Cult Classic : Barbarians

If you enjoy bad but fun sword and sorcery B-films, then Cannon Films’ 1987 romp “Barbarians” is for you. In it, two twin barbarians (played by the Razzie-nominated David and Peter Paul) who have been manipulated to kill each other instead face off against the great Richard Lynch. This film, which is from the director of “Cannibal Holocaust,” features good production values and music by Pino Donaggio. More importantly, it appears to have inspired the “Golden Axe” video game series, with many scenes resembling the games and the twin brothers frequently wielding axes. The “Barbarian Brothers” can’t act but are really something,This movie can be found on a double bill DVD with Lee Majors and Cornel Wilde in “The Norseman.” Good times!

It Comes at Night : C+

 

Looking for an edge-of-your-seat horror winner? Look elsewhere. However, if you’re looking for a little food for thought, then “It Comes at Night” is not a total failure. The film deals with an outbreak of a deadly virus, possibly smallpox. Nobody seems to really know what it is or how it spreads, but fear and mistrust runs rampant. The film deals with two families whose paths cross in a desolate, apocalyptic future.

There are some good things about this film. The actor playing the 17-year old son is real good. Also, the atmosphere and tension are palpable. The problem is that the film refuses to give the audience information that it needs. Without knowing if the characters’ fears are baseless or valid, it becomes impossible to know how to react to the characters’ decisions. Also, the film concludes with an irritating non-ending that, judging by a sudden change in aspect ratio, may be the young, sick protagonist’s dream.

While I would definitely hesitate to call this a bad horror film, it’s just not a very entertaining one. Also the star, the edgy Joel Edgerton, is wasted here in an unsympathetic role. This film could have really amounted to something. However, in its current form, it’s kind of a waste. Go see something else more uplifting, like almost any film ever made. By the way, the title is meaningless

Alien 3 : Underrated

“Alien: Covenant” inspired me to re-watch the third and fourth “Alien” films. “Alien Resurrection,” the fourth one, did nothing for me but I really love “Alien 3.” As a stand-alone film, it is one of the most frightening and despairing films I have ever seen. The first film by the great director David Fincher (“Seven,” “Fight Club”), it finds Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) crashed into a prison planet, with her friends Newt and Hicks (from “Aliens”) dead. There was an egg on her ship, and now the Alien is haunting the prison planet. Can she stop the alien and save humanity? Is this the bleakest film ever made? I’d vote for the most underrated.

The script’s decision to make vile prisoners protagonists caused much audience derision, but it makes for a fascinating film. Also interesting is the film’s cinematography and production design, which create images that will singe their way into your brain. The music by Elliot Goldenthal is highly memorable and marked his big break as a composer of blockbusters. Finally, Groin Hall of Famer Charles Dance gives a great performance as Clemons, as does Charles S. Dutton as the most complex of the convicts. Whether you’re watching the Theatrical Cut or the extended, more coherent 2003 Assembly Cut, “Alien 3” is a powerful, ambitious film that is far better than it is given credit for. David Fincher, take another look at your film: it’s great! (He disowned it.) Much better than “Gone Girl”!

Wasteland B Movie Classics

Picked up the Roger Corman double feature of “Deathsport” and “Battletruck” this week. “Deathsport” is a follow-up of sorts to “Death Race 2000” starring David Carradine, Claudia Jennings, and Richard Lynch. It’s about a deadly futuristic sport involving flaming motorcycles, lasers, and much mayhem. The film doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s a lot of fun and is from the director of “Rock and Roll High School” and “Caddyshack 2.” The director contributes an hilarious audio commentary.

“Battletruck,” also known as “Warlords of the 21st Century,” is a “Mad Max” type film starring Michael Beck from “The Warriors” about a lawless, oil-deprived future in which the Battletruck, possibly the coolest vehicle I’ve ever seen, reigns supreme. This flick has very little plot but is very well made from a director who went on to make “Black Moon Rising” with Tommy Lee Jones, which is also about a vehicle.

