Category Archives: 80s Trash of the Week

80’s Trash of the Week: The Beastmaster

I have my eyes…
I have my cunning…
and I have my strength.

The Beastmaster was a huge success on cable, and I must have watched it a few dozen times. I one day hoped to swing a sword around in a loincloth, commanding the beasts to do my will. Now I have a disobedient cat, a pair of cargo shorts and some swords hanging on the wall. I think that’s close enough.

Marc Singer, the ’80s star of If You Could See What I Hear and the V miniseries, had his first big role in this bronze age sword & sorcery flick that’s essentially Conan meets “Manimal,” or “Conaminal” as you could call it. With Rip Torn as the evil priest Mayax, John Amos as a big black Friar Tuck and Tanya Roberts as sacrificial eye candy this was second only to Highlander in the annals of awesome things to find on cable in the ’80s. It had dyed black tigers, a pair of sneaky ferrets, and killer bat-people who could digest your flesh in seconds. In a sea of shitty fantasy movies, this one rose above and is what all B movies should aspire to.

Mayax welcomes you with impaled victims

The evil priest Mayax gets a prophecy from his trio of ugly witch-bitches telling him thatt he unborn son of the king will be his undoing. Despite being told that nothing he does will change his fate, he makes the creepy sorceresses- who have model-worthy bods and faces requiring triple or quadruple bagging- go to do his evil bidding. They steal the king’s unborn son by transferring him to the womb of a cow, kill his wife, blind him, and slaughter his villagers. Only his right-hand man Seth survives the onslaught.

Rip Torn with awesome skull dreads

The witches take the cow to the woods, cut it open, and prepare to sacrifice the baby, but are interrupted by a man who happens upon them. Unlucky for them, he is a fearsome if unlikely warrior wielding a bizarre throwing blade called a Kada. He takes the child and raises him, naming him Dar. A short montage later and Dar has grown into Marc Singer, and shown an affinity for speaking to animals. A bear comes upon his adoptive father’s camp, and he saves their lives. He has the mark, and can master the beasts. He is the Beastmaster!

These pet ferrets do more than chew stuff and stink

Silly as it is, this is really only a half-notch below Conan the Barbarian, lacking some budget and the established mythos, and a huge star such as Arnold. Marc Singer is ripped for his role, and while no muscle man, he is perfectly believable as the destined warrior who defeats Mayax and the Jun horde. One day he comes home to find his father and village slaughtered by the Jun- a horde of leather-clad, masked warriors in the tradition of the Humongous from The Road Warrior, who look like they strutted off a Molly Hatchet album cover and live only for genocide. He survives only because his trusty dog drags him from the flames of the razed village. Dar takes his father’s scimitar and throwing blade, and sets out on his own- for revenge.

The Jun horde does not mess around

On his journey, he comes upon a hawk, two mischevious ferrets, and a black tiger that he saves from Mayax’s warriors. These become his allies- his eyes, his cunning, and his strength. Dar was taught to do right, and when he finds a man in a cage in the forest he releases him. Too bad he was meant for bat food! The forest is host to a group of silent bat-people, who catch their prey in a winged hug and devour them a lot like Seth Brundle in The Fly. Dar only escapes because his hawk alights on his shoulder, and they respect his kinship with their feathered brother. They have a hawk totem in camp and must worship them. What luck!

Bat people got… no reason to smiiiile

The first thing Dar uses his animal trio to do is get in a slave girl’s loincloth. Kiri is bathing in the river, and he spies her from above. He sends the ferrets to steal a piece of her clothes, and when she chases them into the forest, they lead her to the tiger! But he “scares off” the tiger. Kind of creepy, Dar! But he gets her digits- she’s a slave girl for Mayax and must return to the Temple of Ar, lest her family be killed. So Dar didst get blue balls that night.

Is that a ferret in your pocket or are you just happy to see me

His next meeting is with Seth- John Amos- and the young boy Tal. They help kick some Mayax minion ass. Seth uses a fighting staff that Amos really seems to know how to use! I remember seeing an interview where he claimed he auditioned for Indiana Jones, and I wish he got more adventure roles. He has a natural charisma, and was bad-ass enough to be a hero, but he never got the chance. Here he says they are “pilgrims,” and Dar might not believe them but he trusts their motives. Dar finally meets Mayax when he foils a child sacrifice at his temple, by having his hawk fly away with the kid. Mayax’s save is priceless- when the hawk saves the child, everyone falls to the dirt in honor of the miracle. He just stammers, “See! He wants your children!” and has a staredown with the only man not groveling- Dar. He knows a showdown is inevitable.

I wish I had this stick the last time I saw J.J.

