is among the highlights.

The opening titles are set against a comic book background, which obviously means we’re not supposed to take a second of this seriously. I certainly didn’t and was pleasantly amused most of the time. The recruitment scenes are a lot of fun, as is the scene where the ladies are given their weapons. (I also liked the Escape from New York joke.)

If only the action was handled better. The shootouts are rather limited and suffer from too much slow motion, quick editing, and CGI muzzle flashes. Director Christopher Douglas Olen (Almighty Thor) Ray also drops the ball on the hand-to-hand stuff. Zoe Bell’s scenes in particular fall victim to crummy camerawork and are severely over-edited to boot. At least Ray ends things on a high note as the final Loken/Nielsen/Bell fight is pretty solid.

AKA: Prison Raid. AKA: Expendabelles 3.0.

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DEATH SQUAD (2015) ½ *

Danny Glover sends Stephen Baldwin into the post-apocalyptic wasteland to get the goods on the new regime, ran by Rutger Hauer. When Hauer gets wind of this, he sends in a hit squad (led by Michael Madsen) to take Baldwin out. Baldwin is aided in his quest by a mutant (Neva Leoni), who may be a figment of his imagination. Naturally, Madsen fails and Hauer, who constantly bickers with his second in command (Daryl Hannah), has to go and do the job himself.

The fact that Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, Stephen Baldwin, Rutger Hauer, and Danny Glover are in a post-apocalyptic action movie should be enough to make you want to watch it. However, the cast is the only thing Death Squad has going for it. It’s slow-moving, darkly lit, and the editing and storytelling is nearly incoherent at times.

If you’re going to assemble a cast like this, at least give them more to do. Glover spends all of his screen time at a computer terminal while spouting a helluva lot of narration. Meanwhile Hauer and Hannah stand around and argue while wearing Nazi regalia. Baldwin has slightly more to do as he scuttles around the rubble, getting into scrapes and scavenging for material. Only Madsen is able to breathe life into his character. He gets a great introduction scene when he gets a blowjob in a scuzzy bathroom.

In fact, knowing that you have a cast like this and let them down with a shoddy script, schizophrenic editing, and useless action scenes makes it that much worse. They all deserve way better than this. To quote Gabriel Cash, “This whole thing just fucking sucks!”

AKA: 2047: Sights of Death. AKA: 2047: The Final War.

THE TOP TEN FILMS OF 2016

1. THE NICE GUYS
2. TRAILER TRAUMA 3: 80S HORRORTHON
3. DON’T BREATHE
4. X-MEN: APOCALYPSE
5. LONDON HAS FALLEN
6. BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
7. DEADPOOL
8. THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY
9. ZOOLANDER 2
10. THE ROLLING STONES: HAVANA MOON

RUNNER-UP: KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE

THE 10TH ANNUAL VIDEO VACUUM AWARDS

Well, it’s finally here. It’s time to see who fed it and who ate it this year at the movies. Before we start with the main awards ceremony, here is a list of winners (and losers) for The 2016 Video Vacuum Technical Awards. These awards are given out to films that had no (or at least very little) competition in their respective category. So without further ado:

THE 2016 VIDEO VACUUM TECHNICAL AWARDS

BEST HORROR MOVIE
DON’T BREATHE

WORST HORROR MOVIE
THE BOY

WORST ACTION MOVIE
SKIPTRACE

WORST COMEDY
YOGA HOSERS

WORST VIDEO GAME MOVIE
RATCHET AND CLANK

WORST SEQUEL
FINDING DORY

BEST COMPILATION
TRAILER TRAUMA 3: 80S HORROR THON

BEST KIDS MOVIE
ZOOTOPIA

WORST KIDS MOVIE
FINDING DORY

BEST REMAKE
GHOSTBUSTERS

BEST LIFETIME MOVIE
STALKED BY MY DOCTOR: THE RETURN

Now on with the show!

