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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Night of the Creeps

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Night of the Creeps

Release Date: August 22, 1986

Genre: Horror, Comedy, Sci-Fi

Director: Fred Dekker

Writer: Fred Dekker

Starring: Jason Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

We’re near the home stretch in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special. I’m reviewing five films in the Horror genre every week until Halloween. We’re at Movie #4 for this special. This next film is a homage to the goofy science fiction/horror films of the 50s that is set in the 80s. This was the debut film of Fred Dekker, a man who was rejected into USC and UCLA’s film school program and settled as an English major. He would develop screenplays along with his friend and roommate, Shane Black (best known for writing the Lethal Weapon movies, appearing in the first “Predator” movie and more recently writing and directing the new “Predator” movie with Dekker). After this movie, he would go on to write several episodes of “Tales From The Crypt” in addition to writing and directing two more movies, one was the cult following “The Monster Squad” and the utter failure “Robocop 3”. Today Dekker focuses more on writing than he does actual filmmaking. His debut film is still the best of his three and one that I continue to enjoy on a frequent basis. Tonight’s review is “Night of the Creeps”!

“Night of the Creeps” starts out in 1959 when a college fraternity member takes his sweetheart out for a romantic night out sitting in his car looking at the stars. Suddenly, something from the sky crashes down and he goes to investigate it. When he looks closer, a slug jumps out and enters his mouth and he collapses. The film flashes forward to 1985. It is rush week at Corman University. Two outcasts, Chris Romero (Jason Lively) and his friend J.C. Hooper (Steve Marshall) are looking to get into a fraternity in the hopes of meeting girls, particularly one that catches Chris’ eye, Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow). They have a sit down with Brad, who is the president of the Beta Epsilon house. He gives them a quest to steal a cadaver from the medical school morgue and dump it in front of a sorority house. They reluctantly agree. As Chris and J.C. sneak into the medical school after hours, they come across a laboratory. Inside they see a frozen corpse. The corpse is that of the man from the introductory scene.  They decided that he would be the body they would deposit to the sorority house. Little do they realize the body is still alive and the boys run off in terror. Meanwhile the body attacks one of the med students and heads to one of the sorority houses only for his head to explode and slugs shriveling their way out of the body. The investigation is led by Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins), a long-time cop who is burnt out. When he interviews Chris and J.C., they admit to the prank and the case is closed. Little do they all realize that the college is in danger as one by one people are turning into zombies thanks to the parasitic slugs that possess them. Now it’s up to the three of them to stop the epidemic before it gets worse.

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I can’t remember the first time I viewed this movie, but I enjoyed it on so many levels. It had the look and feel of both a 50s Science Fiction movie and an 80s Horror Movie which was Fred Dekker’s intention. While the concept is nothing original as it takes from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” it is still refreshing to see a take on how the zombies were created. This movie was released in 1986 so prior to that you had “Day of the Dead” and “Return of the Living Dead” which had similar concepts. I like the fact that it is a parasite that turns the living into the dead.

The performances are decent. Jason Lively plays Chris as a shy, low self-esteemed kid who can’t seem to find his place in the college world. Steve Marshall plays J.C. as a wiseass, always cracking jokes at the most inappropriate times. Despite that, he is very concerned over his friend and does his best to get him out of his comfort zone and build up some confidence. The real star of this movie is Tom Atkins. Atkins is no stranger to horror films given his performances in “The Fog”, “Creepshow” and his most memorable role as the protagonist in “Halloween III”. Atkins plays Detective Ray Cameron as a drunk, don’t give a shit attitude police officer. He gave us a new phrase to say when answering the telephone. Instead of saying “Hello” when the phone rings, he says, “Thrill Me!” This would become the iconic line of the movie. In addition to his indifferent personality, he is traumatized by the events that happened in 1959. His girlfriend at the time was killed by an escape mental patient during his second week on the force. He comes close to taking his own life but realizes that to find a sense of closure, he needs to help stop the zombie outbreak. I’ve referred to Tom Atkins as “The Pimp of Horror Movies” because he always seems to be getting in bed with a woman he just met. That’s not the case in this movie, but it still doesn’t diminish his title. He has called “Night of the Creeps” his favorite film that he has done, and I echo that sediment.

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The only performance I didn’t care for was Jill Whitlow as Cynthia.  With her soft voice, she is completely wooden with her delivery. There are also times during the movie where she looks like she is in a complete fog or has that look that she is thinking of something else rather than concentration on the situation that she was in. I think she needed to put a lot more life into her.

