"We're still at war, Plissken. We need him alive."

"I don't give a fuck about your war... or your president."

Cocoon

June 21, 1985

COCOON is directed by Ron Howard (his followup to SPLASH) and produced by Richard D. Zanuck (SUGARLAND EXPRESS, JAWS), but I bet some people assumed Spielberg had something to do with it. It opens with an Elliott-like little boy (D.A.R.Y.L. himself, Barrett Oliver) who’s up past his bedtime sneaking a look at the moon through his telescope. And then there’s a spaceship (designed by Ralph McQuarrie, like the one in  E.T.) flying down over some dolphins in a scene lit much like the opening attack in JAWS. The story involves a close encounter of the third kind with friendly e.t. the extra-terrestrials, so lots of people stare up in awe at glowing alien and spaceship effects by Industrial Light and Magic. And hey, the main characters are the elderly residents of a retirement community who find a magical way to recapture their youth, much like Spielberg’s “Kick the Can” segment of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE!

Best pal retirees Ben (Wilford Brimley, whose other 1984 releases were MURDER IN SPACE, REMO WILLIAMS and EWOKS: THE BATTLE FOR ENDOR) and Art (Don Ameche, who starred in THE THREE MUSKETEERS and THE STORY OF ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL when Brimley was five years old) are residents of the Sunny Shores Villa in St. Petersberg, Florida. They’re kind of the cool rebels of the place, because while many of their peers are sitting around playing cards and shuffleboard they’re strutting out in their beach clothes that look like pajamas, squeezing through a broken gate to trespass in somebody else’s indoor swimming pool. Sneaking around like a bunch of goonies. (read the rest of this shit…)

Scream, Queen! – My Nightmare On Elm Street

SCREAM, QUEEN!: MY NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is a really good horror documentary. It may also be interesting to non-horror fans interested in the history of gay Hollywood in the ‘80s. It’s the story of Mark Patton, who played Jesse Walsh, the young protagonist of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE in 1985. As he sees it, he was a hot young actor getting his big break as the lead in a highly-anticipated sequel, only to find that it had gay subtext in it that was dangerous to him as a closeted gay actor. His representation told him there was no way they could put him up for straight roles anymore, and he only did a CBS Schoolbreak Special and an episode of Hotel where he punched George Clooney before disappearing for almost 30 years. He says he decided to quit after he was cast as a gay character but asked to still pretend he was straight.

I didn’t know or understand any of that as a young horror fan in the ‘80s. I just knew part 2 was my least favorite. As the documentary says,  it was “not a fan favorite.” Jesse is a boy who moves into the house where Nancy lived in part 1, finds her previously unmentioned diary, starts to be haunted and then possessed by Freddy, who grows inside him and tears out of his skin. (The FX for that have always been amazing.) Then Freddy appears outside of dreams and attacks a fuckin teen pool party. At that time there were no instructions on how to make a Freddy sequel, so they just had to guess. Part 3 added the element of a group of misunderstood teens working together, being in dreams together, finding ways to fight back. It was so appealing it became the formula for three more movies, making 2 seem like it didn’t know what it was doing. (read the rest of this shit…)

Return to Oz

June 21, 1985

Forty-six years after MGM’s beloved Technicolor musical THE WIZARD OF OZ, Walt Disney Pictures produced their own journey through the world of L. Frank Baum. Though titled and framed like a sequel, writer/director Walter Murch and co-writer Dennis Gill (WALK THE LINE) treated it more as a literary adaptation, basing it mostly on book #3, Ozma of Oz, combined with some characters from #2, The Marvelous Land of Oz. In an article by Alan Jones in the July, 1985 issue of Cinefantastique (my most quoted source in this review series, you may have noticed), executive producer Gary Kurtz (THE DARK CRYSTAL) says they “pondered at great length” whether to even use the iconic ruby slippers, since in the books they were silver.

Like its predecessor, the not-really-sequel is full of whimsical characters and underpinned with fairy tale menace, but in most other ways it’s wildly different. The colors are subdued rather than vivid, the settings are grounded rather than stagey, it stars 10-year-old newcomer Fairuza Balk as Dorothy rather than a teen like Judy Garland, and she doesn’t sing, because it’s not a musical. While WIZARD’s costumes, jokes and dance numbers come out of the vaudeville tradition, RETURN creates its world and characters with the rapidly evolving cinematic puppetry, animation and visual FX technology of the Lucas/Spielberg era. Murch told Cinefantastique, “At first I was worried about using state-of-the-art animatronics, but so many of the OZ personnel are graduates of The Muppets, STAR WARS, and THE DARK CRYSTAL that I realized it would be pointless to worry.”

