NOW AVAILABLE TO ORDER
Well, I finally went and did it – I published my new book Worm on a Hook. I want to be a little vague, but basically it’s a horror story about a group of friends who rent a cabin for Memorial Day weekend and run afoul of a seemingly-invincible killer back from the dead. And then, I promise you, it’s on. The goal was to find overlap in the conventions of traditional slasher movies and the ’80s and ’90s action I love, and meld them into one ass-kicking novel. I’m very proud of the results, and I think you’ll not only enjoy the story but get a kick out of spotting the ways I apply concepts from reviews and Seagalogy to my own storytelling.
I hope to find this one a bigger audience than I’ve managed for Niketown, so forgive me for going into promotions mode for a bit and leaving this as a sticky post above the new reviews. I’m available for podcasts and interviews – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for inquiries. And if you read it, let me know what you think!
NOTE: If you’re outside of the U.S. your local version of Amazon should have it too – try searching for “worm on a hook vern” to find it.
SIEGE (previously released in the U.S. as SELF DEFENSE) is a 1983 Canadian exploitation film brought to my attention thanks to the new release on Blu-Ray and DVD from Severin Films. It seems more inspired by ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 than any other movie, and it’s not a wall-to-wall scorcher like that, but I liked it because it’s quick and raw and has some really unique elements.
Down south in the U.S that year, heroic movie cops were being forced to break the rules to stop perverted rapists (10 TO MIDNIGHT, SUDDEN IMPACT) and kids were turning into serial killers because they witnessed gay sex (SLEEPAWAY CAMP). By contrast, SIEGE paints a picture of a Halifax gay bar and their low income neighbors being terrorized by the violent bigots in a right wing militia. The chaos starts with a police strike, where officers on the picket line egg on onlookers as they roar around in their cars whoo-hooing and doing donuts. Reporters speculate that the rowdiness will snowball from there. Sure enough a group of thugs choose this time to enter the club and announce a “New Order” they want to impose on Nova Scotia. (read the rest of this shit…)
July 31, 1991
HOT SHOTS! is the story of one Topper Harley (Charlie Sheen, THE ROOKIE, NEVER ON TUESDAY), legendary former jet pilot for The Navy. When Lieutenant Commander Block (Kevin Dunn, BLUE STEEL, MARKED FOR DEATH) tracks down Harley living in a teepee and breathing helium through a pipe, he agrees to return to the S.S. Essess aircraft carrier and join a team for Operation Sleeping Weasel, a mission to blow up a nuclear power plant. But he’ll have to contend with sabotage from high up and his own PTSD about his father causing a crash that resulted in a deadly hunting accident.
Of course not one second of this is done with sincerity, because it’s AIRPLANE! co-director Jim Abrahams doing a parody and/or spoof of the popular IRON EAGLE ripoff TOP GUN with co-writer Pat Proft (POLICE ACADEMY, REAL GENIUS). Abrahams was a writer and executive producer on the first NAKED GUN and then producer on the sequel released earlier in the summer. (Both were co-written by Proft.) This was Abrahams’ followup to WELCOME HOME, ROXY CARMICHAEL, which I don’t think I ever knew was directed by him, and that makes me more curious about that largely forgotten movie seen and thought to be pretty decent by all people of a certain age who felt a certain way about Winona Ryder. (read the rest of this shit…)
July 26, 1991
Kathleen Turner is… V.I. WARSHAWSKI, a Chicago private detective who falls into a case when an ex hockey player she picks up at a bar dies in a suspicious explosion during an inheritance squabble. The movie was a notorious flop, making back less than half its $24 million budget, and Rotten Tomatoes calculates its reviews at 21% (though Roger Ebert and Janet Maslin liked it). But I’ve wanted to see it for a long time, at least since realizing it was a character from a series of novels. I haven’t read the books, but maybe that helps, because movies never seem to be able to capture these characters the way fans want them to (see: Parker, Jack Reacher, Matthew Scudder… I guess people like Jason Bourne and Lisbeth Salander?) and yet, when you don’t know any better, they make for fun movie material.
The novels are by author Sara Paretsky – the movie credits the whole series as its basis, but apparently it’s mainly from the second one, Deadlock. Though the author and character are noted feminists, Hollywood Pictures got three dudes to write the screenplay – Edward Taylor (no other movie credits), David Aaron Cohen (POINT OF VIEW starring John Savage) and Nick Thiel (Eight Is Enough, The Fall Guy, Magnum P.I., THE EXPERTS, FIREBIRDS, WHITE FANG). Actually, director Jeff Kanew says on the commentary track of the blu-ray and dvd from Kino-Lorber that he never met Thiel and didn’t use any of his work but that another guy who wasn’t credited did to a bunch of work. Anyway he’s a dude also, the one who did EDDIE MACON’S RUN, GOTCHA!, REVENGE OF THE NERDS, TOUGH GUYS and TROOP BEVERLY HILLS. They have one of those “hey, check this out” boxes around his name on the movie poster, so I guess that resume held some cachet in ’91. (read the rest of this shit…)
July 26, 1991
MOBSTERS. Guys who are in mobs. Young ones. Famous ones. Doing mob stuff. What more do you need? According to rookie director Michael Karbelnikoff, story provider Michael Mahern and screenwriter Nicholas Kazan (FRANCES, AT CLOSE RANGE, PATTY HEARST, REVERSAL OF FORTUNE), “What? What do you mean?”