The effects are cheap and dated by today’s standards, but again I think that was Fred Dekker’s intention. There is an ample amount of gore that is ramped up at the very end during the big battle. I do have to give props to the makeup department for giving each zombie a bit of variety and some personality. The slugs were long and beefy, and they slithered quickly going into basements and hiding in bushes as they prepare to infect their next victim. The music is pure 80s synth that weaves in and out of the frames that it is featured in.

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Out of the three movies Fred Dekker has done, this is my absolute favorite. This is one that I have on rotation during the Halloween season. I enjoy it for that it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it has enough scares, violence, gore and humor to keep your attention. It’s a great movie that has truly earned its cult status.

Next week ladies and gentlemen is the final review in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special, so you don’t want to miss it. Check back on here Halloween night!

 

TRIVIA

  • All the last names of the main characters are based on famous horror and sci-fi directors: George A. Romero (Chris Romero), John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper (James Carpenter Hooper), David Cronenberg (Cynthia Cronenberg), James Cameron (Det. Ray Cameron), John Landis (Det. Landis), Sam Raimi (Sgt. Raimi) and Steve Miner (Mr. Miner – The Janitor).
  • Graffiti on the wall of the men’s room where J.C. is trying to escape a number of slugs reads, “Go Monster Squad!”. The Monster Squad (1987) was also directed by Fred Dekker.
  • Tom Atkins’s favorite movie of his own.
  • “Corman University” is a reference to director/producer Roger Corman.
  • The tool shed sequence was filmed after principal shooting on the movie had wrapped. After a rough cut was shown to a test audience, several people thought that the picture needed more action so this sequence was added to the movie.
  • Fred Dekker’s roommate, Shane Black, worked on the script. The next year, Tom Atkins starred in Lethal Weapon (1987), Black’s first produced screenplay.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Police Academy

Police Academy

Release Date: March 23, 1984

Genre: Comedy

Director: Hugh Wilson

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.

 

TRIVIA

 

  • 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).

AUDIO CLIPS

Meet Wally Sparks

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Meet Wally Sparks

Release Date: January 31, 1997

Genre: Comedy

Director: Peter Baldwin

Writers; Harry Basil (Story), Rodney Dangerfield (Screenplay)

Starring: Rodney Dangerfield, Debi Mazar, David Ogden Stiers, Burt Reynolds, Mark L. Taylor

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Rodney Dangerfield was one of the greatest stand up comedians the world had ever seen. He was known for his zinging one liners and monologues preaching about he gets “no respect”. His career was heightened in 1980 when he stole the spotlight in the 1980 golf comedy “Caddyshack” which lead to starring roles in the films “Easy Money” and the critically acclaimed “Back To School”. Unfortunately the 90s weren’t so good to Dangerfield. He had two films that flopped and was being overshadowed by the young fresh talent that appeared on “Saturday Night Live” and “In Living Color”. One of his last starring roles was 1997’s “Meet Wally Sparks”.

In the film, Dangerfield plays the titular character who is the host of a sleazy daytime talk show that rivals Jerry Springer, Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jesse Raphael to name a few (all have cameos in the movies). His show has become so raunchy and X-Rated that he is losing sponsors and being threatened with cancellation. In addition, his show has been publicly criticized by Floyd Preston, the conservative Governor of Georgia (David Ogden Stiers) as corrupting the moral fabric of the country. Wally is given an ultimatum by his boss Larry Spencer (Burt Reynolds) to clean up his show or else he will pull the plug. Wally receives an invitation to attend Governor Preston’s fundraiser reception at the Governor’s Mansion (unbeknownst to the Governor, the invitation was sent by his rebellious pre teen son) and his producer Sandy Gallo (Debi Mazar) comes up with an idea to persuade the Governor to appear on his show, which would instantly boost ratings and could change the format of the show.

