Dr. Alien (1989)

dralien_2Dr. Alien (1989)
AKA I Was a Teenage Sex Maniac, I Was a Teenage Sex Mutant

Starring Billy Jayne, Judy Landers, Olivia Barash, Stuart Fratkin, Raymond O’Connor, Arlene Golonka, Jim Hackett, Robert Jayne, Julie Gray, Scott Morris, Linnea Quigley, Michelle Bauer

Directed by David DeCoteau

Expectations: Not much.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


Looking at the poster, it would be easy to assume that Dr. Alien is nothing but ridiculous, low-budget trash. Even with that weird alien face, it doesn’t look especially interesting to me. But over the last six years of reviewing films here at Silver Emulsion, one truth has continued to resonate: Keep an open mind. It’s a good piece of advice in general life, as well; being closed off to the unknown corners of the world doesn’t allow for much personal growth. I’ve also come to look forward to the David DeCouteau movies, as they are generally some of the better and more interesting offerings among the Full Moon catalog. So I started Dr. Alien hopeful and optimistic, despite not expecting much.

When the film ended 80-some minutes later, with a big grin plastered on my face and my commitment to pursuing artistic, creative endeavors bolstered, I was shocked. Dr. Alien might be one of DeCoteau’s best films; it’s certainly one of my favorites. Sure, it’s got all the dumb jokes and female nudity you’d expect of an ’80s sex comedy, which will definitely turn off some viewers (and keep the film out of the Criterion Collection), but it is a real achievement on DeCoteau’s part to craft a film that satisfies on both a lowbrow and intellectual level. Perhaps I’m overselling it, as the morality only comes in at the end, but regardless, the film excited me thoroughly. I expected sex comedy and nudity, but to leave the film reinvigorated in my appreciation of art as a vital component of the human experience, that’s something special.

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The Occultist (1989)

occultist_2The Occultist (1989)
AKA Maximum Thrust, Waldo Warren: Private Dick Without a Brain

Starring Rick Gianasi, Joe Derrig, Richard Mooney, Jennifer Kanter, Mizan Kirby, Matt Mitler, Anibal O. Lleras, Betty Vaughn, Kate Goldsborough, Doug Delauder

Directed by Tim Kincaid

Expectations: Moderate, but hopeful.

On the general scale:
halfstar

On the B-movie scale:
onestar


The Occultist was Tim Kincaid’s final film for Empire, and to be honest I held back on reviewing it for a while. It was the film Kincaid made after the wonderfully bad Mutant Hunt, so I guess I assumed it would be of a similar quality. The Occultist even features the star of Mutant Hunt, Rick Gianasi, who went on to later star as the title character in Troma’s Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD. What could go wrong? Apparently everything! Or nearly everything… as bad as The Occultist is, it is not without a couple of truly memorable charms.

The plot didn’t make a lot of sense. Perhaps I missed some key dialogue or something else along the way, but honestly I was confused from the first moments. The film opens with a group of men on a pier overlooking the ocean. This scene cross-cuts with a scene inside an industrial warehouse of a “voodoo dance/skinning an innocent man alive” party. Here’s where I got confused: the guys on the pier are apparently watching the voodoo get-together from where they are… and they don’t like what they see! What? How are they looking inside? Are we to believe that this dark, dingy locale is actually an open-faced building on some island? I just — I don’t even know what to think. But whatever, it’s a B-Movie so I gave them the benefit of the doubt that maybe these guys could see these voodoo shenanigans from their vantage point.

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Miracles (1989)

MrCantonandLadyRose_1Miracles [奇蹟] (1989)
AKA Mr. Canton and Lady Rose, Miracle, Black Dragon, The Canton Godfather, Big Brother

Starring Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Gua Ah-Leh, Richard Ng, O Chun-Hung, Sunny Fang Kang, Bill Tung, Tien Feng, Ngai Jan, Gloria Yip Wan-Yee, Wu Ma, Billy Lau Nam-Kwong, Lo Lieh, Lee Hoi-Sang, Michael Chow Man-Kin, Paul Che Biu-Law

Directed by Jackie Chan

Expectations: Very High. It’s the only classic Jackie film I’ve never seen.

threestar


Miracles is Jackie Chan’s favorite of all the films he’s made, but I doubt many of his fans share the sentiment. It is a lavishly produced film, a true achievement for Jackie Chan the director, but from a viewer’s perspective it is a bit all over the place. It is a prime example of the flexible approach to mixing genre and tone often seen in Hong Kong films, and as such it is both a rousing success and somewhat underwhelming. I imagine that future viewings of the film will only make it better in my estimation, as it won’t be working against 20-some years of expectation and personal hype.

