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

 

 

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Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey

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Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey

Release Date: July 19, 1991

Genre: Adventure, Comedy

Director: Peter Hewitt

Writers: Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, William Sadler, George Carlin, Joss Acklund

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

In 1989 movie audiences were treated to a new original concept adventure movie about the fate of the future lying in the balance of two high school musicians passing their history exam. That movie was called “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. It was a surprise success that not only launched Keanu Reeves into a mainstream star, but it also spawned a cartoon show and a sequel. Recently, both stars Reeves and Alex Winter appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly and announced that a third movie was officially in production. It would be the first time in twenty-seven years since we last saw the two rockers from San Dimas. With the news I decided to go back and watch the second film in the series, which was 1991’s “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey”.

The movie takes place five years after the events of the first movie. A man from the future by the name of DeNomolos has created two evil robot versions of Bill & Ted and sends them back to their time to disrupt the next phase in their destiny, which is winning the Battle of the Bands and being one step closer to the Wild Stalyns changing the world with their music. The present day Bill & Ted continue to struggle at being good musicians, even with the help of their other band members, their girlfriends they rescued from 15th Century England. They encounter their evil doppelgangers when they arrive at their apartment and tell them that they are here to help solve their problems. Instead they take Bill & Ted to a desert and throw them off a cliff killing them. Now in a state of limbo, Bill & Ted must figure out a way to come back to life and stop the evil robots from accomplishing their mission. After two failed attempts at warning their parents about what happened, they are banished to Hell where they go through trials from their childhood until they are confronted by the Grim Reaper who states they can return to the physical world if they beat him in a contest. After defeating Death in a contest……or in the case several contests, they go to Heaven and ask God for assistance in beating the evil robots. They are directed to a creature named ‘Station’ who is considered the most brilliant scientific mind in the universe. With Station’s help, they create two good Bill & Ted robots to counter the evil robots. They return to earth just as the Battle of the Bands begin and engage in a confrontation with the evil robots and DeNomolos for the fate of the future.

The sequel was as successful as the first movie, but fans are divided as to which of the two movies was better. Some fans believe “Excellent Adventure” was the superior of the two. Other fans believe “Bogus Journey” was the better film. After watching the film, I think “Bogus Journey” is on an equal peddle to “Excellent Adventure”. I would use the analogy in another Keanu Reeves movie, “The Matrix” to describe the two. They are two radically different films, but when they are put together they equal out. It’s a great idea to go from Bill & Ted having a positive and “Excellent” adventure to having a negative and “Bogus” journey, hence the equal concept.

The story is good although I think the script could’ve been fleshed out a little more and could’ve used a better third act. Reading the Behind the Scenes of this movie, writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon admit that the original third act was ripped up and they were struggling to come up with an act that would satisfy viewers and bring the story of Bill & Ted full circle. I’m not sure what the original third act entailed with the exception of a trivia note at the bottom. With the exception of a few returning characters the only other reminiscence of the first film that are shown in the second are the phone booth which is found in only a few scenes and you get a glimpse at the future where is a harmonious utopia thanks to the protagonist and their music.

The only returning characters in the second film are Bill, Ted, Ted’s father, Missy and George Carlin, who reprises his role as Rufus, although his role has shrunk from the first film. All the other characters are new. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter play dual roles as not only the dim-witted heroes, but the evil robot versions of them. The evil robots are stronger and smarter, but they are programmed to speak and act just like their human counterparts which I found funny. Their master DeNomolos, played by legendary character actor Joss Acklund I found to be a very weak villain as he appears only in the opening scenes, a few scenes where he is checking up on the robots’ statuses and the final confrontation. Not much is known about DeNomolos other than the fact he was Rufus’ old teacher and that he despises the society that Bill & Ted have created and goes on a crusade to destroy them so he can reshape the future into his ideals, which could be perceived is having a Marxist ideology. Acklund didn’t have much to work with and his acting and body language gave me the impression that he didn’t want to be in this movie, which is a shame. I’m sure he was thinking to himself, “How do I go from playing an evil South African diplomat in “Lethal Weapon 2” to playing a villain having to babysit two robots in “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey?” I guess we’ll never know what his mindset was.

The real star of the film and without question the best performance goes to William Sadler who plays the Grim Reaper. His portrayal of Death starts out serious and then goes completely one-eighty when he spends more time with the heroes. When Death first encounters them just as they died, he is prepared to take them into the afterlife, but they distract him and give him a “Melvin” in order to escape. It’s only when they are in Hell that they summon Death and accept his challenge of playing him in a game to return to Earth (I won’t tell you what game or games they play, but they were my favorite scenes of the film). When Death joins Bill & Ted he becomes more of a nuisance rather than a helper. He’s always looking attention and feels left out when Bill & Ted don’t give him credit for things that he supposedly did. The accent Sadler uses is Slovakian which gives him range and power, but also makes it funny especially when during his angry outburst moments in the film.

As far as the rest of the film in terms of special effects and settings, it’s interesting to see the film’s vision of the future where everyone wears highlighter colored clothing which reflects well with the lighting in their classrooms. You see a small glimpse of Evil Bill and Evil Ted pulling their skin off to reveal their robot form which is colorful and high-tech for the time and the vision of Hell in the film is depicted as a never-ending industrial corridor with infinite doors and the Devil instructing the damned to “Choose their Eternity”.

“Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” is one of the few sequels out there that matches up to its predecessor. Matheson and Solomon rolled the dice and took their chances of not repeating the same concept of the first movie and it paid off. Watching it again after all these years, it holds up strongly in comparison to other sequels that came out in the early 90s. I’m looking forward to seeing what the third film has to offer. Hopefully it will be a great finale and send off Bill & Ted into movie immortality.