BEST DIALOGUE

And the nominees are…

BAD SANTA 2 for “DON’T TRY TO BLAME THIS ONE ON THE SNAPPER!”
THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY for “YOU DID IN ONE MINUTE WHAT IT TOOK VOLDEMORT EIGHT MOVIES TO DO!”
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR for “YOU KNOW THAT REALLY OLD MOVIE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK?”
CRIMINAL for “IT’S NOT WORTH THE KERFUFFLE!”
DEADPOOL for “TODAY WAS ABOUT AS MUCH FUN AS A SANDPAPER DILDO! HASHTAG, TRIED IT!”
DON’T BREATHE for “THAT’S MY BITCH IN THERE! OF COURSE I GIVE A FUCK!”
GHOSTBUSTERS for “I HATE TO DeBARGE IN ON YOU!”
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK for “NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE CHARM OF A SEEDY MOTEL!”
LONDON HAS FALLEN for “GO BACK TO FUCK-HEAD-ISTAN!”
THE NICE GUYS for “MARRIAGE IS BUYING A HOUSE FOR SOMEONE YOU HATE. REMEMBER THAT.”
POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING for “YOU LOOK LIKE MATTHEW MODINE WITH A PEANUT ALLERGY!”
SHARKANSAS WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE for “KEEP THAT UP AND YOU’LL BE PLAYING POCKET POOL WITH NO BALLS!”
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS for “WHAT WOULD VIN DIESEL DO?”
31 for “WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN ONION AND A WHORE? I CRY WHEN I CUT ONIONS!”
ZOOLANDER 2 for “JACK RYAN AND JACK REACHER! IT’S GOING TO BE A REAL JACK-OFF!”

And the winner is… THE NICE GUYS for “MARRIAGE IS BUYING A HOUSE FOR SOMEONE YOU HATE. REMEMBER THAT.”

BEST FIGHT

And the nominees are…

BATMAN V SUPERMAN in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
THE SUPERHERO ROYAL RUMBLE in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
COLOSSUS VS. ANGEL DUST in DEADPOOL
DONNIE YEN VS. MIKE TYSON in IP MAN 3
KURT SLOANE VS. TONG PO in KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE

And the winner is… THE SUPERHERO ROYAL RUMBLE in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

BEST SEQUEL

And the nominees are…

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
LONDON HAS FALLEN
TRAILER TRAUMA 3: 80S HORRORTHON
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE
ZOOLANDER 2

And the winner is: TRAILER TRAUMA 3: 80S HORRORTHON

BEST COMIC BOOK MOVIE

And the nominees are…

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
DEADPOOL
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

And the winner is… X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

BEST COMEDY

And the nominees are…

BAD SANTA 2
THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY
DEADPOOL
THE NICE GUYS
ZOOLANDER 2

And the winner is… THE NICE GUYS

BEST DTV/VOD MOVIE

And the nominees are…

BLOOD FATHER
I AM WRATH
IP MAN 3
KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE
SHARKANSAS WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE

And the winner is… KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE

BEST ACTION MOVIE

And the nominees are…

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
DEADPOOL
KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE
LONDON HAS FALLEN
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

And the winner is… X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

BEST ACTRESS

And the nominees are…

MORENA BACCARIN in DEADPOOL
GAL GADOT in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
KATE McKINNON in GHOSTBUSTERS
CHRISTINE NGUYEN in SHARKANSAS WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE
MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

And the winner is… MORENA BACCARIN in DEADPOOL

BEST ACTOR

And the nominees are…

BEN AFFLECK in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
KEVIN COSTNER in CRIMINAL
MICHAEL FASSBENDER in X-MEN: APOCALYPSE
RYAN GOSLING in THE NICE GUYS
RYAN REYNOLDS in DEADPOOL

And the winner is… RYAN GOSLING in THE NICE GUYS

BEST DIRECTOR

And the nominees are…

SHANE BLACK for THE NICE GUYS
TIM MILLER for DEADPOOL
BABEK NAJAFI for LONDON HAS FALLEN
BRYAN SINGER for X-MEN: APOCALYPSE
BEN STILLER for ZOOLANDER 2

And the winner is… SHANE BLACK for THE NICE GUYS

WORST MOVIE

And the nominees are…

THE BOY
FIFTY SHADES OF BLACK
FINDING DORY
MAGGIE’S PLAN
YOGA HOSERS

And the LOSER is… YOGA HOSERS

BEST MOVIE

And the nominees are…

DON’T BREATHE
LONDON HAS FALLEN
THE NICE GUYS
TRAILER TRAUMA 3: 80S HORRORTHON
X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

And the winner is… THE NICE GUYS!