The result is a classic entry in the unique-to-the-‘80s subgenre of dark, imaginative, FX-heavy fantasy for children, preceded by THE DARK CRYSTAL and THE NEVERENDING STORY and followed by LABYRINTH. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Stuff

June 14, 1985

“Are you eatin it? Or is it eatin you?”

I have a hard time putting my finger on the exact tone of THE STUFF. Its entire subject and premise clearly satirize consumerism, fads and greedy corporations making money from unhealthy products. The opening scene is laugh out loud funny, and definitely a parody of THE BLOB. The score by Anthony Guefen (DEADLY EYES) is often comically overblown for the scenes it accompanies, and sounds like library music. The characters often say and do odd things in the manner of accidentally funny low budget movies, but we know from his other work that writer/director Larry Cohen knows what he’s doing. Still, it doesn’t come across to me like a spoof, like it’s deadpan in order to be funnier. It seems more like yeah, we know this is a goofy idea, but we’re treating it seriously, just go with it.

I don’t feel like I quite understand its intentions. But that’s okay. Whatever they were going for, they came up with something unique.

“The Stuff” is the name a marketing firm comes up with for a white foam that an old man finds bubbling out of the ground. People like to joke about the guy in THE BLOB poking the meteorite with a stick, but this guy goes swiftly from “what is this weird substance?” to “hmm, let me taste it.” And it’s so delicious it just turns into snack time for him. (read the rest of this shit…)

D.A.R.Y.L.

June 14, 1985

Like THE GOONIES, D.A.R.Y.L. is a family-friendly movie that opens with a high speed car chase (stunt coordinator: John Moio, who then did THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2). But the Spielberg movie that scene reminds me of most is A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. A scientist (stuntman Richard Hammatt, WILLOW, BATMAN, NIGHTBREED) is driving through winding roads, pursued by a helicopter, with unnaturally calm ten year old boy Daryl (Barret Oliver, KID #2, UNCOMMON VALOR) in the back seat. We know because we know what movie we’re watching that Daryl is a robot, and much like the mom in A.I., Dr. Mulligan sees no way to protect his robot boy except to drop him off in the woods and hope he can make it on his own. (But I think Mom survives – the doctor drives his car off a cliff. R.I.P.)

At various points in the movie Oliver’s performance will remind me of Haley Joel Osment’s in A.I., but it’s a very different approach to the story. Rather than a dark fairy tale journey through a fantastical future world, this is what happens to a character like that trying to pass for human in a normal ‘80s suburb.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Da 5 Bloods

DA 5 BLOODS is Spike Lee’s new Vietnam War joint that happened to be produced by Netflix, so when our current global nightmare thwarted theatrical release they didn’t have to delay it, they just put it right onto their service, making it one of Pandemic Summer’s biggest blockbusters in my opinion. For now this is our James Bond and our Top Gun (I won’t say Wonder Woman, because it’s very male oriented).

Like so many of Lee’s movies, it finds interesting ways to visually connect history to the present. Think of DO THE RIGHT THING’s showcasing of the photos and quotes of Dr. King and Malcolm, MALCOLM X’s coda of real people (including a newly freed Nelson Mandela) saying “I am Malcolm X!,” or BLACKKKLANSMAN’s montage with the murder of Heather Heyer, the real David Duke and the president’s other Very Fine People in Charlottesville. Following in that tradition, DA 5 BLOODS opens with historical footage and photos establishing Those Uncertain Times of the Vietnam era.

Muhammad Ali explains his refusal to kill people who haven’t done anything to him on behalf of people who have. To the tune of “Inner City Blues,” we see black soldiers in Vietnam, whitey on “Da Moon,” Black Panthers, Malcolm, Martin, Kwame Ture, Angela Davis. We alternate between brutality in Vietnam and at home: burning monks, the Kent State shootings, the street execution from that famous photo, police clubbing protesters at the DNC, the children burned with napalm. When the war ends and this volley of fast-speed documentary turmoil subsides, the frame stretches and contracts to widescreen, and Saigon dissolves to modern tourism-friendly Ho Chi Minh City, where four of our titular quintet meet up in a hotel lobby, hugging and hand shaking, sipping the first of many fruity umbrella cocktails, in a present that will repeatedly bleed into the past. (read the rest of this shit…)

Warriors of the Wind

June 13, 1985 (?)