Wally and Sandy attend the reception in search of the governor. During the party, Wally heads to the governor’s stable and gives his prized horse some alcohol. The horse breaks free from the stable and runs amok inside the Governor’s Mansion. Wally is able to tame the horse and prevent it from hurting the Governor. The presses label him a hero in the papers the next morning. Believing to have been paralyzed from the injury, Wally is staying at the Governor’s Mansion to recuperate, much to the chagrin of Governor Preston. The mansion gets trashed due to Wally’s production company setting up shop inside the mansion and Wally continues to get into shenanigans involving Mrs. Preston. In addition, Wally’s adult son Dean begins a relationship with Governor Preston’s southern bell daughter Priscilla. If that wasn’t enough for Governor Preston to deal with, he is being blackmailed by an outside entity to drop out of the Senate race otherwise, photos showing Governor Preston and an unidentified woman in steamy erotic photos would be released to the public. Wally goes on a mission to find out who is blackmailing the Governor and in return earn his trust to come onto his show and address his supporters.

This movie is based on the tabloid daytime talk shows that dominated television airwaves and a statement on the First Amendment. Throughout the 90s, you couldn’t turn on a television channel without seeing some kind of over the top show. You had the FCC and other government entities looking to block any kind of media in effort to “protect the children”. Wally Sparks represents freedom of speech and freedom of expression while Governor Preston represents the government looking to shut down entertainment that is considered obscene or vulgar. The war continues even to this day with the rise of social media.

Obviously Dangerfield is the shining star of the film. There are plenty of yucks to go around. The jokes are a lot cruder than any of his previous outings, but given the subject matter of the film, it fits in with the narrative. There’s a lot more physical comedy from Dangerfield in this film than any previous film that I can recall. Most of it comes during the reception scene. One thing that is special about Dangerfield is he is able to play lovable characters. His characters start out as self center egotists, but during the course of his movies they start to feel a heart for others. This film follows the same formula. Wally’s objective in the beginning is to have a showdown with Governor Preston on his show in an effort to save him from the unemployment line. However, during the course of the movie as he is spending time getting to know the Preston family, he is grateful for their hospitality and when Governor Preston is in a pickle with a blackmail threat, Wally feels that he needs to repay the debt shown by helping Preston out with his situation.

The other shining performance comes from David Ogden Stiers, who sadly passed away a few days ago. He portrays Floyd Preston, the Governor of Georgia and a leader of the moral majority. He finds Wally Sparks and his show repulsive and is on a crusade to get him thrown off the air. To make matters worse, Preston is powerless to kick Sparks out of the mansion when he is hurt from the incident at the mansion involving a horse. His adviser warns him that kicking him out will diminish his reputation as a moral compassionate human being. In addition, Sparks’ presence in the mansion starts to attract younger voters who are fans of the show in supporting Preston’s campaign for Senator. Preston certainly comes at a cross road and becomes consumed with his battle over Sparks that he starts to alienate himself from his family and causing them to rebel against him. Stiers is a big man and he fits the role of a governor well. He has quite a few laughable moments involving situations that he falls upon.

As for the rest of the cast, the performances were pretty shallow, especially Burt Reynolds. For all the talk regarding loss of sponsors and fines from the FCC, Reynolds doesn’t sound the least bit concerned. He is really out of place in the movie. Anyone could’ve portrayed the role of Larry Spencer better than he did. Luckily, he’s only in a few scenes that you could skip over if you wanted to.

One of the notable things about this movie is the number of cameos. As I mentioned in the beginning of the review, there are cameos featuring Jerry Springer, Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jesse Raphael. In addition, other talk show personalities that have a cameo include Roseanne, Morton Downey Jr. and Tim Allen (playing his “Home Improvement” character). It’s funny to see them all berate Wally Sparks and call him a has been and the fact that he is still alive. Other cameos include Bob Saget and Stuttering John Melendez playing news reporters, Gilbert Gottfried and Julia Sweeny playing a married couple on Wally’s show and Tony Danza playing his character from “Taxi”.

With the laughs that this movie has, it is not without its flaws. I didn’t like the pacing of the movie. The movie starts out with Dangerfield going full force at a hundred miles an hour, but then it slows down during the middle of the film and it comes to a screeching halt. It goes from being funny to dramatic. It gets mushy with Wally’s son and Preston’s daughter developing a relationship against the will of the Governor. Another flaw is the ridiculous cartoonish scenes involving Spencer’s top assistant who detests Wally and is spying on him to see if he is actually injured or if he is faking it. He is falling out of trees and getting dragged behind a car. It’s reminiscent of a Wild E. Coyote cartoon. It really had no place in the movie. Lastly, the climax of the movie was so mindless and childish. Again it’s pretty cartoonish with the final confrontation between Wally and the people who are blackmailing the Governor.

