The Stuff

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The Stuff

Release Date: June 14, 1985

Genre: Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Scott Bloom

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

I’ve been waiting to post this review. Now is a perfect time. It’s movie #4 in the Larry Cohen Tribute Special. This is perhaps the most popular film in Larry Cohen’s filmography. It is a movie that is still fresh and relatable almost thirty-five years since its release. The concept may be goofy, but you will enjoy the ride this movie provides once you push the Play button on your remote control. If you ask most movie fans to name one Larry Cohen movie off the top of their heads, the majority will say this title, ‘The Stuff!’. So, without further ado, here is the review to the 1985 horror cult classic ‘The Stuff!’

The movie starts with a railroad worker noticing a white bubbly substance coming from the snowy ground. He takes a taste of it to see what it is. To his delight it tastes very sweet with the texture of yogurt. Soon the substance is being marketed to consumers as “The Stuff” which becomes a phenomenon. “The Stuff” is marketed as being creamy, filling and with no calories. You can find “The Stuff” at supermarkets, small vendor carts and even a Dairy Queen style drive thru. While people are going crazy over “The Stuff” there are people highly suspicious of this addictive edible food. First there’s a young boy named Jason who wakes up in the middle of the night looking for a snack. He opens the refrigerator door to see a container of “The Stuff” moving. He tries to convince his family that there is something alive within it, but they are dismissive of his claims. Jason gets paranoid that he vandalizes a supermarket by destroying the massive amounts of “The Stuff” that is being sold. The other person who is skeptical of “The Stuff” is a former FBI agent turned industrial saboteur named David “Mo” Rutherford (who tells people that he got the nickname from whenever people gave him money, he always wanted mo!). He is hired by numerous corporate executives of the ice cream industry to find out what is in “The Stuff” and destroy it. He befriends the head marketer of “The Stuff” Nicole and they set out to investigate the contents. Mo’s efforts reveal that “The Stuff” is a living parasite that takes over people’s brains and then mutates the host into zombies. Mo encounters Jason and the three of them are determined to destroy “The Stuff” before it consumes more and more people.

As I’ve said in my opening statement, “The Stuff” is still my favorite movie in Larry Cohen’s filmography. It took me a long time to find interest in checking it out. When I first saw the cover art, it didn’t appeal to me. Mainly because I wasn’t familiar with Larry Cohen’s work nor was, I interested in low budget horror movies. After seeing the movie pop up on several streaming services, I decided to give it a chance and boy did I not regret it. I enjoyed every frame, scene, characters and effects. It made me wish I had seen this movie a lot sooner than I did.

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Michael Moriarty once again returns in a Larry Cohen picture. He follows up his astounding performance in ‘Q: The Winged Serpent” with another memorable performance. I loved his portrayal of Mo Rutherford. He has the smarts of a detective and the tongue of a salesman. He’s smooth talking, confident and keeps his eye on the ball. What starts as a simple job to expose “The Stuff” to his employers turns into a national crisis that he must find a way to put an end. The rest of the cast is convincing in their roles. Andrea Marcovicci plays Nicole, the attractive and smart marketer of “The Stuff” who joins Mo in his investigation and become lovers. Garrett Morris plays ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs, the junk food magnet that Mo befriends while visiting a town that has been desolated by relocation of jobs and the great Paul Sorvino as Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears who leads the operation into destroying “The Stuff” and warning the public about the dangers of consuming it. Sorvino chews up the scenery all throughout the climax of the movie.

Like most of Cohen’s films, “The Stuff” is not just a horror movie, but a social commentary. Cohen made this movie at a time in the eighties where people consumed everything. The eighties were the birth of many electronics such as video game consoles, Walkman’s, VCRs, etc. It wasn’t just electronics people were craving, it was the current fashion trends, fast food restaurants popping up at every street corner. With these new products came heavy advertising and marketing. This was during Reaganomics where the American economy was booming, and people were spending their hard-earned money of anything they can get their hands on. Cohen based “The Stuff” off the yogurt craze going on at the time. People were obsessed with yogurt because it was advertised as being healthy, filling and tasty. Add heavy advertising to that and you have people become hooked on it turning them into consumer zombies. They consume and consume while the companies that make it rake in the profits.

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The movie is a pure 80s movie in terms of look, music, effects and overall style. You have the bright neon lights of “The Stuff” logo along with its catchy music and commercials. There’s even an appearance from the old lady in the Wendy’s commercials where instead of screaming, “Where’s the beef?” she cries, “Where’s the Stuff?” The effects of The Stuff creature vary throughout the film. In some parts of the film, it looks like a mix between frozen yogurt and marshmallow. In scenes where it bursts through walls, it milky and watery. Cohen does a great job showing that the creature doesn’t take on a basic form, rather it can come in multiple forms and textures.

‘The Stuff’ is not without its flaws and there’s plenty of them. There’s no main antagonist to the movie only that the product itself and the corporate executives. I think there was a missed opportunity there. If they had a main antagonist who could perhaps be a rival saboteur to Mo or a person who wants to manipulate the infected people and make them servants of his, it would have made for a more interesting confrontation. The color of The Stuff is white. It’s not a scary color or a color that is associated with blobs or goo. If it were green or blue, I think it would’ve been a more organic look. Also, I did not enjoy the performance of the kid, Jason. If I had to create a list of the ‘Most Annoying Characters in Horror Movies’ he would be on that list. He is constantly whining about telling his family not to eat The Stuff. He also complains to Mo that he had to eat shaving cream to convince his parents that he is now under the power of The Stuff. I also didn’t like how he was portrayed at the end of the movie. It didn’t give him any redeeming quality or likeability. Finally, there could’ve been a lot more romantic development between Mo and Nicole. It’s like they meet and then all of a sudden Nicole is in love with him. My viewing experience of characters falling in love tends to build up from the beginning of the movie to the mid-way point and there was none of that here. You may notice these flaws as you watch it, but because there is so much going on in terms of the action and the horror of the movie that you will more than likely shrug it off.

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‘The Stuff’ is a rare find. It should’ve been a much more mainstream film considering the subject matter. This is a movie that still holds up after all this time. You can relate this movie to everything that is going on in our world today as consumerism and Capitalism hasn’t slowed down. It’s an iconic B-Movie that stacks right up there with many of the underrated greats. This is the most recognizable film of Larry Cohen’s work and the one movie that people associate Cohen with.

Next week we present the final review of the Larry Cohen Tribute Special. Make sure you check back next week. Same time, same place, same website.

 

TRIVIA

– According to audio commentary on the 2000 Anchor Bay DVD, the scene in the motel where the Stuff comes out of the mattress and pillows and attacks the man on the wall and ceiling was shot in a room that could turn upside down, allowing the Stuff to move up and down the wall. It was exactly the same room used in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) when Johnny Depp’s character Glen is sucked into his bed and his blood is regurgitated back out onto the ceiling.

– According to Larry Cohen himself, in some scenes in which the Stuff chases characters, a foam made of blended fish bones was used. It stank so much that, as soon as the shots were done, the actors ran to a river in order to bathe and get rid of the stench.

