Saturday, July 23, 2005

Review: Hell Squad (1985)


The U.S. Military has developed a highly advanced neutron bomb, and Arabic terrorists want it. To that end they kidnap Mark, the son of an American ambassador in the Middle East. The government won't negotiate with the terrorists, so the ambassador's assistant Jack comes up with a daring plan to rescue Mark. Jack catches the first flight to Las Vegas, where he tracks down Jan, a tough and beautiful showgirl of his acquaintance.

Jack convinces Jan and a score of other Vegas showgirls to let him train them for the dangerous mission to save the Ambassador's son. The grueling training lasts ten days and includes repeatedly running the world's shortest obstacle course, getting to fire one bullet each from an M-16, and a lesson on punching through a board. Once the training is done, the nine most highly skilled girls are selected to form THE HELL SQUAD and sent to the Middle East.

Posing as a traveling dance troupe, the Hell Squad sets up its headquarters in a luxury hotel suite featuring a very large bathtub. They receive a tip via telephone from a secret agent as to the possible location of Mark. They attack the base and kill everyone there, but alas, Mark is nowhere to be found. They return to the hotel and crowd into the tub for a bubble bath. Another tip is phoned in. Another base is raided without finding Mark. Another bubble bath is undertaken. This sequence of events is repeated until the fabric of space-time begins to disintegrate.

Finally, a local sheik gets suspicious about the connection between the group of visiting American dancers and the numerous attacks carried out by the group of American female commandos. He kidnaps the entire Hell Squad and threatens them with a tiger. The tiger breaks free and kills the sheik instead, but not before Jan extracts Mark's location from him.

The Hell Squad moves in on the castle (?!) where Mark is being held, kill both of the guards with a harpoon gun, then blow the castle to smithereens. Back at the embassy, Mark is reunited with his father. In a mind-blowing twist ending, Jan reveals that the Ambassador's secretary was actually a man in disguise, and not just any man, but the very secret agent who had been feeding them false information about Mark's location all along!!! The Hell Squad return to Vegas to await the next threat against those who love freedom.


Somebody please tell me I dreamed this movie. Tell me that Hell Squad is just a nightmare; the result of some spoiled cheese I ingested by mistake. A bad trip inspired by tainted LSD that someone slipped into my Grape Nuts. A temporary bout of ergotism. A brain-damaging fever dream that could never exist in reality. Tell me that I don't live in a world where movies this bad are produced.

No, I must admit to myself that Hell Squad does exist, but it means I'm going to have to take back some of the things I've said about other movies I've reviewed. Compared to Hell Squad, Gymkata looks like Citizen Kane. It's not just that Hell Squad is based on a stupid premise. I'm giving the movie that for free. But seldom have I seen a film that cared so little about its own quality.

To begin with the basics, I'd like to talk about the Hell Squad itself. To be honest, these women are not top-of-the-line in the looks department. They sure as hell can't act. There's one scene in which they perform a dance routine, and I thought, "aha - maybe this is the ladies' real area of talent!" But no, I don't think they could get a job dancing on stage at Chuck-E-Cheese, much less in a Las Vegas chorus line. So what exactly do these women bring to the table? If you're going to make a T&A film, I really think you should hold the bearers of the T&A to a higher standard.

My other complaint about the Hell Squad does not concern their quality, but their quantity. There are just too many of them. Of the nine members of the final team, the writer gave maybe two of them actual personalities, and I just can't keep track of all those nearly-identical extra ones. Was the number nine chosen based on how many girls they could cram into that stupid bathtub?

You might think that putting nine Vegas showgirls in a giant bathtub would provide some exciting titillation for us audience members. It was probably the idea that spawned the entire movie. Someone had a long-cherished dream of putting nine Vegas showgirls in a bathtub and filming it, and this movie was their chance to realize that dream. But they didn't know when to quit. One or two scenes of the girls in the tub, sure - that would have been fine, but they just do it over and over and over until you're totally inured to it. Now if I see a bunch of naked women in a giant bathtub, it's like looking at floral wallpaper, or a basket of oranges. Thanks, movie, for grinding that little piece of my consciousness away.

The events in this film take place in the Middle East, but Hell Squad sets a new standard of slackness when it comes to convincing us of this fact. From the first moments it's completely obvious that filming took place in the American Southwest. A few ancient stock footage clips of a Middle Eastern city that look like they've been under somebody's bed for twenty years are spliced in, but I'm afraid they just didn't do the job. It doesn't help matters that they employ the most blatantly fake Arabs in the history of film. PUTTING A HEAD SCARF ON A PUDGY WHITE GUY IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH!!! And how many sheiks are living in European castles on the Syrian border anyway?

This same laissez-faire attitude pervades the whole movie. The dungeon where Mark is held is clearly the same set where the sheik threatens the Hell Squad with the tiger. When the castle explodes, the editor intercuts clips of about three completely different structures blowing up. The ambassador has a mustache in the first few scenes, but by the end of the film, there's no trace of it. Did he shave it off in mourning for his lost son!? Am I being too harsh here? Help me out.

