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

 

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Out For Justice

 

 

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Out For Justice

Release Date: April 12, 1991

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama

Director: John Flynn

Writer: R. Lance Hill (as David Lee Henry)

Starring: Steven Seagal, William Forsythe, Jerry Orbach, Jo Champa, Shareen Mitchell

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Whether you like Steven Seagal or your hate him, you can’t deny his accomplishments. He is a seventh degree black belt in Aikido and became the first American to teach the martial art in Japan. He’s been a Deputy Sheriff for Jefferson Parish in New Orleans for more than twenty years.  Lately, he’s been in the press as a Russian liaison to the United States and Japan working on improving relations between the countries. Of course, most of us will know Steven Seagal as an action star. Since he appeared in his first film “Above The Law” in the late 80s, Seagal has become a recognizable face in the action cinema world. He rose to fame in the early to mid-90s as a man who would always be asked who would win in a fight between him and his action peers such as Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean Claude Van Damme. I haven’t reviewed an action movie in a while and looking through my movie collection, I noticed a bunch of Steven Seagal movies. I decided to review one but didn’t know which one I should review.  I took up an online poll to see which Steven Seagal movie I should write about. After a 24-hour survey, the overwhelming majority of votes went to his 1991 crime thriller “Out For Justice.” So, with that ladies and gentlemen, here is the review for “Out For Justice”.

Seagal plays Gino Fellino, a NYPD detective from Brooklyn where he has close connections with his neighborhood. After he and his partner Bobby Lupo are involved in a botched drug raid which leads to Gino intervening in an incident across the street where a pimp is assaulting one of his girls, Bobby is gunned down shortly after by Richie Madano, a mobster who grew up with Gino and Bobby. Richie is addicted to crack which has made him psychotic and act out on his homicidal urges which includes killing a woman at a traffic stop all because she asks him to move his car. After receiving clearance from his boss to track down and apprehend Richie, Gino uses his connections within the mob to find out where Gino is. The mob warns Gino not to get in their way, as they plan to take out Richie themselves. Gino is now in a race to find Richie and get to the truth about why he killed his partner before the mob can get his hands on him.

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The movie received mixed to negative reviews when it was first released. Despite those reviews, “Out For Justice” debut at Number 1 at the Box office and grossed a little over $40 million. As time has gone by since its initial release “Out For Justice” has developed a cult following.

The film takes place in Brooklyn and there’s plenty of moments in the film where Seagal is cruising around town talking to various citizens. Brooklyn is not like Manhattan with its giant skyscrapers, lights and exciting atmosphere. It’s a quiet and close-knit community. The movie gives it a neighborly feel as everyone seems to know each other by name. It’s a great montage to the ethnic diversity and history of Brooklyn.

Seagal is decent in his lead role as Gino, a cop with connections all over the neighborhood and uses those connections to track down Richie’s whereabouts. He also struggles with the duality of his job and his family. He has numerous “families” throughout the film. First, he has his own family in which he and his wife are going through a divorce and splitting custody of their son. Their relationship is strained in the beginning of the film but as the story progresses, they rekindle that love they have for each other and that whatever problems have been going on they can work it out and come out even stronger. The other family is his mob family. He is well known by the mob family led by Don Vittorio. Gino can easily come to him for information and have a mutual respect. The middle man between Vittorio and Gino is a man named Frank, whom also grew up with Gino in the neighborhood and become close friends. Frank keeps his eye on Gino not because his boss tells him to, but to also save him from making any mistakes that could trigger a retaliatory response.  The last families of Gino include consoling both his partner’s family and Richie’s parents. There is a powerful scene where Gino confronts Richie’s parents trying to squeeze any information they have on their son. His father, played by Dominic Chianese (Junior of “Sopranos” fame) tells the story of how he came to America with nothing and worked to provide for his family and give them a roof over their head and that Richie has been taken away from him by drugs. It gives you sympathy for the parents for what they are going through.