Thanks to everyone who visits the site, buys my books, and keeps up with me here, on Twitter, and Facebook. In case you’re wondering, here’s a list of the previous years’ Best Movie winners…

2007: GRINDHOUSE
2008: RAMBO
2009: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
2010: PIRANHA 3-D
2011: HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN
2012: THE EXPENDABLES 2
2013: MACHETE KILLS
2014: A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES
2015: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

HORNS (2014) **

A young man (Daniel Radcliffe) is accused of brutally murdering his girlfriend (Juno Temple) and no one in town believes him. One day, he mysteriously grows a pair of horns on his head, which makes everyone he comes in contact with confess their darkest secrets. He then uses his new power to find the real murderer.

Daniel Radcliffe does a good job at putting Harry Wizard behind him and finding a more adult role to play. His performance is probably the best thing about this muddled adaptation of the Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son) novel directed by Alexandre (The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha remakes) Aja. You can’t fault Radcliffe for trying to get out of the kid star shadow. One thing is for sure, no one will mistake him for that wizarding whiz kid in this.

The film contains a good idea. I liked the idea of random people confessing their most twisted sins to our hero. The problem is there’s enough plot here for two movies. Using this power to find a murderer just seemed like overkill, especially when the interrogation scenes are so damn repetitive.

Speaking of overkill, there’s more subplots here than you can shake a stick at. All the flashbacks to Radcliffe’s youth didn’t work at all and seemed more like something Hill’s dad would write than a logistical extension of the story. I didn’t get the whole subplot with the snakes either. The third act goes on way too long too. I mean there was no reason this needed to be two hours long. Chop out a couple of the snake scenes and trim the final confrontation down to one scene instead of three and you might’ve had something there.

The supporting cast is stellar. I mean any movie that has James Remar AND David Morse in it is going to have my complete attention. Toss in Juno Temple having another quality nude scene and you have the makings for a terrific flick. Sadly, it just kinda shits the bed at the halfway mark and wallows in its own filth for too long.

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LOVE CAMP 7 (1969) ** ½

Love Camp 7 was the first Naziploitation movie. Being the first of its kind, it seems relatively tame in comparison to what came later. You can tell they hadn’t worked all the bugs out yet. Still, it delivers enough exploitation goods to make it rank slightly higher than a mere curiosity piece.

The film was the brainchild of director Lee Frost and screenwriter Bob Cresse, who had previously worked on the terrific nudie-cutie, House on Bare Mountain. It was produced by the legendary David F. (Blood Feast) Friedman, who also has a role as a Nazi colonel. Friedman, of course, would later go on to make definitive Naziploitation movie, Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS. While Love Camp 7 isn’t nearly as good as that one, it remains an important stepping stone for the genre.

Two American female soldiers are sent undercover to a Nazi Love Camp where women are forced into prostitution to pleasure soldiers against their will. They have to find a woman held prisoner there who has vital information about one of their secret experiments. Once inside the camp, they are subjected to hosings, body cavity searches, torture, boot licking, bondage, and orgies.

The awkward flashback structure does the film a great disservice. The present day scenes only act as padding and since they don’t feature any T & A or B & D, they’re pretty useless. Another debit is the fact that we keep hearing about all these disgusting Nazi experiments, but we never get to see any of them. Because of this, the movie works better as a Women in Prison picture than as an outright Naziploitation flick.

