Starring: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields, Christopher Collet, Mike Kellin
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Alright, we are at the halfway point in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special. I’m reviewing five films in the Horror genre every week until Halloween. Time for Movie #3. This next movie review is one of the more controversial underground horror movies to come out of this list. This movie came out in 1983, but I wasn’t aware of the film until about 2014. It was this past summer where I watched it for the first time at a local discount theater where they were playing “Summer Themed” horror movies. It’s a movie like the previous two films in the special where I’ve watched repeatedly and enjoyed it on so many levels. The next film on this list is the summer camp slasher film “Sleepaway Camp!”
“Sleepaway Camp” is the story of two cousins, Rickey and Angela who are about to spend their summer at Camp Arawak. Rickey is a seasoned veteran at the camp while this will be Angela’s first time. Angela is quiet and shy. She is also suffering from a post traumatic event involving her father and brother being killed in a boating accident. Angela is disliked by the other campers for obvious reasons and only seems to talk to Rickey. She does strike up a conversation with Rickey’s friend Paul and become close throughout the movie. As the summer camp begins its annual season, a series of murders start to happen that has everyone on edge. Who is committing these murders and what is the motive?
“Sleepaway Camp” was a surprise hit at the box office. It grossed over $11 million dollars with a reported $300,000 budget. It has a huge following and Felissa Rose became a member of the “Scream Queen Sorority”. The movie is known for its infamous and controversial ending that still shocks the viewing audience today (It sure did shock me). People like to debate which was the better slasher film, this or “Friday the 13th”.
Right off the bat, “Sleepaway Camp” gets your emotions charged. You see the traumatic event that will shape the story and the character of Angela throughout the film. When you see Felissa Rose appear on screen for the first time she is quiet and reserved. She barely makes eye contact with her aunt and stays close to her cousin Rickey. The camp counselors (well…most of them) are aware that this is the first time Angela will be away from home and they give her sympathy and comfort to make sure she enjoys her time. Her unwillingness to socialize with her roommates nor participate in any camp activities draws the ire of Judy (Karen Fields), the supposed popular girl at the camp and Meg (Katherine Kamhi). Rose gives a cold frightening performance with her constant stare downs. It’s a very intimidating look although the rest of the counselors don’t feel intimidated by her. She doesn’t utter her first words until she is confronted by Paul, Rickey’s fried who attempts to engage in conversation with her. From there you see her shyness melt away as she spends more time with Paul.
Besides Rose’s iconic performance, the other performances were good. Each actor and actress played their character as they were written. Jonathan Tiersten’s performance as Rickey was hilarious. He loves to stir up trouble through his trash talking and constant profanity. He does a great job protecting Angela. He’s like a big brother to her rather than a cousin. My other favorite performance is the camp owner, Mel played by veteran actor Mike Kellin, who sadly passed away before the film’s release. Mel does his best to keep his reputation by trying to spin what is happening to the people that are dying in the film. He has a hilarious scene where he appears wearing lime green pants and a yellow jacket in anticipation for a hot date. There’s also a small appearance from Robert Earl Jones as the chef, Ben. He is the father of legendary actor James Earl Jones.
The gore is minimal in comparison to “Friday the 13th”. The killer uses the surrounding environments to take out its victims one by one. You’ll notice a pattern of whom the victims are. You may think to yourself you already know who the killer is, but the movie uses a bit of trickery to throw off your assumptions. There is a small body count throughout the movie until the very end where the volume doubles.
“Sleepaway Camp” balances the kills with some humor. There are plenty of hilarious moments throughout the movie including Rickey and his bunk mates playing tricks on one of their own, the male campers going skinny dipping and some funny mustache miscues. The cop in the movie has a mustache in his first appearance, but when he appears near the end, you can tell the mustache is fake and uneven. The reason for that being is the actor that played the cop had shaved his mustache off after he was done shooting his part but was called back due to additional shooting. Since he couldn’t grow one quickly in time, they had to improvise.
This is the only film writer and director Robert Hiltzik made. He made a career change and today he is an attorney in New York. For what it’s worth, he made a really good slasher film. It’s a movie with a ton of replay value that you can watch repeatedly. You don’t need to be watching it in the summer to enjoy it as it is a film you can watch in any season.
With that the third film in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special has concluded. Stay tuned next week for the fourth review!
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
The original artwork for the Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit boxed set, which included the unauthorized sequels, was recalled after complaints were made by the American Red Cross.
Some of the campers seen getting off the buses at the beginning of the film are relatives of the cast and crew.
Jane Krakowski, who played Cousin Vicky in ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ was originally cast to play Judy.
Mike Kellin’s final film. He was sick during filming but did his best to conceal it from everyone and passed away in August 1983 from lung cancer, three months before the film’s release.
Willy Kuskin who plays the character of Mozart, one of the bullied camp boys, was genuinely bullied during filming. Frank Trent Saladino who played Gene, Mozart’s camp counselor, had to step in to protect Willy at times when the other members would take it too far.
Felissa Rose and Jonathan Tiersten developed a puppy love type romance during filming but broke up soon after.
Jonathan Tiersten was given the role of Ricky after an unusual audition where the writer/director, Robert Hiltzik, asked Jonathan to cuss him out.
As a child, writer/director Robert Hiltzik actually went to the camp which was used in the film.
One of the inspirations for ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s “Nature Trail to Hell,” along with Friday the 13th Part III (1982), referencing the cutting up of Cub Scouts and an ending you have to see to believe.