Jackie’s film is a remake of the Frank Capra film A Pocketful of Miracles, which in turn was a remake of the earlier Frank Capra film Lady for a Day. I haven’t seen either of the Capra films, but judging from their synopses it would seem that their stories are more focused on the deceptive plotline that makes up the bulk of the second half of Miracles. Again I haven’t seen the other films, but this would make sense because just watching Miracles, it feels like the first half is almost entirely unnecessary in a strict plot sense.

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Deadly Weapon (1989)

deadlyweapon_1Deadly Weapon (1989)
AKA Killer Kid

Starring Rodney Eastman, Kim Walker, Gary Frank, Michael Horse, Gary Kroeger, Barney Martin, Sam Melville, Joe Regalbuto, William Sanderson, Ed Nelson

Directed by Michael Miner

Expectations: Not much, but it’s a remake of Laserblast so hopefully there are lots of explosions!

onestar


Most films hold their secrets back from the viewer, but Deadly Weapon reveals quite a big one right in the opening moments. Through on-screen text we learn that the entire film takes place in the mind of a 15-year-old boy. So any and all incredulity can be attributed to this, and boy does this movie go over the top! But while whatever we’re watching is supposedly only inside Zeke’s mind, I feel like there was also a more mundane version of the events playing out in “real life.” Nothing in the movie suggests or references this, I just chose to interpret the film’s exaggeration of everything as what they looked or felt like to Zeke in a heightened, hallucinatory state, similar to how a kid and an adult will remember the same event somewhat differently.

Zeke is an outcast kid who is bullied and beaten down by everyone in his life. He’s powerless against these people, but one day he finds an Army crate in the river outside of town. And what might be inside this crate? Well, some dumb ol’ office supplies are on top, but hidden underneath them is an experimental ray gun! Now Zeke’s got the power to fight back, and that’s exactly what he does! If that sounds at all familiar, it’s because Deadly Weapon is a remake of one of my favorite Charles Band films: Laserblast!

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Stephen reviews: The Five Star Stories (1989)

geroi_pjati_planetThe Five Star Stories [ファイブスター物語] (1989)

Starring Ryo Horikawa, Maria Kawamura, Hideyuki Tanaka, Norio Wakamoto, Ichiro Nagai, Kazuhiko Inoue, Rei Sakuma, Run Sasaki

Directed by Kazuo Yamazaki


The Five Star Stories starts off with a brief description of the Joker Galaxy, which contains only four stars, making it the smallest galaxy I’ve ever heard of. So why does the title talk about five stars? No idea. The four stars we do get to hear about have the rather unusual names of Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western. I suppose the film takes place in one of these solar systems, but I can’t remember if it bothered to say which one. Maybe it even takes place on that mysterious fifth star. This confusing description of the galaxy actually mirrors the film which is also bizarre, mismatched, and very incomplete.

Clearly a highly condensed adaptation of a longer work, Five Star Stories suffers the usual problems of these types of films, but magnifies the problem by also being very short. Even a full two hours or more can leave adaptations such as Fist of the North Star or Dagger of Kamui feeling like half the story was left out. Five Star Stories is only one hour long, and it is nowhere near enough time to do the original story justice. What’s left is a confusing hodgepodge of poorly explained events told with an air of epic mythology.

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Curse II: The Bite (1989)

thecurse2_1Curse II: The Bite (1989)
AKA The Bite, Blood Biter

Starring Jill Schoelen, J. Eddie Peck, Jamie Farr, Bo Svenson, Savina Gersak, Marianne Muellerleile, Sydney Lassick, Terrence Evans, Shiri Appleby

Directed by Frederico Prosperi

Expectations: None. Hopefully it’s more fun than the unrelated first one.

On the general scale:
twostar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


Curse II: The Bite isn’t a horror movie bursting with originality, but it is bursting with a lot of fun and great FX work, and in a low-budget horror movie that ends up counting for a lot. For the most part it is a slow-burn horror film, but it’s one that rewards its viewers steadily leading up the incredible, exciting finale absolutely chock full of fantastic FX work from Screaming Mad George. It’s really surprising to see such plentiful FX work in a low-budget film, and it goes to show you that if you get a trained professional to provide practical FX you can have a kick-ass horror movie without breaking the bank. Let’s bring back that trend in horror films!

