Saturday, April 01, 2006

Review: Eliminators (1986)


When a man named John crashed his plane in the jungles of Mexico, he expected to die. One thing that he most likely did NOT expect was to be pulled from the burning wreckage by a reclusive mad scientist named Abbot Reeves, brought back from the edge of death, and transformed into a hideous cyborg (or "Mandroid" as Reeves calls him.) I'm guessing he also didn't expect that Reeves would then stick him in a time machine and send him on missions into the past to bring back mint condition Roman artifacts for his collection. Life is funny, isn't it?

When Reeves has his collection completed and is finished with John the Mandroid, he instructs his assistant Dr. Takada to take him out back and give him the Ol' Yeller treatment. Takada protests, but Reeves is not the most compassionate evil genius you've ever met. Takada tries to help John escape, but Reeves' minions gun Takada down. John makes a daring escape into the jungle, but not before sustaining serious damage to his transmission.

Determined to avenge the death of his only friend (and to get back at Reeves for the whole Mandroid thing), John makes his way into the United States to track down the person whose robotics research Reeves stole in order to make him a cyborg. This person is Nora Hunter(Denise Crosby), a Colonel in the army and brilliant scientist who was unaware that Reeves was secretly funding her research and then stealing her ideas for his own nefarious purposes.

Nora is a little taken aback when a hulking cyborg in a cheap plastic poncho and rain hat comes staggering into her lab one dark night, but she listens to John's story and provides a tune-up and oil change free of charge. Feeling pretty annoyed that she's been the pawn of an evil mastermind, Nora insists that she go along with John on his revenge quest. The two set off for Mexico, John in his highly convincing disguise (the aforementioned plastic poncho and rain hat.)

Once they reach the jungle, Nora enlists the help of riverboat captain, jungle guide, and provider of comic relief Harry Fontana. Fontana knows the area, and his skinny swamp-rat appearance belies his bravery and resourcefulness. The three set off on a river that leads into the deepest Mexican jungles. Unfortunately, the other skeevy riverboat captains have no love for Fontana, and do not appreciate him stealing their would-be business.

The Fontana-haters club, led by macho lesbian Bayou Betty and her cowardly French sidekick Maurice (no, I'm not making this up) come screaming up the river hot on the trail of our heroes. Thanks to some evasive maneuvers by Fontana and Nora and, more to the point, John's torpedo-launcher arm attachment, They manage to escape. As they get closer to Reeves' base, they must also deal with his dimwitted henchmen, but this doesn't prove to be too difficult.

During one of Fontana's fancy boat turns John falls overboard, and when they are unable to find him in the mucky river bottom, Fontana and Nora must press on without him. Not surprisingly, John trudges out of the water shortly after and continues on foot. He meets a young ninja by the name of Kuji who turns out to be Dr. Takada's son, also there on a revenge quest (again, I'm not making it up). Meanwhile, Fontana and Nora are captured by a band of rogue cavemen (I know! I know!). They get away with help from John and Kuji.

With our band of heroes reunited, they plan an attack on Reeves' headquarters. The three people without robotic augmentation sneak in through an air duct while John just goes up to the front door. Nora, Fontana and Kuji determine that Reeves is planning to use his time machine to go back to Roman times and proclaim himself the new emperor. (They also realize that Reeves must have used the time machine to bring the cavemen into the present day, though nobody is able to offer an explanation of WHY.)

There's a big shootout with the good guys versus Reeves, newly fitted out with some cyborg modifications of his own, and his army of heavily-armed thugs. Things don't go so well, and John sacrifices his life to save his three compatriots from one of Reeves' evil weapons. Thinking he is in the clear, Reeves hops into his time machine and starts it running. Nora, Kuji, and Harry wander in, and when Harry punches the control console in frustration, Reeves' time destination gets completely scrambled up and he finds himself trapped in the Silurian epoch, well before the Dawn of Man. This cheers up our remaining heroes, and they are able to share a good laugh even though John is in that great scrapyard in the sky.


This bad-movie business is a funny thing. Every once in a while, I come upon a movie that practically shrieks "I AM HORRIBLE!!" Usually, it is not lying. In some cases, though, I'm surprised by how good such a film can be. Eliminators is one such film. Everything about it would suggest an eminently stupid action adventure. With a tagline that reads "Mandroid. Mercenary. Scientist. Ninja. Each one a specialist. Together they are ELIMINATORS," how could it possibly not be awful?

I was prepared to like it for being bad, but I was startled to find myself liking it for being GOOD! The script acknowledges its comic-book subject matter and avoids the trap of taking itself too seriously, but at the same time it doesn't become a farce. The acting is quite respectable for the most part, and although the special effects are hit-and-miss, the Mandroid suit is pretty impressive.

Heading up the cast is the beautiful Denise Crosby, best remembered (at least by geeks like me) as Tasha Yar from "Star Trek: the Next Generation." Her portrayal of Nora is just about perfect - between the writing and acting, Nora is one of the most well-balanced and positive female film characters I've seen in a long while. She's brilliant, tough, and compassionate, and Crosby gives her just the right mix of seriousness and humor.

John the Mandroid (Patrick Reynolds) is pleasantly stoic without being completely robotic, but the other actor who really serves to anchor the film is Andrew Prine as Harry Fontana. It's easy to relate to him, because he seems to be the only character who realizes how weird the story is. Prine has been acting, mostly in television roles, for decades, and he makes Fontana likable and funny. His interactions with Nora keep things light and energetic.

Given that Eliminators predated the much darker and more violent Robocop by a year, the Mandroid suit deserves ample credit. Given the budget constraints on a film like this, it's obvious that somebody put a lot of time and effort into the thing. It's got more attachments than a Hoover - John is constantly switching out his arms - and its coolest feature is probably the optional eighteen-wheel ATV attachment. He just pops his legs off and hooks his torso directly into the thing, becoming a sort of human tractor-trailer.

Though we don't see that much of Abbot Reeves, we do get a pretty good sense of his evilness. He doesn't lose any sleep over ordering John's death, nor does he shed a tear when his long-time assistant Takada is gunned down by accident. He gleefully attempts to vaporize Nora and company. His most chilling act of evil, however, occurs when he disciplines one of his henchmen by electrocuting the poor guy's crotch. Yikes. Reeves makes Leona Helmsley seem easy to work for.

Of course, it would be remiss of me to imply that Eliminators doesn't have its faults. The cavemen seem like a bit of a red herring. Kaji seems to have gotten his ninja training through a correspondence school. I'm not entirely clear on why Reeves would go to the trouble of turning John into the Mandroid, then want to toss him away like used dental floss. And the idea that one little whack to Reeves' computer would be enough to send his time machine spiraling several hundred-million years off course is a tad questionable. Still, I'm more than willing to overlook a few flaws in such a good-natured and enjoyable movie.

Final Analysis

Eliminators is a surprisingly well-made little comic book of a movie, with a plucky script, decent effects, and actors who seem to be enjoying themselves in their roles. If a film that combines cyborgs, ninjas, cavemen, mad scientists, good-natured mercenaries, and Tasha Yar sounds too good to be true, Eliminators is a perfect way to spend an hour and a half. Recommended.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Review: Biohazard (1985)


At a secret research facility in the desert, some high-ranking U.S. Government officials have gathered for a demonstration of an incredible scientific breakthrough. Obnoxious scientist Dr. Williams has discovered that when Lisa Martyn, an aging psychic in a bad Barbara Eden wig, is hooked up to a fancy computer system, she can bring objects to Earth from another dimension. She gives a demonstration, materializing a little statue and inadvertently electrocuting some poor maintenance man who happened to be working on the computer system at the time.

Dr. Williams shows the Government reps a coffin-sized box that Lisa had materialized the day before. General Randolph orders the box to be tossed into the back of an army truck and taken elsewhere for analysis. Lisa protests, saying that she can sense a presence inside the box, but her warning falls on deaf ears. As the box is being driven out of the research base, a rather petite but nonetheless vicious and terrifying alien emerges from inside and unceremoniously dispatches the soldier who was guarding it.

The monster escapes into the desert, and though it violently murdered a man, General Randolph can barely work up the energy to do anything about it. Randolph sends a military scut-puppy named Carter after the highly radioactive and homicidal creature, and Lisa (who claims that it's just as scared of us as we are of it) tags along. First, though, the two of them stop off at Lisa's house to eat some stew and make out (?). Thankfully, their icky romantic interlude is interrupted by a phone call from Mike, one of the men who had been in charge of transporting the alien's box.

It seems that Mike stole a small canister from inside the box and took it to his house, but he began to worry when he noticed that the canister seemed to be growing. Carter and Lisa rush over to examine the strange alien device, which vaguely resembles the body of a Dirt Devil upright vacuum cleaner. They discover that the canister is radioactive, and Carter realizes that it isn't growing, but rather opening up! Being a thoughtful and cautious man by nature, Carter has the brilliant idea to take a hammer to the thing and try to beat it closed again.