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The award for Best Performance in this movie I give to William Forsythe as Richie Madano. As I mentioned in the synopsis, Richie is a mafia enforcer who has become psychotic due to his addiction to crack. He is paranoid, suspicious of people and reckless. Forsythe portrays Richie as someone who has succumbed to his addictions that he can’t see straight. His crew is trapped with him and no amount of reasoning can convince Richie to control his impulses. People are fearful of Richie that they surrender to his will, especially when he shows up uninvited to the home of a girl who was once his hooker. He kills a woman in broad daylight in front of everyone when she honks the horn at him telling him to move his car and kills a friend of his in a wheelchair when he is questioned why he killed Gino’s partner and believing that he called the cops on him. His own family are fearful for their lives as you see in many instances throughout the movie. Richie Madano is a relentless character who the audience can easily despise and hopes that his day of retribution is coming.

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There’s plenty of action and violence to salivate the typical action movie fan. You can’t go wrong with shoot outs and hand to hand combat courtesy of Mr. Seagal. Seagal demonstrates his masterful Aikido skills in perhaps the best scene of the whole movie is when he interrogates Richie’s brother who owns a joint run by Richie, a bartender and its patrons. It’s amazing to see how fast Seagal’s hands move when taking down those who wish to do harm on him. Seagal is also a master sharpshooter in real life and you see that in several instances in the film including when he defends his family when members of Richie’s crew break into Gino’s apartment looking to terrorize his wife and son.

The only gripes I have with the movie is the lack of plot and character development, especially with Seagal’s family. You really don’t know what caused them to start going through divorce proceedings other than Gino’s job on the force has taken away from spending time with them. You don’t know much about Gino’s son except for his name. I also believe the title of the movie is misleading. There are also some small continuity errors due in part to the poor re-editing. Apparently this movie was even longer that dealt more with Richie and how he got into drugs, but Seagal had the Editor take a big chunk out because he felt that Forsythe was “overshadowing his great performance”. That’s why during the music montage you see a scene where Gino is talking to Frank and you don’t know what they’re saying because the audio has been drowned out by the music. The last gripe I have is with the theme of the movie. The title is “Out For Justice” but this is more of a revenge movie. Except for telling Richie’s parents that if they see him, he needs to turn himself in, his goal is to kill him, not arrest him and stand trial for the murder of his partner and other crimes he has committed. Yes, Gino is dealing with a personal tragedy, but in the real world the cops need to ascertain the suspect alive. You only kill the suspect is if he is engaged in attacking the officer.

As Steven Seagal movies go (before they went downhill starting in the late 90s), “Out For Justice” is up there among the best of his movies. This is in my Top Five Favorite Steven Seagal movies. It’s a fast-paced movie with plenty of action, violence, a balanced widescreen framing and a good cast to give it lasting appeal. It’s a movie that is relatable to the audience with its close community feel. This is perhaps the last movie where Steven Seagal is in prime form.

 

TRIVIA

  • Gino fights a character called Sticks in the bar, played by veteran martial artist Dan Inosanto. He was one of Bruce Lee’s best friends and one of the three people Bruce let train others in Jeet Kune Do. He is also a master stick fighter and has studied multiple disciplines like Escrima and Silat and was the person who taught Bruce Lee to use nunchaku.
  • According to William Forsythe, Steven Seagal told Forsythe, “You really need to work on your Brooklyn accent.” Forsythe, a Brooklyn native, replied, “Trust me, YOU do.”
  • The only Steven Seagal movie between 1988 and 1998 to not feature a single explosion.
  • Steven Seagal declared in an interview that the movie’s bar brawl was his personal favorite among all fight scenes he’s done.
  • Whilst on the production set, Steven Seagal claimed that due to his Aikido training, he was ‘immune’ to being choked unconscious. It has been alleged that at some point Gene LeBell (who was a stunt coordinator for the movie) heard about the claim and gave Seagal the opportunity to prove it. LeBell is said to have placed his arms around Seagal’s neck, and once Seagal said “go”, proceeded to choke him unconscious. After refusing to comment for many years, LeBell confirmed the story in 2012 and said that after Seagal fell unconscious, he proceeded to defecate and urinate himself. Whenever Seagal has been asked about the incident, he has constantly denied the allegations.
  • Julianna Marguiles was cast specifically by Steven Seagal for her role in this film, but she didn’t enjoy working with him at all. She later said in an interview that she used to see Seagal working on projects for Warner Brothers while she was a regular on “ER”, and he would always say “Marguiles, come over here and show me some respect”. She bluntly said, “He’s not someone I keep in contact with.”
  • The movie was originally over 30 minutes longer, which included some more plot details and character development. Steven Seagal cut some of William Forsythe’s scenes because he felt that Forsythe was upstaging him. Also, editor Michael Eliot re-edited the original cut of the movie. He did the same job with some other Warner Bros movies. Some scenes were deleted and some others were cut down for pacing. This is why there are two montage scenes with no dialogue in the finished film. Re-editing also caused some minor continuity mistakes.
  • During the filming of the showdown between Gino and Richie, Steven Seagal broke William Forsythe’s front tooth when he shoved his face into a brick wall.
  • To date, this is the only Steven Seagal movie shot in New York.
  • Steven Seagal was difficult to work with during filming. At one point, he was driven to tears on set when a light went out in his trailer. He attempted to blame the mishap on a Teamster and have him fired, but was unsuccessful.