Starring: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner, Robert Vogel, Diana Browne
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Hello readers! Welcome to the second week of my “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special. I’m reviewing five films in the Horror genre every week until Halloween. This next movie review is a movie I’ve been dying to watch for a long time but could never find a copy of it. It was out of print on VHS and was released on Blu-Ray a few years back. I ended up watching it on a streaming service and it exceeded my expectations. This week’s review is the 1982 underground flick, “Basket Case”.
Released in 1982, “Basket Case” is the story of a twenty-year-old boy named Duane Bradley who arrives in New York City with a backpack on his pack and holding a big wicker basket. Inside the basket is brother Belial who is Duane’s deformed brother. It turns out they are Siamese twins separated against both their wishes. Duane and Belial seek out the doctors who separated them and plan to kill them in revenge. During his stay at a cheap sleazy hotel, he befriends his fellow tenant, Casey, who is a prostitute and develops a love interest with a receptionist named Sharon who works at the office of one of the doctors that performed the separation on them. Duane and Sharon spend a day together getting to know each other. After a moment of embrace, Duane begins to have severe headaches. This is the result of him being telepathically linked to Belial (they talk to each other using their mind). Belial can sense Duane and when he realizes what he is doing, he goes into a screaming frenzy destroying everything in their room. Belial is not only afraid that Duane will leave him, but he is also angry at the fact that he cannot enjoy the pleasures of being with a woman due to his deformed state. The brothers start a tug of war with each other that carries on through the remainder of the film and it would not only jeopardize their objectives but jeopardizes their relationship.
The movie wasn’t a huge hit in mainstream theaters, however it obtained its success through midnight showings at Drive-In Theaters (remember those?). The film was enjoyed by the audience that it was played as a midnight movie for the next several years. It has become a cult classic and one of the best B-Movie Horror films ever made.
The film was written and directed by Frank Henenlotter. He’s made several horror movies in his career including the three “Basket Case” movies, but he never considered himself a Horror movie filmmaker. Rather, he prefers to be known as an “exploitation” filmmaker. He loved exploitation movies because they “have an attitude more than anything, an attitude that you don’t find with mainstream Hollywood productions. They’re a little ruder, a little raunchier, they deal with material people don’t usually touch on, whether it’s sex or drugs or rock and roll.” (1) “Basket Case” was filmed with a budget of around $35,000 which was extremely low for any exploitation movie at the time. Despite the low budget, Henenlotter was able to make a special film that dealt with human biology, science, family and social interaction with humans topped with insatiable mounts of blood and gore.
The movie was shot on 16MM film, however there were problems with the post production which resulted in the film being very dark in light and having a murky look. Because of this, the film had to be converted to a different aspect ratio. This was something Henenlotter did not have control over. Nevertheless, the lack of lighting and the graininess of the film gives it a more unsettling look. When you add that with the spacey music, it heightens the atmosphere and tension as you tremble in anticipation as to what is about to happen on screen. There’s no skimping of blood or gore in this movie including a kill scene that seems to use every item in the room. There is an origin scene through the middle of the film which gives the audience more insight on Duane and Belial’s relationship and how dismissive their father is of Belial and how no one seemed to love them expect each other and their aunt. The origin scene shows the separation of the boys and is filled with sounds of Velcro and duct tape to mimic the sounds to cutting tools. The use of sound effects and visceral blood during that sequence including the uneasiness of Duane makes it the most squeamish scene in my opinion. I couldn’t get through watching it without closing my eyes which is something I haven’t done in a very long time (extra award for that).
The acting is decent for an uber low budget movie. Kevin Van Hentenryck plays Duane as a person who keeps to himself and has little interaction with others. He is very protective of his brother and is willingly going along with Belial’s plan of seeking revenge on the doctors. When Belial gets into grouse some situations with his victims, Duane does what he can to cover up so that no suspicion falls on him. He is very protective of his brother, yet he can’t seem to separate himself from him even when he pleads with Belial to let him have time for himself. Terri Susan Smith, who plays the love interest Sharon, plays it as a naive ditzy woman with a weird hairdo (obviously a wig due to the fact her head was shaved in real life because she was in a punk rock group. Frank Henenlotter was not happy about this because she had full hair when she was brought in to audition for the role). She quickly grows interest in Duane and develops feelings for him. She gets concerned for him when they go back to the hotel he is staying at and starts to freak out when the police arrive after reports of screaming and a dead body found at the hotel (thanks to Belial). The other performances I enjoyed include Robert Vogel who plays the hotel manager, Diana Browne who plays Dr. Kutter, one of the doctors that separated Duane and Belial (she looks like Sigourney Weaver’s doppelganger) and Lloyd Pace who plays the goofy looking and paranoid Dr. Needleman.
And now we get to discussing the star of the movie, Belial. If you were to describe him today, he looks the Pokémon, Geodude. He is a blob of flesh with eyes, razor sharp teeth and arms. As I mentioned before, he talks to Duane via telepathy. He’s like a spider as he can crawl from one room to the next using windows and can grip on walls in part due to his large fingers. Despite his stature he is physically strong as he can throw dresser drawers and papers across the room and lift the leg of a bed as shown through a well done stop motion sequence. He’s the mastermind behind the plot to kill the doctors for good reasons. In addition to vengeance, Belial is growing frustrated with the inability to experience sexual pleasure with a woman and the fear of Duane leaving him for Sharon. The only way he can experience the desires he craves is through immoral ways as is depicted near the end of the movie. Belial keeps Duane in check and his presence is a reminder to Duane that they’re with each other until the end.
It sure did take a long time for me to watch “Basket Case”, but it was a great viewing experience. It’s a movie that I’ve put on constant rotation these last few weeks in preparation for this review. I’m contemplating watching the sequels, but I’m sure those will be as big of a challenge as the first movie in obtaining copies for my viewing pleasure. This movie cemented Frank Henelotter as a great exploitation filmmaker as he desired to become. If you enjoyed this movie, check out his other films “Brain Damage” and “Frankenhooker” in addition to the two sequels to this film as I mentioned.