 

TRIVIA

  • The guitar solo before KISS’ “God Gave Rock And Roll To You”, is performed by guitar legend Steve Vai. The footage had already been shot, and the world premiere was a week away, when he was asked to do it. He also contributed various music in the film, including “The Reaper Rap”, which features on the end credits.
  • When Bill and Ted go to Missy’s séance, you can see Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, the creators and writers of Bill and Ted. They’re the only men that are attending the séance. (Chris is the guy with the white shirt, and Ed is the guy with the glasses.) They also say “Ed and Chris rule the world” backwards
  • The original title was “Bill and Ted go to Hell” but was changed because of American objections to the use of the word “hell”.
  • The “Riddance of Evil” book that Missy uses to send Bill and Ted to Hell, is actually a re-dressed copy of the Stephen King short-story collection “Four Past Midnight.” She opens it to a page in the story “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” which can be read clearly in a few frames of the film.
  • During the séance scene, the chant to send Bill’s and Ted’s spirits, can be read backwards as “Ed and Chris will rule the world.” Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson being the movie’s scriptwriters.
  • The mountain, to which Bill and Ted are brought to be killed by the evil robots, is the same mountain Captain Kirk climbs in Star Trek: Arena (1967), which Bill and Ted watched in their apartment.
  • Joss Ackland said in a Radio Times interview, he only did this project, because of a bet between him and a family member
  • In a deleted sequence, the Evil Robots use devices to re-create Bill’s and Ted’s’ personal Hells (Granny Preston, the Easter Bunny, and Colonel Oats) and send them after the heroes. Bill and Ted end up having to face their fears to get rid of them. Bill gives Granny her kiss on the cheek, Ted calls his brother and apologizes for stealing his Easter candy, and both boys treat Oats with kindness and friendship rather than terror.
  • Director Peter Hewitt has a cameo in the film. He plays the smoker in the Builder’s Emporium to whom Death says, “I’ll see you soon.” In the cast credits The Smoker is credited as “Max Magenta”.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

Leprechaun 3

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Leprechaun 3

Release Date: June 27, 1995

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Horror

Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith

Writers; David DuBos (Story), Mark Jones (Characters)

Starring: Warwick Davis, John Gatins, Lee Armstrong, John DeMita, Caroline Williams, Michael Callan

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

In 1993 movie audiences were introduced to “Leprechaun”, a horror movie in which a Leprechaun searches for his lost gold and kills anyone in his way.  The film was a box office success and launched the career of Jennifer Aniston and showed Warwick Davis’ diverse range of acting after only being known as playing Wicket the Ewok in “Return of the Jedi” and playing Willow in the film of the same name. A sequel was rushed to theaters in 1994 and was just as successful as the first film. It launched a new horror franchise that spawned six films and are played regularly on St. Patrick’s Day on the Sci-Fi Channel. One of the films that is a favorite of the fans (and mine) is 1995’s “Leprechaun 3”.

“Leprechaun 3” continues the tale of the Leprechaun searching for his gold. The first film he searched in North Dakota. The second film he searched in California. For the third film, he searches where else but…..Las Vegas. The film chronicles an eighteen year old kid named Scott who is on his way to college and happens to drive through Vegas. He stumbles upon a buxom blonde named Tammy whose car has broken down and needs to get to her job at the Lucky Shamrock casino. In exchange for his kindness, Tammy agrees to sneak Scott into the casino under the condition that he doesn’t gamble. Scott, the impressionable college boy that he is decides to gamble by cashing in a $23,000 check from his parents to cover his first year. And of course, he loses it all playing Roulette. He heads to a pawn shop across the street looking to sell his watch to get some extra cash. As he walks into the Pawn Shop, he sees the shop owner dead and finds a single gold schilling on the table. There is a video on leprechaun folklore playing on the computer and Scott watches the part where the narrator states that you can have one wish if you have the leprechaun’s gold. With the gold schilling he wishes that he were back at the casino on a winning streak. Sure enough his wish comes true. However, it begins a chain reaction of events to come as the characters in the film each get their hands on the gold coin and the Leprechaun is right on their trail looking to reclaim his schilling and get revenge on those who harbor its power.

This was the first “Leprechaun” movie to be released straight to video. Turns out it was a rental success becoming the highest selling rental of 1995. This is my favorite movie of the “Leprechaun” series. The setting of Las Vegas is perfect for the film since it symbolizes luck, temptation, magic, money and greed. All the qualities of the Leprechaun character from the film series. Plus it’s great to see the Leprechaun gamble and constantly win! The film is also an omage to the story “The Monkey’s Paw”.  As each character in the film gets their hands on the gold coin, they make their wish and it comes true. However, their wish comes with a reversal of fortune, thanks to the Leprechaun.  That reversal of fortune involves some creative death scenes. As for Scott, he has other issues to deal with. During an altercation with the Leprechaun where he gets bitten, he stabs the Leprechaun in the head with a knife. His green blood gets mixed in with the bite wound and he slowly starts turning into a human leprechaun who wants all the gold for himself. He has to make a choice between destroying the gold and returning to human form or keeping the gold and forever stay as a leprechaun. It’s a choice that is not easy for him since he has developed magical powers for himself and is consumed by acquiring the entire pot of gold. It’s a good character struggle to complement the overall theme of the film.

Once again Warwick Davis is front and center in this movie and continues to be a source of comedy and menace. When he appeared in the first “Leprechaun” movie, he shed his good guy image and with the success of the movie, he proved to everyone that he could play a diverse range of characters. He is solidified with the Leprechaun franchise, but he’s comfortable with it. From the delivery of his Irish limericks to his impersonation of Elvis to his magical kills, you can tell in this movie he is having a blast playing the character. He still has a hard time nailing down the accent. It’s not really Irish, but it’s passable. Davis even admits it. His antics are the highlight of this film.

The rest of the cast is every trope you could imagine. First you have Scott, played by John Gatins. He’s an overly excited, curious and impressionable college student. As soon as he meets Tammy it’s like he immediately falls in love at first sight. He is naïve and unaware of the risks involved with gambling. Gatins acts like he’s too excited even in the most mundane situations. I do have to give him credit for doing a good Irish accent when he slowly transforms into a leprechaun. He tells a limerick to a waitress in the casino restaurant that is pretty dirty, even from limerick standards. I think he does a decent job dealing with the struggles of his leprechaun transformation and his temptation for keeping the gold when it’s revealed the only way to turn human is to destroy the gold.