Curse II begins on an ominous note: a pair of radiation-suited employees of the Yellow Sands Nuclear Test Site in the Arizona desert pick up a snake with a pair of snake-gettin’ tongs. Hmm, maybe The Bite sub-title refers to a snakebite! But if you don’t figure it out from that initial scene, during the credits we’re treated to snakes, snakes and more snakes. But not just snakes doing the usual slithering around and flicking their tongues in and out. These snakes are climbing up the chain-link fence surrounding the test site. Some of them just hang there on the fence, too, perhaps because they’re resting, but probably because they were just climbing up the fence to have a better vantage point from which to plot their nefarious plans.

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Quick Takes: The House by the Cemetery, Christmas Evil, Game Over

housebythecemeteryThe House by the Cemetery [Quella villa accanto al cimitero] (1981)
AKA The House Outside the Cemetery, Zombie Hell House

threestar

Starring Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Ania Pieroni, Giovanni Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Dagmar Lassander, Giovanni De Nava
Directed by Lucio Fulci

My favorite and the most easily accessible of the three Fulci movies I watched recently (the others being City of the Living Dead & The Beyond). Like the others, the plot is a definite weak point, but the atmosphere and the gore make up for it immensely. The gore is also a lot less “fun” in this one, instead going for much more realistic, brutal violence with gallons of blood flowing. Well, it’s not all realistic, there’s a bat attack that’s hilariously wild and ridiculous, but that’s probably unintentional. And just make sure the bat scene is the height of absurd weirdness, the bat provides more squirting blood than virtually all the other scenes combined. This moment is insane in the best way possible, as are all the other horrific bits (although those are insane for the sheer audacity to even attempt to get something this brutal past the censors). Good stuff.

Christmas_EvilChristmas Evil (1980)
AKA You Better Watch Out, Terror in Toyland

threehalfstar

Starring Brandon Maggart, Jeffrey DeMunn, Dianne Hull, Andy Fenwick, Brian Neville, Joe Jamrog, Wally Moran, Gus Salud
Directed by Lewis Jackson

Harry was never the same after he saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus! The event scarred him deeply, developing into a fixation on everything Christmas and Santa-related. Harry’s now in his 40s and working at Jolly Dreams, a toy manufacturer. Christmas Evil is a slow-burn horror movie that’s more character study than traditional horror movie. Yes, Santa murders people, but this isn’t a Santa slasher movie. We see Harry’s psychosis evolve from simply caring about making quality toys for the holidays, to being driven to the point of shoving a toy soldier’s sword through a dude’s eye. But because we see the whole run up to the murder spree, the victims are not faceless and nameless. They are enemies to the spirit of Christmas, so in a weird way Harry is a hero of sorts, in his own mind at least. This is brought home beautifully in the ending of the film, which is equal parts touching, joyous and symbolic. Director Lewis Jackson twists the knife of psychosis at will by utilizing well-known hallmarks of the season, be it Harry maniacally calling out reindeer names while he’s driving away from the scene of the crime, or a cassette tape of a Christmas song warping and distorting as we see the aftermath Harry leaves in his wake. With each reference, Harry seems to slip deeper into his twisted Santa persona, further subverting the Christmas music and general mythology. Christmas Evil may be a low-budget film, but it is very well-crafted and the lead performance by Brandon Maggart is fantastic.

3615codeperenoelGame Over [3615 code Père Noël] (1989)
AKA Deadly Games, Dial Code Santa Claus

twohalfstar

Starring Alain Lalanne, Patrick Floersheim, Louis Ducreux, Brigitte Fossey, François-Eric Gendron, Stéphane Legros
Directed by René Manzor

Game Over is the result when you combine the ’80s kids’ affinity for muscular, gun-laden action heroes, a psycho in a Santa suit, and Home Alone. It’s not as great as that might sound, but it delivers more than enough laughs and genuine peril to make for a fine experience. Our lead is Thomas, a computer whiz kid who questions the existence of Santa Claus. He sets up cameras to record Santa in the act (which he can watch via his forearm-sized TV/camera controller), but his mother warns that if Santa sees him watching, Santa will turn into an ogre. Thomas also decides instead of writing a letter to Santa this year, he’ll just use a computer program called “3615 code Père Noël” (also the original title of the film). There is a Santa on the other end, but it’s a crazed lunatic out for young blood! What struck me the most about this movie was how brutal it was at times, and how much different it felt from American films with kids in peril. Thomas is actually harmed, ending the film bloody, exhausted and shell-shocked (to the point of resembling a pint-sized John McClane). It’s a little crusty and slow moving in parts, but overall it’s a good watch if you can hunt it down.

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