See you readers next week with the third film in the “Guiltiest Horror Movies” review special.
(1) “In Search of Hotel Broslin”. Basket Case DVD special features.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
Most of the credits that appear at the end of the film are fake. The crew was very small and, rather than repeat the same names repeatedly, they decided to just make up names.
To try to make the film appeal to a comedy crowd, the original distributor cut all the gore scenes out of the film. They were eventually put back in and re-released in theaters with the subtitle “The Full Uncut Version!”
In addition to providing a face cast for the Belial puppet, Kevin Van Hentenryck also performed the mutant twin’s voice effects.
When Duane checks into the Hotel Broslin, he takes out a wad of cash. According to director Frank Henenlotter, that money was the film’s entire budget.
Duane’s streaking scene was shot without permits on a cold winter’s night. To shoot the scene, the crew would first clear the sidewalks of any objects that might hurt Kevin Van Hentenryck if he stepped on them. He was then let out of a heated van on one side of the block and met on the other side by another heated van. Once picked up, the van would drive him to another block. This was repeated until they got the desired amount of shots.
Film critic Rex Reed’s quotation to describe the movie, “This is the sickest movie ever made!” was used in the film’s promotion despite not appearing in a printed review. Reed had sought out the film after hearing negative reviews and was asked his opinion after emerging from the cinema. Unbeknownst to Reed, the person who asked him was director Frank Henelotter. Initially furious that his comment was used to promote the film, Reed eventually relented and granted permission to allow Henelotter to use it to promote the film.
Writer: Thomas Singer (Screenplay), Craig Muckler (Story)
Starring: Jackie Vernon, Claire Ginsberg, Loren Schein, Al Troupe
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Hello readers! First off, again I would like to apologize for the lack of reviews the past month. I’ve been extremely busy with my current place of employment as well as dealing with family matters. I appreciate your patience. With that being said, I thought I would come back to “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” in a big way. With it officially being the Halloween season, which happens to be my favorite season, I decided to review five horror movies I call the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies.” Some of these movies have been favorites of mine for a long time and others are ones I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed. The only guideline I had when choosing these was movies was to choose a specific genre of Horror movie for each movie. Which means, I would not review five monster movies. I would review one monster movie, one slasher movie, etc. There’s no boundary as to when the film was released. It could be a horror movie from the 1930s or it could be a recent release. I thought I would start this month long special by first reviewing a low brow horror film. It’s a film in which the subject matter had not been talked about since “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and would come to life in the 90s with the revelation of Jeffrey Dahmer and his crimes. The only difference is that this film gives it a sick comedic twist. Our first film in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Cinema Review” is “Microwave Massacre”!
Released in limited theaters in 1983, “Microwave Massacre” stars Jackie Vernon, best known as the voice of Frosty the Snowman in the old Rankin-Bass holiday cartoons as Donald, a construction worker who is miserable with his marriage and above all, his wife’s cooking. His wife May (Claire Ginsberg) just purchased a new ultra-industrial microwave and wants to elevate her cooking skills by creating some new (and unappealing) dishes. During a fight between the two at dinner, Donald bursts into a fit of rage and strangles May to death. He wakes up the next morning not realizing what had happened and when he opens the door to the microwave he sees May stuffed in there. He panics at first and then has the idea of cooking her. He takes a piece of her and eats it to discover how tasty human flesh is. From there he goes on the prowl finding anyone he can find to be his next meaty meal.
The movie was directed by Wayne Berwick. This would be his only film he directed until 2005 when he directed “The Naked Monster” another off-beat campy movie. This film will appeal to those who enjoy raunchy and campy movies who don’t take themselves seriously. There’s a lot of sleaze, perverseness, wacky and irreverent shtick topped with some cheap blood and gore to keep you sustained for the short and reasonable running time of one hour and seventeen minutes.
Let’s start with the acting. This was the last acting performance for Jackie Vernon who was known more for standup comedy than acting. His style is in comparison to that of Jackie Mason and Rodney Dangerfield. He delivers his quips in the way of a standup routine. He provides plenty of funny moments despite his morbid nature of what he is doing. He even throws in some fourth wall moments with a wink and a nod to the audience of what to expect. There is some great back and forth between him and his wife. Claire Ginsberg plays May, the nagging and dominant wife of Donald. She berates him at times, but also shows sign of concern such as why he isn’t eating and that he doesn’t know how to enjoy life. Both played it like the stereotypical long married couple from the sitcom days of “All in The Family”. The rest of the characters are fillers including Donald’s construction worker buddies, the indifferent and annoyed bartender, Sam and some random characters like a woman wearing high cut shorts and a store clerk that seems mentally unfit to do his job. The microwave itself is a character in the movie. It looks more like a giant toaster oven than a microwave. It has all these options for cooking food from “Slow Broil” to “Barbecue”. The placement of the buttons is placed in a way like a computer console. The Microwave fulfills Donald’s needs of cooking his new tasty food and with it brings harm to him near the end.
The props and effects in this movie are hilariously cheap as I’m sure that was Berwick’s intention. You can’t help but to laugh at giant balls of foil stuffed in a refrigerator, a fake crab that is sandwiched in between a giant bun or a human hand being placed on a skewer with vegetables. There’s not a lot of blood in the movie except during scenes where Donald is cutting up his victims or blood that is on his face from eating a raw leg. The images however can make you feel uneasy as you watch him gleefully enjoy his bounty of newfound meat.
