What better way to get in the Christmas spirit this December than to fill two days with action, gore and sleaze! That’s right, Weekend of Trash is back! For the uninitiated, previous write-ups can be found in the category archive. I forewent my parental duties for a day or two and joined the usual trash team of Blueprint: Review writers Justin Richards and Andrew Skeates to enjoy some junk food cinema.
So, as before, here are the reviews of everything we watched over a weekend of gratuitous nudity, violence and downright nonsense. The reviews are only brief and ratings are largely based on entertainment value over quality, so take them with a pinch of salt. I’ve included clips and trailers when possible too.
Director: Michael Pearce
Screenplay: James Barton
Starring: Bruno Lawrence, Rodney Harvey, Arna-Maria Winchester, Miranda Otto
Initiation is a VHS tape I’ve been bringing along to these weekends for years and we finally all agreed to give it a go. I’m glad we did as it’s a decent coming of age survival drama. The film sees New York teen Danny (Rodney Harvey) travel to the Australian Bush to stay with this estranged father Nat (Smash Palace’s Bruno Lawrence) after his mother dies. The youngster is a bit of a troublemaker but really lands himself in deep when he botches Nat’s plans to make some much-needed money as a marijuana shipment go-between. The pair end up crash landing in the Bush, where Danny must learn to become a man to get him and his father back home.
This is a fairly classy affair which makes good use of some gorgeous locations. Despite putting the central pair through hell, it makes Australia’s landscapes look particularly inviting. There’s an early appearance from Lord of the Rings‘ Miranda Otto too, which was fun to see, although her character’s relationship with her stepbrother Danny is a little weird. There’s a little nonsense with the constantly cackling Aboriginal witchdoctor Kulu (Bobby Smith) and there’s much here that has been done better before, but for the most part it’s a solid effort that proved worth the wait.
Director: Eric Jacobus, Chelsea Steffensen
Screenplay: Chelsea Steffensen
Starring: Joe Henley, Chelsea Steffensen, Eric Jacobus, Sean Grove, Gavin Merrick
I’ve been following the work of Eric Jacobus and The Stunt People for a while after watching and enjoying Contour several years ago. The Stunt People are a group that provides stunts for top Hollywood productions, but also make their own action-packed comedies (largely shorts) now and again. Check out this pair of short films they made a few years ago for an example. Immortal was the first feature the guys made and sees various members of the team playing a group of random people selected by a mysterious immortal grandmaster who believes them worthy to be taught his special skills and powers. Two of the group plot to kill the master though (which was part of his plan – it’s a little complicated) and one is left to make amends and prevent these now evil superhumans from using their powers for evil.
This plays out like a showcase for the group’s action credentials rather than a fully fledged film, although they do make sure there’s enough of a plot to hold your interest. The film is at least 15 mins too long though. It’s incredibly low budget too, so is very rough around the edges. The performances aren’t particularly great either – they’re fighters first before actors, although there’s some fairly successful humour (in amongst plenty of groanworthy attempts). The action is great though, and there are some excellent fights dotted around, so it’s still worth a watch, even if it’s not as good all round as Contour.
Director: Bruno Mattei (as Vincent Dawn)
Screenplay: Rossella Drudi
Starring: Reb Brown, Catherine Hickland, Massimo Vanni
In Robowar, low budget rip-off legend Bruno Mattei (working under the pseudonym Vincent Dawn) presents his low rate version of Predator. A crack team of badass steroid-pumped soldiers (they even name their team BAM – Bad Ass Motherf*ckers) are sent to the jungle to find out what happened to a fellow team. However, they find a lethal robot killing machine who proceeds to pick off members of BAM one by one.
This copies so much of John McTiernan’s action classic it’s unbelievable. However, Robowar had a minuscule budget, so instead of a cool-looking alien that can turn itself invisible, we get a man in tight leathers with a blacked out helmet on his head, that’s supposed to be a robot. It constantly jabbers words to itself too (mainly ‘preceded’ for some reason) and lumbers around blowing stuff up occasionally. So it’s pretty terrible but has enough goofy charm to get away with it.
Director: Stuart Gordon
Screenplay: Brian Yuzna, Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon
Based on a Short Story by: H.P. Lovecraft
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ted Sorel, Ken Foree
Genre movie favourite Stuart Gordon, who doesn’t get enough love in my opinion, adapts a short story by the great H.P. Lovecraft. In it, scientists Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs) and Dr. Pretorius (Ted Sorel) develop ‘the resonator’, which stimulates the pineal gland, allowing users to unlock their ‘third eye’, opening up a whole new dimension most are unable to see. The first experiment goes wrong though, seemingly killing Pretorius and putting Tillinghast in a mental institute. Psychiatrist Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton) wants to help Tillinghast and foolishly believes recreating the experiment is the key to repairing his mind. Instead, it allows her to see that his crazed ramblings were actually true. Despite witnessing its dangers, notably the reappearance of a monstrous Pretorius in a bizarre shape-shifting form, she becomes hooked on the resonator’s powers. This leads to disastrous consequences as you might imagine.
I love Re-Animator and From Beyond was Gordon’s fairly acclaimed follow up (among horror buffs at least) so I was excited to see it and it didn’t disappoint. It’s possibly even more bonkers than its predecessor, but a little less fun as it tones down the humour and instead delivers quite a disturbing tale of obsession, sexual desire and addiction. As such it’s one of the best Lovecraft adaptations I’ve seen. The special effects still hold up very well for the most part too, with some truly f*cked up imagery on display. The little tentacles coming out peoples’ heads look a bit silly sometimes, but the effect of them popping out (which has obvious sexual connotations) is pretty disturbing.