 

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

 

 

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

Sleepaway Camp

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Sleepaway Camp

Release Date: November 18, 1983

Genre: Horror

Director: Robert Hiltzik

Writer: Robert Hiltzik

Starring: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields, Christopher Collet, Mike Kellin

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Alright, we are at the halfway point in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special. I’m reviewing five films in the Horror genre every week until Halloween. Time for Movie #3.  This next movie review is one of the more controversial underground horror movies to come out of this list. This movie came out in 1983, but I wasn’t aware of the film until about 2014. It was this past summer where I watched it for the first time at a local discount theater where they were playing “Summer Themed” horror movies. It’s a movie like the previous two films in the special where I’ve watched repeatedly and enjoyed it on so many levels. The next film on this list is the summer camp slasher film “Sleepaway Camp!”

“Sleepaway Camp” is the story of two cousins, Rickey and Angela who are about to spend their summer at Camp Arawak. Rickey is a seasoned veteran at the camp while this will be Angela’s first time. Angela is quiet and shy. She is also suffering from a post traumatic event involving her father and brother being killed in a boating accident. Angela is disliked by the other campers for obvious reasons and only seems to talk to Rickey. She does strike up a conversation with Rickey’s friend Paul and become close throughout the movie. As the summer camp begins its annual season, a series of murders start to happen that has everyone on edge. Who is committing these murders and what is the motive?

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“Sleepaway Camp” was a surprise hit at the box office. It grossed over $11 million dollars with a reported $300,000 budget. It has a huge following and Felissa Rose became a member of the “Scream Queen Sorority”. The movie is known for its infamous and controversial ending that still shocks the viewing audience today (It sure did shock me). People like to debate which was the better slasher film, this or “Friday the 13th”.

Right off the bat, “Sleepaway Camp” gets your emotions charged. You see the traumatic event that will shape the story and the character of Angela throughout the film. When you see Felissa Rose appear on screen for the first time she is quiet and reserved. She barely makes eye contact with her aunt and stays close to her cousin Rickey. The camp counselors (well…most of them) are aware that this is the first time Angela will be away from home and they give her sympathy and comfort to make sure she enjoys her time. Her unwillingness to socialize with her roommates nor participate in any camp activities draws the ire of Judy (Karen Fields), the supposed popular girl at the camp and Meg (Katherine Kamhi). Rose gives a cold frightening performance with her constant stare downs. It’s a very intimidating look although the rest of the counselors don’t feel intimidated by her. She doesn’t utter her first words until she is confronted by Paul, Rickey’s fried who attempts to engage in conversation with her. From there you see her shyness melt away as she spends more time with Paul.

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Besides Rose’s iconic performance, the other performances were good. Each actor and actress played their character as they were written. Jonathan Tiersten’s performance as Rickey was hilarious. He loves to stir up trouble through his trash talking and constant profanity. He does a great job protecting Angela. He’s like a big brother to her rather than a cousin. My other favorite performance is the camp owner, Mel played by veteran actor Mike Kellin, who sadly passed away before the film’s release. Mel does his best to keep his reputation by trying to spin what is happening to the people that are dying in the film. He has a hilarious scene where he appears wearing lime green pants and a yellow jacket in anticipation for a hot date. There’s also a small appearance from Robert Earl Jones as the chef, Ben. He is the father of legendary actor James Earl Jones.

The gore is minimal in comparison to “Friday the 13th”. The killer uses the surrounding environments to take out its victims one by one. You’ll notice a pattern of whom the victims are. You may think to yourself you already know who the killer is, but the movie uses a bit of trickery to throw off your assumptions. There is a small body count throughout the movie until the very end where the volume doubles.