I won’t give away the ending, but I felt it was very funny and accurate. It demonstrates the old saying that “Too much of something isn’t good for you”. We must enjoy life’s little pleasures without overindulging and over-consuming. It’s hard to promote that today where gluttony is all around thanks to big portions and mighty food challenges.
This movie is not for everyone. You need to prepare watching this movie with the lowest expectations you can imagine. By doing so, you may enjoy the movie as much as I did. I was expecting it to be cheap, boring and not have a lot of shock value, but it was the total opposite. I’m a sucker for crude humor and this movie has plenty of that. I think Jackie Vernon was a good choice to play this type of character. The other comedians I mentioned would’ve been great too, but each of them would’ve found this role as a career killer. I think Wayne Berwick achieved what he set out to do with making this movie. “Microwave Massacre” looks and sounds bad, but it transcends into being a fun trash film classic.
And with that, the first film in the special is complete. Stay tuned for the next review in the special. It will be posted sometime next week!
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
Final film of Jackie Vernon
Rodney Dangerfield was considered for the role of Donald, but his asking salary was too high.
Filmed in August and September 1981, but not released until September 1983.
Was released on a full-screen unrated DVD by Anthem Pictures in 2006. The front case art trumpeted the film as “The Worst Horror Movie of All Time” and “Uncut/Unrated” as selling points.
Director Wayne Berwick makes an uncredited cameo as one of the movers who discovers the faulty wiring in the microwave, which causes the death of Jackie Vernon’s character.
I apologize for not posting reviews lately. I’ve been busy with a lot of things: work, vacation, other personal matters.
I wanted to give you a heads up that I’m going to take a small hiatus from posting reviews. I have some personal events coming up in September that need my attention.
However, I will be returning in October to do a month long review special review in lieu of the Halloween season. I’m going to be reviewing my “Most Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies”. I will be dedicating the spare time I have in September to watch and review five horror movies that fit this category. I will post one a week up until Halloween. I’ll be spending the time next month watching, researching, analyzing and of course picking out some hilarious clips.
I want to say Thank you to all you viewers out there. I appreciate all of you who have supported this blog. I hope you have enjoyed reading these blogs as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.
Writers: David Peoples (Story & Screenplay), Jeb Stuart (Screenplay)
Starring: Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Amanda Pays, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Michael Carmine, Lisa Eilbacher, Meg Foster, Hector Elizondo
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
1989 was the year of the underwater Sci-Fi films. First, you had the highly anticipated “The Abyss”, namely because it was a James Cameron movie and the special effects were the most advanced effects at the time which would evolve in Cameron’s follow up film, “Terminator 2”.The second film was the obscure “Deep Star Six”, directed by famed “Friday the 13th” creator Sean S. Cunningham. Finally you had “Leviathan” directed by George P. Cosmatos who was known at the time for directing two Sylvester Stallone movies, “First Blood Part II” and “Cobra” (the latter was my very first review for this blog still available for your reading pleasure!) All three movies did not do well at the box office. “The Abyss” made $90 million, but it had a budget of over $50 million so while it made a teeny profit, it was very underwhelming considering the magnitude of the film. “Deep Star Six” sank as fast as the Titanic. “Leviathan”debut at #2, but quickly drowned the following week. While underwater Sci-Fi films were nothing new, it seemed the audience wasn’t all that invested into those concepts. As we approach the 30thyear landmarks for these films, I decided to re-watch “Leviathan” again.
The first time I watched it, I reacted in a way most people did when it first came out: mortified (and not in a good way). When I decided to watch this movie again in hopes of it appearing on this very blog, I went into it with no expectations and erased all those feelings I had the first time around. After watching it the second time, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though it’s a blatant rip-off of “The Abyss” along with two other iconic Sci-Fi Horror films “Alien” and “The Thing”, it was entertaining. I liked it so much; I began playing it several times. As a matter of fact, I have it playing in the background as I’m typing up this review. Before I get into the nitty gritty of the film, I’ll brief you on the plot.
“Leviathan” tells the story of a group of underwater miners who work for Tri-Oceanic Corp. They’re finishing their last days of a three month operation mining for silver in the Atlantic Ocean. The team consists of eight members, Glen ‘Doc’ Thompson (Richard Crenna), Elizabeth ‘Willie’ Williams (Amanda Pays), Buzz ‘Sixpack’ Parrish (Daniel Stern), Justin Jones (Ernie Hudson), Tony ‘DeJesus’ Rodero (Michael Carmine), Bridget ‘Bow’ Bowman (Lisa Eilbacher) and G.P. Cobb (Hector Elizondo). They are lead by Geologist Steven Beck (Peter Weller) who reports to the CEO of Tri-Oceanic Corp, Martin (Meg Foster). During a mining operation involving Sixpack and Willie (who are working as punishment for an altercation), Sixpack falls of a ravine and goes missing. Willie searches for him and discovers a sunken Russian ship named ‘Leviathan’ with Sixpack inside with some sunken treasure. As the crew looks through what was lost in the ship, Doc uncovers a video tape. It’s a tape containing a warning by the Capitan of the ‘Leviathan’. Beck and Doc aren’t sure what the Captain is referring too. The rest of the crew prepares to take a shot of vodka found in the ‘Leviathan’ only to finding out after tasting it that Beck had switched the bottles and they have water instead of vodka. Unbeknowst to the crew, Sixpack hid a separate canteen filled with the vodka that was recovered and he and Bowman have a drink. Few hours later, Sixpack starts to feel sick with chills and flaky skin. He succumbs to his illness several hours later which triggers the doc to perform tests on the rest of the crew. When Bowman sees Sixpack, she decides to take her own life rather than succumb to the illness. As the crew tries to throw the bodies away, the mutation fuses together and attacks the crew. A part of the creature manages to sever itself from the body and develop into a whole new being which goes on to attack the crew and grow by consuming human blood. The crew declare an emergency but Martin tells them there is a hurricane approaching them and their rescue is delayed by twelve hours. The crew has no choice but to find a way to destroy the monster.
