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.