If you’re a fan of Rodney Dangerfield, this movie is right up your alley. Those who are not fans are advised to turn away. While “Meet Wally Sparks” is not one of Rodney Dangerfield’s most memorable films, it will be remembered for Rodney doing what Rodney does best, which is making us laugh.

TRIVIA

  • Students in Daingerfield, Texas’ schools got an early release day, because the town gave Rodney Dangerfield a parade, and a street renamed in his honor, when he came to town.
  • One of two Rodney Dangerfield films that feature a vocal performance by Michael Bolton, the other being Back to School (1986). Bolton’s song “Everybody’s Crazy” is playing on the record player during the frat dorm party.
  • Tony Danza reprises his role as Tony from the hit TV show “Taxi” in this film.
  • Gilbert Gottfried who has a small part in the film said on his podcast that he has never seen the finished release.

AUDIO CLIPS

 

Evolver

evolver

Evolver

Release Date: February 10, 1995

Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror

Director: Mark Rosman

Writer: Mark Rosman

Starring: Ethan Embry, Cassidy Rae, John DeLancie, Cindy Pickett, William H. Macy (Credited as W.H. Macy)

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

The 90s saw the boom of video rentals. Chains like Blockbuster had not only the hottest theatrical releases, but movies that went straight to video. Low budget B-movies used the rental boom as a way to get their films out to the viewing public. Companies like Full Moon Features profited and flourished using this concept. Some of the straight to video films began to appear on designated channels. The Sci-Fi channel was known for not only playing classic sci-fi and horror films, but they played straight to video exclusives and started making their own movies that would be played specifically on their channel (a trend that has continued today). One of the first titles to come out during this period was the movie ‘Evolver’.

The movie is about a teenage gamer and hacker Kyle Baxter (played by Ethan Embry) who wins a contest based on the game ‘Evolver’. ‘Evolver’ is a virtual reality game where the player must track down and shoot a fast moving robot. The company that created the game, Cyber-Tronix is having a contest where they person with the highest score will win a prototype home version of the game which includes a physical robot of Evolver itself. Kyle being a few points short of first hacks into the Cyber-Tronix network and fixes the score so he would be first. He wins the contest and the robot is delivered to his home complete with a big marketing promotion form the company which features the CEO and the creator of ‘Evolver’ Russell Bennett (played by John DeLancie). Kyle and his friends start to play with the new robot and seem to have fun. Later as the game continues, Kyle starts to notice some strange things going on with Evolver.  He hacks into the program and finds that the game’s source code is run on a program called ‘SWORD’.  Later while addressing his concerns with Bennett at Cyber-Tronix’s headquarters, he sneaks into one of the computer rooms and discovers that SWORD was originally a military program designed by Bennett and was inputted into robots used in war. The project went haywire when the prototype robot began killing its teammates, forcing Bennett to shut down the program. When confronted by this information Bennett admitted that he was trying to prove that his programmed worked, but lapsed in judgment by not adapting the program enough for home consumption. Now Kyle must find a way to defeat Evolver as its only primary objective now is to terminate him.

The movie was released in 1995. I remember seeing previews for this film on the Sci-Fi channel and thinking this looked cool since it was a movie about a video game robot. When I saw the film for the first time, I was thoroughly impressed. It was one of the better robot movies that I had seen in my short time (I was ten years old in 1995). I watched it again not too long ago and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time. It’s a rare breed of films that were played on the Sci-Fi Channel that I liked.

The opening scene is Kyle playing the Evolver VR game. The VR graphics are similar to the ones that were in ‘The Lawnmower Man’ (if any of you have seen that). There are some nice first person scenes inside the game that make you feel like you are playing the game (I wish they came out with an ‘Evolver’ VR game. Now is the opportunity with all the headsets out there). There are a lot of first person shots involving Evolver. There are scenes where you are seeing through the lens of Evolver’s visor and you can see all the programming and targeting that it has. When Evolver moves, you’ll notice the camera is hovered low to reflect Evolver’s height. I thought that was clever. The film has more physical special effects than visual. Most of Evolver’s kills deal with using physical tools and the environment that surrounds him. The only visual effects I found were when he uses electricity and laser weapons, which is fine. Evolver is supposed to have some kind of limitation.