I’ll start with the cast. Peter Weller is the lead in the film as Beck. He is in charge of the crew and its mission. He is very commanding and by the book when it comes to company rules. In the beginning of the film, he feels out of place and senses he doesn’t have the respect of the crew. You see his leadership and command develop throughout the movie. I love Peter Weller. He is a person who is dedicated in every role he does and this role was no exception. His iconic performance in “Robocop” groomed him for this part. Richard Crenna who plays Doc is a loner and disliked by the entire crew especially in the beginning of the film. They feel he has something to hide and as the film progresses, he does what he can to not reveal what is happening to the crew with the exception of Beck. Crenna is another actor I’ve enjoyed for a long time. I think all the performances were good with the exception of Meg Foster. I know she is supposed to play the disconcerted corporate executive, but she comes off as wooden and monotone. I’ve seen her play this part before in “They Live”. I don’t know if that’s her style, but I didn’t care for it.
The film is well paced when you compare it to the other two movies I mentioned. None of the scenes drag out too long which keeps your attention focused. There’s plenty of jump scares and tense confrontations between the crew. Legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith provides the music and it sounds eerily familiar to his composition in “Alien”. Wouldn’t surprise me if he was influenced by that film since this film takes several elements from it. The special effects were solid. There is a ton of blood, but not too much gore. Any gore that appeared in the movie was either off camera or was in spurts such as in the reveal of the monster in the middle of film or near the end.
Speaking of the monster, that was without a doubt the biggest disappointment of the movie. The movie does a good job taking the old sci-fi horror concept of not revealing too much of the monster and letting the audience until the second half of the movie. The concept of the creature is supposed to be a genetic alteration of a sea creature, but fuses with people it has either come into contact with or has the same genetic mutation in their bodies. One shot you see this gigantic blob with tentacles and faces of the crew members it has merged with. It reminds me of the pillar with all the faces from the “Hellraiser” movies. And when the monster emerges at the very end, you can see how fake the head is. It was reminiscent of a monster in a Japanese Monster Movie. What boggles my mind is that the creature design and the effects were done by legendary effects man, Stan Winston. This was the guy that created the Terminator, the dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park” and the Alien Queen in “Aliens”. What the hell happened here? Did he not have the budget to make something unique and terrifying? Did he run out of ideas? It’s a damn shame. The creature could’ve been something unique and give the film a better lasting impression.
Out of the three movies I mentioned in 1989, I would put “Leviathan” second behind “The Abyss”. The problem the movie had as I mentioned in the beginning was that it borrows too much from the other iconic movies I mentioned. It’s not original in terms of concept. I do give it creative points for the source of the disease and the effects that it causes. Don’t let all that take away from the fact that it is an enjoyable B-Movie and it’s a movie I’ve found myself watching over and over again. That’s always been the strength of George P. Cosmatos’ films. He doesn’t follow a strict genre. He’s willing to take chances and his movies come about as being fun and entertaining.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
50 to 60 spec drawings of the potential look for the creature were submitted to director George P. Cosmatos. All the drawings were combined for the final definitive look for Leviathan which was a huge, fish-headed beast with dagger like teeth with the ability to absorb recognizable characteristics from its victims.
There are very few scenes in the film that were actually shot underwater, as production went for the “dry for wet” look. With most of the scenes inside the Shack taking place on sound stages and a tank measuring 130ft x 270ft.
Audio from this film is sampled in the song “Reptile” featured in the Nine Inch Nails album “The Downward Spiral.”
According to the sleeve notes on the DVD, a dry for wet lighting test by Alex Thomson used an old army tank for the wreck of the Leviathan,and some make shift diving suits were made using
Chicken feathers were used at one point of shooting the underwater sequences to suggest things were floating around in the water. According to Alex Thomson this did not work because the feathers floating side to side instead of up and down and the idea had to be scrapped altogether.
Hector Elizondo’s character of Cobb is named after the film’s production designer, Ron Cobb. Also, Michael Carmine’s character of Tony ‘DeJesus’ Rodero, shares the same last name of the film’s first assistant director, ‘Kuki Lopez Rodero’.
Writers: Neal Israel, Pat Proft (Story & Screenplay) & Hugh Wilson (Screenplay)
Starring: Steve Guttenberg, G.W. Bailey, Kim Cattral, George Gaynes, Bubba Smith, Donovan Scott, David Graf, Andrew Rubin, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
The eighties brought us a diverse range of Comedy films. The subjects ranged from Teen Comedies, Raunchy Comedies, Supernatural Comedies and the Parody/Spoof Comedies. Some of the films that came out during this period were so successful that not just sequels were made, but an entire franchise. One of the Comedy series that would be born in this era was the “Police Academy” movies.
The idea to make a film about a bunch of outsiders joining the police force in the pursuit of being an officer of the law came from producer Paul Maslansky. Maslansky was producing “The Right Stuff” at the time. There was a group of police cades that arrived to help with crowd control during the filming of a street scene. When the cadets arrived to take their post, they were of many diversities and physicality. They were terrible at the job Maslansky found it humorous. He approached the Sergeant and asked him, “Are these all going to be future San Francisco’s finest?” The Sergeant explained that a new policy came out where the academy had to accept new applicants regardless of race, gender, education, physical stature, etc. The Sergeant went into further detail that the cadets could flunk the course and not become police officers. That was the moment a light bulb appeared and Maslansky wrote a two page treatment that night. He gave it to Executive Producer Alan Ladd Jr., who loved the idea and agreed to develop the movie. They hired Neal Israel, Pat Proft and the eventual director of the movie, Hugh Wilson to write the screenplay and before you know it “Police Academy” was born.