Next you have Tammy, played by Lee Armstrong. Tammy is a Magician’s Assistant for the great (not really great) Fazio at the Lucky Shamrock. She gets herself into a situation that is out of her control due to a wish being granted by the gold coin. When she snaps out of it, Scott comes to her rescue. She would stick with him throughout the movie trying to help him overcome the leprechaun curse. This was Armstrong’s final acting role, not because she died, but the fact that…she can’t act. She is very dull and emotionless. There’s a scene where she is supposed to be over the top, but she plays it like how a little baby acts. It’s ridiculously bad. One thing that she has going for her is the outfit she wears throughout the movie. It’s definitely a redeeming quality.

Finally you have the rest of the small cast with Michael Callan playing Mitch, the Casino Manager who plays it like a stereotypical mobster, John DeMita who plays Fazio, a failed magician and Caroline Williams who plays Loretta, who works the Roulette table. All of these characters aren’t very likable. They’re all self-centered egotists who are battling each other over the most trivial of things. Each of them get their turn making a wish with the gold coin and they all have to do with improving themselves and each of them will get their dates with death courtesy of the Leprechaun. All of them acted like they didn’t want to be in this movie. I get it, but if you’re a working actor, you take what is given to you and you should try to make an effort no matter how bad the script could be. I’m surprised there wasn’t at least a little more effort from Caroline Williams considering she is a Horror vet having played the heroine Stretch in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”.  They’re the middle men in the story since it revolves more around Scott and the Leprechaun.

As I’ve mentioned several times already the death scenes are creative. I won’t spoil what they are. There’s enough gore to satisfy a viewer’s appetite. You can’t go wrong with blood and gore in a horror movie. The special effects in the death scenes weren’t anything crazy mainly in part to another low budget. One of the famous kill scenes in all of the Leprechaun movies you can tell they exploded a cake to make it look like a human body.

There’s not much more to say about “Leprechaun 3”. It’s indeed a guilty pleasure movie and the strongest in the franchise. While it follows the same plot of the first film, it makes up with the appropriate settings and symbolism. Every St. Patrick’s Day is now a traditional day to watch the “Leprechaun” movies. If you can only watch one this upcoming Saturday, then I recommend “Leprechaun 3”. You might enjoy it even more when you’re drunk on all that green beer you consumed!

 

TRIVIA

  • Highest Selling Direct-to-video film of 1995.
  • Filmed in 14 days.
  • Warwick Davis has publicly stated this is favorite “Leprechaun” film of the series.
  • Lee Armstrong who played Tammy quit acting after this film.
  • As Scott is entering the casino, Warwick Davis can be seen making a cameo without make-up playing a slot machine.
  • The check Scott carries around in the casino is signed by the director of the movie, Brian Trenchard-Smith.
  • John Gatins, who plays Scott, would go on to be a screenplay writer. He wrote the screenplays for “Coach Carter”, “Real Steel”, “Power Rangers” and “Flight”, the latter receiving him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

AUDIO CLIPS

 

Graveyard Shift

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Graveyard Shift

Release Date: October 26, 1990

Genre: Horror

Director: Ralph S. Singleton

Writers: Stephen King (Short Story) John Esposito (Screenplay)

Starring: David Andrews, Kelly Wolf, Stephen Macht, Vic Polizos, Andrew Divoff, Brad Dourif

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

I can’t think of another author who has had more of his stories turned into feature-length films and television programs than Stephen King. For over forty years King has terrified us with his novels about haunted cars, a pissed off teenager and an alien who appears in the form of a clown. When King’s novel ‘Carrie’ was adapted into a feature length film and released in 1976 it became a huge hit. Studios were buying up the movie rights to all of his stories. It’s safe to say a lot of King Adaptations are either hits or misses. You have some that have stood the test of time and you have some that have faded into obscurity. In 1990 audiences were treated with a TV miniseries of his most infamous novel ‘It’ and were treated with a typical Halloween released monster movie ‘Graveyard Shift’.  Both of these movies have not stood the test of time (for many reasons), but they are cult movies. This review will focus on the latter.

The film ‘Graveyard Shift’ is about a local textile mill that is run down and infested with rats. The manager of the mill, a man named Warwick (Played by Stephen Macht) has bribed and greased every local inspector from shutting the mill down. The town of Castle Rock is dependent on the mill since the majority of the townspeople work there and it is the economic lifeblood of the town.  Slowly, the workers inside the mill disappear one by one. No one seems to have a clue why they’re gone. A drifter named John Hall (Played by David Andrews) arrives in town looking for a job at the mill. After having a short interview with the sleazy and creepy Warwick, he is hired on the spot to work the Picker during the graveyard shift hours from 11PM-7AM. Hall is bullied by several of the workers, but strikes up a friendship with Wisconsky (played by Kelly Wolf, even though throughout the movie no one mentions her by first name nor her last name). Warwick recruits several workers including Hall and Wisconsky to clean up the basement of the mill during the fourth of July holiday. As they are removing debris and spraying out the rats, Hall comes across a trap door which he believes could be the source of the rat infestation. They open it to reveal a labyrinth of caverns and old machinery. Once down there all hell breaks loose as each of the workers are picked apart by a strange bat/rat creature. It’s up to the survivors to find a way out and avoid the creature at all costs.

‘Graveyard Shift’ is based off the short story of the same name by King which appeared in the book ‘Night Shift’ which is a collection of short stories by King during that period of time. The stories in the book are indeed short. The “Graveyard Shift” story is about thirty pages long. Now you’re probably asking yourself this question, “How could anyone make a movie about a story that is only thirty pages long?” Well, they did. The core of the story takes place in the middle of the film where they find the trap door and the story ends with the encounter of the creature. Everything else in the film was created by the writers. The names of the characters remain the same in the movie as they were in the film with the exception of the additional character that was in the movie, which was the exterminator.