– Garrett Morris was asked about this film when he participated in AV Club’s “Random Roles” interview series. He said the production was “crazy,” and when the interviewer noted Larry Cohen’s history as “a character,” and asked Morris what he was like, Morris said that “I was taught growing up that if you don’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all,” with no further comment about Cohen.

– Arsenio Hall was considered for the role of “Chocolate Chip” Charlie W. Hobbs.

– David ‘Mo’ Rutherford tells ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs to contact agent Frank Herbert from the FBI. Frank Herbert was an American science fiction writer best known for the novel Dune and its five sequels.

– Michael Moriarty (David ‘Mo’ Rutherford) and Paul Sorvino (Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears) went on to appear in 31 episodes of Law & Order (1990) together from 1991 to 1992 as Executive A.D.A. Ben Stone and Sergeant Phil Cerreta, respectively.

– The original cut of the film was said to be much longer and described by Director Larry Cohen as more “dense and sophisticated”. Feeling that the film was too long, it was cut to increase the pace of the film. There was a romantic scene between Moriarty and Marcovicci that took place in a hotel room in the original cut.

– The Executive’s Office at the End is strangely similar to Mr Burns’ Office from The Simpsons, particularly the Stuffed Polar Bear.

 

AUDIO CLIPS 

Tasty and Sweet

Enough Is Never Enough

Sweaty Palm

Mo Rutherford

No, Don’t Eat It

Can’t Wait In Line

The Stuff Commercial #1

You Feed The Dog

Chocolate Chip Charlie

Low Tech Solutions

I Could Always Kill You

They’re Good For Us

I Just Ate Shaving Cream

The Stuff Commercial #2

Pillow Tried To Kill Us

They’re All Stuffies

You’ll Probably Be A Casulty

We’ve Never Lost A War

Get That Shit Off My Station

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Q: The Winged Serpent

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Q: The Winged Serpent

Release Date: October 29, 1982

Genre: Crime, Horror, Mystery

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: David Carradine, Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, Richard Roundtree,  James Dixon

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

We have reached the half way point in our Larry Cohen Tribute Month. Thank you to everyone who has been sticking with the special since the first movie. Still plenty more to come. For this week’s review, we are going to be looking at one of Larry Cohen’s most popular movies. It’s an homage to the early monster movies such as ‘King Kong.’ It takes place in New York City (like King Kong), but instead of seeing the monster on top of the Empire State Building, you’re going to be seeing a monster on top of another landmark building, the Chrysler Building. This week we’re going to be reviewing 1982’s ‘Q: The Winged Serpent!”

As the title suggests, ‘Q’ is a flying monster that has made its home on top of the Chrysler Building. It flies through the skies of New York City snatching up people for food.  No one knows where this creature came from or how it got here. As the monster roams the skies, two separate stories are going on. The first story you have is Police Detective Shepard (David Carradine) who is assigned the case of finding the monster and killing it. He believes the monster has something to do with a series of ritual killings he’s also been investigating. Along with his partner Powell (Richard Roundtree), they link the killings and the monster to a secret Neo Aztec cult. The second story involves Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty), a cheap two-timing crook who is an excellent piano player who is involved in a botched diamond heist. He makes his escape by hiding inside the Chrysler Building where he discovers the creature’s nest atop complete with a giant egg. Jimmy uses this knowledge of the creature’s location to lure his fellow mob pursuers to their deaths at the hands of the creature and to extort the city of money and immunity from prosecution in exchange for giving up the creature’s hideout.

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Larry Cohen wrote and shot this movie in a little over two weeks. He was working on a project called ‘I, The Jury’ until he was fired by the studio (he is credited for writing the script to the movie). Not wanting to leave his hotel room that was paid up, he assembled a small crew from the aforementioned project and started shooting all around the city. It took Cohen six days to write the script for ‘Q’. The cast was not aware of what they were making when they received a short telegram from Cohen to arrive in the city and be prepared to work.

When I first watched ‘Q’, I was thoroughly impressed with the look and style of the movie. It reminded me of the Godzilla movies that I used to watch as a kid on television. There was a look and feel to them that stuck in my brain and this movie did the same thing. It had me engaged from the first scene and I was on the edge of my seat to see how it was going to play out. I was familiar with Larry Cohen’s work at the time, but not enough to know how he shot films and how he edited them.

‘Q’ has an excellent cast filled with character actors and method actors. I’ve always been a fan of David Carradine and I was ecstatic when I found out he was in this film. He doesn’t disappoint. He plays Shepard as a traditional detective, trying to find all the clues and piece them together. When he comes up with his final report, it is rejected by his superiors. Carradine continues to believe what he has uncovered and is willing to do what it takes to stop the monster and save the city. His partner, played by Richard Roundtree is a little rougher around the edges. If interrogators were playing ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ with a suspect, Roundtree would easily be the ‘Bad Cop.’ There’s even a scene where he plays that on Jimmy Quinn. Speaking of Jimmy Quinn, he’s the surprising hero of the movie played brilliantly by Michael Moriarty. When he first appears on screen he is desperate to get back in the game of stealing. When the diamond heist goes bad he starts to get edgy and paranoid. As the movie progresses you see that Jimmy grows a brain and develops a plan to get rid of the people who are looking for him and a way to set himself up for the failed heist. Many critics and fans have hailed Moriarty’s performance as the best piece of method acting they’ve seen and I echo that sentiment. He pours emotions filled with anger, despair and cockiness. This was the first collaboration between Moriarty and Cohen and it wouldn’t be the last as they would work together on five more movies.

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Like all of his movies, Larry Cohen shot the film with no permits and used real life police officers, construction workers and window washers which gives the movie an authentic feel. The movie is shot in the streets of New York, over the skies of New York and of course the inside and outside of the Chrysler Building. When you watch the people of New York look above when they are getting splattered with blood falling from the sky or taking cover when bullet cases are raining down, those aren’t paid actors, those are real people who are quickly reacting to the situation that they are in. The only permission he received was from the owners of the Chrysler Building. At the cost of $15,000 Cohen was able to shoot inside the building all the way up to the top where no ordinary citizen has gone before. From there you will be amazed by what the top of the building looks like and becomes the set piece for the climatic showdown between the monster and the police which is this reviewer’s favorite scene in the whole picture.

Now let’s get to the character of the monster itself, Quetzalcoatl! The special effects for Q were done using stop-motion animation by Randall William Cook and David Allen. It is custom for stop motion sequences to be shot as they are happening. This was not the case (nothing is ever coherent in a Larry Cohen movie). When Cohen hired Cook and Allen to do the stop motion animation, he had already finished shooting the movie. His plan was to add the creature into shots already taken. This results in the monster looking like he was pasted onto an existing shot. It brings a sense of unevenness when watching the monster when it appears or has moments of action such as plucking the heads off people. The effects are no different from what you would see in a b movie involving a monster, but don’t let the cheapness distract you. You will easily bypass it as you continue to be engrossed in the movie and enjoy the effects for the sheer fun.