Oh sure, there’s still plenty of nudity and assorted sadism to be found. In fact, the film goes along at a steady clip until about the third act. It’s here where things devolve into a series of interchangeable unsexy sex scenes of women struggling underneath grungy guards. Despite its flaws, you still have to tip your cap to Love Camp 7 for blazing the trail for an entire genre.

AKA: Nazi Love Camp 7.

We lost Herschell Gordon Lewis last year and it was a terrible blow to the exploitation world. In Frank (Frankenhooker) Henenlotter’s documentary, you can see how truly funny and self-deprecating he was. What’s great about the film is that you can now see how that personality carried over to his films. He knew the movies he was making weren’t high art, but you can see his distinct vision in every single one of his pictures. Lewis made them for a certain type of audience and that audience definitely appreciated them.

I loved that nearly a half hour was spent on his nudie-cutie movies. This segment is quite interesting as it is here where his relationship with producer David F. Friedman is formed. Working as a two-man crew, they convinced several women to disrobe and talked their way into filming at various nudist camps in order to make their films.

The best part of course focuses on their infamous gore trilogy. A lot of time is spent on the making of Blood Feast and the scenes of Lewis and Friedman revisiting locations for 2000 Maniacs (many of which still look the same) is really cool. After Color Me Blood Red, they had a falling out, and the two went their separate ways. Lewis became a gun for hire making a bunch of varied films from horror (A Taste of Blood) and drug (Something Weird) films, to hillbilly (Moonshine Mountain) and biker (She-Devils on Wheels) movies. After a return to the gore genre with The Wizard of Gore and The Gore-Gore Girls, he retired and went into direct market sales.

I’m glad Lewis was alive long enough to film this. Henenlotter shows all sorts of love and appreciation for the man as this is about as spot-on of a tribute as one could hope for. Just hearing him sit around and tell stories about the making of the films would’ve been enough, but it’s the care and heart that went into the feature that really shines through. It was also cool seeing snippets of his unfinished film An Eye for an Eye too, along with several outtakes from a variety of his pictures. Although not all of his features are covered (I would’ve liked to have seen Lewis’ brief flirtation with hardcore porn discussed), this is an essential documentary that any exploitation movie fan worth their salt needs to see.

BLOODRAGE (1980) **

A young man tries to get it on with a hooker. When he accidentally kills her, he takes off for the big city. There, he prowls the streets for more strippers, whores, or anyone he considers to be worthy of killing (or unworthy of living as the case may be). Meanwhile, a concerned cop, who was one of the hooker’s regular clients, searches for the killer.

Bloodrage is barely eighty minutes long. However the pacing is so sluggish that it often feels much longer. Director Joseph Zito (who used the alias “Joe Bigwood”) would go on to bigger and better things (like Friday the 13th Part 4), but if you squint hard enough you can see him developing his style here. The location work is often great and you get a real sense of the scummy New York streets. Zito also gives you a lot of atmosphere as the grimy fleabag apartments and sleazy strip clubs feel pretty spot-on.

The blood and gore is minimal. The opening (mostly) accidental death has the most blood of any of the kills. From then on, the deaths mostly revolve around strangulations, which is a bit disappointing. Another debit is that the killer is totally nonthreatening. He seems like a nerd in an ‘80s teen comedy than a legitimate psycho. Plus, the delivery of his Taxi Driver-esque narration falls a little flat. Still, Zito does manage to work some magic here and there. He also tosses in enough skin to keep you awake throughout the slower passages of the film.

The best part though is the ending. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but it is one of the most abrupt, fitting, and hilarious endings of a horror movie I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if it’s worth sitting through the previous seventy-nine minutes and fifty seconds to get to that ten-second bit, but I sure laughed my ass off.

AKA: Never Pick Up a Stranger. AKA: Psycho-Ripper.

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PHANTASM: RAVAGER (2016) **

While it’s good seeing Reggie Bannister battling balls again after an eighteen year absence, the latest (and presumably final) Phantasm movie suffers from a cheap look and irritating structure. Even though Phantasms 3 and 4 were low budget Direct to Video affairs, they at least looked legit. Sure, Ravager looks better than, say a DTV Hellraiser sequel, but it’s sorely lacking the dreamy lyricism that director Don Coscarelli brought to the franchise. (New director David Hartman is no Don Coscarelli.)