Amazingly, Carter's plan doesn't work, and the can pops open, revealing a nasty little alien sock puppet. The puppet attacks Mike and nearly bites through his neck, but Carter, remembering that he's holding a hammer, jumps in and smashes it. The paramedics (well, two guys who can perform fake CPR) arrive to take care of Mike, and Carter and Lisa get down to the business of tracking the monster.

Meanwhile, said monster has been terrorizing the local population, killing off various hobos, rednecks, and other unsuspecting townsfolk. Lisa uses her amazing psychic powers to track the monster to a warehouse. When she and Carter arrive, they find another team of government agents there. This group is led by Reiger, Carter's nemesis. The two evidently fought together in Vietnam and have some serious issues to work through. They join forces to hunt down the alien and nearly give in to the temptation to shoot each other, but another alien puppet appears and kills Reiger before Carter has the chance.

The main alien pops up and Carter plugs it with numerous bullets, sending it flailing backwards into an electrical panel where it gets a major shock. Carter reports to Lisa that he succeeded in killing the thing, whereupon she admits that she herself is an alien, and the thing Carter killed was just a prototype soldier that her race was testing out on Earth. Lisa pulls off her skin and reveals her true form, which sort of resembles the baby from Eraserhead. "This can't be real," says Carter; then, in an avant-guarde turn, he mugs for the camera and makes a "cut" motion, demonstrating that, in fact, it's NOT real! It's just a shitty movie!


I'm starting to think that "Biohazard" isn't actually the title of this film, but rather a government warning label that was pasted on the front of the videotape box. This film is not safe for human consumption, and I fear that watching it may have permanently stunted my reproductive capabilities. If anybody knows of a class action lawsuit being filed against the producers of this toxic waste spill of a movie, please contact me as I would like to testify.

Biohazard comes to us from B-movie schlockmaster Fred Olen Ray (see Dark Universe, the Tomb). All the major hallmarks of a Ray production are evident: the hack actors, the painful script, the cheezy special effects. Ray wrote, produced, and directed Biohazard, so there's no escaping the blame this time.

As with Ray's other films, Biohazard is a virtual "perfect storm" of bad acting and bad material. In some movies those two factors will cancel each other out (as in films that knowingly go for the tongue-in-cheek effect), but in this case the one seems to highlight the other. You could have given this script to the Royal Shakespeare Company and they couldn't have saved it, and likewise, an actual quality script would have been completely wasted on this hopeless cast.

Unlike most movies, where the actors get paid for their work, I have a feeling that the actors in Biohazard may have paid to be allowed to act in it. Sort of like the film equivalent of those books where you pay them to publish your poetry. Judging from the credits, Ray heavily padded the cast with his family members, and the whole affair has the feel of an early rehearsal for a community theater production (think "Greater Tuna" meets Predator 2.)

Ray's son Christopher (who was about seven years old at the time) plays the Bio-monster, and one has to wonder if perhaps the terrifying alien would have been a little scarier had it not been portrayed by a hyperactive pre-teen. The thing looks like a four-foot-tall, drooling version of the Guyver, with goofy teeth. Possibly a step up from the Dark Universe alien, but not by much. And really, is it worth the money to buy your son a fancy alien costume when he's just going to grow out of it in six months?

One of the more frustrating things about Biohazard is the poor quality of the lighting and lack of color-correction on the day-for-night segments. It's something that I tend to take for granted in films, but it really does make a difference when you can't actually see ANYTHING that's happening in a given scene. Many horror films make use of darkness to heighten the scariness, but when it's this dark, it becomes more like an experimental film where you're just watching abstract little dots of light dance around in a black void.

The finale of this movie, in a word, sucks. I'll go along with Psychic Lisa being revealed as an undercover alien, but when Carter calls "cut" to end the film, I felt rather insulted. I know this is just Ray's way of telling us that he knows this is a stupid movie, but I think anyone who suffers through it at least deserves a more satisfying ending.

As the credits roll, we are treated to an outtakes reel. These are not just the funny outtakes, mind you - these are basically ALL of the outtakes. I think the credits sequence is actually longer than the movie. Actors are seen flubbing and/or forgetting lines over and over and over, but there's none of the laughter that typifies most outtake footage. The pained expressions on the actors' faces suggest that they they know the wasted film is coming out of their own paychecks.

Final Analysis

If you have plans to watch Biohazard, I recommend wearing one of those full-body protective suits they use at the CDC. The long-term effects on my health are as yet unknown, but I think I can safely blame any future medical problems on the 84 minutes I spent with this urinal-cake of a movie. I'll be forwarding my doctor's bills directly to Fred Olen Ray.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Review: Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (1983)


In a dusty and unkempt desert on an unnamed planet (possibly a post-apocalyptic Earth?) an evil warlord named Jared-Syn is fomenting discord amongst the various tribal factions that inhabit the area. There are two main groups who share the land: the Nomads, who look sort of like robotic sheiks; and the one-eyed Cyclopeans, who
generally dress like barbarian football players of the distant future. Jared-Syn recently visited an ancient "lost" city called Set and found crystals which can steal a person's life-force. Using the crystals as weapons, he plans to make himself the ruler of both the Nomads and the Cyclopeans.

Jared-Syn's minions have been sent out armed with the soul-stealing crystals to attack the local population and upset the treaty that has kept the Nomads and Cyclopeans at peace. With the treaty dissolved, conditions will be right for Jared-Syn's power grab. Jared-Syn's son Baal, a green-skinned cyborg with a robotic arm and capped teeth, is put in charge of the operation. One of Baal's first victims is Aix, a lowly miner trying to eke out a living in the desert with his daughter Dhyana. Baal uses his trademark weapon - green slime that shoots from his arm - to murder poor Aix, who was only seconds away from his impending retirement. Dhyana hides in the mine while her father gets slimed and thus escapes with her life.

Dhyana meets up with Dogen, a handsome Mad Max-wannabe who belongs to some sort of police force called the Rangers. Exactly who the Rangers are and who they work for is never exactly made clear. Dogen knows what Jared-Syn is up to and is determined to find and stop him. Dogen and Dhyana decide to try to find the lost city of Set and a mythical, magical mask that supposedly resides there. Theoretically, the mask is the key to defeating Jared-Syn's crystals of death. Unfortunately, they don't get far on their mission before Baal attacks them and Jared-Syn teleports Dhyanna into his underground lair and makes her his captive.

Dogen heads to a mining town called Zor, and seeks out a crusty old barfly named Rhodes who knows the location of the lost city. Dogen somehow convinces Rhodes to take him there. Despite Rhodes' claims that he'd looked for the lost city a dozen times and that it didn't exist, he manages to find it in about twenty minutes. Dogen stumbles across a goofy altar that houses the aforementioned magical mask. He and Rhodes are attacked by snake-monster hand-puppets (possibly the same ones used in Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold), but the puppets are no match for our heroes.

Having escaped the lost city, they run smack-dab into Hurok, the leader of the Cyclopeans. Being caught on Cyclopean land is a capital offense, but Hurok gives Dogen a chance to win his freedom in one-on-one combat. Hurok and Dogen tie their arms together, pull out some little knives, and reenact the "Beat It" video. Dogen wins, of course, and he and Rhodes are set free. Baal attacks them and nearly kills Rhodes, but Dogen grabs Baal's mechanical arm and rips it half off. He then follows the trail of Baal's green blood back to Jared-Syn's mountain hideaway.

Meanwhile, Jared-Syn has been collecting the life-force of his victims in a giant crystal. With the power of the crystal at his command, he has called a tribal meeting to declare himself the new ruler of the land. Right in the middle of his big speech, Dogen walks up and throws cold water on the proceedings. Jared-Syn causes the giant crystal to shoot laser beams at Dogen, but Dogen deflects them with his magical mask.

Baal, still pissed off about his arm, grabs the mask and smashes it. Hurok (who was there for the tribal meeting) stabs Baal and kills him. This evidently upsets Jared-Syn, who suddenly vanishes, reappearing aboard a one-man flight pod. Dogen, somehow intuiting what is happening, jumps on a flight pod as well and takes after Jared-Syn. Jared-Syn calls on the power of the giant crystal to open a portal to another dimension, through which he escapes.

Dogen, looking like a bit of an idiot, returns to Jared-Syn's hideout and tells Hurok and Dhyana that ol' Jared got away. Dogen vows to go after his nemesis, then pulls out his gun and blows up the giant crystal, effectively ensuring that he will be unable to do so. Dogen, Rhodes, and Dhyana pile into an armor-plated dune buggy and ride off into the sunset, feeling pretty good about themselves.


Oh, man - I'm exhausted after writing that synopsis. I mean, I'm used to decoding nonsensical plots, but this one set a new Bitter Dregs standard. It took me two viewings and some detailed note-taking and analysis on the four or five minutes of intelligible dialogue to get even a general sense of what was going on here. I had to leave several scenes out of the summary because I honestly didn't understand them at all. But hey, I like a good challenge, and Metalstorm definitely provided one. I just wish there was some sort of bad-movie Rosetta Stone to help us make sense of these things.