There’s not too much to say about these two films except that they’re good B-pictures. Claudia Jennings gets naked in “Deathsport” and David Carradine kicks ass. Richard Lynch is always the best villain, I want to own the “Battletruck,” and live in New Zealand, where that film was shot. This two-pack is available on DVD for around $10 and is a good deal.

Beyond the Gates: Cheesy Fun

Are you a fan of “Stranger Things” and “Jumanji”? Have you always wondered if there is more to board games than meet the eye? Welcome to “Beyond the Gates,” an entertaining and sometimes frightening low budget horror film that won the Audience Award at the 2016 Los Angeles film festival.

This film concerns 2 adult brothers whose father disappeared a decade ago who discover a strange board game he was playing before he died. Titled “Beyond the Gates,” of course, the game is an elaborate, mysterious concoction that threatens your mind, body, and soul and takes you to another dimension. In order to survive, you must listen to the game master (played on videotape by Barbara Crampton from “Re-Animator”) and win the game. The two brothers (who are hoping to save their dad from the other dimension( and their friends are affected by the game, and there will be much confusion and weirdness, a body count, blood and gore, and an ending that may not be what the viewer will expect.

I thought this movie was excellent, primarily because of its great premise and unpredictability. The actors are fine and the special effects are good. It’ll make you think twice about playing a board game! It is currently streaming on Netflix and is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Re: Autopsy of Jane Doe

If you’re disheartened by the overly commercial movies being put out by Hollywood and you like horror, I’ve got a movie for you. “The Autopsy of Jane Doe,” starring Emile Hirsch and Brian (Hannibal Lector in “Manhunter”) Cox, is a small-scale but very frightening experience. It is about a farther (Cox) and son (Hirsch) who work at a mortuary, and their new patron, “Jane Doe,” has died a very unusual death, and they can’t figure out what killed her. Is she even dead

This film has two things going for it: great acting and an incredible sense of mystery, atmosphere, and dread. Brian Cox delivers his best performance in years as the father, a decent man with dark secrets. The director, who made “Trollhunter,” has a field day with the possibly haunted mortuary. Not only do we get jump scares galore, but also some truly disgusting and disturbing scenes. It all builds to a satisfying, dark conclusion.

In short, “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” is a good sleeper horror film. Rent or stream it and turn off all the lights. You will definitely be scared!

Guardians is a Hoot

I assumed I would never like a movie with a talking raccoon, but “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a blast. The secret, I think, is in the casting. I am not a big fan of Chris Pratt, but he is perfect as Starlord in both films. Zoe Saldana is also good, but the show is continually stolen by Bradley Cooper as a foul-mouthed talking raccoon. Throw in Dave Bautista and Vin Diesel as the voice of Baby Groot and you have a cast of outcast heroes worth cheering.

I liked this film better than the first because of the cast being so much fun to watch. Not only do we get Sylvester Stallone and (in a memorable role) Kurt Russell, but Michael Rooker gets to be the hero. The 3-D, surprisingly, is very good, and the film never seems stuck in Marvel Movie Formula. In short, the film is a hoot and will probably make a gazillion dollars. And, yes, Stan Lee and Howard T. Duck make brief appearances.

A Decent Circle

The new movie “The Circle” has the unearned reputation from critics and audiences of being a bomb. It’s a smart thriller that plays against audience expectations. Going in, we know that Emma Watson has to be the heroine and Tom Hanks, as a Steve Jobs-type guru, must be the villain. However, neither character behaves according to type, which has caused many people to say the film makes no sense. I urge people to reconsider. This movie is about people who are in the public limelight 24/7. Because the main characters are in the limelight all the time, there is no way they can tip off that their modus operandi may be masking deeper motivations and secrets. As a result, it is a genuine surprise when the characters are unmasked at the end as not being what they seem. If the director had played everything straight and square, with characters behaving in a more understandable way, the point of the movie would have been lost. The film is about how technology forces us to react in unnatural ways.