The overall structure of the film is the most annoying aspect. You see, Reggie is suffering from dementia and kinda forgets where he is at times. Sometimes he’s on a desert highway running away from psycho spheres. Other times, he’s in a rest home, lost and confused. His buddy Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) comes by for daily visits and Reggie tells him stories about their past exploits to keep his memory fresh. One worrying thing: His bunkmate looks suspiciously like The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm). Is he really suffering from a debilitating mental illness, or is this just a ploy by The Tall Man to make him let his guard down?

The film goes back and forth between Reggie in the home to flashbacks of him on the road shooting balls. There are also nightmare sequences, flashbacks inside of flashbacks, and dreams inside of flashbacks so you never really know what’s going on. It’s kind of hard to care too. It’s frankly, a goddamn mess in just about every way.

The scenes of Reggie kicking ass, despite the shoddy CGI ball effects and crummy editing, still have a slight kick to them. I’m not going to lie. I cheered when he first appeared on screen. Too bad the movie doesn’t give you more to cheer about.

Same goes for Angus Scrimm as The Tall Man. While it’s great seeing him in the suit for one final time (this was his final film before his passing), he’s not in it enough. When he does appear, he’s not given very much to do, except say repetitive dialogue about how he could kill Reggie right now, but he won’t.

Near the end, there’s a cool tease that suggests the world has ended and everyone lives in sort of a Terminator-inspired post-apocalyptic wasteland. Although it’s undermined by some weak special effects, the idea is intriguing. The stuff with the giant balls leveling cities is awesome, but unfortunately the budget only allowed us to see about five seconds of it, which is bullshit. When we finally find out what the fuck is going on, it’s supposed to be touching I guess, but it feels more like a cop-out than anything.

I thought Part 4 (which utilized deleted scenes from the original as dreams and repressed memories) was a mess. This one is even more of a hodgepodge. Apparently, it started life as mini-web series or something and then the footage was taken and expanded for feature length using elements of Roger Avary’s aborted abandoned big budget remake. Don’t get me wrong. There is some cool stuff here. If you ever wanted to see one of the balls kill a horse, then this is the movie for you. Ultimately, Ravager just jerks the audience around too much to be completely enjoyable.

FIST FIGHT (2017) ***

Fist Fight takes place in a school where nearly all the teachers are being fired because of budget cuts. Charlie Day stars as a teacher who just wants to get through the last day of school with his job intact. When it comes to losing his job or snitching on a fellow teacher (Ice Cube) who threatened his students, he gleefully snitches. Then the other teacher challenges him to a fight in the parking lot at the end of the day. The rest of the flick has to do with Day’s increasingly desperate ploys to get out of the fight.

I think a lot of people can identify with Day in this. He’s got a pregnant wife at home and doesn’t want to disappoint his young daughter either. I think we can all relate to someone who wouldn’t dream of rocking the boat and would rather worm their way out of a conflict than to get involved with someone else’s affairs. Because so much of the movie rests on Day’s capable shoulders, it works.

Day is basically the straight man to all the other teachers who are seen as psychotic (Cube), clueless (Tracy Morgan), or downright creepy (Jillian Bell). The students are no better as they run rampant through the school, with the administrators incapable of doing anything about it. There are also a few sly jabs at the education system here too as everyone in the administration seems to not give a shit about any of the teachers’ problems.

The film more or less feels like a remake of Three O’Clock High, but with teachers instead of students. It doesn’t reach the surreal heights of that flick, but it is a solid comedy and a good vehicle for both stars. If there is a flaw, it’s that they never go all in and make Ice Cube an out-and-out bad guy. I think it would’ve worked better if he was a total heel. Since the message of the movie is that Day finally stands up for himself, it would’ve meant more when he finally lands his first punch. As it is, Cube is just a guy like Day who’s reached his breaking point. It’s just that he lashes out in a different way.