Metalstorm was part of the short-lived 3-D revival of the 1980's. Watching this film, you can see why it was short-lived. Filmmakers could never come up with enough interesting things to do with 3-D technology to make it sustainable as an art form. In the case of Metalstorm, the producers evidently thought that the entire movie could be propped up on the 3-D effects and thus they could slack off on things like plot. Sorry, guys, but having having a sword or a stick come out of the screen every fifteen minutes doesn't necessarily negate suckiness in other areas.

It also doesn't help matters that 97% of the film is ripped-off from other films. With its California desert scenery and hordes of cheaply-attired, post-apocalyptic extras, Metalstorm could pass for any of about a hundred other movies in this vein. Dogen is equal parts Mad Max and Han Solo (and to his credit, Jeffrey Byron actually does look the part). The mining town of Zor is basically an EXTREMELY low-budget version of Mos Eisley from the first Star Wars film. Jared-Syn is fairly typical of the villains you find in movies like this, although his pouty lips, eye makeup, bleached hair, and resemblance to Jim Varney's "Dr. Otto" character did set him apart a bit.

We get appearances by a couple of semi-notable actors in Metalstorm. Dhyana is played by future Scientologist and Bride of Travolta Kelly Preston. Hurok, the head Cyclopean, is portrayed by Richard Moll, best remembered for his role as the hulking but lovable bailiff Bull from t.v.'s "Night Court." Both seem pretty much at home in a movie like this, particularly Moll, who looks rather dashing in his padded armor, Hare Krishna hairstyle, and mutant makeup.

The most unique character in Metalstorm is Jared-Syn's son Baal. Green skin, metal stuff bolted to his head, robotic arm - sure he was evil, but he was so messed-up that I found myself feeling sorry for the guy. The actor who played him (R. David Smith) was a real-life amputee, which significantly contributes to the realism of his cyborg arm. In almost every other film featuring a robotic-armed character, the robotic arm is either way too long (to accommodate the actor's hand inside it) or you can tell the actor has his real arm inside his shirt. I would highly recommend to any filmmakers out there the use of amputees when you're casting cyborgs - it's definitely the way to go.

I'm still trying to figure out the green weapons-grade goo that Baal used to attack people. It comes shooting out of his cyborg arm, and if any gets on you, it starts to sizzle and smoke. Makes sense so far, right? But then, things get all spooky and dark and you see a vision of Jared-Syn, who walks out of a cloud of fog in slow-motion and kills you. Huh? Yeah. Weird. The scene where Dhyana's dad gets this treatment is particularly psychedelic - for a second I thought somebody had slipped acid into my popcorn.

As I mentioned before, there are certain scenes in Metalstorm that are so far-out, I wasn't sure how to work them into the synopsis. The best examples of this involve a minor subplot about a strange burning tree. The first evidence of the tree is on a signpost Dogen and Rhodes pass on the way to the lost city. Later, Dogen puts on the magical mask, and he sees a vision of a burning tree. He sees himself, all shirtless and oiled-up, walk towards the tree with an axe and chop into it. A substance resembling McCormick beef gravy begins to ooze from the wound in the tree, and that's when Dogen yanks the mask off. Towards the end of the film when Dogen is using the mask to deflect Jared-Syn's laser beams, one of the beams hits a nearby tree and sets it on fire. Jared-Syn remarks, "it is the sign! The burning tree..." That's all we get for an explanation. I was a little disappointed, because all this burning tree stuff seems more interesting than the actual plot.

Final Analysis

Strangely enough, the longer I spend with Metalstorm - the Destruction of Jared-Syn the better I like it. I realize that may be hard to believe, but I have to respect a movie that doesn't bend to the pressure to explain ANYTHING to the audience. Despite the impenetrable plot and the long sequences of aimless driving and wandering around that pad the film, Metalstorm has a chewy consistency that really sticks with you. If you're up for the challenge, dig out your 3-D glasses and check it out.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The First Annual Chuck Awards!

Ladies and Gentlemen, it's been a big, big year of bad, bad movies here in our little corner of the Internet. As the first anniversary of Bitter Dregs approached, I thought that the best way to celebrate would be to have a slack-ass awards show, rehashing some of the best and worst of the films I've reviewed in the past twelve months. I'll be handing out little gold Chuck Norris statuettes for outstanding achievements in the field of badness. And so, without further ado, please join me in a round of applause for all of tonight's honorees.

In the category of Least Special Effects...
Several of this year's films displayed an impressive commitment to crappy special effects. There were the snake hand-puppets and Richard Chamberlain action figures of Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold. There was the world's worst stop-motion animation and Christmas-light galaxy of Star Crash. And who could forget the extremely fake yet totally disgusting goblins of Troll 2? However, Dark Universe, with its alien creature that resembled nothing so much as a tower of feces, continually pushed itself to come up with special effects it had neither the budget nor the creativity to adequately realize.
And the Chuck goes to: Dark Universe!

In the category of Best Death From Rocket Launcher...
There were two heavy contenders for this award: evil terrorist leader Rostov from Invasion U.S.A. and evil gang leader Fraker from Death Wish 3. Both met their makers thanks to rocket-propelled grenades, and both made funny faces while doing so. While Fraker wore the more humorous expression as he was exploded, Rostov's existential cry of anguish before his impromptu cremation truly made the climax of Invasion U.S.A. unforgettable.
And the Chuck goes to: Invasion U.S.A.!

In the category of Most Traumatizing Freudian Moment...
No contest here - when little Joshua Waits of Troll 2 stumbles upon his naked mother being eaten by goblins, the award was in the bag. It's like the "primal scene" times four. I'm not sure what the underlying psychoanalitic meaning of such a scene is, but I'm guessing the screenwriter needs some serious therapy. And not just lying on a couch for some analysis, I'm talking about old-school electric shock or something. Even with my admittedly twisted appreciation for bad cinema, this scene had me thinking, "man, I would have been happier if I'd never seen that."
And the Chuck goes to: Troll 2!

In the category of Worst Screenplay...
Seemingly written by someone who spent their life in a dark basement on a steady diet of bad action movies and cheap skin-flicks with no exposure to what we might call "reality," the screenplay for Hell Squad is the year's most nonsensical. You can imagine the original copy, written in crayon, stained with cheeseburger grease and damp from spilled beer, being passed excitedly among the emotionally stunted chronic masturbators who produced this film. If you've ever wondered how many scenes of Vegas showgirls in a giant bathtub is too many, here is your answer.
And the Chuck goes to: Hell Squad!

In the category of Biggest "Huh!?!" Moment...
In a movie saturated with "huh!?!" moments, the climax of Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold took things into another dimension of badness. I can still recall sitting there, mouth agape, eyes staring, brain shutting down, as one of the most unbelievably ill-conceived sequences in film history sullied my t.v. set forever. Watch for yourself and you too will find yourself uttering a five-minute stream of "huh? What? But that's not... No, no, no... Huh?!? Wait a minute... How did... What!?!..."
And the Chuck goes to: Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold!

In the category of Worst Score...
A good score can really enhance a film, providing a sense of mood and adding to the emotional content in a subtle way. If a score is bad enough, however, it can undermine the intended mood and even distract from the action. This was definitely the case in Spacejacked. I can't think of another film whose music so completely disregards what is happening onscreen. You wouldn't hire Rammstein to score your tender and heartwarming coming-of-age film for the Lifetime Movie Network, and likewise, if you are producing an action-packed outer-space movie you should NOT hire your cousin's amateur jazz trio to do the music.
And the Chuck goes to: Spacejacked!

In the category of Most Revolting Screen Romance...
There was an all-you-can-eat buffet of repulsive romances in our films this year - one need only think of Vanilla Ice slobbering on his prim paramour in Cool as Ice to experience a shudder of nausea. The on-screen pairing that made my skin crawl more than any other, though, was that of the "Skinny Guy" and his reasonably attractive girlfriend in Dark Universe. When ol' Skeletor peels off his shirt to reveal his cadaverous ribcage and smirks as he makes flirty remarks to the poor woman acting opposite him, I could barely contain my bile. I know it's a bad movie and all, but they crossed the line with this one.
And the Chuck goes to: Dark Universe!

In the category of Best Bad Actor...
This award goes to the bad actor with the year's most memorable and/or entertaining performance. It seems only fitting that we award this Chuck to the man for whom the award was named. He had four brilliantly bad performances in our films this year, the most outstanding no doubt being his portrayal of swamp-dwelling badass Matt Hunter in Invasion U.S.A.. Of course, there was also his role in Forest Warrior, in which he performed brilliantly in both human and animal forms. He is truly a craftsman of the rough-hewn, action-movie hero.
And the Chuck goes to: Chuck Norris!

In the category of Best Bad Actress...
It was a bit harder to make the selection for this one. There were several bad actresses who turned in memorable performances this year. In the final analysis, the one that has stuck with me the most is Mary Beth Rubens, who played the over-sexed grease monkey Jill in Firebird 2015 A.D.. She brought a certain grubby eroticism to a role that could easily have been totally forgettable (much like the rest of the movie).
And the Chuck goes to: Mary Beth Rubens!