Director: James Glickenhaus
Screenplay: James Glickenhaus
Starring: Ken Wahl, Alberta Watson, Jeremiah Sullivan, Steve James, Klaus Kinski
James Glickenhaus (The Exterminator) writes and directs this fairly forgettable action thriller with James Bond allusions. It has a fairly familiar setup, with some terrorists stealing a thermo-nuclear device and threatening to detonate it in a Saudi Arabian oil field unless the Israelis pull out from the West Bank. So the authorities send in an elite team of agents, headed by a man known only as ‘The Soldier’ (Ken Wahl). They must track down and disarm the warheads before they explode and kick off WWIII.
Glickenhaus is a pretty decent action director and has a fairly interesting visual style. For instance, there’s an unassuming conference scene that’s spiced up by a shot that spins past 360 degrees. There are some cool angles utilised in the action scenes too. However, the film falls rather flat for a couple of reasons. For one, the writing is clumsy and jumps around all over the place, so the film feels very fractured and episodic. Also, possibly more importantly, Wahl makes a terrible lead and has zero charisma so he makes a potentially quite exciting film rather dull. The action scenes make it watchable, so I wasn’t bored, but it’s a film that’s already seeping out of my memory.
Director: Wu Ma
Screenplay: Man Choi Lee
Starring: Yuen Biao, Donnie Yen, Irene Wan, Lily Lee, Wu Ma
Country: Hong Kong
Circus Kids sees a group of circus performers forced to move to Shanghai and find work after their big top is blown up by Japanese bombers (the film is set during WWII). Most of the men get employed at a nearby factory, but they, particularly the hot-headed Tung (Yuen Biao), continue to get into trouble with a criminal organisation running things around town. As such, Tung and his friends keep coming across police officer Danton Lee (Donnie Yen), who lets them get away with a few indiscretions as he has the hots for one of the female members of the circus troupe. When things get to head though, everyone is drawn into a fight for justice.
This came out during the new wave of period martial arts movies coming out of Hong Kong after the success of Once Upon a Time in China, and while it’s not quite as strong as that or some of the other classics of the era, it still contains a lot of their strengths. Most notably, the action is spectacular. There aren’t a huge number of what you’d call full-on fight scenes, but there are loads of eye-popping demonstrations of the group’s circus skills and the big brawl that does kick off in the finale is superb. Although Yuen Biao never became quite as famous as his Chinese Opera brothers Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, he’s always been the most impressively acrobatic of the trio so this role suits him very well and he does a stellar job when it comes to the physicality of the role. Outside the stunt work this is standard stuff though and the plot doesn’t make a lick of sense half the time, so it’s no classic but worth watching for the set pieces.
A Breed Apart
Director: Philippe Mora
Screenplay: Paul Wheeler
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Powers Boothe, Kathleen Turner, Donald Pleasence, Brion James
This drama/thriller has an unusual setup. J.P. Whittier (Donald Pleasence) is a rich egg collector who has his eyes on one final piece for his collection, the egg of a rare breed of Bald Headed Eagle. Two have been laid on an island, but perched high on a mountaintop and of course well protected by the law. So Wittier approaches driven mountaineer Mike Walker (Powers Boothe) to climb up and steal the eggs for a handsome fee that would be enough to cover his costs to go on the world’s first venture up a mammoth Chinese mountain. Walker accepts the job but finds another more difficult obstacle facing him, the bird-loving Vietnam veteran Jim Malden (Rutger Hauer), who will stop at nothing to protect his avian companions. Rather than use violence to get past Malden, Walker decides to try to gain his trust and friendship before finding the right moment to sneak up and take the egg. Further complicating matters is single mother Stella Clayton (Kathleen Turner), who loves Malden but can’t crack his distant exterior to get close to him. When she enjoys a date night with Walker, a tricky love triangle is forged.
The whole concept is a bit silly and Hauer’s character veers a little too far towards ‘wacky’ at times, but largely this is a solid drama with a great cast and nice location filming. The characters are all well-rounded too – everyone has their flaws and events don’t quite pan out as you’d expect, leading to an interesting climax. That said, everything does get tied up a bit neatly and nicely by the end, so there’s a slight whiff of cheese as the credits roll.
Director: Gil Bettman
Screenplay: Michael Thomas Montgomery
Starring: Fred Williamson, Cynthia Rothrock, Robert Forster
We capped the weekend off with an action thriller starring a trio of genre movie stalwarts, Fred Williamson, Cynthia Rothrock and Robert Forster. Forster’s role ended up being pretty small, but the other two certainly lead the way, with Williamson playing Dakota ‘Dak’ Smith (complete with a smooth theme song), a demoted cop who’s struggling to stay on top of a drinking problem. He gets involved with a serial killer case where victims, who are all filmed cheating on their partners, become the ‘stars’ of twisted videos made by the murderer. Dak accidentally kills one of the victims as he attempts to stop the killer, so becomes a target himself. Along the way, he’s partnered up Kristin O’Connor (Cynthia Rothrock) who helps him crack the case and stay on top of his addiction problems.
This was a pretty weak end to the marathon, unfortunately. It’s low on action (which is a real shame given what Rockthrock is capable of) and the by-the-numbers plot hardly thrills. It’s a low budget affair too and shows, such as a shot where we spotted some stage-hands opening a van’s doors from underneath as well as some camera shadows and booms in shot. Luckily Williamson holds everything together with a typically enjoyable bad-ass performance. He’s always fun to watch and gets plenty of cheesy lines, which help make the film watchable (although I dropped off a bit during the finale due to movie fatigue and lack of sleep).
The whole film (played 4 or 5 times for some reason):