The final fight is pretty funny. It’s a long drag-out deal. Since Cube is a lot more physically intimating, Day has to resort to using staplers, books, and fire extinguishers to defend himself.

In the end, it’s all harmless and likeable. I do kind of wish they embraced the R rating a bit more and went all out. Still, there’s plenty of good stuff here and fans of both stars should walk away happy.

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THE GREAT WALL (2017) ***

They should’ve called The Great Wall Good Will Monster Hunting as it features Matt Damon acting like Legolas and bow-and-arrowing monsters from atop a giant wall for two hours. It’s about as good as a mid-range Hobbit movie too. There’s a nice sense of world-building and a handful of clever, if not stunning action sequences.

Damon plays a white “trader” looking for gunpowder who stumbles upon the Great Wall of China and finds himself in the midst of an ongoing battle between the local yokels and an evil alien race. Every sixty years, the beasts go out and forage fresh meat for their Queen. Of course, Matty Boy just so happened to show up on their doorstep right on year sixty. Since he’s handy with a bow, he figures he’ll stick around and fight until he can find their stash of gunpowder. It’s not until he begins to respect the people’s leader (Tian Jing) that he learns to give up his mercenary ways and fight for a cause worth fighting for.

I admired the way director Zhang Yimou choreographed the action. You have to appreciate the way he organizes the hundreds of extras (only some of which are CGI) and executed the massive battle sequences. Like his film Hero, there’s a real vibrant use of color (all the soldiers belong to color-coordinated regimens) and the cinematography is often breathtaking.

What the monsters lack in personality, they make up for in sheer number. Think the bugs from Starship Troopers and that might give you an idea of what we’re dealing with. I also have to praise the editors of the film’s trailers on their restraint. Most of what you saw of the monsters only happens in the first fifteen minutes or so of the movie. The flick has a lot more monster-mashing up its sleeve, and I for once appreciated the fact that they held back on showing much of the monster battles in the previews.

Throughout the film, I kept thinking that this is what The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies wanted to be. It’s a siege movie with long, sustained battle sequences with just enough plot to keep it all together until you get to the next monster fight. I liked the back-and-forth between Damon and Jing. Although Matt is miscast, he’s not bad and equips himself in this kind of tomfoolery rather well.

The real reason to see The Great Wall is for the 3-D. This is one of the rare instances where the filmmakers took great care into the 3-D effects. I’d imagine that if you saw this on cable a year from now, it might feel a bit ho-hum. However, if you see it on the biggest screen possible with the best 3-D system available, you’ll be in for a treat. There are more 3-D effects here than in the last two years’ worth of 3-D movies combined. I’m sure I missed a few of them, but here’s a litany of stuff that comes screaming towards your eyeballs throughout the picture:

• 3-D Arrow
• 3-D Acrobatic Warrior
• 3-D Female Breastplate
• 3-D Spear
• 3-D Ring
• 3-D Monster
• 3-D Gaping Monster Maul
• 3-D Platform
• 3-D Rope
• 3-D Harpoon
• 3-D Lantern
• 3-D Chain
• 3-D Axe
• 3-D Axe (again)
• 3-D Arrow (again)
• 3-D Ash
• 3-D Exploding Monster Chunks
• 3-D Magnet
• 3-D Hot Air Balloon
• 3-D Arrow (again)
• 3-D Spear (again)
• 3-D Matt Damon (not as good as the 3-D Zip-Lining Milla Jovovich from Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, but still pretty sweet)

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WAVELENGTH (1983) * ½

Wavelength is a potentially intriguing, but boring as hell hybrid of sci-fi movie and conspiracy thriller. The lead singer of The Runaways, Cherie Currie plays a semi-psychic who is getting weird vibes from a nearby underground government facility. She and her musician boyfriend Robert Carradine go and check it out and find that some government stooges have three alien beings locked up for observation. Cherie and Robert then take it upon themselves to break the little E.T.’s out and return them to their mother ship.