On June 13, 1985 (or possibly some other day – more on that later) a strange post-apocalyptic animated fantasy arrived in American theaters. It told the story of “a spirited princess named Zandra,” who flies around on gliders and airships and saves her kingdom, The Valley of the Wind, from “forces of evil” including but not limited to giant bugs called Gorgons who come from The Toxic Jungle.

People may not have known it was a Japanese film, released there in 1984, now shortened by nearly 25 minutes and dubbed into English, with the names of some characters and creatures changed. Today we know it in its original form and title – NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND, the second feature film by the globally revered writer/director Hayao Miyazaki (MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, PRINCESS MONONOKE, SPIRITED AWAY). But back then it was some mysterious thing called WARRIORS OF THE WIND. (read the rest of this shit…)

A Hard Way to Die a.k.a. Sun Dragon

After seeing the 1977 Bruce Li movie SOUL BROTHERS OF KUNG FU and wondering about his young African-American co-star Carl Scott, I decided to watch this 1979 followup which comes up under both A HARD WAY TO DIE  and SUN DRAGON on Prime. I guess if I had to pick, the latter comes closer to having something to do with the movie.

This is another Hong Kong production from the same director as SOUL BROTHERS OF KUNG FU, Hua Shan (THE SUPER INFRA-MAN), but the interesting thing is that it was filmed in Phoenix, Arizona. You don’t see that every day. Unfortunately, it’s a period piece, so they stay away from urban areas and just shoot in, like, a strip of ugly grass, or a gravel pit. The Hong Kong setting of the other one was far more interesting to look at. (read the rest of this shit…)

Sister Street Fighter: Hanging by a Thread

The second movie in the SISTER STREET FIGHTER series is from the same director, Kuzuhiko Yamaguchi (KARATE BEARFIGHTER), and screenwriters, Masahiro Kakefuda (KARATE FOR LIFE) and Norifumi Suzuki (KARATE BULLFIGHTER), and came out the same year (1974). It’s mostly a retread of the first one, but the story is much tighter and faster, so its a great time.

After the traditional hero-doing-katas-in-front-of-blank-backgrounds credits (lots of nunchakas and split screens) we find ourselves in an alley in Hong Kong, where a well-dressed gang have cornered a guy and are stabbing him. Koryu (Etsuko “Sue” Shihomi) steps out of a door, casually eating an apple and wearing her blue suit with the red dragon embroideries to chase them off.

It’s too late to save the man, but he tells Koryu “You have to tell Professor Enmei Oh” and plucks out a false eyeball with circuitry and microfilm inside. The professor (Hideaki Nagai, Ultraman) explains that the dead man was Hong Kong police detective Kidai Sha, who has been investigating the kidnapping of the professor’s daughter Birei (Hisayo Tanaka, THE GREAT CHASE), coincidentally a high school friend of Koryu. The photos show Birei at a place in Hong Kong called Osone mansion, where “many martial artists are gathered,” kind of like the evil mansion in the first film. Also, the late detective had a plane ticket to Hong Kong in his pocket, so the professor asks Koryu to please take it and try to save his daughter. Mission accepted. (read the rest of this shit…)

Blood Machines

BLOOD MACHINES is a very strange, kinda psychedelic retro-sci-fi thing that’s new on Shudder. I thought it was gonna be a movie but they list it as season 1, which almost scared me off. Turns out it’s only three episodes of around 20 minutes each, so it’s less of a time commitment than a movie.

If I had to describe it with a formula of existing movies I would say it’s DARK STAR meets MANDY with the TRON: LEGACY soundtrack. It drops you into a world straight out of Heavy Metal magazine (but with a score by French “synthwave” dude Carpenter Brut, not Sammy Hagar and shit) where an A.I.-controlled warship called the Mima crashes on a barren planet. A ship crewed by two men – arrogant captain Vascan (Anders Heinrichsen, “Police Officer,” VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS) and friendly old mechanic Lago (Christian Erickson, HITMAN) – shot it down, but when they try to salvage it they’re blocked by the all-female inhabitants of the planet, who see it as an injured being they must help. (read the rest of this shit…)