That established, this is a good movie, much better than “Fate of the Furious” and “Beauty and the Beast.” It asks important questions about technology, privacy, and where we are today and where we are headed. The music, directing, performances, and cinematography are first-rate. Most importantly, it tells you that if a company asks you to be monitored by millions 24 hours a day without big pay, just say no. See “The Circle” to see that the future is now.

Sci-Fi Roundup

This movie is not the Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence jail comedy. Its about a crew fighting a killer amoeba. Although the overall quality of films the last five or ten years has spiked downward, sci-fi has spiked upward in quality with some wonderful films that haven’t gotten the attention they deserve. The current film “Life,” for example, is a very interesting “Alien” knockoff about what would happen if we discovered alien life on Mars. The answer: nothing good. We think we’re getting “E.T.” and instead we’re getting something worse than The Thing. This film has interesting characters, some believable science, and is a tremendously inspired production. The director uses long, painstakingly crafted sequences to draw us in and (hopefully) make us forget we’re watching a movie. The performances of Jake Gylllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds draw us in, and, although the film is similar to “Alien,” it scares us.

The new film “Phoenix Forgotten,” produced by Ridley Scott, is a found-footage film in the style of “The Blair Witch Project” about the Phoenix Lights UFO incident from 1997. A group of teens witness the event and decide to investigate further and film what they find. Bad idea. It turns out that the incident is much more sinister in nature than they thought. Will they survive? Maybe not, but their quest proves somewhat compelling as all of us are curious about UFO’s. The film is well-made, acted, and scored and delivers some terror on a low budget. It’s not great, but you could do worse.

Night of the Demons / Nightmare at Noon

Tired of big Hollywood stinkers like “Assassin’s Creed” and “Beauty and the Beast”? Ready for some serious B-movie fun? Prepare yourself for two movies out on DVD that are way more entertaining than that “Boss Baby” crap.

First up is the 2009 remake of “Night of the Demons,” which stars Shannon Elizabeth (from “American Pie”), Monica Keena (from “Freddy Vs. Jason”) and Edward Furlong (no introduction needed). This film follows the basic plot and features many of the same exploitative elements (read: boobs) that made the 1988 movie with Linnea Quigley (who cameos here) so much fun. In short, a bunch of dorky college kids plus a drug dealer (Furlong) get together at an old New Orleans manor to celebrate Halloween. Soon they discover that the house is a conduit for demons who want to possess seven of them and take over the world. Can Edward Furlong and company stop taking heroin and playing spin the bottle long enough to save the world?

This is a $10 million film that went straight to video, probably because the original film is not nearly as famous as classics like “The Omen” and “Halloween.” The story is acceptable and the special effects, makeup effects, and other technical attributes are really good. The only actor to make an impression is Furlong, who plays his part convincingly and with pathos. He deserves a chance at a comeback. Overall, the film is about as good as the original, which means it’s undistinguished but tons of fun. Readers are advised to rent it on Netflix.

Second up is 1988’s “Nightmare at Noon,”(aka “Death Street U.S.A.”) a truly whacko ripoff of “The Crazies” about a mute albino (played by Brion James) who starts a government experiment by contaminating the water of a small town, turning those unfortunate people who drink it into crazed killers. Meanwhile, a scummy lawyer (played by Wings Hauser) and his wife pick up a hitchhiker (Bo Hopkins) on their way into this town while the sheriff (played by George Kennedy) and his daughter try to figure out what’s going on.

Basically this starts as a zombie film, turns into sort of a western (“High Noon” is playing at the town drive-in.), and then it turns into a high-concept “Blue Thunder” kind of thing. It’s completely crazy and absolutely never dull. George Kennedy is great, the technical credits are good and the music by Stanley Myers and Hans Zimmer are very effective. Bo Hopkins and Wings Hauser are quite the team, having also starred together in “Mutant,” In short, this is a crazy killer B film that is worth seeking out.

I should note, in closing, that I had never heard of either of these two films before picking them up. As a result, they were much better than expected. Check out “Night of the Demons” (2009) and “Nightmare at Noon” if you want good old-fashioned B-movie fun! –CoolAC