Things start off well enough. I liked the chemistry between Currie and Carradine, and Keenan Wynn was pretty funny as their crotchety prospector neighbor. The shots of the aliens hibernating in their pods are eerie and effective too.

Once Currie and Carradine arrive at the facility, things come to a screeching halt. It’s here where the focus shifts from the two likeable leads to a bunch of generals and scientists debating endlessly about what to do with not only the aliens, but the two snooping trespassers. You’d think that once they bust the little green guys out of the lab, the film would pick up steam, but the opposite happens. Basically, they just wander around with three naked alien pre-teens in tow for a good half hour or so until the anticlimactic moment when they finally get sent back home.

Most of the movie is just too boring to really keep you interested. Even when something happens, nothing really, you know, happens. The only thing the droning Tangerine Dream soundtrack is good for is to help put you to sleep. You can try to keep yourself awake by playing a little game I like to call “Spot the Visible Boom Mike”. Other than that, they should’ve called it Close Encounters of the Turd Kind.

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DEADLY EYES (1983) **

Rats eat grain infused with steroids and grow to enormous size. After the health department orders the tainted grain burned, the rats scurry into the city to find a new food supply. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that they’re going to start eating people. A health department worker (Murder by Phone’s Sara Botsford) and a high school basketball coach (Sam Groom) try to put a stop to the ravenous rodents before they can take over the city.

It's nice to know that twenty-four years after The Killer Shrews, filmmakers were using the same special effects methods to create giant killer rats. Of course I'm talking about dressing up puppies in rat costumes. If you couldn’t already guess, the “rats” in this movie look fucking terrible. (Piss-poor hand puppets were used for the close-ups.)

Because of the cheesy effects, director Robert (Enter the Dragon) Clouse botches most of the rat scenes. The sequence where the rats kill a toddler in a high chair would’ve been deeply disturbing, if not downright objectionable, if the rats didn't look so awful. The other attack scenes (which take place in a bowling alley and a subway) lack… (ahem)… bite.

Clouse does score one awesome sequence that almost makes the whole thing worthwhile. That’s the sequence where the rats take over a packed movie theater (that just so happens to be showing Clouse’s Game of Death). This scene is a real hoot and features lots of carnage. Not only do the rat puppets chow down on lots of moviegoers, the ensuing panic results in people being trampled and thrown through plate glass windows by other hysterical theater patrons. It’s a shame the rest of the movie isn’t as fun.

Groom makes for a bland hero. He has no chemistry with Botsford, but at least their lousy love story subplot pays off with a topless sex scene. You also have to feel for poor old Scatman Crothers. One year he’s getting killed by Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Three years go by and he’s getting killed by puppies dressed up like rats in this.

The adorable Lisa (The Man Who Wasn’t There in 3-D) Langlois is the only bright spot in the cast. She plays a sexy student who has a crush on Groom. Even though her scenes are written like a bad After School Special, she remains a vivacious presence in an otherwise middling movie.

AKA: Rats. AKA: Night Eyes.

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PUNK VACATION (1990) *

A punk kills a store owner when the soda machine won't pay him back his forty cents. His gang also assaults his youngest daughter, leaving her in a catatonic state. When the oldest daughter goes out for revenge, she is kidnapped by the punks and her deputy boyfriend has to rescue her.

Punk Vacation is a long 90 minutes. It moves at snail’s pace and isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds. After it’s all over, you’ll feel like you’ll need a vacation.

The back and forth between punks and the cops is especially dull. There’s no tension whatsoever and the punks never once feel like a legitimate threat. It also doesn’t help that the cops are pretty much completely useless. (The boyfriend only catches the ringleader of the gang because he accidentally runs over his motorcycle.)

Also, there’s not nearly enough violence and absolutely no sex. I don’t think it’s rated, but it could’ve easily gotten a PG-13 rating, if not a PG. It desperately needed more exploitation elements to keep it afloat.