In the category of Worst Good Actor...
This award is the flip-side of Best Bad Actor, and is intended for the "reputable" actor with the most atrocious performance of the year. We can argue over the definition of "reputable," but I consider an actor who has worked in respectable films and is known to at least be capable of a decent performance qualified for this award. Admittedly, there weren't that many of these guys in our movies this year, but I feel I must punish James Earl Jones for his work in Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold. He's such a good actor - he should know better than to take roles like this. Umslopogaas is an even worse character than his Thulsa Doom from Conan the Barbarian, and you can tell he knows it. Shame, James Earl Jones, shame.
And the Chuck goes to: James Earl Jones!

In the category of Worst Good Actress...
To find the worst "reputable" actress of the year, we don't have to go far - she and James Earl Jones share the degradation in Allan Quatermain.... Sharon Stone, playing Quatermain's sidekick/girlfriend Jesse Huston, instantly begins to grate on the nerves. She seems to scream every line, either in terror or frustration depending on the situation. Stone can throw down a pretty good performance, but after this one it's surprising she ever got another chance.
And the Chuck goes to: Sharon Stone!

In the category of Worst Bad Picture...
You might think that this would be the hardest choice of all to make, but I have a simple litmus test in this category that made the decision relatively clear-cut. I asked myself which movie I would least want to see again, and one film stood out above all the rest. That film was Alien Warrior. As someone who actually likes bad movies, I can appreciate incompetence in filmmaking. Alien Warrior had plenty of incompetence, but its inner spirit - its "soul," if you will - was so malignant that I wanted to hose down my VCR after watching it. It was the one movie this year that I was actually kind of sorry I watched.
And the Chuck goes to: Alien Warrior!

In the category of Best Bad Picture...
On the other end of the spectrum, the film that I would be most likely to watch again was also easy to determine. With its wacky imagination, upbeat spirit, and sexy heroine, Star Crash was by far the most enjoyable film of the year. It could never be mistaken for a "good" movie, but it was so much fun that you can't help but love it. I feel sure I'll be watching this one many times in the years to come.
And the Chuck goes to: Star Crash!

In closing, I'd like to thank everyone for all the support I've gotten over the past twelve months. I always appreciate it when you let me know you're reading this stuff. In the new year, there will be a plethora of new bad movies, and I'll be adding more images to the reviews to help you faithful readers get a true sense of the badness. I also encourage all of you to get out there and watch some bad movies for yourselves. Pop the popcorn and let's all share the pain!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Review: Forest Warrior (1996)


The time: the late 1800's. The place: a beautiful mountain in the Pacific Northwest. The Chuck: a brave mountain man named McKenna. The action: McKenna dwells in the pristine forest land given to him by an Indian chief, the father of his bride. Unfortunately, his bride is now deathly ill and McKenna is rushing to bring back medicine to save her life. In the dark of night, exhausted from his journey, McKenna is ambushed by loggers who want to plunder his land. He fights them valiantly, using an old Indian fighting technique called Karate, but even his mad combat skills cannot deflect bullets, and McKenna finds this out the hard way.

Having been shot several times, McKenna rolls down a very long hill and falls off a cliff into a river. His body washes up on the shore, where a forest spirit in the form of a bear spots him. Realizing right away that this was no ordinary human, the bear spirit, along with a wolf and eagle spirit, use their magic to grant McKenna a new life as one of them. McKenna becomes a forest spirit and guardian of the mountain. As such, he can take the forms of the three animal spirits who saved him as well as his manly original form. As the years pass, McKenna intervenes whenever humans endanger his forest land and he quickly becomes the stuff of campfire stories.

Fast forward to the present day. A small lumber-oriented community has grown up around the mountain, but Tanglewood (the forest where McKenna once lived) has been left largely untouched. Until now, that is. Greedy half-wit business tycoon Travis Thorne has gone behind the backs of the townsfolk and made arrangements to begin logging Tanglewood. Thorne's flunkies, under the command of a mean-spirited bully named Williams, begin surveying the forest when they encounter some suspiciously precocious children.

These are the self-proclaimed "Lords of Tanglewood" - a group kids from town who ride their bikes into the forest to play and have wacky adventures. Their base of operations is a treehouse the size of Charles Foster Kane's Xanadu, where they are allowed to camp out without adult supervision. Here is a brief breakdown of the kids and their general characteristics: Justin: short, geeky but self-assured - the brains of the operation; Austene: the lone female - pretty and tough but with a tender side; Logan: doe-eyed, curly-topped runt - the heart and soul of the group; Brian: oldest member - long blonde hair, slightly arrogant, probable future stoner; Lewis: generic kid with no distinguishing traits - possibly a relative of one of the producers.

The kids stumble across Williams and two of his men as they are about to shoot a bear cub. Austene yells at them to stop, which they do, but only to turn their menacing attentions towards the children. The Forest Warrior takes this as his cue to appear (in human form) and administer an 1800's-style ass-whooping to Williams and company. He congratulates Austene for her bravery, then disappears.

Williams reports the trouble to Thorne, who suggests that the presence of those darned kids will continue to be a raspberry seed in his molar unless their treehouse is destroyed. He sends Williams back to Tanglewood to do the dirty deed. While the kids are off fishing, Williams plants no less than a dozen sticks of dynamite under the treehouse and sets a timer to blow the place to kingdom come. Austene happens to come back early and is nearly transformed into pretty, pigtailed chunks. Luckily, the Forest Warrior is there to save her, bringing her back from death with magical glowy lights.

It's an easy task for the townsfolk (even these townsfolk) to figure out who was responsible for the treehouse bombing, and the Sheriff also learns about Thorne's plans to begin his illegal logging operation. Sheriff Ramsey, along with Austene's frequently drunk dad Arlen, and local store-owner and friend of the children Clovis, form a small posse and go after Thorne. Meanwhile, the kids are way ahead of the adults, setting booby traps for Thorne and his men in Tanglewood.

Thorne, rather predictably, falls victim to the pint-sized insurgents and ends up battered, bruised, and covered with poison sumac. His punishment continues when he encounters the Forest Warrior, who gives him one last chance to repent his evil ways. Thorne foolishly resists and is savagely beaten by our hero. When the Forest Warrior transforms into a bear, Thorne suffers a psychotic breakdown and is carted off to jail babbling incoherently. The Forest Warrior gives Thorne's logging crew a sound thrashing just for good measure, and Tanglewood is safe once more.


In Forest Warrior, we find Chuck Norris cultivating the family-friendly side of his screen persona. No guns or knives with which to fight the baddies this time - just Chuck's fists and feet of fury along with some magic powers. The role of minor deity seems to suit him; the blank stoicism that typifies any Chuck performance fits this character nicely, and who among us hasn't longed to see our nation's greatest living actor transform into various forest creatures? I know I have!

It's too bad that the Forest Warrior doesn't have more scenes in the movie that bears his name. The kids are the real protagonists in the story, and the F. W. only bobs up now and again to save their bacon. The child actors here are acceptable if generic, although Austene is the only one whose character is very developed.

I have a theory that when the producers of a film such as this one contract with an animal training company for the non-human actors, the filmmakers get access to all of the animals the training company has for a flat rate. That would be the only logical explanation for the appearance of - in addition to the bear, wolf, and eagle that the story actually calls for - a bear cub, a snake, a badger, a raccoon, two varieties of owl, a skunk, a toad, and a flying squirrel. About a third of the movie consists of shots of these various and sundry creatures, and you can almost hear the producers saying, "well, we paid for the damned things - let's get some use out of them."

The most insufferable moments in Forest Warrior are probably the two instances of the infamous "montage set to music." You know they're coming in a movie like this - you can smell them a mile away. It's an easy way to add valuable extra minutes to a film's run time, which explains why it's such a pervasive device. The first one is an unremarkable sequence showing the kids riding their bikes from the town to the forest, set to a blandly cheerful song called "Summertime." The second is brought on when Logan broadcasts a Little Richard-style rock song over the walkie-talkies of the loggers, causing them to jump down off their trucks and dance around, playing air-guitar with their chainsaws. The combination of the terrible song and the visuals of pudgy loggers gyrating around results in a feeling of squeamishness and a tendency to distractedly pick lint balls off the arm of the couch. At least for me.

As far as notable supporting actors here, there are a few C- and D-listers who might be of interest. Roscoe Lee Browne, who plays Clovis, has done quite a bit of work in television roles, as well as voice work (he was the narrator in the movie Babe, for instance). Another well-known face from t.v. popping up in Forest Warrior is Loretta Swit ("Hot Lips" from "M.A.S.H."), who plays Shirley, mother of Brian and Logan. Wil Shriner (host of a morning t.v. talk show in the late 80's) makes a cameo, and Austene's dad Arlen is portrayed with scenery-chewing emotion by Michael Beck, who also played the country-fried Dallas in Megaforce. Yeah, the casting director was dredging pretty far down in the sea of actors, but you don't want your supporting actors to be bigger stars than your star, and when your star is Chuck Norris, there's only so much farther down the list you can go.