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There’s not much more I can say about ‘Q: The Winged Serpent’ without giving too much away. It’s one of the best B-Movies to come out within the last forty years. It continues to have an impact and has inspired other filmmakers to make their own monster movies using this concept. I rank this as my second favorite Larry Cohen movie only to the one movie which I will be reviewing next week. If you want to find out what movie I’m talking about then stay tuned next week! You may be surprised (or may not be surprised)!

 

 

 

TRIVIA

  • A young Bruce Willis wanted to star in David Carradine’s role but wasn’t a known name at the time that Larry Cohen could depend on to be bankable. Bruce later met Larry again when Moonlighting (1985) was a hit.
  • Pre-production for the movie lasted just one week. The film was conceived after Larry Cohen was fired from a big budget film shooting in New York. Cohen, determined not to waste the hotel room he had paid for, hired the actors and prepared a shooting script within six days.
  • In an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air”, Michael Moriarty described the scene in which he auditions as a piano player. The music he played was a self-composed and unrehearsed improvisation, and the dog’s reaction was genuine.
  • The building in the opening scene of the movie is the Empire State Building. In this scene, a window cleaner loses his head to the monster. His name is William Pilch, and was the actual window cleaner for the Empire State Building at the time of the movie’s filming.
  • The French movie poster incorrectly shows the monster covered with feathers, a wavy dinosaur frill along its back, and with large white teeth. This is because it was illustrated and printed up before copies of the film were imported into France.
  • David Carradine agreed to play Shepard even though he didn’t receive a script to read prior to his first day of working on the film.
  • The jewel store that the bad guys rob in the early part of the film is called “Neil Diamonds” a pun on the name of Neil Diamond.
  • Cohen stated about the monsters death at the ending, “It’s the exact same scene as the end of the $150 million Godzilla picture. Gee, if I had that money I could have made 150 movies.”

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Back Again Creep

You’re Not The Only Action In Town

Jimmy Plays The Piano

Equal Share Equal Chance

I’ve Been Afraid Of Everything

Who’s Got My Lunch Pail?

Evil Dreams

The Feathered Flying Serpent

I Better Take My Birth Control Pill

Eat Him

Being Civilized

Drag Me Here So You Could Do Pushups

Becoming Quite A Bird Watcher

If You Know Something

Nixon Like Pardon

Get Rupert Down Here

Fry Up 500 lbs of Bacon

Stick It Up Your Small Brain

The Long Riders

 

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The Long Riders

Release Date: May 16, 1980

Genre: Biography, Crime, Western

Director: Walter Hill

Writers: Bill Bryden, Steven Smith, Stacy Keach, James Keach

Starring: David Carradine, Keith Carradine, Robert Carradine, Stacy Keach, James Keach, Dennis Quaid, Randy Quaid

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

 Perhaps the most overlooked filmmaker that I can think of in recent memory would be Walter Hill. While he’s most known for being a writer and an executive producer most notably with the ‘Alien’ franchise, he has several well-known movies that he directed throughout the 70s and 80s. You may have seen a movie from these eras not realizing that it was done by Walter Hill. Does ‘The Warriors’ ring a bell? How about ‘Streets of Fire?’ I’m sure you have seen the Nick Nolte/Eddie Murphy buddy comedy/crime film ‘48 Hours!’ Hill has created films from different genres that have a unique look and style that help tell the story of what he is trying to convey. One movie in his filmography that has always stood out to me is his 1980 Western Crime movie ‘The Long Riders!’

Featuring an ensemble cast of acting brothers, the movie depicts the James-Younger gang and their outlaw antics after the Civil War. Throughout the state of Missouri, they rob banks, trains and stagecoaches. The leaders of the gang are Jesse James and Cole Younger followed by their brothers. Their antics would lead to the Pinkerton agency, led by Mr. Rixley being hired to capture the outlaws. Some of the tactics they use to get information regarding the gang go haywire to the point that the gang seeks vengeance on the agents. As the gang prepares their biggest heist in Minnesota, tensions start to flare within the gang. Would they be able to overcome their objections and hostility towards each other to pull off their biggest score? Or will they crumble under the pressure of not only the law right behind their tails, but what impact their deeds have had on their families?

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‘The Long Riders’ was an ambitious project of actor James Keach. After he and his brother Stacy played The Wright Brothers in the television film of the same name, James came up with the idea of doing a movie about Jesse James and his gang with James playing Jesse and Stacy playing Frank James. After several years, James and Stacy ponied up much of the funding to get the film made. For the rest of the gang, they enlisted the Carradine brothers to play the Younger family. David Carradine played Cole Younger, Keith Carradine played Jim Younger and Robert Carradine played Bob Younger. For the Miller brothers, James enlisted the Quaids to fill out those roles with Randy Quaid play Clell Miller and Dennis Quaid playing Ed Miller.

The concept of having real life acting brothers play brotherly characters in a movie is ingenious. All the performances are not only different in personalities, but contemplative of each other and throughout the movie. James Keach and David Carradine as the leaders of the gang show off their leader mentality with James being the architect of their plans. While David Carradine’s Cole Younger is a man who likes to gamble, drink and have fun in between robberies, James Keach’s Jesse James is always serious and straight laced. All he thinks about is his family and his next score. Keith Carradine’s portrays Jim Younger as a handsome, charismatic gunslinger who is a genuine smooth talker. His issue in the film involves the woman he is in love with who ends up taking the hand of Ed Miller against his advice. Robert Carradine’s Jim Younger is the babyface of the group and Robert plays it with ambition and friendly. He’s so friendly he shakes the hand of the man whose stagecoach is being robbed by them. Randy Quaid trades his comedic chops for a brute intimidating portrayal as Clell Miller whose loyalty is only to the gang and not to his brother Ed, which you’ll see throughout the movie. Dennis Quaid has the less screen time out of all of them for reasons that are depicted early in the film. The screen time he does have involves a triangle he has between his wife and his gang.

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‘The Long Riders’ is the most historically accurate film of the James Younger gang I could think of in a long time. Hill’s real intention is to present us with a gang of three families of brothers and get us to accept them on their own terms. We see the gang not only as rough riding outlaws, but devoted family men which gives the characters a sense of heart.  The movie starts out at the height of their notoriety and ends with its untimely downfall. Not only is the timeline of events sequential, but Walter Hill manages to show the customs of life in post-Civil War times. There is a concentration on familiar rituals as funerals, family reunions and relationships between loved ones, but also on common Western rituals such as brothels, saloons, knife fight challenges and of course the robberies.

The music and cinematography only heightened the authenticity of the movie. The original score was written and performed by Ry Cooder. He is best known for his ‘roots’ music style with an emphasis of using slide guitar techniques. There’s plenty of guitar, harmonica and fiddles to fill your ears as you immerse yourself in each scene. The look of the film is rustic, yet beautiful. From the green pastures of Missouri to the tiny towns, to the rivers and forests, you’ll be amazed at the open landscape that is depicted throughout the film.