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“Sleepaway Camp” balances the kills with some humor. There are plenty of hilarious moments throughout the movie including Rickey and his bunk mates playing tricks on one of their own, the male campers going skinny dipping and some funny mustache miscues. The cop in the movie has a mustache in his first appearance, but when he appears near the end, you can tell the mustache is fake and uneven. The reason for that being is the actor that played the cop had shaved his mustache off after he was done shooting his part but was called back due to additional shooting. Since he couldn’t grow one quickly in time, they had to improvise.

This is the only film writer and director Robert Hiltzik made. He made a career change and today he is an attorney in New York. For what it’s worth, he made a really good slasher film. It’s a movie with a ton of replay value that you can watch repeatedly. You don’t need to be watching it in the summer to enjoy it as it is a film you can watch in any season.

With that the third film in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special has concluded. Stay tuned next week for the fourth review!

 

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • The original artwork for the Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit boxed set, which included the unauthorized sequels, was recalled after complaints were made by the American Red Cross.
  • Some of the campers seen getting off the buses at the beginning of the film are relatives of the cast and crew.
  • Jane Krakowski, who played Cousin Vicky in ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ was originally cast to play Judy.
  • Mike Kellin’s final film. He was sick during filming but did his best to conceal it from everyone and passed away in August 1983 from lung cancer, three months before the film’s release.
  • Willy Kuskin who plays the character of Mozart, one of the bullied camp boys, was genuinely bullied during filming. Frank Trent Saladino who played Gene, Mozart’s camp counselor, had to step in to protect Willy at times when the other members would take it too far.
  • Felissa Rose and Jonathan Tiersten developed a puppy love type romance during filming but broke up soon after.
  • Jonathan Tiersten was given the role of Ricky after an unusual audition where the writer/director, Robert Hiltzik, asked Jonathan to cuss him out.
  • As a child, writer/director Robert Hiltzik actually went to the camp which was used in the film.
  • One of the inspirations for ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s “Nature Trail to Hell,” along with Friday the 13th Part III (1982), referencing the cutting up of Cub Scouts and an ending you have to see to believe.

AUDIO CLIPS

 

Microwave Massacre

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Microwave Massacre

Release Date: August 31, 1983

Genre: Horror, Comedy

Director: Wayne Berwick

Writer: Thomas Singer (Screenplay), Craig Muckler (Story)

Starring: Jackie Vernon, Claire Ginsberg, Loren Schein, Al Troupe

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Hello readers! First off, again I would like to apologize for the lack of reviews the past month. I’ve been extremely busy with my current place of employment as well as dealing with family matters. I appreciate your patience. With that being said, I thought I would come back to “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” in a big way. With it officially being the Halloween season, which happens to be my favorite season, I decided to review five horror movies I call the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies.” Some of these movies have been favorites of mine for a long time and others are ones I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed. The only guideline I had when choosing these was movies was to choose a specific genre of Horror movie for each movie. Which means, I would not review five monster movies. I would review one monster movie, one slasher movie, etc. There’s no boundary as to when the film was released. It could be a horror movie from the 1930s or it could be a recent release. I thought I would start this month long special by first reviewing a low brow horror film. It’s a film in which the subject matter had not been talked about since “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and would come to life in the 90s with the revelation of Jeffrey Dahmer and his crimes. The only difference is that this film gives it a sick comedic twist. Our first film in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Cinema Review” is “Microwave Massacre”!

Released in limited theaters in 1983, “Microwave Massacre” stars Jackie Vernon, best known as the voice of Frosty the Snowman in the old Rankin-Bass holiday cartoons as Donald, a construction worker who is miserable with his marriage and above all, his wife’s cooking. His wife May (Claire Ginsberg) just purchased a new ultra-industrial microwave and wants to elevate her cooking skills by creating some new (and unappealing) dishes. During a fight between the two at dinner, Donald bursts into a fit of rage and strangles May to death. He wakes up the next morning not realizing what had happened and when he opens the door to the microwave he sees May stuffed in there. He panics at first and then has the idea of cooking her. He takes a piece of her and eats it to discover how tasty human flesh is. From there he goes on the prowl finding anyone he can find to be his next meaty meal.