I first saw this movie on my local television channel back in the mid-90s. It came on right at noon on Saturdays during the Halloween season. I thought it was a good horror movie at the time given the fact that it was a Stephen King story. I didn’t read the actual story until a few years ago. The story is what it is. The characters of Hall and Warwick are described just as they appear in the movie. The ending of the story leaves much to the desire as it ends on a cliffhanger. However, I think it’s one of those stories that King intended the reader to come up with their own interpretation of what happens in the end.

The movie is nothing special. It’s a practical monster movie with as much blood and gore as you would find in any horror movie during that time period. It has a ton of the slow buildup moments before something bad happens to a character. I’m impressed with how the rats were able to line up like birds on a wire and observe the workers. My guess is they had a rat tamer? (I don’t even know if there is such a thing!) Other times I thought the rats were either mechanical or plastic, but it wouldn’t make sense and you would be able to point out quickly if they weren’t real. The main creature in the story is a giant albino bat with a long phallic shaped rat tail and a face that looks like a Pitbull. You only see parts of the creature throughout the film until the full reveal. The filmmakers were using the old trick of not revealing the monster. Some scenes contain the slow buildup until the monster appears and kills its prey, but the majority of the film I found pretty fast paced. I noticed a few goofs in the movie that the filmmakers did not pick up on. The one that stuck out to me is when Nordello the secretary is smashing up Warwick’s car in protest over her name being on the basement cleanup crew. She is complaining verbally, but you don’t see her mouth moving (an obvious sign that she said lines in ADR that she didn’t say in the shooting or the wrong footage was used). She does it again in a night shot where she is walking in the office of the mill and she is speaking, but you don’t see her mouth moving.

I think the writers of the film did a decent attempt in telling a story with little source material to work with. Hall and Warwick are the two characters that the film focuses on which coincides with the short story. They fleshed out Hall’s story a little more. In the story, he is only referred to as a college boy by Warwick (He still refers to him in that manner in the film). In the film, he is a college boy drifter who came to Maine from Florida looking for a “fresh start.” His first introduction with Warwick is brief. While Warwick has some reservations about hiring Hall because he gets no guarantees with “drifters” while Hall quips back, “You get no guarantee from any man. It’s his instinct,” Warwick hires him for the job as a picker. That instinct sets the tone of the relationship the two characters will have throughout the film as Warwick keeps as strong eye on Hall.

Speaking of Warwick, he is the foreman of Bachman’s Mill (named after King’s pseudonym) who is as evil, perverted and corrupted as one could be. He has been able to avoid shutdown of the mill due to extreme safety hazards and an infestation of rats by bribing the local inspector. In the film he is having an affair with a secretary while trying to give Wisconsky a promotion. All she has to do to get the promotion is to “perform” for him on the couch in his office. Wisconsky is a strong woman who has spurned his advances and fights back not caring about what could happen to her. She mentions to Hall that she tried to file a sexual harassment complaint but was ignored by the union (more than likely due to Warwick having the union in his back pocket). He is suspicious of everyone that it eventually leads him to paranoia and insanity as he is driven to madness after the crew is stuck in the caverns during their venture down to find the source of the rat infestation.

The acting in the movie is pretty straight-laced with the exception of the two most over the top performances which are Warwick and the exterminator. Stephen Macht, who plays Warwick in the film looks and sounds like he is from Eastern Europe. It’s supposed to be a New England accent, but that has been a problem with actors in Stephen King movies. No one can seem to get a New England accent down to a science. Only snafu I have with the performance is how quickly Warwick is driven to madness when the crew is trapped in the caves looking for a way back up. The strength of Macht’s performance comes from his eyes. He always has a sinister look on him and the camera does a good job focusing on his eyes especially during a confrontational scene with the exterminator.

Speaking of the exterminator, this is a bizarre character that is not depicted in the original story. He was created specifically for the film to show an attempt by Warwick to get the infestation problem under control. The exterminator is played by none other than Brad Dourif (who is one of my all-time favorite character actors). For those who are not familiar with Brad Dourif, he is best known as the voice of Chucky in the Child’s Play franchise. He’s been in everything from Oscar-winning films to straight to television junk. He is someone I believe loves his craft and is up for any role as long as he feels he can make something out of it. He sure makes a character out of the exterminator.  The exterminator, named Tucker Cleveland has been working around the clock to kill the rats in the mill and to put an end to the infestation. He tries everything in his arsenal to kill them from using poison, to pumping them into a river, to using his dog and even attempting to shoot them. He looks like a mix between a ghost-buster and a paratrooper with his outfit and his backpack that is filled with rat poison.  Despite not understanding what Dourif was saying when talking to Hall, he made up for it by having some memorable lines throughout the film.

As far as themes this movie offers the one that sticks out to me is economics and how it impacts a small town. As I’ve stated earlier in the review, the reason Warwick is doing everything in his power to keep the mill open is because the town of Castle Rock is dependent on the mill being open as it is where the majority of the townspeople work. It’s nice to see Warwick caring about the town and its people despite his own self-interests and the fact that he represents the fat cat who would walk away unscathed if the mill did in fact shut down. In the United States during this time period you were reading stories of car plants and other factories shutting down and moving to other countries which had an impact on the cities they were in.  These once thriving cities became a depressed wasteland with no hope of recovery. With the theme of economics, you also have the theme of working conditions and worker treatment at a job. Obviously the working conditions in the mill are beyond poor and have numerous violations from the rat problem to the broken down infrastructure. The mill workers are working overnight hours in sweltering heat with no relief and you have the women workers who are being sexually harassed by Warwick. When Hall is hired to work at the mill, he is only given minimum wage to start. It’s a reflection on what is happening in middle class America during this time. (NAFTA and CAFTA did not come into effect until a few years into the 90s).  You have wages going down and little to no investment in infrastructure. It creates a ripple effect where if a factory is going under, the people are going under and the town is going under. Those who escape are the ones in power, which in this case would be Warwick and Bachman (the owner of the mill who is not seen).