Travis Thorne is about as cartoonish as a villain can get. Maybe it's the cigar; maybe it's the Yosemite Sam clothes; maybe it's the way his eyes bug out when he's berating his henchmen; I'm not sure. The fact that he seems to want to cut down the forest just for the sheer pleasure of doing it makes him seem a trifle over-the-top to me. Forest Warrior almost reaches the realm of parody when Thorne has his climactic encounter with our hero. Instead of the Scrooge-like conversion from evil to good that you sometimes see in movies like this, Thorne goes completely off the deep end and is last seen in the midst of a schizophrenic break with reality.

Every children's movie needs a good message, and Forest Warrior definitely comes through in that department. We learn that it's wrong to destroy God's creation, and secondly, that if anyone is caught doing it, they need to have their ass handed to them. Yes, violence IS the answer! Woo hoo! The Forest Warrior passes this valuable lesson on to little Logan towards the end of the movie when, after having beaten Thorne's henchman Williams to a pink pulp, he lets Logan deliver the death blow. If only all children could have the experience of kicking a badly wounded adult in the face, what a wonderful world this could be!

Final Analysis

Forest Warrior is far from a perfect film. A stupid plot, cliche script, and mediocre acting all work against it. The saving grace is our man Chuck. The Forest Warrior is one of his most interesting characters, and it's well worth suffering through the drudgery of the rest of the movie just to see him beat up the bad guys while transmogrifying into bears and eagles and such. He can even bring people back from the dead, for crying out loud! For anyone who already suspects that Chuck is God, this will be your confirmation. If there's something missing in your life - a void that you've been unable to fill with knowledge, booze, drugs, and sex - then go forth to your local video store, and be baptized in the Church of Chuck! Amen.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Review: Megaforce (1982)


In an unspecified part of the world (one of the parts with lots of sand and not much else), a paramilitary group is mounting raids on the peaceful country of Sardoon. This group, under the command of an evil General named Guerrera (Henry Silva), drive their tanks into Sardoon and blow up power stations and other resources, then flee across the border to the neighboring country of Gamibia. The Gamibian government gives Guerrera's men refuge and refuses to allow the Sardoonian military to persue Guerrera into their country. Unable to combat Guerrera themselves, two officials from Sardoon's army, Major Zara (Persis Khambatta) and General Byrne-White (Edward Mulhare) seek the help of a clandestine organization known as Megaforce.

Megaforce is a top-secret, rapid-deployment defense team which monitors the globe and protects all good people from terrorists, communists, and other evildoers. The free nations of the world contribute their most skilled soldiers, most brilliant scientists, and most advanced weaponry to this elite group, and they control its actions. Megaforce is headquartered in a huge underground complex in the American desert and their base of operations houses an incredible array of futuristic weaponry (fancy dirtbikes, mostly).

The commander of Megaforce is puffy-haired, spandex-sporting Ace Hunter (Barry Bostwick). Other members include southern-drawling Dallas, antisocial scientist and brilliant inventor Eggstrum, token black guy Zachary Taylor, and a gaggle of good-natured foot soldiers from across the globe. Megaforce prides itself on its amazing array of futuristic weaponry, and Zara and Byrne-White are given a demonstration of some of the most incredible items in the Megaforce arsenal, including the aforementioned dirtbikes (which can shoot tiny rockets) and a dune buggy whose paint turns black in the dark. They also have fantastic 3-D computer displays which they use for planning missions and showing really stupid cartoons.

Ace and company put together a brilliant plan to sneak into Gamibia and strike Guerrera's base of operations, then lead Guerrera and his men on a chase which will take them across the border and into the hands of the Sardoonian army. Zara (who also happens to be the daughter of Sardoon's president) likes the plan but wants to participate in the attack herself. Ace is strongly opposed to the idea, but lets Zara go through a long and tedious series of tests to prove that she is just as skilled as any man before rejecting her from the mission. All the while, Zara and Ace flirt in a nauseating fashion.

Finally, the night of the big attack arrives. Megaforce ride into Gamibia on their bikes and dune buggies and many things are blown up. Unfortunately, the Gamibian government quickly gets wind of the attack and announce that if the Sardoonians allow Megaforce to cross the border, it will mean a declaration of war between the two countries. The only way out of Gamibia for Ace and his buddies is to be picked up by transport plane, and Guerrera's tanks are positioned at the only nearby landing strip to keep the planes away.

Ace leads Megaforce around behind the tanks and they attack Guerrera, providing enough of a distraction to allow the planes to land. Megaforce rushes to the waiting planes, but Ace stays behind for a minute to make a smarmy speech to Guerrera. The planes begin to take off, and Ace must use the special, super-secret button on his dirtbike which causes it to sprout wings and fly. He flies up to meet his cheering pals in the transport plane. The plane flies back to Sardoon and Ace and Zara exchange their patented revolting salute of love and triumph (kissing one thumb, then extending it in a "thumbs-up" gesture.) The audience tries desperately to make it to the bathroom before vomiting.


Megaforce was directed by Hal Needham, a man who made his mark in Hollywood as a stuntman. In fact, Needham may be the most famous stuntman in film history. He designed the first vehicle to break the sound barrier on land, was the first human being to test the automobile airbag, and was the highest paid stuntman in Hollywood for over a decade. He won an Academy Award for his invention of the "camera car," which has been used to shoot chase scenes in innumerable movies. Sadly, Megaforce will forever be a blot on Needham's otherwise illustrious career.

Speaking of blighted careers, Barry Bostwick really stepped in the Megapoo with this one. Bostwick is perhaps best known for is role as Brad Majors in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Bostwick once made some less-than-sensitive remarks about the famously rabid fans of Rocky Horror, who have since taken to calling Bostwick "asshole" at every possible occasion, reportedly shouting the appellation at him whenever he comes out in public. Whatever Bostwick's offscreen sins may have been, he definitely earned his nickname in the role of Ace Hunter.

Admittedly, there are certain things about Ace Hunter that Bostwick probably had no control over. His name, for instance. Or his cheese-souffle-like hairstyle. Or his grotesque, skin-tight costumes. I also concede that he didn't have much to work with in the script. Bostwick, however, brings quite a bit of what we might call "personality" to the role. It's the sort of personality that makes you yearn to break a pool cue over his head. Ace is by turns smug, cocky, obnoxious, and idiotic - not the best combination of traits for a leading man. And I really never wanted to see every contour of Barry Bostwick outlined in a gold spandex jumpsuit. Really, I didn't.

Seeing Ace flirt with Zara only adds to the repulsion. They exchange smoky glances in a variety of situations, including one rather curious scene of flirtation during the act of skydiving. Persis Khambatta's career never really took off after she appeared bald in Star Trek: the Motion Picture, and you can tell from her performance here that she knows her best days are already behind her. Her complete lack of charisma is an interesting foil for Bostwick's over-effusive Ace; when the two share a scene they sort of cancel each other out and it becomes something like watching a test pattern.

Megaforce is one of those films that tries to break stereotypes, but then inadvertently reinforces them. It takes pains to show characters defying supposed expectations, but then the other characters' shocked reactions countermand the effect. (A black guy who likes classical music?! A woman who can fly a helicopter?! The world's gone crazy!!) It's a well-known fact that if you make a big point of demonstrating that you aren't a sexist or a racist, you're probably going to end up looking like one.

The scene near the end of Megaforce featuring Ace's incredible flying dirtbike is one of those movie moments that are difficult to adequately describe. It's so completely unbelievable that it singlehandedly boosts the film up to the next plateau of badness. Seldom have special effects been less special. Do we have a case of bad-movie transcendence here? Indeed, we do.

The last few minutes of this movie are very deceptive, so much so that they actually fooled me - temporarily - into thinking that it had a happy ending. Ace makes his smarmy victory speech to Guerrera in which he states "the good guys always win - even in the 80's." He joins the rest of his Megaforce team amidst cheers of joy, and he and Zara do their stupid thumbs-up thing, faces beaming with happiness. Unless you actually stop and think about it, it seems like our heroes came out on top here. What nobody points out is that, in actuality, Megaforce completely botched its mission, nearly started a war, and fled Gamibia with its tail between its legs. This pokes some serious holes in Ace's little theory about good guys winning, even in the 80's.

Final Analysis

Despite the fact that I had no idea what was going on during half of this movie and that on numerous occasions I had to avert my eyes from Barry Bostwick's shiny gold batch, Megaforce has enough goofy entertainment value to make it worthwhile for the bad-movie enthusiast. This is the sort of film in which the needle on the stupidity gauge is in the red zone from start to finish, and the magical flying dirtbike is virtually required viewing for the serious Dregophile. Don't rush right out for this one, but if you happen upon it, don't pass it up.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Review: Tarantulas: the Deadly Cargo (1977)


In Ecuador, a couple of small-time American hustlers are hoping to make big bucks by smuggling coffee beans into California and selling them at a huge profit. Some Ecuadorian workmen are helping them to live this wonderful dream by filling up burlap sacks with the aforementioned beans, seemingly oblivious to the large, hairy spiders that are crawling all over the place. Due to either apathy, stupidity, or bad screenwriting, the workmen just shovel the spiders into the bags along with the coffee.