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And what is a Western without action? Nothing. ‘The Long Riders’ has plenty of action. You have vindictive shootouts between the gang and the Pinkertons. You have train robberies, bank robberies and stagecoach heists that are filled with tension and humor. And there is a knife fight between Carradine and the husband of a hooker he knows complete with both biting down on a belt as they try to slash each other. The action weaves into the story with fluidity. Some of the deaths are gory for a Western movie. There’s no skimping of blood or bullets in the scenes.

‘The Long Riders’ may not have a lasting impact among the mainstream Western movies, but this is one of the more memorable ones I could think of in a long time. There’s never a dull moment or a scene that drowns out long. It keeps your eyes forward at the screen as you watch the journey of the Cole Younger gang and its ultimate fall like the Corleone family in ‘The Godfather!’. Walter Hill delivers a sympathetic piece to one of the most notorious gangs in American history.  To Hill, good and bad aren’t on opposite sides of the coin; they share the edge.

 

TRIVIA

  • Dennis Quaid broke his nose during the making of this film as he did three years later on Tough Enough (1983).
  • The roles of Jesse James and his son, little Jesse, are played by father and son, James and Kalen Keach.
  • Originally Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges were going to play the Ford brothers, but they could not fit it in their schedules.
  • Stuart Mossman, who played the “Engineer,” was a renowned guitar maker and friend of the three Carradine brothers, who all owned Mossman guitars.
  • In order to make the movie, David Carradine forfeited his customary profit participation and the Keach brothers gave up their profit percentages as executive producer in order that the Carradine brothers got the same amount of profits. When the film went over its $7.5 million budget, the Keaches forfeited their executive producer fees.
  • The film features an uncredited appearance by Ever Carradine, daughter of Robert Carradine and niece to David Carradine and Keith Carradine.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Standing Guard

You Got Nice Hands

Women

When You’re Old Enough To Call Yourself A Lady

Shelby Weren’t At Cole Harbor

Jesse James Rides With The Youngers

How Come I Wasn’t Invited?

Fire Away And Fall Back

Amazingly Stupid Question

What’s To Know About Robbing A Bank?

On Your Way To Hell

Pinkerton Man

Tell You Something About Texas

Any Visitors While I Was Gone

Family Man

Take The Damn Bank

 

The ‘Burbs

 

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The ‘Burbs

Release Date: February 17, 1989

Genre: Comedy, Mystery, Thriller

Director: Joe Dante

Writer: Dana Olsen

Starring: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 There’s no arguing that Tom Hanks is one of the greatest actors to appear on the big screen. He’s brought to life some of the most memorable characters of the last thirty plus years. He’s played iconic fictional characters Andrew Beckett in ‘Philadelphia’ to Forrest Gump in the film of the same name to Woody the Sherriff in the ‘Toy Story’ franchise. He’s also portrayed living heroes such as Jim Lovell in ‘Apollo 13’, Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger in ‘Sully.’ and Walt Disney in ‘Saving Mr. Banks.’ Hanks started his career in the field of comedy before he became a serious actor. Most of the films he was in during that era are considered cult classics. For this edition of ‘Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review’ I decided to re-watch one of his movies from the 80s that is perhaps my personal favorite, which is 1989’s ‘The ‘Burbs!’

The film is a comical satire of life in a suburban neighborhood. Hanks plays Ray Peterson, who is on vacation from his job hoping to come back to work with a clear head. Despite the requests from his wife Carol (Carrie Fisher), he decides to stay home during his vacation. Along with his neighbors, former military serviceman Mark Rumsfield (Bruce Dern) and next door mooch Art Weingartner (Rick Ducommum) they begin to investigate their new neighbors the Klopeks. No one in the neighborhood has seen them nor have met them. Strange things start to happen to only add to their curiosity such as massive power surges coming from the Klopeks’ basement, giant bags of garbage being dropped off in the front and digging up the backyard on a dark rainy night. Art tries to convince Ray that the Klopeks are part of a Satanic cult. And when one of their neighbors disappears leaving his dog behind, they are convinced that something has happened to him considering he is next door to the Klopeks. Art, Ray and Mark team up together to uncover what the Klopeks are hiding.

Directed by Joe Dante, best known for his films ‘Gremlins,’ ‘The Howling,’ and ‘Piranha’, this movie is radically different from his known work. Fans of Joe Dante have nothing to fear as he creates something that is original, simple and funny. This movie was a test for him to get out of the horror label (even though he is considered one of the Masters of Horror) and he passed with flying colors. There’s not a dull moment in this movie.

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‘The ‘Burbs’ is not so much about the plot (which is admittedly thin and which the critics are too concerned with) as it is about the characters who become entangled within it. The plot is simple where you don’t need to read between the lines as to what is happening. Instead Dante makes the audience focus on the action that is taking place. The pacing provides gives the audience plenty of time to laugh and take a breather before the next scene.

The movie doesn’t rely on special effects or any other tricks as the comedy is unfolded through not only physical effects but the dialogue and situations they are in. The writing is credited to Dana Olsen who had worked as a writer in television before getting her big break in writing for Hollywood with this movie. Olsen wrote a clever and relatable script as she based it off her own experience with strange neighbors she was surrounded by when she was growing up.

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The cast is terrific and contemplate each other well. Obviously, Hanks is the lead in this movie. He plays Ray Peterson as an over stressed family man who seems to be the reasonable one in the neighborhood. As the movie progressed, so does his curiosity about the new neighbors. His curiosity turns into paranoia thanks to the thoughts that Art puts in his head. Hanks provides plenty of laughs, both physical and verbal comedy. Bruce Dern as Mark Rumsfield was a surprisingly delightful performance. He is a man who can’t get over his life serving his country and continues to portray that all throughout the movie. His years in service come in handy as he provides devices such as infrared scopes and advanced walkie talkies to stakeout the Klopek’s home. Dern is not known for playing comedic parts, but his antics and dialogue provide many laugh out loud moments. The award for Best Performance in this movie goes to Rick Ducommum as Art. He plays Art like Kramer from ‘Seinfeld.’ He is obnoxious and loud and is always coming up with a scheme to find out who the Klopeks are and prove his theory that they are part of a cult. He fills Ray’s head with delusional thoughts about them through his fast tongue. I can’t find a moment in the movie where Ducommum wasn’t funny. It’s a shame that this movie would be the only big role for him as he would spend most of his acting career playing bit roles until his untimely passing in 2016 due to complications from Diabetes. As for the remaining supporting cast, Carrie Fisher is a nice surprise as Ray’s wife Carol. She sheds her Princess Leia image to that of a concerned wife who grows weary of Ray’s antics and tries all she can to snap him out of his obsession with the Klopeks. Corey Feldman plays Ricky Butler, a teenager who is seen throughout most of the movie either painting his house or inviting friends over to watch Ray, Art and Mark snoop on the Klopeks. He even remarks at one point in the movie that this is better entertainment than going to a movie theater. Wendy Schaal plays Mark’s wife Bonnie, who is half his age and seems to play along with Mark’s shenanigans.