Exactly as it was versioned, “Police Academy” is a comedic look at everyday people joining the force and hoping to have a fulfilling career. There are a handful of characters that are shown in the film. First you have the super aggressive ex military man, Tackleberry (David Graf), you have the privileged Thompson (Kim Cattral), the quiet but towering Hightower (Bubba Smith), the bumbling Barbara (Donovan Scott), The shy and reserved Hooks (Marion Ramsey), the ladies man Martin (Andrew Rubin), the human beat box Jones (Michael Winslow) and the smart ass Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg). All are joining the force either through volunteer or ultimatums. Against the new policy of the Mayor, the police Chief instructs Commandant Eric Lassard (George Gaynes) and Lieutenant Thaddeus Harris (G.W. Bailey) to push the cadets beyond their limits so they will quit. The cadets go through a rigorous fourteen week period of physical training, self defense, firearm training and understanding the law.
The film focuses primarily on Mahoney. After another arrest regarding an incident at his current job, Captain Reed, a former partner of Mahoney’s father, tired of Mahoney’s antics puts his foot down and gives him an ultimatum. Enroll in the Police Academy and complete it or you will be sent to jail. There is a loophole that Mahoney intends to exploit, which is to be kicked out of the academy and not go to jail. As soon as he arrives, he starts to flirt with Thompson and becomes the ire of Harris. After numerous pranks and episodes of insubordination, Mahoney gets his wish to be kicked out. While Harris is on the phone with Captain Reed, Mahoney looks out the window and sees Thompson flirting with him. He starts to reconsider his request to be kicked out and decides to stay through the course and complete it. During his time, he strikes up a friendship with Martin and helps Hightower succeed in completing the driving course which if he doesn’t pass, he will flunk. Hightower eventually gets kicked out after flipping a car over with a cadet inside after he insulted Hooks with a racial epitaph after she accidentally drove over his feet. Bummed about his friend, Mahoney gets picked on by Blanks (Brant von Hoffman) and Copeland (Scott Thomson), two cadets Harris made Squad Leaders to wither out the bad apples in the group and when one threatens to punch him, he is attacked by Barbara in which a fight ensues. Blanks and Mahoney are in Harris’ office explaining what happened. Mahoney stands up for Barbara and claims he threw the first punch which gets him expelled from the academy. Before he could leave, a riot breaks out downtown which causes the cadets to be mobilized as backup for the rest of the force. Mahoney puts on riot gear and joins the group unbeknownst to Harris. As the riots get worse and the cadets scramble, one of the rioters manages to claim the guns of Blanks and Copeland. He takes Harris hostage on a rooftop and wildly shoots at Thompson. Mahoney races to the top to save Harris, but ends up surrendering his gun as the rioter points his gun at Harris’ head. As Harris and Mahoney are sitting on the roof top, Hightower appears and asks the shooter if he could watch him “kill these pigs!” The shooter agrees and as he is about to squeeze the trigger, Hightower punches him in the face and sends his rolling down a flight of stairs. Hightower saves Mahoney and Harris’ lives. In return for their heroism, Mahoney and Hightower are reinstated to the force with honors.
“Police Academy” was an instant success grossing $8 million on its opening weekend and finished the year grossing $81 million. Reviews were mixed with Roger Ebert giving it zero stars. It was successful that they made a sequel that came out the very next year. The sequel was also a success which triggered another movie and then another movie. The series ended with seven movies, a short lived TV show and a possible reboot which Steve Guttenberg is spearheading.
To say that “Police Academy” is a cult movie is an understatement. It’s one of the funniest comedies in my opinion. Not only that, but it provides moments of morality, decency and dedication. The characters that are supposed to be likeable in the film are likeable and the characters that are supposed to be the bad guys are the bad guys. That’s credit to the writing. The movie has plenty of physical gags, situations and witty dialogue to keep you laughing to keep you going through the film’s 96 minute run time. It’s completely relatable to the real world. You’ll have average Joes that end up joining the force for reasons that are of their understanding.
As I mentioned all the characters are likeable and the credit goes to the cast. Most of the cast were relatively unknown (not sure if Guttenberg was known during this time) and they played their roles with heart and passion. They had great chemistry on screen. Guttenberg being the top billing and the focal point of the story delivers a funny performance as Mahoney. He is witty, a bit of a smart ass and someone who likes to have fun at the expense of others. As you tag along to Mahoney’s journey you see the character evolve as he goes from wanting desperately to be kicked out of the academy to taking the opportunity of doing something meaningful with his life. It shows through his good deeds towards other cadets to his heroism at the climax of the film. He is equally matched by G.W. Bailey’s Harris, the next great performance. Bailey plays Harris in a manner similar to R. Lee Ermey in “Full Metal Jacket” but with very little vulgarity. He immediately draws a disliking to Mahoney tries to push him past his physical limitations. George Gaynes portrays Commandant Lassard as a buffoon in a manner to Leslie Nielsen. His best scene involves a situation he gets in when making a presentation and his reaction afterwards. It will be implanted in your memory for a long time. David Graf’s portrayal as Tackleberry is another highlight of the film. Tackleberry is aggressive and sometimes unstable as you will see during his training especially around firearms. It’s funny to see him sleep with a revolver in his hand and spends his free time sharpening his hunting knife. Michael Winslow plays Jones who rarely talks, but rather speaks through sound effects. He plays pranks on some of the instructors such as making the sound of leaves crunching when an instructor is walking to acting like he is talking on the PA and telling Harris to report to the Firing Range. He has some memorable scenes including playing a video game shooter when there is no TV or console and shaving with a plastic blade and making effects to sound like it’s an electric razor. Finally, my other favorite performance is Hightower, played by NFL great, Bubba Smith. He is a man who is quiet, but provides brute physical strength such as knocking down a brick wall during a course where cadets have to jump over it to pulling on a rope only to have the ceiling come crashing down. He forms a bond with Mahoney when Mahoney helps him learn how to drive since he hadn’t driven a car since he was twelve years old. When Hightower gets kicked out for coming to Hooks’ defense, you could see the devastation in his eyes and you feel bad for him because you know he did the right thing.