The movie was directed by Wayne Berwick. This would be his only film he directed until 2005 when he directed “The Naked Monster” another off-beat campy movie. This film will appeal to those who enjoy raunchy and campy movies who don’t take themselves seriously. There’s a lot of sleaze, perverseness, wacky and irreverent shtick topped with some cheap blood and gore to keep you sustained for the short and reasonable running time of one hour and seventeen minutes.

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Let’s start with the acting. This was the last acting performance for Jackie Vernon who was known more for standup comedy than acting. His style is in comparison to that of Jackie Mason and Rodney Dangerfield. He delivers his quips in the way of a standup routine. He provides plenty of funny moments despite his morbid nature of what he is doing. He even throws in some fourth wall moments with a wink and a nod to the audience of what to expect. There is some great back and forth between him and his wife. Claire Ginsberg plays May, the nagging and dominant wife of Donald. She berates him at times, but also shows sign of concern such as why he isn’t eating and that he doesn’t know how to enjoy life. Both played it like the stereotypical long married couple from the sitcom days of “All in The Family”. The rest of the characters are fillers including Donald’s construction worker buddies, the indifferent and annoyed bartender, Sam and some random characters like a woman wearing high cut shorts and a store clerk that seems mentally unfit to do his job. The microwave itself is a character in the movie. It looks more like a giant toaster oven than a microwave. It has all these options for cooking food from “Slow Broil” to “Barbecue”. The placement of the buttons is placed in a way like a computer console. The Microwave fulfills Donald’s needs of cooking his new tasty food and with it brings harm to him near the end.

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The props and effects in this movie are hilariously cheap as I’m sure that was Berwick’s intention. You can’t help but to laugh at giant balls of foil stuffed in a refrigerator, a fake crab that is sandwiched in between a giant bun or a human hand being placed on a skewer with vegetables. There’s not a lot of blood in the movie except during scenes where Donald is cutting up his victims or blood that is on his face from eating a raw leg. The images however can make you feel uneasy as you watch him gleefully enjoy his bounty of newfound meat.

I won’t give away the ending, but I felt it was very funny and accurate. It demonstrates the old saying that “Too much of something isn’t good for you”. We must enjoy life’s little pleasures without overindulging and over-consuming. It’s hard to promote that today where gluttony is all around thanks to big portions and mighty food challenges.

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This movie is not for everyone. You need to prepare watching this movie with the lowest expectations you can imagine. By doing so, you may enjoy the movie as much as I did. I was expecting it to be cheap, boring and not have a lot of shock value, but it was the total opposite. I’m a sucker for crude humor and this movie has plenty of that. I think Jackie Vernon was a good choice to play this type of character. The other comedians I mentioned would’ve been great too, but each of them would’ve found this role as a career killer. I think Wayne Berwick achieved what he set out to do with making this movie. “Microwave Massacre” looks and sounds bad, but it transcends into being a fun trash film classic.

And with that, the first film in the special is complete. Stay tuned for the next review in the special. It will be posted sometime next week!

 

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • Final film of Jackie Vernon
  • Rodney Dangerfield was considered for the role of Donald, but his asking salary was too high.
  • Filmed in August and September 1981, but not released until September 1983.
  • Was released on a full-screen unrated DVD by Anthem Pictures in 2006. The front case art trumpeted the film as “The Worst Horror Movie of All Time” and “Uncut/Unrated” as selling points.
  • Director Wayne Berwick makes an uncredited cameo as one of the movers who discovers the faulty wiring in the microwave, which causes the death of Jackie Vernon’s character.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Hiatus

Hello everyone!

I apologize for not posting reviews lately.  I’ve been busy with a lot of things: work, vacation, other personal matters.

I wanted to give you a heads up that I’m going to take a small hiatus from posting reviews. I have some personal events coming up in September that need my attention.

However, I will be returning in October to do a month long review special review in lieu of the Halloween season. I’m going to be reviewing my “Most Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies”.  I will be dedicating the spare time I have in September to watch and review five horror movies that fit this category. I will post one a week up until Halloween. I’ll be spending the time next month watching, researching, analyzing and of course picking out some hilarious clips.

I want to say Thank you to all you viewers out there. I appreciate all of you who have supported this blog. I hope you have enjoyed reading these blogs as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.

I’ll see you soon.