This movie had a nice cast of familiar faces. All of them were well suited to their roles. There were a few characters that I felt were fillers for the story. Of course, the film had to have a romantic interest, hence the character of Jane portrayed by Cassidy Rae. At first she becomes a nuisance to Kyle, but finds an immediate attraction to him and early on tries to convince him that Evolver is not what it seems.  The one character I didn’t like was Kyle’s best fried Zack. I can’t remember the actor’s name that played him. At first I thought it was Adam Richman from ‘Man vs. Food’ because he looks just like him. Sadly it wasn’t. Anyway, Zack is a self-centered perv who only uses Kyle to get what’s best for him. In the beginning of the film, he is placing bets on Kyle to beat the ‘Evolver’ game. When Kyle wins the Evolver robot, he wants Kyle to put it in the girl’s locker room so it could record the girls inside. I did not feel any sympathy for what happens to him in this movie.

Amway, let’s focus on the three central characters of this film.

This was one of Ethan Embry’s first teenage roles (he’s been a child actor long before this). He was well suited for the role of Kyle. Like most boys his age during this time period, video games were a way of life and a way of escaping from real world issues. Early in the film, he is very dismissive of his mother due to the fact she is always going out on dates and having to watch his kid sister. You have a sense that he blames her for what happened with the family. It’s only until a scene involving his sister and Evolver does he show heart and how the dangers of Evolver after affecting them. He comes to the realization that his family is more important than a piece of rolling metal. In the final confrontation, Kyle shows grave concern for his family when Evolver gives him an ultimatum. In the end, Kyle realized that in order to beat Evolver, he had to think outside of being just a gamer.

The second central character in the film is Russell Bennett. I love John DeLancie and he was perfect for this role. Star Trek fans are well aware of who DeLancie is in their universe as the adversarial ‘Q’ from The Next Generation series. For those who are Trekkies, DeLancie is also known for playing the character Donald Margolis in ‘Breaking Bad’. Bennett is obsessed with making his program work. While the CEO of Cyber-Tronix assigns Bennett to create a holiday techno toy, Bennett is only focusing on his scrapped military program and proving the powers that be that there is nothing wrong with his program. When his boss seems concerned regarding the early data from Evolver and feels that it is not ready for public consumption, Bennett dismisses his notion and comes up with answers as to why Evolver is reacting the way that it is. When Kyle confronts him about the concerns he has with Evolver, he ignores the warnings and fights back at Kyle saying, “I created Evolver. I know what makes him tick and you don’t!” It’s like he is in complete denial. It’s only until the turning point in the film does Bennett understand the real dangers and admits defeat. Unfortunately it will be too late for him to stop it.

Finally, there is the character of Evolver. Evolver is voiced by William H. Macy (credited as WH Macy). Now I’m sure you’re asking why a big name respected actor like William H. Macy is voicing a robot in a straight to video film. William H. Macy was not well known during this time period. ‘Fargo’ wasn’t released until a year after this. I’m he took whatever came to him as most actors do. Evolver’s primary objective is to win. In the VR game, no one has defeated Evolver at Level 4 and that carries over into the home game. Like its namesake, Evolver evolves at every level and he adapts to his surroundings and what he observes. Evolver’s lines are basic in the beginning, but as it confronts new players it mimics their taunts, threats and jokes. Macy does a great job keeping these lines monotone to the robot’s voice, but does it in a way that is humoring. Near the end of the movie, Evolver’s voice becomes more evil and desperate with his enemies still being alive and Macy’s voice easily transitions to that.

This movie came out at the height of the Arcade industry. Virtual reality was still a technology being played around with but it wasn’t available for entertainment consumption. Being a long time video gamer, I loved the concept of having your own interactive gaming robot you could play with. Who wouldn’t want to get their hands on their own Evolver robot to play with?

This movie is a long line of films dealing with artificial intelligence and the dangers that are associated with it. You saw a lot of these movies come out shortly after ‘The Terminator’. ‘Evolver’ takes it to a different level by being a portable video game robot. What is programmed to be a kid’s game becomes a killing machine. With technology continuing and artificial intelligence widening, it only takes one glitch or one error for things to go critical.

Overall, ‘Evolver’ is still a fun movie. If I had to make a list of my favorite straight to video movies, this would be on there, perhaps in my Top 5. Like I said earlier, I would love to start a campaign to get an ‘Evolver’ VR game going. We should take up the social media platforms and let VR companies know we want this to happen and send them a copy of the movie. If by some miracle this indeed happened, it would move the ‘Evolver’ movie from a straight to video cassette into movie immortality!

 

TRIVIA

  • N/A

 

AUDIO CLIPS