As for the characters of the Klopeks, they remind me somewhat of the Munsters. There are only three of them in the movie and each one has a personality different from the other. The first one to appear is Hans played by Courtney Gains, best known for playing Malachai in ‘Children of the Corn!’ Gaines keeps his natural red hair and adds pale skin and unbrushed teeth to his figure. He is shy and quiet. When he grabs the newspaper or takes out the trash, he is cautiously looking around to see if there are people staring at him. The next family member to appear is Reuben Klopek played by Brother Theodore. He appears as the neighbors finally introduce themselves. Like Hans he is quiet, but when he talks, it is in a thick German accent. His appearance reminds me of Billy Crystal’s character in ‘The Princess Bride.’ Finally, you have Werner Klopek played by Henry Gibson. He is the most normal and accomplished member of the family as he is a doctor at the local university. He speaks in a softer German accent and is more hospitable than the other members of his family.

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There’s not much more to say about ‘The ‘Burbs’ only then it’s perhaps one of the most overlooked movies of the 80s. If you were to separate Tom Hanks’ performances by categories, I would put this as one of his top comedic movies.  It’s relatable to all of us as I’m sure you have some weird and colorful neighbors where you live as does yours truly. It’s almost as if you’re watching your neighborhood being depicted on the big screen for the rest of the movie going audience to see.

 

TRIVIA

  • Walter’s toy poodle Queenie, was played by the same dog that played Precious in The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
  • Prop Master Mark Jameson was charged with making fake dog poop when the actors complained that they didn’t want to step in the real thing. The mixture included canned dog food and bean dip. It was loaded into caulking tubes and squeezed out where needed.
  • Early in the movie, when Cory Danziger is eating breakfast, a box of Gremlins cereal can be seen on the kitchen counter in the background. Joe Dante also directed Gremlins (1984) and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990). Corey Feldman was in Gremlins (1984).
  • Final film of actor Gale Gordon.
  • Last appearance of Brother Theodore.
  • Ricky Butler’s (Corey Feldman’s) house is the house formerly used by The Munsters in The Munsters (1964). This is probably why you never get a really good look at it, as it would be too recognizable as that house.
  • Everyone in the cast and crew had a good time working on the film so much so that Tom Hanks, personally bought everyone sunglasses and left a personal thank you note to everyone in the cast and the crew.
  • The filming location of The ‘Burbs set was also used for another Tom Hanks film, Dragnet (1987) for the character Connie Swail’s house.
  • Before climbing the fence to investigate the Klopek’s backyard, Art (Rick Ducommun) dresses up as a powerline technician and cuts the power to disable the security system. However, he ends up disabling the power to the whole neighborhood as well, according to Ricky Butler. In the movie Die Hard (1988), Rick Ducommun played a powerline worker for the city who was ordered by the FBI to disable the power to the Nakatomi Tower.
  • In the scene at the Klopek’s house, Bruce Dern is fascinated by one of Dr. Klopek’s paintings, turning it upside down. That painting appeared in the opening sequence of an early episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1969).

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Staple His Ass Shut

A Hideous Raging Inferno

Why Don’t You Go Say Hi?

Bad Karma

Prank On Ray

Acting Like A Guy On Vacation

You Are A Garbage Man

A Soldier’s Way Saves The Day

Unconscious Chanting

Can’t Come Out

This Is Walter

A Fine Christian Name

9 On The Tension Scale

Red Rover

I Really Like Your Hair

Art On The News

Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama

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Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama

Release Date: January 29, 1988

Genre: Comedy, Horror

Director: David DeCoteau

Writer: Sergei Hasenecz

Starring: Linnea Quigley, Andras Jones, Robin Stille, Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Most filmmakers are lucky to have a handful of movies they’ve done in their career. Some are even lucky to at least get one. For example, my favorite director John Carpenter has twenty one film credits to his resume. Another filmmaker I love, Frank Henenlotter has ten. Where am I going with this? I was reading some information about a B movie filmmaker by the name of David DeCoteau. He got his foot in the door in the movie business at age nineteen working for Roger Corman and quickly worked up the ranks to where he was directing movies. According to IMDB, DeCoteau has one hundred and fifty directing credits! The movies he directs ranges from horror to science fiction to even Christmas family movies made exclusively for television. To answer as to how DeCoteau has been able to direct so many films is according to Charles Band, filmmaker and founder of such b movie horror companies as Empire Pictures, Urban Classics and currently Full Moon Features is that DeCoteau is, “hard, fast and stays under budget.” DeCoteau has directed many films for Charles Band throughout the years. His most famous film is “Puppet Master III: Tulon’s Revenge” which is regarded as the best movie in the Puppet Master franchise (I concur. It’s my favorite). For this edition of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” we’re going to look at another popular movie of his that has had a huge cult following for the last thirty years. That movie is 1988’s “Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama” (try saying that five times fast)!

I know what you’re thinking about the title and let’s get this out of the way now. This is not a softcore adult film! This could be described as a sexy horror comedy that bounces all over the walls, or in this case bumpers. The story is about three nerds who sneak over to the Tri-Delta Sorority House. They are watching the initiation of two new members getting spanked by the head of the chapter named Babs. The boys enter the house and watching the initiates hose down after getting a whipped cream spraying. Essentially they are caught by Babs. As punishment, they have to go with the two initiates named Lisa and Taffy to steal a bowling trophy from the local bowling alley. If they retrieve a trophy, the boys will not be reported to the police for their voyeurism and Lisa and Taffy will get into the Sorority. Unbeknownst to them, Babs’ father runs the mall where the bowling alley is at so she and the other sisters can watch their every move through the security cameras. Inside the bowling alley they come across a biker looking punk named Spider who is stealing money from the register and the arcades. Spider uses her crowbar to break the chain into the trophy room. From there, the boys and the pledges grab the biggest trophy on the shelf. On accident, the bowling trophy falls to the ground and breaks. Smoke beings to come out from the trophy and out appears an imp. The imp thanks them for releasing him and grants wishes to the group. A couple of them take advantage of this offer. Turns out their wishes would be fake and the imp starts his night of terror among the group by turning two of the sisters into she-demons and electrifying all the doors in the alley to prevent anyone from escaping. Now the survivors must figure out how to either escape or defeat the imp.

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This straight to video movie stars Linnea Quigley in her first starring role as Spider. She is another scream queen legend as fans will recognize her from her supporting roles in “Return of the Living Dead,” “Night of the Demons” and “Silent Night: Deadly Night.” The rest of the cast features Andres Jones as Calvin, Hal Havens as Jimmie, John Stuart Wildman as Keith (the three nerds), Robin Rochelle (Stile) as Babs, Kathi O’ Brecht and Carla Barron as Rhonda and Frankie, the other sisters in the sorority, Michelle Bauer as Lisa and Brinke Stevens as Taffy. There is a special appearance from George “Buck” Flower as the janitor of the Bowl-A-Rama. Flower is known for always playing the hobo in such films as the “Back to the Future” movies and in many of John Carpenter’s movies such as “The Fog,” “Escape From New York,” and “They Live!”

“Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama” is as much of a punk film as Linnea Quigley’s appearance in this. It breaks a lot of rules and lacks consistency. It makes up for it with its sheer delight of goofiness, beautiful looking girls and gore. There’s not much logic in this movie as to why the imp turns two of the girls into demons with one of them a copycat of the bride of Frankenstein and how an imp got stuck in a bowling trophy, although the explanation as to how the imp came to be and its purpose is told through a story by the janitor. If you can ignore all that, you’ll enjoy the movie a little better. DeCoteau made this movie in reportedly nine days which would show why he continues to get directing work.

The imp is a tiny little blue creature with a giant mouth filled with teeth. It reminds me of the donkey from “Shrek” voiced by Eddie Murphy. Speaking of the voice, the imp does sound a lot like Eddie Murphy. I’ve heard people say he’s sounds like Barry White, but it’s not really a deep of a voice. You don’t see the imp move around. He appears in the same shot for most of the movie with the exception of a few scenes where he is tripping Jimmie or he’s behind the bowling alley taunting Babs. His dialogue and jokes are as stereotypical as they can be.

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Speaking of stereotypes, they are in each character. You have two of the nerds (Calvin and Keith) who wear thick glasses and goofy hair and you have Jimmie who reminds me of a mix between Chris Farley and John Candy without the physicality. You have Lisa and Taffy the gorgeous pledges and you have Babs who is the prissy and mean girl of the sorority having her fun at humiliating the pledges. And then you have Spider who you know right away is going to be the heroine of the film. She’s tough and doesn’t have time for games. However, as the movie progresses, Spider shows a sense of vulnerability and confiding with Calvin as to how they are going to get out. That’s a credit to Quigley and the characters she has played previously before this film.

With Quigley being the star, the rest of the cast were decent given the material they were given. You can tell they are playing to the script and the concept of the movie. The dialogue is pure 80s cheese with many one liners and zingers coming from Quigley. Buck Flower also provides comedic relief as he spends much of the film trying to get himself out of a room he locked himself into and when he comes across Spider and Calvin gives the hilarious story of the imp and the person who summoned him.

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As I mentioned earlier, the film is not a softcore porn movie, but it does have a lot of sexual overtones. Yes, you have naked women in the beginning and the middle of the movie, but it’s much more than that. First you have Babs spanking Lisa and Taffy and getting a kick out of it. You have the lonely (and presumably virgin) nerds who get a pleasure out of the sheer sight of watching Lisa and Taffy taking a shower. You have the setting of the movie, a bowling alley. There’s so much sexual imagery and thought with the setting. You have bowling balls, bowling pins, gutters……well you get the idea. Finally you have Keith who makes a wish to hook up with Lisa and gets more than what he wished for. What he thought would be exciting in fulfilling a dream becomes a horrible nightmare.

With the exception of the flaws I mentioned earlier the only other gripes I have about this movie is the pacing. It starts to slow down during the third act of the movie. I started to get a little bored and was eagerly waiting for the climax of the movie to be done with. Also, I felt the creative death scenes in the movie could’ve used a little more depth. There’s not much blood and gore in this movie, which is ok. However, you should see the death scene go all the way through. One death scene kicks into another scene just as the victim is screaming for her life.

If you’re looking to watch an 80s horror movie that is out of the ordinary, look no further than “Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama.” If you’re lucky to find this get a group of friends together along with a few six packs or other preferred drinks of your choice and enjoy this wild and over the top movie. You won’t need to get drunk to understand what is going on in the movie. Don’t be one of those people who tries to use their brain to figure out what David DeCoteau is trying to get out of this movie. You’ll end up giving yourself a headache. Think of it a rule breaking, stereotypical piece of horror comedy that you may end up liking. If you don’t like it, that’s OK. You can blame me. At least I tried to convince you to watch something unconventional.

TRIVIA

  • In the Static-X’s song “I’m With Stupid”, Linnea Quigley’s line from the movie “Yeah, it was…very stupid.” is sampled.
  • Director David DeCoteau wanted to work with Linnea Quigley so much that he handed her the script and told her she could play any character she wanted. She eventually decided on Spider.
  • Shot in twelve days.
  • The budget was too low to rent the bowling alley during peak daytime hours, so the cast and crew had to wait till the bowling alley closed at 9pm and shoot all night till 9am.
  • The movie was released in the UK on VHS under its original title, “The Imp”.
  • The janitor tells a story about a man named Dave McCabe. This was director David DeCoteau’s alternate name when he directed adult films.
  • The trophy, although appearing to be metallic, is actually made of balsa wood.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Felta Delta

Babs The Dominatrix

Should Consider Prison Work

We Were Only Looking

Saw That In A Movie

Midnight Whimp Bowling League

Don’t Panic

What’s Your Name?

He’s A Big One

Ain’t No Freakshow

Anything Your Fat Little Heart Desires

I Crack Me Up

I Have Your Pants

Very Stupid

The Imp

We’re Trapped In Here

Listen For Us

Evilspeak

 

Evilspeak Poster

Evilspeak

Release Date: February 26, 1982

Genre: Horror, Drama

Director: Eric Weston

Writers: Eric Weston (Screenplay) and Joseph Garofalo (Screenplay and Story)

Starring: Clint Howard, R.G. Armstrong, Joe Cortese, Don Stark

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Happy 2019 dead readers! Here’s to another year! The first year of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” has been a success! I again want to thank all of you for supporting the site. Hopefully we can continue to grow and expand our viewing audience. I’ve got plenty of movies to review and I’m looking to find some rare movies that perhaps the reading audiences aren’t familiar with. There will be full of surprises. If you have the following social media accounts, please make sure you follow my pages below:

Facebook – Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review

Twitter – @GPCRMovies

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s kick off the new year by reviewing a movie in my favorite genre. If you haven’t guessed by the numerous reviews including an October special, my favorite genre of movies is Horror. I stumbled upon this movie searching for some rare and unique Horror movies that I haven’t seen yet. It had an appealing cover, but you know what they say, “You can’t judge a book by its cover!” Would it live it up to the cover? Let’s find out. Here is the first “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” of 2019, the 1982 demonic horror flick “Evilspeak!”

Starring Clint Howard (brother of Ron Howard) in a rare leading role, the film focuses on Stanley Coopersmith, who is enrolled at military school due to the unfortunate deaths of his mother and father. Coopersmith is an outcast at the school. He is constantly bullied by the other cadets, gets berated by the senior personnel and laughed at by the women. The only compassion he receives is from the school chef and a little puppy that he adopts from the chef when he originally planned on letting it die because it is a runt. Stanley is forced to clean the church cellar at the school as punishment (for no clear reason). As he is cleaning the cellar, Stanley stumbles upon a room belonging to Father Esteban, a priest from the Dark Ages who had been banished from his church in Spain due to dabbling in black magic and refusing to renounce Satan. In his room is a book of black magic along with Esteban’s diary. Using a computer, Stanley translates the book from Latin to English where it contains instructions for a ritual called the “Black Mass.” The “Black Mass” would allow the soul of Esteban to return and possess the human being that performs the ritual, in this case Stanley. Stanley calls upon him to exact revenge on those who have mistreated him.