In addition to the coffee, the Americans slip three would-be immigrants onto their small-engine plane and take off for the States. On the way, however, some of the spiders escape the bags and start biting the Ecuadorians in the back of the plane. As if that weren't bad enough, one of the engines fails, forcing the Americans to make an emergency landing. They try to set down in a small orange-growing town in California but miss the runway and crash in a barren field.

We are quickly introduced to every important figure in the town: Bert the fireman (Claude Akins), Doc Hodgins (Pat Hingle), Mayor Douglas, Police Chief Beasley, and fresh-faced young couple Joe and Cindy. In fact, the entire community descends on the crash site in a matter of about 45 seconds. Bert, Joe, Cindy, and Doc Hodgins start trying to get the doors of the plane open, but they won't budge. Joe notices that the plane is leaking gas like a scenic waterfall, so people start digging a trench to divert the petrol.

Some idiot comes speeding toward the crash site on his motorcycle and, for unknown reasons (bad screenwriting?), he crashes his bike into the gasoline ditch, lighting the fuel and blowing up the plane. The plane explodes in a fireball but the flames are extinguished in a minute or two by Bert and the other firefighters. The very sturdy and evidently flame-retardant spiders start to make their way out of the wreckage and into town.

The spiders descend on the community with a speed which could only be explained by supernatural powers (or bad screenwriting). Within hours they are biting people all over town, and their venom is so toxic that it kills the victims almost instantly. Doc Hodgins converts his house into a triage unit and fairly quickly determines that the deaths are being caused by big honkin' spider bites. Joe just happens to know a world-renowned spider expert, and the expert tells Joe that they must be Ecuadorian Banana Spiders.

Meanwhile, Mayor Douglas is trying to get his crop of oranges ready for market and he doesn't want any arachnid interference. He ignores the warnings of Doc Hodgins, Bert, and Joe, and refuses to close down his processing plant. The plant immediately becomes Spider Central, the spiders evidently being attracted to the bugs that are attracted to the oranges. With the death toll climbing at an alarming rate, a plan of action is desperately needed.

Joe reads in a book that Ecuadorian Banana Spiders are terrified of a certain kind of wasp, and if the spider hears the wasp buzzing it will freeze, remaining immobile for several minutes. Joe rounds up some bees, records their buzzing, then sets up his hi-fi at the Mayor's orange plant. Bert throws some fruit on the floor of the plant to attract bugs. The spiders all come running out to eat the bugs, then Joe turns on his stereo and the bee sounds cause the spiders to freeze in horror.

Bert, Joe, Doc Hodgins, and Cindy go into the plant with shovels and tongs and pick up all the immobilized spiders, dumping them into buckets of alcohol. There's a brief setback when somebody accidentally shorts out the power and the spider-removal team gets trapped in the plant without the bee-noise to save them, but they escape rather easily and subsequently go back and finish the job. The spiders are wiped out, the oranges go to market, and the town is saved. The bees are given a ticker-tape parade down Main Street. Okay, maybe not, but they really deserved one.


Tarantuals: the Deadly Cargo is a little made-for-tv movie from the 1970's which did actually see theatrical release in Europe (sucks to be you, Europe). It's a very dated film, both in terms of the hideous polyester clothes and the very idea of the plot. Nowadays, you would never try to scare your audience with ordinary tarantulas. You have to have mutant, 50-foot-tall tarantulas that fly and spit fire, or people just doze off.

Being that I was only about a year old when this movie came out, I can't speak from my personal memories, but I'm not sure tarantulas were scary even back in the 70's. They're big and furry and all, but if you don't have full-blown arachnophobia, I doubt a movie like this would conjure more than an "ewww, yuck" from the average viewer. They try to tell us that they're extremely terrifying "Ecuadorian Banana Spiders," but when they named the movie Tarantulas: the Deadly Cargo, do they really expect us to buy that?

This is a curious film in that it seems to be divided into four segments that don't particularly relate to one another stylistically. The first segment features the happy-go-lucky American smugglers making their way out of Ecuador, and it plays like a sort of light-hearted buddy pic with spiders. Part two, when the plane crashes and the townsfolk rush in, has the feel of a first-responder training film. I suppose it's interesting to see in detail how to dig a trench to divert a fuel spill, but this segment has way too much detail and not enough action. The third segment is a rather by-the-numbers Jaws rip-off, with the spiders terrorizing the town and the self-centered Mayor refusing to deal with the problem.

For the climactic final section, the screenwriters threw caution (and logic) to the wind and came up with one of the most convoluted and idiotic resolutions I've seen in many moons. The idea that every spider in town would have convened at the orange plant is bad enough, but a recording of some honey bees as the secret weapon? Is this a joke? At first the buzzing isn't working on the spiders, and the solution Joe comes up with is to "turn up the bass! All the way!" Brilliant. Saved by a subwoofer.

Of course, the flaws in logic aren't limited to the end of the film. I'm still trying to figure out how the spiders 1) survived the explosion of the airplane, and 2) managed to disperse themselves all over town in about twenty minutes. Were they hitching rides on people's bumpers as they drove away from the crash site? Beyond that, there are so many of them by the end of the movie that, unless tarantulas can divide like amoebas, those bags of coffee beans on the plane would have had to be about fifty percent coffee and fifty percent spiders.

On a more positive note, the cast of Tarantulas: the Deadly Cargo features some quality b-movie actors. There's stony-faced Claude Akins and tuberesque Pat Hingle, both of whom put in solid performances. Howard Hesseman, a great actor best know for t.v. roles like Dr. Johnny Fever from "WKRP in Cincinnati," is appropriately sleazy but likable as one of the American smugglers. As a whole, the cast is pretty good; the only problem is that they forgot to include an actual star. Maybe the lead actor pulled out at the last minute and they just went ahead without him/her, but there seems to be a definite hero vacuum here.

I also give this movie points for not wimping out about killing off a little kid. Cindy's cute little brother Matthew prods at one of the spiders with a stick, then later he tries to catch one for Doc Hodgins. When he gets bitten, there are no heroics to save his life - he just croaks. Many films will manipulate the audience by having the cute ten-year-old nearly die, but they usually manage to save him in the end. It takes guts to eighty-six a pre-teen in a movie like this.

Final Analysis

In the end, a good b-movie cast and the willingness to knock off an adorable little boy just aren't enough to save Tarantulas: the Deadly Cargo from its various and sundry flaws. Watch this only if you really, really need to know how to dig a ditch to divert a fuel spill.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Review: Santa with Muscles (1996)


It's Christmastime in California, but health food tycoon Blake Thorne (Hulk Hogan) isn't giving much thought to Old Saint Nick (or Jesus, for that matter). He's busy creating ego-massaging packaging for his new line of products and inventing random motivational slogans called "Blake's Rules." What little spare time he has left is spent beating the living crap out of his chauffeur, personal chef, and butler (strictly for exercise purposes, of course), and playing paintball. It's a good life.

When one of Blake's paintball games goes wrong the California P.D. - under the command of dim-witted Officer Hinkley (Clint Howard) - come after him, and he leads the cops on the most thrilling high-speed chase since O.J.'s Bronco ride. Ditching his Hummer, Blake runs into a shopping mall and disguises himself as Santa Claus to avoid detection. His brilliant plan goes awry, however, when he tries to hide in a garbage chute. A janitor dumps several tons of mall trash on him, causing him to lose his grip and fall down the chute and into the basement.

Blake, suffering multiple contusions and severe head trauma, can't seem to remember who he is! Fortunately, a sleazy, scheming mall elf (secret heart of gold implied) named Lenny is hanging around by the trash chute. Lenny helps himself to Blake's wallet, and since the mall Santa didn't show up that day anyway he convinces Blake to head up to the food court and play the part of Father Christmas. Still in the heady initial throes of brain damage, Blake goes along with the idea.

Blake is a little confused at first, but soon he starts getting into his role as St. Nick and before you know it - BANG! - yuletide personality displacement! Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Santaland a couple of hoodlums are trying to steal the money jar for the "Save the Orphanage" fund. Our white-bearded hero springs into action and gives them a good old-fashioned Christmas ass-kicking. Upon seeing the orphanage sign Blake feels compelled to go there and help out. Having realized that this "Santa with muscles" is actually a millionaire amnesiac, Lenny tags along hoping to bilk some more cash out of him.

At the orphanage, Blake and Lenny meet the caretakers, Leslie and Clayton, and all three of the orphans. It seems that all the land in the neighborhood has been bought up by an evil germophobic millionaire named Ebner Frost (Ed Begley Jr.). Now Frost and his henchmen are trying to force Leslie and Clayton to sell out as well. Soon enough we discover the reason why: the entire area is sitting on a network of caves encrusted with energy-producing crystals! Blake gets into a fight with one of Frost's underlings and falls off the roof of the orphanage and into a trash truck. His second trash-related head injury causes him to lose consciousness, and when he wakes up he's back in his mansion with his memory restored.