Final Analysis

A movie review is really the wrong format to talk about Hell Squad. To really express the spirit of such a film we would need to move into the realm of poetry or performance art or something. This is not a film for the B-movie beginner, but if you've got some experience with crap cinema and you want to test your mettle, then by all means, seek this movie out. It's either one of the worst movies ever made or one of the best. I just can't tell anymore. My head hurts. I'm going to go lie down now.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Review: Dark Universe (1993)


Astronaut Steve Thomas is just about to bring his ship, the Nautilus, in for a landing in Florida. Steve works for Rod Kendrick, a multimillionaire who runs a sort of budget-minded NASA competitor. Suddenly, the Nautilus is attacked by alien "spores" which infest the ship and attack Steve, turning him into a hellish, slavering Alien rip-off. The ship crashes in the Florida swamp not far from the grass hut of famed swamp guide Tom Hanning, where a gratuitous nude scene is in progress.

Kendrick suspects that the crash was due to alien interference, so he sends a scientist and a film crew down to investigate, and with Tom's help they go in search of the crash site. The alien creature that used to be Steve begins killing off the search team in various icky ways. We get another gratuitous nude scene.

Meanwhile, the alien spores (which closely resemble Play-Doh) are spreading through the swamp. They have strange effects on an unfortunate armadillo who happened to be wandering by, turning it into a rabid killing machine. The scientist tries desperately to find a way to stop the spores but his experiments only seem to make the spores angry. Sorry, no nude scene this time.

The few survivors of the search party make it back to Tom's hut with the Steve creature hot on their trail. The scientist tries to reason with it, failing to remember the Alien Communication Paradigm ("Ability of a given creature to reason is inversely proportional to amount of drool emanating from said creature.") Tom's girlfriend comes through in the clutch, remembering the deadly flammable swamp gas that is evidently floating around all over Florida. She fires a few road flares at the Steve creature and it burns up like a hot dog on the Fourth of July. Rod Kendrick makes plans for his next shuttle launch.


Will people ever learn that in making a science fiction movie it's best not to let your reach exceed your grasp? If you're going to have an astronaut, you've got to spring for a space suit. If you're going to explore the deepest swamps of Florida, you can't film it in the producer's back yard. If you're going to have a horrifying alien creature, it can't look like someone's 4th grade Halloween costume.

Okay, let's be honest about this. The creature in Dark Universe borrows some stylistic elements from H. R. Giger's Alien design, but basically this thing looks like a turd with arms and teeth. It's just a statement of fact. Maybe they should have brought in a proctologist to do battle with it, I don't know. I guess you can't expect too much from a monster made of Hefty bags and Redi-Spack, but I really didn't find this alien scary.

The only part of the movie that did scare me involved a creature of the more human variety. The scene of which I speak features one of the skinniest men I have ever seen stripping down to his boxer shorts and trying to be seductive. Witnessing this scrawny, bespectacled, brillo-haired skeleton of an actor cuddle up to his relatively attractive would-be love interest and utter salacious dialogue made me want to run screaming to the nearest dark corner and cower there for the rest of the night. His emaciated visage will haunt my dreams for years to come. Thank God the mutant killer armadillo chomped down on his broomstick leg before he and his costar progressed any further.

Speaking of people stripping their clothes off, I have to wonder what motivates an actress to go topless in a movie like Dark Universe. Could it possibly be worth the price of your dignity just to be involved in a grade-C load of bolus like this? I can see going nude for a more legitimate film, but I assume the two ladies who exposed their chestal regions in Dark Universe read the script beforehand... I mean, really - what were they thinking?! If Blake Pickett or Cherie Scott care to defend their decision to doff their garb, I welcome their comments.

Every character in this movie seems extremely angry. When anyone has a line, there's a high probability that they will spew it forth with a level of hostility that seems completely unwarranted. I imagine this is attributable to one of two scenarios. Either the director gave everyone vague instructions (something like "act intense"), or the actors were just so upset to be in Dark Universe that they couldn't contain their rage.

One of the hallmarks of a classic B-movie is the preponderance of quotably stupid dialogue. I offer here a few of my favorite Dark Universe quotes:
"Uh, Ol' Tom Hanning, he's... he's purty fur piece back in 'ere... but if he's still around... we'll find him back in 'ere."
"Listen to this: 'golden sponge cake with creamy filling...'"
"Wait! That's acid!"
"Humanity has been good to me."
"Swamp gas!"

I hate to be negative, but I must say I have issues with the whole "swamp gas" resolution to this film. Nobody was worried about the highly explosive swamp gas when they were firing off guns, lighting cigarettes, and building campfires throughout the rest of the movie. Beyond that, the scientist pooh-poohs the idea of burning up the alien as it already survived reentry into Earth's atmosphere and a fiery crash landing. In point of fact, he mentions this about 30 seconds before Tom's girlfriend gets the swamp gas idea. Was there a feud between the screenwriters? "Fine, we'll use your stupid swamp gas ending, but the scientist gets to point out that it doesn't make any sense!"

Final Analysis

I don't think the average person has ever seen a movie like Dark Universe. Once you've experienced it, your life may never be the same again. You might never escape the horrible image of the skinny guy - pasty and aroused - looming over his unfortunate costar. You might develop a morbid fear of swamp gas and refuse to leave your house. Or, you might find yourself feeling stronger, braver - able to face any challenge, your life filled with renewed hope for the future. For me, it was the first one. Good God, the man is just so damn skinny...