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Directed by Eric Weston (also co-wrote the screenplay) the film also stars R.G. Armstrong as ‘Sarge’, Joe Cortese as ‘Reverend Jameson’ and Don Stark of “That’s 70s Show” fame as ‘Bubba Caldwell’, the lead bully of the gang that torments Stanley throughout the movie. “Evilspeak” was released in only three countries which were the United States, United Kingdom and Japan. The film was banned in the United Kingdom due to its climax and Satanic Themes. It was cited as a ‘Video Nasty’, which was a collection of movies under the UK Video Recordings Act of 1984 that are banned due to its graphic nature or subject matter. It would later be reclassified and re-released in 1987 with three minutes cut from the original release and the text images of the “Black Mass” ritual removed on the computer screen. The film has a cult following (pun intended) and is the favorite film of Anton LaVey, the late founder and High Priest of the Church of Satan.

Throughout his career, Clint Howard has always been a character actor. You will likely see him in every movie his brother Ron Howard has directed. You’ve also seen him in the “Austin Powers Trilogy” as a military radar operator or as Paco in the Adam Sandler comedy “The Waterboy.” He has that distinct look that sticks out like a sore thumb. In this rare starring role for Howard he takes advantage of this by creating a lovable and sympathetic character. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. He tries his best going through the rigorous routines of military school only to be harassed by the fellow cadets and the teachers showing disdain for his tardiness and his inability to comply with the rules of the institution. His only sanctuary is the computer lab where he is building a class project with the aid of technology. His only friends are the chef and puppy dog that he keeps hidden from everyone in the church cellar as he spends more time studying the book and being fascinated with Father Esteban’s words. Although we shouldn’t seek revenge in real life, I was cheering for Stanley to get back at the bullies once his soul was possessed by Esteban. The antagonists in the movie were truly the lowest forms of life.

Speaking of the antagonists, there’s plenty of them in this film. Veteran actor R.G. Armstrong was a nice fit as ‘Sarge’ and Don Stark embellished the bully role of pack leader Bubba Caldwell with glee and delight. From Sarge to Reverend Jameson to Bubba Caldwell and his gang, all these people are despicable and nasty. I understand that you need to instill discipline on those who act out or misbehave, but some of the punishments in the film could be considered excessive in today’s world. They embarrass and humiliate Stanley every chance they get throughout the film. As a big believer in karma, they get theirs in the end.

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“Evilspeak” is not an original concept. Many have compared it to “Carrie” even calling it the male version of the horror classic. There are numerous similarities between the two films. There’s a lot of holes in the screenplay leaving many questions unanswered. The overall theme of the movie is how far does one get pushed to the point where they seek revenge? It’s a humanitarian struggle for Stanley. As he dives more into the book and translates the passages, the more intrigued and curious he becomes. He continues down a dark path where there is no return. His view of redemption is by killing those that have made his life miserable.

The pacing is slow as it spends ninety percent of the movie building up the characters until the climax where everything is moving fast as if the filmmakers were given a time limit to complete the last act. The makeup and effects are dated for its time. And if you pay attention closely, you could see a dummy or two during Despite these flaws, I think it’s a technically good film that gets as much out as it could on its reported $1M budget. It’s not a slasher film in any sense so don’t expect to see a high body count, but there’s just the right amount of gore to appease the fans.

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What makes “Evilspeak” work is how relatable it is today. Bullying continues to be a problem in schools today and with social media being a regular outlet for impressionable young people, it makes it worse when they post pictures or say mean comments about someone they like for reasons known only to them. The kids that are bullied end up taking dramatic and consequential actions such as hurting people or hurting themselves. No kid should have to go through life feeling miserable, sad or wishing they were never born. They should be enjoying their youth by having fun. Although this isn’t a movie to show kids about the effects bullying has, but it puts things in retrospect since we all have been a bully or have been bullied sometime in our lives.

If you enjoy low budget horror films that are simple and straight to the point, “Evilspeak” may be right up your alley.  Even if it’s the same old story told, and you are seething with anger over the characters, there is enough cheese going on that it can brighten your mood. Sometimes that’s all you need in a horror movie to prevent it from being all doom and gloom.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • According to Clint Howard, one night after shooting a scene he drove home while still wearing his bloody cadet outfit. He stopped at a light and noticed a woman staring at him from a nearby car, so he turned and smiled at her, and she responded by immediately locking all of her car’s doors.
  • Clint Howard and Don Stark agreed not to socialize during filming so that they could maintain the hostility that existed between their characters.
  • Previously banned in the UK as part of the infamous “Video Nasty” list during the 1980s.
  • The title “Evilspeak” was derived from the phrase “computer-speak”, a term used to describe the shorthand used by computer specialists for the otherwise complex. In the film the protagonist uses computers to summon evil spirits.
  • One of the prosthetic heads was accidentally made too tough for the decapitation scene it was intended for, and when Clint Howard struck it with the sword to his embarrassment it merely bounced off. Frustrated, he found a large sledge hammer then took some time to practice swinging it around until the added weight made wielding the sword seem easy by comparison, and when the scene was shot again he finally took the head off.
  • According to Clint Howard and director Eric Weston, the original cut of the film which he submitted to the ratings board contained even more footage than the uncut DVD release, including more special effects, as well as extensions of the bathtub death scene and the cadet having his heart ripped out. But their labored efforts to find a copy of this version have proven futile, and they believe it is likely gone forever.
  • Actor R.G. Armstrong was offered a choice between playing Sarge and Colonel Kincaid before assuming the role of Sarge.
  • The computer used by Stanley in the film is an Apple II, which was a very popular brand of computer at the time the film was made.
  • Richard Moll plays Father Esteban, the priest sentenced to exile for practicing the occult, and is seen performing the Black Mass in the beginning of the movie, two years before making a name for himself as Bull Shannon in Night Court (1984).
  • The production did some filming in a South Central church that had been condemned and scheduled to be torn down. When the aged minister saw that the crew were refurbishing the church, he didn’t understand that this was “show business refurbishing” and that the church would ultimately be burned down, dropping down on his knees and thanking God. Nobody had the heart to tell him the truth.

AUDIO CLIPS

Prison

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Prison

Release Date: December 8, 1987 (UK)

Genre: Horror, Crime, Drama

Director: Renny Harlin

Writers: Irwin Yablans (Story), C. Courtney Joyner (Screenplay)

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Lane Smith, Chelsea Field, Lincoln Kirkpatrick, Tom Everett

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Happy Halloween! We’ve reached the final review in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special. Hope you enjoyed reading them up to this point. If you’ve been keeping up with each review this week, you may have realized that I picked a movie based on a genre of Horror Movies. The movies I reviewed included a cannibal comedy, a deformed sibling monster film, a camp slasher and a slug infested zombie homage. You may have also noticed that all these movies came out in the 80s. For the final film, I decided to go with the old-fashioned ghost story and yes it was released in the 80s. It was a limited release movie and the directing debut of Renny Harlin, the man who would go on to make blockbuster action movies such as “Die Hard 2” and “Cliffhanger” as well as the third highest grossing “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie in the franchise in “Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.” It was this film that got Harlin hired to do Nightmare 4. Buckle up because the last film in our special is 1988’s “Prison”!