Overall this is not one of the better Stephen King adaptations, but it’s a movie that is good enough for you to watch during the Halloween season. If I had a month-long Stephen King movie marathon where I played thirty-one movies in thirty one days, this movie would be included in that marathon. This movie would appeal to the monster movie fan, but if you’re not into horror or care for something more in depth, then this movie isn’t for you. Oh and make sure you don’t turn it off at the End Credits. You get a nice little rap beat with lines from the movie being played over and over until the credits are done.

 

TRIVIA

  • Tom Savini was attached to direct the film, but pulled out due to lack of studio interest.
  • The name of the mill is “Bachman Mills”. “Bachman” is Stephen King’s pseudonym “Richard Bachman” that he has used for several of his stories.
  • Co-Star Andrew Divoff met his wife Raissa Danilova on this film. Danilova played an extra as a mill worker. They married two years after this film was completed.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

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A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

Release Date: November 1, 1985

Genre: Horror

Director: Jack Sholder

Writers: David Chaskin (Screenplay), Wes Craven (Characters)

Starring: Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Englund, Robert Rusler, Clu Gulager, Marshall Bell

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

In 1984 movie audiences were introduced to a new form of terror. They were introduced to a character who killed his victims in his dreams. They were introduced to Freddy Kruger in “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” It made over $25 million dollars in the United States box office alone and turned Freddy Kruger into a new horror icon. Despite the instant success which launched the careers of Wes Craven, Robert Englund and yes Johnny Depp, fledgling studio New Line Cinema didn’t make a profit off the film. They were still in the red and desperately trying to stay afloat. New Line Cinema Founder and CEO Robert Shaye decided to take a gamble and make a direct sequel to “Elm Street” in the hopes of creating some cash flow. Nearly a year after its initial release, New Line released the follow up film, “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.”

Instead of a direct continuation of the first film, the second film follows a whole new cast of characters, but the setting of Springwood, OH remained the same. The film focuses on Jesse Walsh, a new resident of Springwood who moves into Nancy Thompson’s old house along with his family. Shortly after moving in, he is visited in his dreams by Freddy whose goal is to takeover Jesse’s body so he can return to the physical world. The film was another financial win for New Line which got the return they were expecting plus more and thus a franchise was born. Despite the success, the film itself received mixed reviews calling it a weak retread of the predecessor and a rushed film that has poor acting, poor dialogue and not enough scares.

I loved the original “Nightmare on Elm Street” film. Recently, I watched all the sequels in the franchise (except for the 2010 abysmal reboot). After a Saturday film festival at my home I started to evaluate the sequels. It was a mixed bag. Some of the sequels I enjoyed and some I didn’t. Part 2 was the one that really stood out for me for many reasons, which I’m about to get into.

The film is pretty good technically. The picture seems to be grainy. Not sure if this is due to Jack Sholder trying to make a grittier version of the film. In the same documentary, Sholder admits that he wasn’t a fan of the first film and his objective was to not follow the template of the first film and make something completely different, which he did. With the exception of one scene, there aren’t that many creative kills that you saw in the first film or the sequels that will follow this one. The concept is bringing Freddy into the real world. You can’t do a lot of supernatural things in the real world (although coming into the real world for Freddy is pretty supernatural). Like its predecessor, the cast is made up of some relatively unknown character actors with the exceptions of Hope Lange and Clu Gulager who played the parents. Both of them have a combined sixty years of acting experience. I felt each actor fit their roles perfectly, especially Mark Patton. It’s incredible who Patton beat out for the lead role (see trivia below). Looking at that list, Patton was definitely the right choice. Although Patton had a few acting credits before doing this movie, this film is really an introduction of who Mark Patton the person is. The chemistry he had with Kim Myers who plays Lisa, his close friend and love interest is strong and they balance each other out (Patton and Myers remain close friends to this day and travel to Horror Conventions together).

The opening scene of the film is Jesse and two girls sitting in a school bus on his way to school. Suddenly the bus driver speeds up and plows through a desert where the ground begins to crack and sink and Freddy appears as the driver. This film tells you from this opening scene that Freddy is about to take Jesse for a ride and you the audience are going to be there with him. That opening shot is a credit to Sholder’s visual technique that you will see all throughout the film.

“Nightmare on Elm Street 2” is regarded as “The Gayest Horror Film Ever Made.” And there’s truth to it. The film is known for its notoriously homoerotic subtext. You see it throughout the entire film from the characters to the props and the story. The writer of the film David Chaskin was working at New Line Cinema in another department and had written a treatment for a potential sequel that dealt with the paranoia of AIDS and homosexuality and incorporated Freddy Krueger as the disease. New Line Cinema chose his script and got the ball rolling on production. If you watch the series documentary “Never Sleep Again”, the crew from the film and even Robert Shaye talked about how they never intended it to be a gay film. Even director Jack Sholder didn’t admitted that he didn’t have the self-awareness to believe that anything they were doing would be interpreted as being gay. One production designer said in best in the documentary, “We were all incredibly naïve or all incredibly latently gay!” I enjoyed this film due to the fact they were able to take a real issue in society and create a narrative for it that was shocking and scary.

The film primarily focuses on Jesse and Freddy’s relationship to each other. Mark Patton, who plays Jesse in the film was openly gay in real life (although he had not mentioned it to anyone on the set) and incorporates the struggles of his sexuality into Jesse. Jesse becomes attracted to both his male and female close friends in Lisa and Ron Grady. Lisa is obviously attracted to Jesse, but throughout the movie, Jesse seems timid and shy around her, but when it comes to Grady, he instantly clicks to his bad boy persona (which most girls in society today seem to be attracted to). Meanwhile Freddy is trying to convince Jesse to kill for him. Freddy represents the self-hatred that one might have of the thought that they may be homosexual. Robert Englund does a brilliant job of using seduction and manipulation to get to Jesse and use him for his own desires. This is relatable to what is going on in society today with the sexual abuse allegations and the Me Too movement. Men using methods of persuasion to get to the body of a woman.  The victims in the movie are seen as a threat to Freddy in a way that is considered jealousy. He is removing obstacles so that no one interferes with Freddy’s impending host. Finally, the sequence of Freddy tearing through Jesse’s body can be interpreted as Jesse “coming out”.