I have to tell you, I really struggled to get through this one, and considered turning it off and not reviewing it. Keep in mind that I already made it through MANNEQUIN: ON THE MOVE, SUBURBAN COMMANDO and PROBLEM CHILD 1 & 2 for this series. This is a much classier production than any of those, with all the period costumes and nice cinematography by Lajos Koltai (István Szabó’s MEPHISTO, WHITE PALACE) – there are some nice looking, atmospheric scenes, like an eerie outdoor shootout in the fog. But it’s empty and soul-less and boring as shit and not in an interesting way at all. (read the rest of this shit…)
Poor Scarlett Johansson. After 8 movies appearing as Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff in a supporting or cameo role, across 11 years (lengthened by global catastrophe related delays), her Marvel super spy character finally gets to star in her own movie… and it’s only okay. I mean I enjoyed watching it and I’ll say some nice things about it, but I can’t deny it lacks the kick of most Marvel movies without being different enough from them to feel like its own thing. Maybe this would’ve been cool if it was the one they made early on with plans to improve on the formula in subsequent adventures, but instead they made it after the character has been killed off and Johansson is presumably ready to move on with her life. If this is all she gets in the end I almost wish Emily Blunt had stuck with the role (she was cast but couldn’t get out of GULLIVER’S TRAVELS!) so Scarlett would’ve had more time to do her more adventurous roles like UNDER THE SKIN, LUCY, MARRIAGE STORY, JOJO RABBIT and hell, I’ll even say GHOST IN THE SHELL. More problematic, but more interesting.
The good news for people who like Marvel but get overwhelmed keeping track of all the shit is that this one is low on continuity and tie-ins. It references the basic Black Widow backstory and I don’t remember what that’s all about, but I didn’t feel like I missed anything important. It takes place however many movies ago when she’s been set up and is on the run, so that eliminates most “what does this mean for the larger Marvel universe?” concerns. (It also makes me realize how much more attached I am to Star Wars than the MCU: Star Wars makes me say, “Ah, this must be not long after Order 66, interesting,” and the MCU makes me say, “It’s after CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR – who gives a shit?” I treat Marvel more like the serials Star Wars was emulating – on to the next chapter, no time to look back. But I’m sure there’s a whole generation who feel differently.) (read the rest of this shit…)
BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (1989) is one of those beloved comedies you take for granted. I hadn’t seen it in 20+ years, so I was kinda afraid it might not hold up. It’s kind of hard to put your finger on why it works so well, and it would be hard to explain why it’s funny if somebody asked. I’m not sure if you had to be there or not.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s a pretty straight forward comical premise: what if a couple of dumb guys got a hold of a time machine and recruited actual historical figures to help with their history test? But for the most part that’s not really what’s funny about it. It’s the particular personalities of the dumb guys, and the reasons they have access to time travel.
Bill S. Preston Esquire (Alex Winter, DEATH WISH 3) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves, THE NIGHT BEFORE) are a Californian version of what we used to call “rockers” and some regions called “heshers” – guys whose lives center around heavy metal and/or hard rock. In the wild you’d expect them to have longer hair and leather jackets, smoke lots of pot and drink lots of beer, but Bill and Ted mostly just idolize Van Halen, talk about “babes,” and laugh at the number 69. They have a band called Wyld Stallyns, which features only the two of them on guitar, an instrument neither of them knows how to play. Still, their worst fear os for the band to be broken up if Ted fails his history test, in which case his dad (Hal Landon Jr., ERASERHEAD), who is a police captain and wears an NRA jacket while off duty, will ship him off to Oats Military Academy in Alaska. (read the rest of this shit…)
On the 4th of July weekend in 1991, a whole lot of people went to see part 2s. #1 at the box office was the brand new game-changing action masterpiece TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY. #2 was the previous week’s big new release, NAKED GUN 2 1/2: THE SMELL OF FEAR. And then down a couple slots at #5 was the only movie released against T2, Universal’s PG-13 rated kiddy comedy sequel PROBLEM CHILD 2.