The plot is simple and straight to the point. Due to a suspension of funding for a new state of the art prison in Wyoming, the Board of Prisons is left no choice but to re-open the Creedmore Prison, a prison that was shut down twenty years ago. The prison will be run by Ethan Sharpe (Lane Smith), who knows the prison well as he was a corrections officer when it was open. Inmates from all over the state are transferred to this prison and are used as workers to restore the prison to full working capacity.  Two inmates Burke (Viggo Mortensen) and Sandos (Andre DeShields) are assigned to break open the Execution Chamber that has been sealed off. As they break through with pickaxes a flash of blue light appears and starts to suck Burke in. Suddenly, there’s flashes of electricity, glass breaking and boilers flaming. The inmates have released a spirit believed to have been the last person executed at the prison and looks to seek his revenge on not only the prison but the man who helped send him to the electric chair, Sharpe.

I heard of this film during Renny Harlin’s interview in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” documentary “Never Sleep Again.” He talked about this film as his first film and that he used household effects and tricks to make the movie look good. The movie was a limited theatrical release in the United States and the United Kingdom. Its total gross was a little over $300,000 on a reported budget of $1.5 million. It was released on VHS in 1988. The movie was never released on DVD or Blu Ray until 2013 when Shout Factory acquired the distribution rights and made it available. I purchased the movie last December.

Prison (1988)

My first reaction when watching this movie was mixed. I thought it felt shallow and bare feeling that there needed to be a lot more meat to the bones. While researching movies to review for this special, I saw “Prison” in my library of movies and decided to give it another chance to see if this was something worth reviewing. I watched it again and enjoyed it for its atmosphere, use of special effects and creative death scenes. I watched it a third time and I convinced myself that this is a great movie for this special. There’s a certain quality to this movie that I feel has not been replicated when it comes to making a supernatural film.

The mood is everything in “Prison”. An air of confinement overtakes the film as soon the buses roll into the yard to drop the work crew off at their new home. The look, sound and smell of penitentiary life hangs all over the place. If you’ve watched any of Renny Harlin’s movies he really loves mood when it comes to people and the situations they get themselves involved in.

Lane Smith is billed as the lead in this movie as he is the veteran and recognized actor at the time (Vigo Mortensen was not well known). His performance of Sharpe is a troupe of wardens in movies.  He is a hard nose, bug eyed, short tempered warden who is haunted by memories of the executed prisoner who spirit is alive and wreaking havoc on him. It takes a toll on him and his ability to manage the prison and keep things under his control. His paranoia deepens to where he starts to behave irrationally and barks orders that even draw concern looks on the guard captains. Smith has played various characters of authority throughout his career and this is no exception.

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Vigo Mortensen plays the prisoner who is followed throughout the movie, Burke. Not much is known about Burke only that he is famous for stealing cars and is seen as a sort of “celebrity” within the prison. Mortensen plays Burke as a quiet inmate who keeps to himself in the beginning. He befriends two inmates, his cell mate Cresus (Lincoln Kirkpatrick) and Lasagna (Ivan Kane). During the movie, he becomes a hero when he saves the life of an inmate in solitary confinement from burning alive from the evil spirit when the cowardly guards refused to do so. He is the polar opposite of Sharpe. It’s the perfect role reversal of the criminal being the hero and the law enforcement officer being the villain.

The other lead in the movie is Chelsea Field who plays Katherine Walker who works internally at the Bureau of Prisons and is overseeing the re-opening. She doesn’t like the fact that the board put Sharpe in charge of the prison referring to him as an “Old Dinosaur.”  While she has attempted to work with Sharpe, she quickly realizes that she is being shut down by him at every turn especially when the prisoner body count starts to accumulate. She takes it upon herself to find out everything she can about the prisons history and Sharpe’s role in it. Field pops up in the movie from time to time, but I think gives a decent performance.

I love physical special effects and there is plenty of that in “Prison”. The lightning looks homemade, but authentic and the death scenes are innovative and make great use of the surroundings the impending victims are in. I could tell that the kill scenes in “Nightmare on Elm Street 4” drew inspiration from “Prison”.  The only death scene I had a gripe on was the smoking prisoner being burned alive. While it was indeed creative and intense, there were a few shots where you could see a dummy head just rotating its head from side to side.

As I do in most of my reviews, I try not to spoil the ending. I will say that the ending has been done before in a couple ghost themed movies I’ve seen, but I feel is satisfying. It brings a sense of closure to the story. Harlin seems to wrap up his movies by bringing closure or a sense of relief that things are over.

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Overall, I would check out “Prison”. It’s a fine horror movie that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of a blockbuster horror movie. I’ve watched a lot of Renny Harlin’s movies and if you were to ask me to give a list of his five best movies, this would be on the list. His introductory film showcases his talent for vision and atmosphere that would be seen throughout his film making career. Some good, some bad.

That concludes my “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special. I hope you enjoyed these reviews. It took a lot of time and effort to watch, write and record these pieces, but I have to say that this was fun to do. The big accomplishment I hope to achieve from these is that you go out and watch these movies and see what you think.

Happy Halloween!

 

TRIVIA

  • Most of the inmate extras in the film were portrayed by real-life inmates from a nearby prison to add realism to their performances. The armed guards on the towers were, of course, armed with live ammo at the time. Stephen E. Little (Rhino) was a former Hollywood stuntman, who was still a member of SAG, who happened to be serving time for manslaughter that he committed during a bar-room brawl.
  • The prison where the movie was shot, the former Wyoming State Prison located in Rawlins, Wyoming, has daily tours and much of the set remains intact from when crews filmed there in 1987.
  • The electric chair (which was never used in Wyoming) was built into the actual gas chamber of the Wyoming Prison and the death scenes were filmed there. The original chair, was carefully removed and an electric chair was built in its place. During the shooting, Viggo Mortensen’s convulsions were so violent the arms of the chair were broken and needed to be repaired.
  • Chelsea Field was supposed to do a scene in a bathtub but refused to do it.
  • Viggo Mortensen did the bulk of his own stunts. Moreover, stunt coordinator Kane Hodder gave Mortensen an honorary stuntman’s shirt at the completion of the shooting for this film.
  • The high-altitude sun in Wyoming caused shooting issues in the scene where the prisoners are stripped to their underwear and forced to stand outside all day. Due to technical issues, the scene was shot over and over and the prisoners in the background become sunburned on one side of their bodies only as extras were not provided sunblock.
  • The water that Viggo Mortensen runs through in his underwear was real. That part of the prison had been flooded for years, the temperature in the room was below 50F and the water temperature was 46F. Mortensen’s shivering is real. He insisted on shooting the scenes without a double, and only at being forced to relented for some close-up scenes.
  • Before casting Viggo Mortensen, Thom Matthews auditioned and was being considered for the part of Burke.
  • Lane Smith remained in character as Warden Sharpe throughout the duration of filming.

 

AUDIO CLIPS