The props and scenes in the movie heightened the narrative. When Lisa is helping Jesse unpack his belongings and puts some things in his closet, you can see a board game titled “Probe”.  In Jesse’s room he has a sign on his front door that says “No Girls Allowed”. I don’t think you see a lot of teenage boys have that kind of sign in their room. In one of the night sequences when Jesse is getting out of bed, it is so hot in his room you can see his candle melting and shaped like a part of the male genitalia. If you look closely in the shower scene, the shower heads are phallic shaped. In the scene where Coach Schneider is attacked by presumably Freddy, tennis balls are popping out of their cans, Schneider is tied up in the shower by jump rope and flying towels begin to snap at his bare bottom. There was definitely something Freudian going on in that scene.

Finally, “Nightmare on Elm Street 2” has a fairy tale side to it, which involves Jesse and Lisa. Because she is in love with Jesse, Lisa is trying to save him from Freddy but doesn’t know how. She pleads with Jesse to let her help him, but he pushes her away. When he transforms into Freddy and escapes, she chases him down and continues to plead for him to come back to her. In a ‘Beauty in the Beast’ moment, she says she loves him and the beast (being Freddy) dies and out of the ashes comes the beauty (Jesse). They hold each other in their arms and embrace that their nightmare is over….or is it?

To recap, I strongly affirm my opinion that “Nightmare on Elm Street 2” is the strongest of the sequels in the “Nightmare” franchise.  Unlike the latter films which were comical and cartoonish, this film feels real and authentic. This movie still holds up more than thirty years later and it is a social film that can be explored, enjoyed and talked about for many decades to come.

TRIVIA

 

  • New Line Cinema originally refused to give Robert Englund a pay raise, and an extra was cast as Freddy at the start of production. The extra appears in the shower scene where Jesse turns into Freddy, He simply wore a rubber mask and moved like “Frankenstein”. After two weeks of filming, director Jack Sholder convinced New Line Cinema CEO/Founder/Executive Produce Robert Shaye that this was a terrible lapse in judgment, and Shaye met Englund’s demands to return for the sequel.

 

  • The only “Nightmare” film in which the lead character is male.

 

  • Mark Patton beat out Brad Pitt and Christian Slater for the role of Jesse.

 

  • Apart from Robert Englund, this is the only film in the franchise to neither feature an actor from a previous film, nor have one return in a sequel.

 

  • New Line Cinema CEO/Founder/Executive Robert Shaye wanted to play the character of Grady’s father. However, director Jack Sholder told him that he “Needed a real actor to play that role.” Fearing that he would be fired after the comment, Sholder cast Shaye as the bartender in the S&M Bar that Jesse visits in the film.

 

  • Special Effects man Rick Lazzarini created a “demonic parakeet” puppet for the scene in which the Walsh’s pet bird flies around and explodes. His puppet was not used because the filmmakers wanted to use a regular looking bird.

 

  • Kevin Yagher replaced David Miller as the makeup effects artist. Studying pictures of burn victims, Yagher redesigned Freddy’s look to bring out the facial bones and more scaring. He would go on in his career to create the Chucky doll in the “Child’s Play” franchise.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

National Lampoon’s Senior Trip

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Release Date: September 8, 1995

Genre: Comedy

Director: Kelly Makin

Writers: Roger Kumble, I. Marlene King

Starring: Matt Frewer, Valerie Mahaffey, Jeremy Renner, Lawrence Dane, Tommy Chong, Kevin McDonald

 

 

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

“National Lampoon” was a well known humor magazine that ran from 1970 to 1998. The magazine formed as a spinoff of Harvard’s “Harvard Lampoon”. The magazine was very popular in the 1970s and spawned a series of comedy movies that included their title. The most famous of their films include “Animal House” and the “Vacation” movie series starring Chevy Chase. At the turn of the century, “National Lampoon” started a corporation and generated low budget raunchy comedy films that you would only be able to find at your local video store (which are extinct) or streaming services. One of the last “National Lampoon” films to be released in theater’s was 1995’s “National Lampoon’s Senior Trip”.

It’s a typical teen comedy with a realistic plot. The students at the fictional Fairmount High School in Columbus, OH write a letter about how bad the education system when several students blame school for not wanting to learn and party all the time. The letter reaches the desk of the President of the United States who phones their Senator and personally invite them to Washington D.C. to help support the President’s new Education Bill. Despite the Senator having his own Education Bill lined up and seeking higher office, he intends to use the ‘slacker students’ to embarrass him and push his own agenda. The Senator arrives at the school and instructs their principal, Todd Moss (played by Matt Frewer) to get them to Washington on time. The road trip doesn’t go as smoothly and on schedule as the students get themselves into crazy shenanigans on and off the bus.

I remember seeing the trailer for this movie on the VHS copy of ‘Dumb and Dumber’. I was a pre- teen when I saw the trailer and it looked like a pretty funny movie. Unfortunately the movie was rated ‘R’ and I had strict parents who would not let me watch anything that above a ‘PG-13’ rating. Eventually the film made its way onto the small screen and I watched it on my local channel. I watched it with a friend and we enjoyed this movie. A decade later, I found this movie on DVD at a local store where I buy all my movies. Not surprising to this review, the movie still holds up.

This film relates to the experiences we went through in High School (although I’m sure none of you stole a bunch of beer from a mini mart, break stuff at a five star hotel or having your bus driver die on the way to Washington). You can relate to any of the character that  best fit your personality in high school. If you were a computer nerd, you were the character Virus. If you were a straight A scholar, you were either Steve or Lisa. If you were a vengeful trekkie, you were Travis. One thing these characters have in common is they like to party and they get along real well in this film (unlike real world where you were in your groups). There are some scenes of drugs and sex, but it’s only a pinch of it compared to most of the other ‘National Lampoon’ movies or other teen comedies.