Blake, accompanied by his butler, chef, and chauffeur, pile into the Hummer and head to the orphanage, where Frost and his men have taken over. On the way they pass Officer Hinkley, who spots the Hummer and gives chase. Blake is able to lose the police when one over-zealous officer shoots off a rocket launcher at him (!!) and accidentally blows up Hinkley's patrol car, reducing Hinkley to a charred, dim-witted husk.

Before the climactic finale, Clayton reveals that Blake himself was once a child in the orphanage, as was Ebner Frost (a fact which Blake apparently forgot even after his memory was restored). In fact, Blake and Frost were there at the same time and hated each other back then, too. Blake battles Frost in the magical crystal caves and, with a little help from Leslie, Lenny, and the orphans, he triumphs. The crystals explode, causing the orphanage to be sucked into another dimension, sort of like the house in the end of Poltergeist. Frost and his minions are arrested by the extra-crispy Officer Hinkley and forced to pick up trash by the side of the road. Calling on some heretofore unknown California law of eminent domain, Blake commandeers Frost's mansion and gives it to the orphans to live in. Ho, ho, ho!


I have to admit it - I love Christmas. The colored lights, the carols, the presents... I think there's supposed to be some sort of religious element, too. But nothing says "Christmas" to me like a good Hulk Hogan movie ("good," in this case, meaning "eye-poppingly, mind-numbingly, amnesia-causingly bad.") Santa With Muscles is the sort of Christmas movie that could make Jesus wish he'd never been born.

I remember quite well the wrestling craze of the early '80s - a huge cast of large, muscular characters body-slammed their way into our hearts: Andre the Giant, Junkyard Dog, the Iron Sheik, Rowdy Roddy Piper, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Brutus "the Barber" Beefcake, and of course, Terry "Hulk" Hogan. The nation was gripped with Hulkamania - it was a happy time. As years went by, Hulk's career began to lose some of its luster. I don't know exactly when he decided to make the transition from pretending to wrestle to pretending to act, but it was a dark day for both the wrestling and film industries.

To describe Hulk's screen presence as "leaden" would be too charitable. He's more like an ingot cast from some of that super-dense material at the center of large planets. His gravitational pull is such that it sucks personality out of the other actors, creating a sort of charisma black hole. No actor sharing screen time with Hulk is safe from the effect, and believe me, his costars don't have any charisma to spare.

Santa With Muscles' cast is populated with a wide array of second- and third-tier actors from the large and small screen. Some are well-known, such as "Saturday Night Live" veteran Garrett Morris and minor cult favorite Clint Howard; others are just familiar enough to make you say, "hey - there's that woman from Star Trek 3," or, "isn't that the kid from that one t.v. show?" The most annoying of these lesser characters is probably Blake's sidekick Lenny, played by Don Stark. He comes across like a hyperactive mafioso ferret, which gets old really, really fast.

It's no wonder the world is going to hell if this is the kind of movie we're foisting on our children. Just because your film is aimed at kids doesn't mean you have a free pass to ignore things like logic, continuity, and coherency. Santa With Muscles isn't content to be merely sloppy, though - it ratchets up the stupidity until it makes no sense whatsoever. Not only do Leslie and Clayton feed the obviously disturbed guy who thinks he's Santa, they give him a room in the orphanage right amongst the children! Not only does one of the kids sew up Blake's torn Santa suit in one night, she alters it and sews him leather gauntlets to match! Not only are there ancient catacombs under the orphanage, Leslie lets the orphans use them as their clubhouse! A toddler could point out the problems with this script.

And what about these amazing crystals that store energy? The movie can't seem to decide if they're magical or real. There's some mumbo-jumbo early on about how the windows in the orphanage chapel glow when you sing, but the connection to the crystals is never explained. They try to make us believe these crystals actually exist by having one of the kids say "Oh - I read about these in my geology book!" Geology book? Written by who - Shirley MacLaine?!

In the end, though, my biggest complaint about Santa With Muscles is its lack of heart. A Christmas movie can be excused for many sins if it has heart - it's probably the most crucial element in these films. In Santa With Muscles, the rich jerk at the beginning of the movie is still a rich jerk at the end. Nobody has a change of heart, and nobody gets redeemed for anything. I thought the movie's ending was a fitting example of this problem. After the orphanage is destroyed I assumed Blake would take the orphans into his palatial estate, but no - he just steals Frost's house and gives that to the kids. That really warmed my soul, let me tell you.

Final Analysis

I'm sure that Santa With Muscles will eventually take its place among other holiday classics like It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Story. If you want the experience of watching Santa With Muscles but can't find it at your local video store, a close approximation can be obtained by watching one of those other Christmas films while sitting in a bucket of fire ants.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Review: Spacejacked (1997)


Sometime in the near-future a spaceship called the Star Princess is gliding from Earth toward the moon. The Star Princess is a luxury cruise ship which takes the extremely wealthy on pleasure trips, and this voyage is one such excursion. The passengers are all billionaires with the exception of Dawn, an administrative assistant who won her trip in a contest.

With the cruise underway, the guests are busy making use of the virtual reality couches, mood-altering drugs, and free booze. On the bridge, however, there seems to be a malfunction with the ship's life-pods. We soon learn that the malfunction is actually sabotage, perpetrated by the ship's second mate Barnes (Corbin Bernsen) and his android partner-in-crime Gibson. The two ne'er-do-wells kill the Captain, deploys all but one of the life-pods and cause an explosion that nearly destroys the ship (the size of the explosion having been a little bigger than Barnes intended.)

The surviving passengers in the ship's lounge include Dawn, first mate Taylor, the bartender, the cruise director, a seemingly mentally retarded android named Mac, and a handful of billionaires. Barnes appears to them on a monitor from the ship's bridge and demands bank account access codes from the rich folks, threatening to leave them there to die if they don't comply. He inexplicably gives them thirty minutes to "think it over" (which in movies always means "try to escape.")

Taylor hatches a plan to try to make his way to the bridge and send a distress signal. The explosion knocked out life-support for most of the ship, so Taylor sends Mac to retrieve a space suit for him. This almost works, but when Mac runs into an exposed and very live wire he fries his already questionable mental circuitry and goes wandering up to the bridge himself. Barnes shoves him into the airlock and jettisons him into space.

When the allotted thirty minutes have elapsed Barnes has Gibson bring one of the billionaires to the bridge. Barnes forces the bank code out of him and then guns him down, not bothering to confirm that it was the correct code first. It isn't, of course, so Barnes is forced to use a code-cracking computer program instead. Meanwhile, Taylor and Dawn find another way to the space-suits and make their way toward the bridge. Knowing that the life-pod can only hold seven of the eight "good" people on the ship, Taylor sends Dawn back to gather the other passengers and lead them to the pod while he continues to the bridge to make another attempt at sending a distress signal. Barnes, aware that Taylor and Dawn are up to something, sends Gibson to kill them.

Taylor sneaks onto the bridge through an air duct and jumps on Barnes. During their fight a stray shot from Barnes' ray-gun hits a pipe and black smoke comes out. Taylor wisely zips up his space-suit but Barnes is unprotected and the smoke causes him to choke. He dies in seconds, frozen in a goofy position for all eternity. Gibson finds Dawn and nearly strangles her, but she sticks some C-4 on him and blows him through a wall. She collects the other passengers and they head for the life-pod. On the way the bartender is pointlessly killed, opening up a slot in the pod for Taylor.

Dawn, somewhat unwisely, sets the life-pod to launch in five minutes and then rushes to the bridge to get Taylor. She and Taylor don't quite make it back in time and they're left behind on the ship, which is slowly losing life-support. Fortunately (I guess), Mac the android shows up just in time with a rescue party and saves them. Hooray.


According to the Theory of Special Relativity, a person traveling very quickly through space may experience a peculiar phenomenon known as "time dilation." The idea is that if you move fast enough you will experience time differently from someone at a fixed point. For example, if you left Earth on a spaceship traveling at 99% the speed of light, and continued at that speed for 86 minutes, back on Earth 602 minutes would have elapsed (because time is distorted by a factor of seven at that speed.) Coincidentally, watching Spacejacked can also make 86 minutes stretch to what seems like 602.

Seriously, this movie hurt me in a deep and profound way. In trying to write the synopsis I had to stop to question my memory several times - so many things just didn't add up. Was I remembering incorrectly? I consulted with my wife (who endured this pile of space-crap with me), but our questions only served to confuse us further. With all apologies to any hardcore Spacejacked fans out there, I did the best I could with it. Actually, I think my summary might make more sense than the movie did.

Spacejacked is a film which lacks any redeeming qualities whatsoever. Terrible acting, cheap production, bad effects, incomprehensible script - I really can't think of a single nice thing to say about it. Well, it had a couple of sex scenes for those desperate for a peek at some boobs, but that's it. And if I were those boobs, I'd feel very wasted on this movie.