If you’ve never seen “Police Academy” before I highly recommend you watch it and see what you think. A lot of people will say that this is nothing original or not as funny as perhaps some other cop comedies that have come out, but I think you will thoroughly enjoy it. If you like this film, I would recommend watching the next two sequels, maybe three. I would skip the last two sequels as they seem to have run out of ideas. You’ll laugh, you may shed a tear, or you’ll shed a tear while laughing.
Director Hugh Wilson stated that when it came time to film the driving scene with Hightower at 4:30 a.m., the actor originally cast as the angry driver was found passed out drunk in the trailer, so Hugh himself ended up playing the role of the angry driver, into whom Hightower crashes.
When attending his audition, Steve Guttenberg wore an old police shirt belonging to his father Stanley Guttenberg, who was a New York City police officer.
The location used as the Academy campus was known as the Mimico Lunatic Asylum or variations thereof until 1911, and Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital from 1964 to 1979. It was acquired by Humber College in 1991, after being mainly used as a site for filmmaking between 1979 and 1991. It is now a renovated and active educational institution.
Michael Winslow (Jones), David Graf (Tackleberry), and George Gaynes (Commandant Lassard) are the only actors who appeared in all seven Police Academy movies. Winslow even goes a step beyond this, as he is the only actor who not only appeared in all seven Police Academy movies, but also had a regular role on Police Academy: The Series (1997).
Marion Ramsey was asked to wear a fat suit for her role as Hooks, with the idea that Hooks’ boot camp training would have rendered her slim by the end of the film. Due to time constraints, the scene showing Hooks after her weight loss was removed from the final cut. By the time work on the sequel began, producers changed their minds, opting instead to have Marion remain wearing the fat suit, in order to garner audience sympathy for her character. A brief shot of “slim” Hooks remains in the film, however, as a close-up of Marion without the fat suit is seen during the graduates’ march at the end of the film.
Billy Crystal, Tom Hanks, Michael Keaton, Bill Murray, Judge Reinhold, Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, and Bruce Willis were considered for Mahoney.
The only Police Academy movie that was given an R-rating.
This movie was the most successful film of 1984 in West Germany.
Steve Guttenberg mentions in his biography, “The Guttenberg Bible”, that Donovan Scott filmed home-movies during filming. According to Guttenberg, there is a “very funny, touching, and unreleased documentary that he made of the shoot.”
Robert Conrad was offered the role of Commandant Eric Lassard, but turned down the part, which he regretted later on, to the point that he took the part of the Police Chief in Moving Violations (1985) which was co-written and directed by Neal Israel, who also co-wrote this film.
In the party scene, Tackleberry is seen to play the saxophone. In real-life, David Graf actually was an accomplished saxophone player.
After early test audiences responded the most positively to Hightower, out of all the characters, Bubba Smith was moved to second place billing, just behind Steve Guttenberg.
Was filmed in forty days.
David Graf had to choose between working on this film or Richard Benjamin’s more critically acclaimed Racing with the Moon (1984). When David initially read the Police Academy script, he thought, “What trash”. For three days, he sat and looked at the two scripts. Then, when Warner Brothers made him the offer, Graf said he knew which film was going to make money.
The Blue Oyster bar used in this movie, is actually called the Silver Dollar Room, located on Spadina Avenue in Toronto. Coincidentally, Spadina Avenue is also home to Protocol Entertainment, the company that produced Police Academy: The Series (1997).
Starring: Cortney Palm, Tony Todd, Mark Hamill, Noah Hathaway, James Duvall, Andy Mackenzie Sonny Chiba, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Danny Trejo
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Before I go into the review, I would like to take this time to apologize for not posting weekly. I’ve had some personal tragedies in my life that took me away from various projects. In addition, I wanted to take some time off and rethink the concept of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review”. When I first started this blog, the concept was to review movies that I particularly liked that perhaps only a small cult would enjoy. I started to find myself digging into movies that have already been done before. I took a seat back and took notes on how to keep this blog going but make it appealing to the viewers. I decided that I would focus on movies that the mainstream movie goer may not have heard of before or movies that may be seen as bad by the general public, but I enjoy. I know there will be people out there (even you the reader) that may have seen the movie I’m reviewing before, but my goal in reviewing these underrated movies is to attempt to capture a new audience. As a diehard movie fan who studied Film Concepts in college, I wanted to get a better appreciation for the art by diversifying the different styles, genres and techniques. I’m tired of the mainstream movies that are out today with its never ending remakes/sequels in order to make money. So with that, I hope you the reader will follow me into the next phase of this blog. Check these movies out for yourself, see what you think and pass it along. If I could get one new viewer to appreciate an underground non mainstream film, I would accomplish what I had hope to accomplish when starting this. With that being said, let me dive into an underground crime thriller that I haven’t seen in a very long time. 2012’s “Sushi Girl”.