I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of each character. All of them had great chemistry together. Each character had their own standout moments. Matt Frewer’s portrayal of Principal Moss reminds me of a real life Principal McVicker from “Beavis and Butt-Head”. He’s very spastic, agitated and punctual and finds himself in uneasy situations. This movie was the feature film debut of Jeremy Renner. He plays the leader of the class named Dags who is a stoner and the vigilante of the school. His antics are praised by many and loathed by some. Then there’s Kevin McDonald who plays Travis, the school crossing guard and an obsessed Star Trek fan. He lives in his basement that is built to replicate the enterprise, carries around a blow up doll dressed like Uhura and he is obsessed with seeking revenge on Reggie (Dag’s sidekick). With the exception of a confrontation in the movie, there’s no explanation as to why Travis is out to kill Reggie. It’s funny seeing him trying to get to Reggie, but ends up being caught in an unpleasant scenario when things start happening to him. He talks to himself and only speaks in Star Trek language. I can relate to that because I’ve known quite a few people that were serious Trekkies.

The best performance by far is Tommy Chong as Red, the bus driver. In pure Tommy Chong fashion, he steals every scene he is in. He blends in with the students and praises them for their mad partying habits.

This film manages to bring up a moral issue at the end. They talk about the importance of education for future generations. It’s funny how the students define themselves as the poster children of slackers and losers with no future as a way to get their message across. This film came out in 1995 when Bill Clinton was pushing for a better education program for kids in America.  Maybe he watched this film to help advance his narrative? (Wouldn’t surprised me if he did.

I believe this is one of the most underrated teen comedies to come out in the 90s. It may not be the cream of the crop in the ‘National Lampoon’ film library, but this has enough chuckles to keep you entertained.

TRIVIA

  • Jeremy Renner’s first feature film.
  • The bus driver “Red” played by Tommy Chong hums the tune and sings some of the lyrics from the song “Earache My Eye”, which was the song that Chong and Cheech Marin play at the end of their film “Up In Smoke”.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cobra

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Release Date: May 23, 1986

Genre: Action/Adventure

Director: George P. Comatose

Writers: Paula Gosling (Novel: ‘Fair Game’), Sylvester Stallone (Screenplay)

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen, Reni Santoni , Art LaFleur, Brian Thompson, Andrew Robinson

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Ahhh the 80! The decade that gave birth of the blockbuster action movie genre. The world was introduced to such action starts as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Steven Sea gal and of course Sylvester Stallone (even though he was introduced to us in 1976 with ‘Rocky’). By the time 1986 came around, Stall one’s career was bubble waiting to burst. That burst happened with ‘Cobra’. Despite its worldwide gross of $160 million (as of today according to Wikipedia) it was universally panned by critics due to its level of violence, poor dialogue and an uninspiring villain. People will argue today that Cobra is a movie that has stood the test of time when it comes to an Action movie whereas others see the movie as completely dated and wouldn’t watch unless they were tied to a chair and had their eyelids close pinned to their brows so they couldn’t shut them. I have to say that ‘Cobra’ is one of my all time guilty pleasure movies. I can watch this over and over again with my hand slapping my knee at the delivery of the corny dialogue or be sitting up straight with my head stretched out and tensed during the big chase sequence.

For those who’ve never seen ‘Cobra’, the plot is pretty simple. Stallone plays Marion Cobretti aka the Cobra, who is a member of the LAPD’s ‘Zombie Squad’, a squad of elite cops. The tagline to describe the cops is, “Crime is a disease, meet the cure!”. He is tasked with stopping the Night Slasher, a serial killer who is the leader of an underground gang dubbed ‘The New World’. Their mission is to “kill the weak, so the strong survive.” One night, supermodel Ingrid Knusden (played by Stallone’s wife at the time and model herself, Brigitte Nielsen) witnesses the Night Slasher killing an innocent bystander and thus becomes a target for his next kill. The Night Slasher attempts to kill her in an altercation in a parking lot where Ingrid just finished a photo shoot, but is able to hide and survive. She goes to the LAPD where they are able to make a sketch of the suspect and check Ingird into the hospital for observation. After a failed attempt by the Night Slasher to kill Ingrid at the hospital, she goes into witness protection with Cobretti being the bodyguard. During their time in hiding, they begin to get quite acquainted and end up becoming attracted to each other. Without going into further detail of spoilers, it all leads to a showdown between Cobra and the Night Slasher with some comical back and forth between the two.

The concept of ‘Cobra’ came from Sylvester Stallone. I didn’t know this until I read the history, but Stallone was the original choice to play Axel Foley in ‘Beverly Hills Cop’.  He wrote a treatment for the film and submitted it to Warner Bros. The studio rejected it because they felt the type of film that Stallone wanted to do was going to be too costly. Stallone kept some of the ideas from his treatment and pulled elements from Paula Gosling’s novel ‘Fair Game’ (which was later turned into a 1995 movie starring Cindy Crawford and William Baldwin that failed miserably) and wrote the film that you see today.

I can’t recall the first time I saw ‘Cobra’, but I do recall that I wasn’t very fond of it. I found it a little boring and I thought the performances were pretty one dimension. I found a DVD copy of the film many moons ago at a local video shop. I was on an action movie high at the time and started collection a bunch of Sylvester Stallone movies and the movie was only $2 so I said to myself, “What the hey, I’ll give it another chance!” I purchased the DVD and went home that evening and re-watched it. I still found the performances to be one dimensional and stereotypical, but something inside me was enjoying the movie. Maybe it had to do with I wasn’t taking the movie as serious as I did when I first watched it. After several more viewings I found this movie to be enjoyable. It may not be the best action movie and it may not be Stallone’s finest performance, but to me it’s fun and funny. It’s a movie that tries to take itself seriously, but it’s hard to take it seriously.

Sylvester Stallone’s performance can be wooden at times, but he can express a sensitive side to his rough image and aggressive police style. This is shown throughout the movie with his relationship with his partner, Gonzales. Cobra is vocal several times about how bad Gonzales’ sugar diet is and is always recommending him to change his eating habits, even going as far as recommending healthier snacks to eat. He is just as sensitive to Ingrid and opens up to her when she asks him why he doesn’t have a woman in his life. His answer speaks true to his character.