P2 would go on to gross an okay $25 million and be #54 at the year’s box office, above such part 2s as FX2, HOUSE PARTY 2, THE NEVERENDING STORY II: THE NEXT CHAPTER, AN AMERICAN TAIL: FIEVEL GOES WEST, HIGHLANDER II: THE QUICKENING, MANNEQUIN: ON THE MOVE, KICKBOXER 2: THE ROAD BACK and BEASTMASTER 2: THROUGH THE PORTAL OF TIME. If there’s one movie on that list that’s worse than PROBLEM CHILD 2 it’s MANNEQUIN: ON THE MOVE, and I’m not so sure about that. (read the rest of this shit…)
PIG is an unusual new Nicolas Cage joint that I was happy to have as my second post-vaccination theatrical experience. But this one is about as different from an F9 type spectacle as can be achieved by science. When you see the trailer or hear the premise (somebody steals Nic Cage’s truffle pig and he goes to the city to get it back) you might think about TOM YUM GOONG/THE PROTECTOR (where somebody steals Tony Jaa’s baby elephant and he goes to the city to get it back) or maybe JOHN WICK (where somebody kills Keanu’s dog and he goes on a rampage to get back at them). The truth is that it only shares the emotional center of those ideas (people form bonds with and assign meaning to their animal companions) – it’s decidedly not an action movie or even a revenge thriller. It’s a slow burn character piece and parable that doesn’t even have much violence, and will probly be pretty boring to some people, especially if they came in with the wrong idea. But it was just what I wanted.
Cage’s character Rob is a loner who lives in a cabin in the woods somewhere outside of Portland, Oregon. He seems very enamored of his nameless pig, who comes when he whistles and helps him dig up truffles in the forest. When he makes himself a “rustic mushroom tart” for dinner he shares it with her. The rest of the truffles he puts in a cooler to sell to the young hot shot Amir (Alex Wolff, HEREDITARY), who drives in every Thursday in his bitchin’ yellow Camaro. It feels like a drug transaction. Amir tries to make conversation, but Rob doesn’t so much as grunt. (read the rest of this shit…)
July 5, 1991
ALLIGATOR II: THE MUTATION is a surprisingly decent sequel – especially considering it was made for TV! It didn’t register as that when I was watching it (and there does seem to have been some sort of limited theatrical release), but an article that I found in my Fangoria collection while researching T2 quotes director Jon Hess (THE LAWLESS LAND, WATCHERS) as saying “more or less, it was made for ABC-TV.” Fangoria’s David Szulkin speculates that may be because “despite its nonperformance at the boxoffice, ALLIGATOR placed in the top 20 for network airings of theatrical films the year it first aired, outdoing such broadcast premieres as CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.” But Hess maintained that returning producer Brandon Chase (THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER) was “a really strong independent producer, so ABC wasn’t looking over our shoulder, examining all the dailes. We shot on a very tight schedule with a feature sensibility, but at the same time, we knew we were going to hand the film in to ABC.”
Now that I think about it there’s not as much gore or especially sex as you would normally get in a ‘90s horror sequel, but like SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK earlier in the summer it has enough severed limbs to throw you off the TV movie scent. More importantly it has a real Larry Cohen sort of indie horror feel to the type of actors and characters that show up, giving it a personality that’s at least in the spirit of the original. (read the rest of this shit…)
ALLIGATOR (1980) may not have knocked the world on its ass the way THE TERMINATOR did, but it’s another genre movie made by Roger Corman veterans in the ‘80s that holds up today. People often credit that to an allegedly satirical screenplay by John Sayles, who had already written the Corman classics PIRANHA and BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and begun his indie auteur career with RETURN OF THE SEACAUCUS SEVEN. (He completely rewrote an earlier script by Frank Ray Perilli [THE DOBERMAN GANG, DRACULA’S DOG, LASERBLAST], who gets a story credit). But let’s not overlook the serious skills of director Lewis Teague. His NYU classmate Martin Scorsese had reportedly recommended him for the job at New World Pictures, where he’d edited COCKFIGHTER and done some second unit and editing on DEATH RACE 2000 and AVALANCHE. ALLIGATOR was his third time directing a feature, after DIRTY O’NEIL and THE LADY IN RED. He was also directing second unit for Sam Fuller’s THE BIG RED ONE around this same time, but I’m not sure if that was right before or right after the gator picture, so I can’t speculate how one gig might’ve informed the other.
ALLIGATOR opens with a teenage girl (Leslie Brown) on a family vacation to Florida watching a guy get mauled at a gator wrestling show. Despite this potentially traumatizing experience she buys a baby gator from the farm and names it Ramon. But when she’s back at home somewhere in Missouri her drunk dad flushes the poor thing down the toilet. Then we cut to 12 years later when Ramon is still alive in the sewer system, and has grown to unusual size and hunger from munching on the clandestinely dumped victims of illegal animal experiments, and is destined to bump heads with police detective David Madison (Robert Forster in his follow up to THE BLACK HOLE).
I would like to note that a news report on the radio places the toilet flushing during the ’68 Democratic National Convention, i.e. the time and place when in real life Forster was filming MEDIUM COOL. (read the rest of this shit…)