Of its myriad offenses, its plot is perhaps Spacejacked's weakest point. The general concept is pretty generic - that much I could forgive - but as the story unfolds there are so many inconsistencies and unanswered questions that you're left feeling completely bamboozled. How, for instance, can a ship as seemingly massive as the Star Princess get by with no support staff? Why does Gibson plant C-4 all over the ship and nearly blow it to kingdom come before the plan is even underway? Why does Barnes need to hold the billionaires hostage when he has a computer program that will crack their bank account codes? What is the mysterious black smoke that comes out of the pipe and causes Barnes to freeze like a statue? Why does Dawn have to set the timer on the life-pod for five minutes? I'm sorry - I shouldn't burden you with these questions. I brought this on myself.

Another fatal flaw in Spacejacked is the performance of Corbin Bernsen. Before seeing this film I had a reasonably positive impression of the man, but his portrayal of Barnes is so unbearable that I found myself gritting my teeth each time he came on-screen. When he's not bellowing like an enraged gorilla or tormenting his space-captives he's throwing petulant tantrums and berating his android. I don't know if he smoked a bad batch of crystal meth or what, but his behavior is so psychotic that I really started to pity his costars (and myself) for having to endure him.

While I was gratified to finally see a movie where the androids weren't played by Frank Zagarino, the two androids in Spacejacked made me almost wistful for his beefy, stoic performances. Gibson and Mac are both so feckless that you wouldn't trust them to fix your refrigerator, much less operate a spaceship. Gibson is spastic and unpredictable; Mac seems sort of like the android equivalent of that guy from Sling Blade. If this is the future of human simulacra, I think I'll take a pass.

The one thing about Spacejacked that truly sets it apart from other films of its ilk is its soundtrack. I hesitate to use the term "score" because I'm afraid it would give it too much credit, but I think I can say without reservation that Spacejacked has the most inappropriate music in film history. It almost (ALMOST) makes the movie worth watching - I laughed out loud several times at the unbelievable disconnect between the music and the action. What best suits a tense, dramatic scene? A three-minute bongo drum solo, of course. How about a jolly, lilting clarinet tune to go with your action-packed fight scene? If you told me that the entire soundtrack was lifted directly from an unreleased feature-length episode of "Scooby-Doo," I wouldn't doubt you for a second.

Final Analysis

Despite the entertainment value of its soundtrack, Spacejacked was truly a painful movie experience. It starts with a tired and overused premise and then makes it almost unintelligible through bad screenwriting, directing, and acting. It's bad, and not a good kind of bad. This little mission never should have made it off the launch pad.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Review: Body Rock (1984)


Chilly D (Lorenzo Lamas) is a tough but sensitive New York street kid (assuming a thirty-year-old can qualify as a "kid.") He and his friends the Body Rock Crew spend their days hanging out in a run-down basement where they put on shows which include rapping and breakdancing. The Body Rock Crew also spend a lot of time making graffiti art, and Chilly thinks they could make big bucks like Basquiat if they only had an agent. To that end, Chilly seeks out a well-to-do promoter named Terrence who he hopes will manage their artistic endeavors.

Terrence isn't too impressed with Chilly's art, but as it turns out he is looking for entertainers for a new nightclub he's opening. Chilly convinces him to give the Body Rock Crew an audition. Upon leaving the meeting, Chilly is struck with the realization that he is possibly the only member of the Crew who has no actual talent and/or skills. He goes to the Crew's youngest member, an eight-year-old breakdancing prodigy named Magick, and talks the kid into giving him some lessons.

The lessons apparently work because when Terrence and his entourage come to see the Body Rock Crew in action, Chilly is the only member who he decides to hire for his club. His lack of talent doesn't stop Chilly from becoming the main attraction at the new club, to the initial delight of his friends in Body Rock. Soon, however, Chilly is predictably swept up in a storm of ego-stroking groupies and coke-snorting financiers and he no longer has time for his old pals.

A budding relationship with a sweet girl named Darlene falls by the boards as he hooks up with a skanky artist named Claire. Claire is a member of Terrence's happy-go-lucky group of hangers-on, and her interests include drugs, booze, sex, and those bodybuilder protein shakes. Chilly makes some half-hearted attempts to keep things going with Darlene, but he has trouble resisting Claire's drug-addled advances. Finally, Darlene confronts Chilly about Claire and he's either too honest or too stupid to deny his cheating ways.

Having lost his would-be girlfriend and fallen out of favor with the Body Rock Crew, Chilly spirals into a quick depression. After a show at the club, Terrence, Claire, and the rest of their group take him to a gay bar. One of Terrence's friends is an older, balding guy named Donald who always wears a tuxedo and is often present at these after-parties. When Donald tries to kiss Chilly, Chilly freaks out and punches him.

Little does Chilly know, Donald is the guy who actually owns the club, and Chilly soon finds himself out of a job. Things look bleak, but a few encouraging words from Magick get Chilly's mojo working again. Thanks to some sloppy screenwriting, Chilly and the Body Rock Crew all show up at the club for a big event called the "Rapstravaganza." Basically, this seems to boil down to Claire rehashing one of the song-and-dance numbers from Chilly's old act.

Chilly takes offense to this blatant copyright infringement and he and the Body Rock Crew take over the stage. Donald, who is watching this unfold from the DJ booth, nearly has a stroke. He tries to pull the plug, but the crowd seems ready to tear the place apart if they don't get their daily dose of Chilly, so he has no choice but to relent. After Body Rock puts on a movie-stopping performance Darlene forgets all about Chilly's probable STDs and the two of them run off happily into the night.


As you Dregophiles already know, there was a plethora of low-budget films during the early 1980's which tried to capitalize on the popularity of breakdancing and hip-hop music. We've already examined one such movie (Breakin' 2) in some detail. It may be useful, though, to talk about Body Rock in order to illustrate just how low on the quality scale these films can go. If you have even a passing appreciation for breakdancing or rap, Body Rock will be like watching someone flush your most cherished religious text down the toilet.

This is what happens when a bunch of aging white guys try to make a film about a phenomenon that is inherently urban and, well, non-white. They obviously don't "get" it, and the results are painfully embarrassing. There are serious undertones of racism running through Body Rock - most of the black characters in the film are scary gangsters and the only black person in the Body Rock Crew's core membership is a decidedly cute and unthreatening eight-year-old.

A discussion of Body Rock's many crimes against humanity must center primarily on the main character, Chilly D. Chilly is played by Lorenzo Lamas, who made his mark in the television drama "Falcon Crest" and would later star in dozens of awful action movies. To get an idea of Mr. Lamas' portrayal of Chilly, imagine taking John Travolta's character from Saturday Night Fever, chewing him up, digesting him, and excreting him into some parachute pants.

It's pretty clear that the Travolta factor played a large part in the conception of this role, but I must point out that Travolta could dance, whereas Lamas cannot. Having Chilly admit early on to a lack of talent may have been an attempt to get around this problem, but it doesn't really make sense when Terrence selects Chilly alone to work in the club. Lorenzo's breakin' (or "breaking," as Chilly would call it) is pretty weak, but his "rapping" is truly an abomination. Honestly, the man makes Vanilla Ice look like Dr. Dre. You'll thank your lucky stars that his raps are limited to about two minutes total, but those two minutes will seem like an eternity as Chilly haphazardly navigates some of the most insipid rhymes this side of a Hallmark card. Overlooking the stupidity of his lyrics, Chilly's rhythm is completely wrong - he gropes around for the beat but never actually connects with it.

As if his so-called raps weren't torture enough, we're also subjected to Chilly's take on a "sexy" R&B ballad called "Smooth Talker" (this is during his tenure as the headliner at the club). He dresses up like the lost member of LaBelle, complete with glitter on his face, and belts out this charming little ditty with a "seductive" look on his face that had me reaching for a vomit receptacle. I was squirming uncomfortably in my seat as he breathlessly drooled out lyrics such as "I'm gonna stalk you like an animal and eat you like a cannibal." It's enough to make you wish vocal chords had never been invented. Did I mention that Chilly lives with his mother?

But maybe I'm being too hard on poor ol' Chilly D. There's plenty of blame to go around in this film. Why, the entire Body Rock Crew (save Magick, who had actual talent) deserves a good beat-down. E-Z, the resident DJ, never so much as scratches a record - he just stands on the stage carefully adjusting the positions of his turntables. Jama, the supposed rapper of the group, may be one of the few ostensibly gay rap stars of the 1980s. Which would be fine if he could rap, but sadly, his lispy rhymin' is only marginally better than Chilly's. Some of the supplemental Body Rock dancers are pretty funny, especially this doughy white guy with a curly blonde mullet and John Oates mustache who seems to go into spasms every time he takes the stage. God bless him, he was one of the few things that kept me going in this turkey.

Final Analysis

Body Rock tried very hard to turn me against breakdancing, hip-hop, and even life itself. I'm happy to report that it didn't succeed in breaking me, but it was a little dicey for a while. This movie made me ashamed to be white (like I needed another reason), and unless you're watching it as penance for some grievous sin, I suggest you stay well away from Chilly D and the Body Rock Crew.