Reni Santori plays Cobra’s partner Sgt. Gonzales. Gonzales is stuck to Cobra like glue. They have great chemistry together and you know that he will always have Cobra’s back which is shown during the climax of the film. Santori is no stranger to playing this kind of role. He also played Clint Eastwood’s partner in ‘Dirty Harry’. The film has much homage to ‘Dirty Harry’ that I don’t think Santori needed a lot of preparation for his role.

Brian Thompson plays the Night Slasher. Although he doesn’t have many speaking lines, it’s his physicality and body language that frightens the audience. He portrays the character as an animal stalking his prey. You see shots throughout the movie of him shifting his eyes and quickly moving his head being mindful of his surroundings. He walks slowly towards the prey almost like an old cartoon character when you seem them tiptoe out of a situation. He uses stealth to get close to his victim and then strikes without warning with the curved bladed knife with spikes sticking on the outside (kudos to knife designer Herman Schneider).

Lastly, there’s Brigitte Nielsen, who plays the role of Ingrid, the only witness to get a visual look on the Night Stalker. Obviously Nielsen got the role due to her marriage to Stallone. She doesn’t offer much except for her yelling and screaming. For someone who just went through a violent ordeal with the Night Slasher in the parking lot, she doesn’t seemed emotionally distraught. It’s almost as if it never happened. I don’t know if that was her intention to shut it out as a lot of trauma victims do, but it seems she was ready to get off the hospital table and go back home. It doesn’t matter who played this role.  You could get Jane Seymour and she would plays this role exactly as Nielsen did.

One of things that ‘Cobra’ does well is address some of the issues during the time including the decay of urban society, police brutality and the rise of criminal gangs. The movie takes place in Los Angeles at a time when crime was rampant and you had Skid Row where law enforcement at the time was beginning to crack down on the homeless population from sleeping on the streets. During a sequence where Cobra is going around the city trying to get information about the Night Slasher, you see shots of homeless people, prostitutes, drifters and slackers. When you watch the opening credits to the film you see a gathering of people from all walks of life You see street thugs , men in business suits and if you pay close attention, you can see a few law enforcement offices as they bang their axes together in a sign of unity. Their purpose is a playbook taken from the concept of Social Darwinism, “Survival of the fittest”. They kill anyone they deemed weak or unfit for society. That is a credit to director George P. Costmatos. Cosmatos did a decent job considering what he had to work with and the difficult relationship he had with Stallone despite them working together previously in ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II’.  Cosmatos is a hit/miss director. He’s made some flops, but he has also made one of the best Western films to come out in the 90s and that is ‘Tombstone’. I’ve enjoyed the films that he has created even if they are blatant rip-offs of other movies (Hint: This will be the only movie of his I’ll be reviewingJ)

From the law enforcement side of the film, you have Stallone who is a cop who takes the law into his own hands and he battles internally with his supervisors who still believe in upholding law. You see a trope very quickly in the movie with the constant battle between Stallone and Andrew Robinson, the ‘by the book’ detective who gets the chance to chime his two cents into Cobra during every encounter and berate him for his tactics and demeanor. Every cop film always has a cop going head to head with a superior.

Perhaps the fun theme of the film if there is one is the product placement. It was all about advertising and marketing in the 80s. You see that in the beginning confrontation in the film where Cobra is hiding behind a Pepsi machine and sees right in front of him a stack of Coors. He opens a tall room temperature one and takes a sip. As he runs away, the psycho shoots at the Coors can and then the Pepsi logo (Possible stand against advertising?). When Cobra returns to his apartment and turns on the TV, the first ad that appears is a Toys R Us add Another over the head shot when Cobra is back at his apartment is a lit-up Pepsi sign that is a source of light for him. When they stop on the way to the safe house, Gonzales gets a drink from the Coca Cola vending machine. Finally, in the bar scene, there is a huge Miller Genuine Draft sign. I’m sure these companies helped pay for the film to get their ads spread across.

There’s just enough action to satisfy the appetite of the action movie fan. The action is all too familiar as you see in action movies time after time, but there are a few standout moments. One of them being the final death scene. I won’t spoil that for you. There are enough explosions, guys getting thrown off motorcycles and even orange trees on fire. Oh and you can’t forget about that great 80s soundtrack that is blasted through the segments of the movie. Robert Tepper’s ‘Angels in the City’ that is played during weaving segments of Cobretti talking to his connections looking for information, Ingrid’s photo shoot and the Night Slasher’s endless pursuit of her shows the power that music had during this period. Lastly, there’s the dialogue. Yes, the dialogue in this movie is a trope unto itself. It’s cheesy and schlocky, but you’ll get some laughs out of it. There are some hilarious quotes in the film which will be posted at the end of this review that were delivered with a deadpan style courtesy of Mr. Stallone.

Again ‘Cobra’ is not one of Stallone’s best action movies. It’s memorable in its own way. It’s a good popcorn flick you can watch with your friends, laugh together and make fun of if that is your cup of tea. If you’re looking for an action movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then check it out.

 

TRIVIA

  • A very rare work print of the movie is available amongst fans. Although most copies are in poor quality, it has approximately 30 to 40 minutes of footage including all the X rated material that was removed from the final cut.

 

  • The custom 1950 Mercury driven by Cobretti in the film was owned by Sylvester Stallone. The studio produced stunt doubles of the car for use in some of the action sequences.

 

  • At one point during filming, Sylvester Stallone complained to cinematographer Ric Waite that they were falling behind and that he and his crew needed to work harder. Waite responded by saying, “Maybe if Stallone gets his hands off Brigitte Nielsen’s ass and stops showing off to his bodyguards, maybe they wouldn’t have problems with time!”

 

  • None of the supporting cast or crew were allowed to talk to Sylvester Stallone during filming.

 

  • In the original script, Night Slasher was called Abaddon.

 

  • For the Night Slasher’s monologue in the final confrontation, Brian Thompson did the scene with the script girl because Sylvester Stallone was off watching a basketball game on television.

 

  • When the movie came out Sylvester Stallone allegedly wanted the novel ‘Fair Game’ reissued with himself credited as the author, however original author Paula Gosling intervened and it never materialized.

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