The third act is the worst. It’s here where a bunch of rednecks join the pursuit. Now the audience has to follow three groups of idiots traipsing around the wilderness instead of two. The ending is a total bust. They couldn’t even afford to show the villainess getting shot, so they just freeze frame a picture of her on her motorcycle, add in the sound effect of a gunshot, and fade to red. It’s the pits.

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BLINDMAN (1972) ***

Sometimes you just have to hear a couple of key phrases that make you want to see a movie. With Blindman, all I saw were the words “Spaghetti Western” and “Ringo Starr” and I immediately knew I wanted to watch it. Fortunately for me, it’s actually pretty good. It’s a terrific vehicle for Tony Anthony, who would go on to reunite with director Ferdinando Baldi for the equally great Comin’ At Ya! a decade later.

Anthony plays the blind man was about to escort fifty mail order brides to their rightful owners when his partner stole them under his nose (he is blind after all) and sold them into white slavery. The blind man then has to go find the girls and get them back.

Tony Anthony is awesome as the blind man. His rifle doubles as a walking stick and he uses his horse like a seeing-eye dog. There’s a fun scene where he gets all fifty women back and as he’s making his getaway on a train, he’s mortified to touch their faces and discover that they are the wrong women (and old and ugly to boot).

Like all the great Spaghetti Westerns, there’s a scene where our hero gets the snot kicked out of him by the bad guys, but comes back tougher than ever. It also contains a memorable score by Stelvio (Twitch of the Death Nerve) Cipriani and some great cinematography by Riccardo (Lady Frankenstein) Pallottini. The fifty women in the cast also provide a heck of a lot of nudity, so the flick is almost always easy on the eyes (sorry, blind man).

The only reason I wanted to check it out was for Ringo. He actually does a good job playing the villain’s hotheaded brother. I also liked the scene after he got killed where his grief-stricken brother tried to force a woman to marry Ringo’s corpse!

The real reason to see it though is for Tony Anthony. It’s a shame he didn’t make more movies because he’s a total badass in this. I wish this had been an ongoing series, kind of like the Zatoichi films. It would’ve also been cool seeing him go up against John, Paul, and George at some point.

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THE SLAYER (1982) * ½

An artist is having weird dreams about a monster. She tells her boyfriend about it, but he doesn't believe her (or care). They plan a trip with another couple to a remote island to get away from it all. Of course, the house just so happens to be the one from her dreams. Before long, people start dying one by one.

The Slayer belongs in the subgenre of horror films I like to refer to as a Looking movie. It is almost exclusively filled with long scenes of people wandering around darkened hallways looking for other people. After an extended period of looking (which may or may not be interrupted by a false scare), they are eventually killed.

It also belongs to the Pitch Black subgenre. No, this has nothing to do with Vin Diesel. It means that the cinematography and lighting are so bad that whole scenes are filmed in near darkness. Often, it’s hard to tell just what the hell is going on, which makes matters even more frustrating.

The Slayer is also a 3 Second movie. No, I don’t mean that it’s so quickly paced that it feels like it’s over in three seconds. Quite the opposite. No, what I mean is that it features a pretty cool monster, but you only see it for literally three seconds in the whole 86 minute running time. Talk about a complete rip-off. On the plus side, the monster is shown prominently on the video box, so if you looked at the box for more than five seconds, you’ve already seen the monster more than you will in the entire film.

Adding insult to injury, The Slayer is also one of those It Was All a Dream movies. That’s right. You get jerked around for an hour and a half only to find out the chick had been dreaming the whole time. I could’ve been asleep this whole time too, lady.

The good news is that the kills are rather gory. One guy gets his head bashed in pretty good. There are also deaths via fishing rod, pitchfork, and flare gun. The coolest scene though happens when our heroine wakes up next to her boyfriend and begins kissing him, only to realize he’s nothing more than a severed head. This of course is revealed to be nothing but a (you guessed it) dream, which kinda sucks.

Writer/director J.S. Cardone later went on to write the Prom Night and Stepfather remakes.

AKA: Nightmare Island.

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