The story focuses on a man by the name of Fish (Noah Hathaway) who has just been released from prison after serving a six year sentence for armed robbery. A car is waiting for him outside the prison. Fish gets in and is taken to an undisclosed location. When he enters, he sees his old crew waiting for him as they throw a “Welcome Back” party. Hosted by the leader Duke (Tony Todd) and features the short tempered Max (Andy Mackenzie), the eccentric Crow (Mark Hamill) and the reserved Francis (James Duvall). The crew dines on sushi that is served off the body of a beautiful naked woman lying flat and motionless on the table. Fish realizes that this isn’t just a reunion, but a plot by Duke to demand answers of what happened to the diamonds that they stole from their last heist. Fish tells the group he doesn’t know where they are. The rest of the crew, desperate and determined to get their cut of the diamonds tie Fish up in his chair and start to interrogate him. The interrogation involves methods of torture. The crew will stop at nothing to squeeze the information out of him.
I first heard of this movie back in 2013 when I was listening to a horror movie podcast (can’t remember the name of it). Tony Todd was the guest they were interviewing and he mentioned a movie he was starring in that was about to be released titled “Sushi Girl”. He said it was his favorite movie he’s ever done and the fact he got to work with Luke Skywalker himself was a dream come true. Coincidentally, the movie was available to stream on Netflix. With that being said, I watched it. I really enjoyed it the first time around. I even mentioned this to Mr. Todd when I met him at the Days of the Dead Convention in Indianapolis in 2013. He reiterated to me that he enjoyed the movie and was moved by my appreciation for the film. When I started researching movies to do for this next phase of the blog, I kept thinking about “Sushi Girl”, especially since I had only seen it that one time. I found it on DVD at a local store and watched it again. I didn’t remember much from the first viewing only than the characters. After the second viewing, I noticed it was similar in style and tone to another movie that is one of my favorites. Nevertheless I enjoyed the film the second time around.
The film is pretty much an homage to the Quentin Tarantino flick “Reservoir Dogs”. If you haven’t seen it before it’s about a group of thieves who go on a diamond heist that goes absolutely wrong. The survivors believe there was a mole in their group and try to figure out who it is. The film is known for showing you the before and after the heist, but not the heist itself. It makes the viewer interpret the actual events that took place during. “Sushi Girl” follows that same concept. You see the planning and aftermath. However, they show the actual heist taking place. These scenes are weaved throughout the film. The main setting of the film takes place in this abandoned building that looks like an Asian restaurant, which makes sense since they’re having sushi for dinner. Like “Reservoir Dogs”, this movie has a torture scene, shootouts, plenty of blood, humor and a twist ending. If you’ve never seen the said movie before, you should see it (but that’s for another time).
The performances are very good and each character has their own identity and personality that causes plenty of friction and tension among them. Tony Todd was great in this. He portrays the leader of group as cold, calculating and in control. I love his deep baritone voice and his wielding of power within the group. Everyone listens to him and when he commands something they do it. He’s played many bad guys before, but I think this is my favorite performance of his other than “Candyman” which he is well known for. Cortney Palm, who is the ‘Sushi Girl’ in the movie makes her feature length debut. She is completely motionless and does her best to ignore the conversations and actions that are taking place in the dinner. You do see moments where she flinches or sheds a tear. You don’t know anything about her throughout the film until the very end (That’s all I’ll say about that). Kudos to her for willing to be completely naked covered by sushi for her first film. I’m sure many women would refuse to do that as their first role. The best performance of the film by far is Mark Hamill. He plays the character of ‘Crow’ exactly like Truman Capote complete with long blonde hair, glasses and a business suit. He is very eccentric and flamboyant and beneath that layer is a man who is slimy and sadistic. If you’re familiar with Hamill’s work as the Joker in the Batman Animated Series from the 90s, you’ll hear his famous laugh throughout the movie. It was also nice to see cameo appearances from Michael Biehn (Terminator), Jeff Fahey (The Lawnmower Man) and Danny Trejo (Machete) who play a rival group that holds the diamonds the original group is attempting to steal from.
Clocking in at 98 minutes, “Sushi Girl” may not be an original film, but it has enough going on to keep you intrigued and focused. It’s not a fast paced, high action thriller but rather a suspenseful crime drama mixed with story, dialogue and brutality. You really feel the tension between the characters throughout the movie which grows into paranoia and desperation when their situation becomes a lost cause. It gives you the appreciation of what small independent films are trying to do, even if it’s a redundant concept.
TRIVIA (According to IMDB)
While eating fugu, Duke says “I cannot see her tonight. I have to give her up. So I will eat fugu.” This is, in fact a famous senryu from Japanese poet Yosa Buson, written in the 18th century.
The van that is used for the diamond burglary says Falkore Plumbing on the side. Falkor is the name of the Luck Dragon that Atreyu rides in The Neverending Story. Atreyu was played by Noah Hathaway, who plays Fish in this film.
This is Noah Hathaway’s first role in a full length film since 1994.
Michael Biehn shot his scenes for free in one day as a favor to his good friend Electra Avellan, one of the producers.
One of the plainclothes policemen in the van outside the place where the “reunion” is being held, tape recording the criminal conversations within, is named “Det. Harry Caul Jr.” “Harry Caul” was the master audio surveillance character played by Gene Hackman in “The Conversation” (1974).
Before he sits down Crow (Hamill) picks up a white rabbit mask off his chair. While non intentional white rabbits are a trademark of Batman villain Mad Hatter (aka Jarvis Tetch) Hamill, who is most famous for voicing the role of Joker on the animated series, Also voices him in the Arkham games