Seth and Tal join Dar in his mission to rescue Kiri, for they have no love of Mayax. And yes, his character his spelled “Maax” in the credits, but screw that. They say Mayax. This is the first daring battle against the priest and his sacrificial cult. His fanatical followers hang themselves on command and fight to the death; his warriors have fluorescent green slugs put in their ears that drive them mad, so they kill everything in sight with spiked fighting gloves or cestus. They always reminded me of the guy on the cover to Quiet Riot’s Metal Health album. With his tiger and ferrets to steal keys and chomp on baddies, they manage to rescue Kiri, by the skin of their teeth.

It’s 18 karat! So what if it’s got an eye in it!

But Mayax is not so easily defeated. Tal took a ring off one of his acolytes, and it opens to reveal an eye with whiche he can spy on his enemies. When Seth takes Dar back to his encampment, we find the blinded king from the beginning, who doesn’t know that Dar is his son. I dunno why they don’t just tell him, but the king is a bit of a pompous jackass for a deposed, blinded ruler dependent on his followers. He wants to attack Mayax, even though he is aware of their plans. So of course, Dar has to save the day. They have an exciting battle atop of the ziggurat temple of Ar, with Mayax trying to sacrifice Kiri as Dar races up the temple steps, sword flashing through red-robed Hare Krishnas left and right.

John Amos is great as usual, but I wish his loincloth was a bit less revealing.

But even when Mayax is foiled, the battle is not over; the Jun horde is returning to protect their leader, and a ragtag band of rebels cannot stop them in their numbers. What will Dar and his friends do? Can he summon the beasts of the forest? Can John Amos take them all on himself? Are there enough ferrets in the world to nibble their ankles off? The final battle is quite exciting, with a trapped moat of burning oil that makes the battlefield look like the rim of a volcano. It may not be as epic as Conan, but Beastmaster is a surprisingly original and enjoyable story that could only have sprung from the ’80s, when all you needed for a B movie was a sword, a desert, and a girl in a ragged bikini.

Jun Leader insists that the metal health will drive you mad.

Beastmaster succeeds because despite its epic scope and nearly two-hour length, it is well-paced and the fight scenes are quite good for the time. The actors aren’t great, but certainly are more talented than most B movie casts. Director Don Coscarelli was offered the chance to direct Conan the Destroyer (full review) by Dino De Laurentiis, and he turned it down because he thought the story sucked. And while this movie is very silly and has a mishmash of all sorts of things- the psychotic Jun horde, flying bat people who digest you in their wings, animal telepathy, a crazy throwing blade, ugly oracle women, eye rings and a bronze age setting- it all seems to work. It has a sense of humor, but takes itself just seriously enough; which nudges it more toward Clash of the Titans than that Conan sequel that nearly killed sword & sorcery movies for good.

Hmm… smells like barbecue! Let’s go check it out.

Beers Required to Enjoy: none, but why not?
Could it be remade today? Please no!
Quotability Rating: Low
Cheese Factor: Beastmaster is vegan
High Points: Attack ferrets, John Amos kicking ass
Low Point: If I wanted to hear a whiny blind king, I’d read Oedipus Rex
Gratuitous Boobies: Tanya Roberts, yum! And more on the DVD extras



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80’s Trash of the Week: Bloodsport

You are nex!
You break my record, now I break you, like I break your friend.

I like to know how to say “Hello,” “cheers,” and “screw you” in every language. But in Belgian I only know how to say four words: Jean-Claude Van Damme. Which means “cheesy spinning kick split monster,” and Bloodsport is where I first learned to say it. Van Damme had been in the awful Sho Kosugi vehicle Black Eagle as a Russian assassin, but Bloodsport is where he spun onto the martial arts movie scene. Slightly less intelligible than Schwarzenegger but with plenty of fight cred, his eagerness to do his trademark splits at every opportunity made him a hit with the ’80s ladies as well as their beaus, who were amazed that someone with a French accent could kick so much ass.
The story as such is this- as a young boy Frank Dux gets caught fiddling with a neighbor’s samurai sword, and to pay penance, becomes his student- if only to be a punching bag for the man’s young son. He stole from the wrong guy- Tanaka, a ninjutsu sensei and keeper of the secret death move, the Dim Mak. Through an extended montage we watch him learn to do splits while suspended by ropes, to catch goldfish with his bare hands, and to serve tea blindfolded. And this makes him the greatest fighter of all time.
Frank Dux- pronounced “dukes”- wants to fight in “the Kumite,” which means “the sparring” in Japanese. It is held in Hong Kong, and is a secret underground fight club where practitioners of all the deadly arts converge to pit their skills against each other in battles to the death. On ths bus he meets Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds, a brawling biker also there for the “secret” Kumite, which everyone seems to know about. There’s even a blonde reporter using her sly investigative skills at the hotel bars, asking every tough guy where the Kumite is.
The path they follow through the underground to the Kumite matches is like the famous long take in Goodfellas where they enter the Copa, except there are lots of cuts, no one says anything, and I think they walk through the same hallway three times. To prove that this round-eye devil has really been trained by Tanaka, Van Damme must show them the fabled “death touch.” The Dim Mak or “death touch” is changed from the classic kung fu move to a sort of Tetris brick-breaker maneuver. It’s closer to dim sum than Dim Mak. But who cares, all you have to do is see JCVD’s crazy brickbreaking face to know this movie is going to be awesome.
Bolo Yeung always plays the bad guy, Chong Li, but he gets more lines here than he usually does.. He’s most famous for being the huge opponent of Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, and here he gets to say all the best lines. He’s also the one guy who can look crazier than Van Damme, as evidenced in this freeze-frame:

We get a lot of bloody fights, including one where a rapey Arab gets his gold tooth knocked out, which is scooped up by a scurrying Asian fellow. There’s an African guy fighting “monkey style” which sort of looks like capoiera, except really offensive. The two cops following Dux to stop him from competing- including a young Forrest Whitaker- eat something at a restaurant that makes a dog whimper.

But racism was all in good fun in the ’80s! This movie isn’t about that, it’s about seeing karate vs. boxing. Prior to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Bloodsport was the only way to decide which martial art could kick the ass of all others. And the answer was Van Damme ninjutsu. As the competitors are winnowed down- either whupped by honorable white folk or cruel Asians who kill you for the bloodlusty crowd- we get to see Ogre be a complete idiot and turn his back on Chong Li after knocking him down. Slowly the inevitable match between Dux and the murderous champion arrives, and the final fight is a glorious example of ’80s chop socky.
They say that the movie languished for 2 years until Van Damme helped them re-cut the film; I’d love to see the original version! When evil Chong Li blinds Dux, it takes him so long to remember all that blindfighting training we watched in the montage that I like to think it originally took him 2o minutes of getting his ass kicked before he realized he can fight blindfolded. There’s another slow motion shot where he windmills his leg like Popeye winding up a punch.
The movie is also controversial because it is supposedly “based on true events,” as reported in its end credits:

This motion picture is based upon true events in the life of Frank W. Dux.
From 1975 to 1980 Frank W. Dux fought 329 matches. He retired undefeated
as the World Heavy Weight Full Contact Kumite Champion.
Mr. Dux still holds four world records:
Fastest Knockout – 3.2 seconds
Fastest Punch with a Knockout – .42 seconds
Fastest Kick with a Knockout – 72 mph
Most Consecutive Knockouts in a Single Tournament – 56
Subsequently Mr. Dux founded the first American Ninjitsu System. Dux-Ryu.

The 80s were the prime time for bullshido, and even Soldier of Fortune went after Dux for his claims of secret military service. Who knows? Here’s an incredibly lengthy article on it. A 72mph kick? I guess there was a cop with a radar gun in the ring. It all sounds very impressive, and we all wanted to be ninjas after watching it. Personally, I think the movie is better as the insane fantasy it is, where if Americans travel to exotic lands they can fight to the death in Kumite, or wind up as victims in Hostel. Foreign places were scary in the ’80s! Bloodsport is an original, maybe it’s awful it many ways but it is unique, and a must for martial arts fans.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? It should be. Over and over.
Quotability Rating: mild
Cheese Factor: Jean-Claude Van Edam
High Points: Fights
Low Point: yellow peril crap
Gratuitous Boobies: We was robbed.


Filed under 80s Trash of the Week

Young Einstein

After spending three hours watching Australia, I decided to watch an Aussie movie from the ’80s I remember enjoying- Young Einstein, where comedian Yahoo Serious decides to steal some of Paul Hogan’s didgeridoo thunder and make a silly spoof of the lives of Albert Einstein and Madame Curie. Einstein didn’t just come up with the theory of relativity, he also invented beer, rock ‘n roll, and surfing. It’s pretty stupid, but entertaining in the same way corny Cheech and Chong movies are.

Discovering gravity

Young Albert Einstein is a gangly, likeable fellow whose hair looks like he humped a light socket. He hails from Tasmania, where his family harvests and lives entirely on apples. A little in joke there, Tasmania is a big apple producer. His father fends off the Tasmanian devils, who look a lot like the Warner Brothers cartoon character. Albert’s first scientific discovery is putting the first bubbles in beer, by splitting the beer atom. E=mc2, or “emc,” makes his father urge him to leave Tasmania for the mainland, and he undergoes a montage through snow, jungle and other unlikely locales.

Splitting the beer atom

He finally comes along an abandoned rail line, and waits by a skeleton holding a timetable until a train carrying Marie Curie, and patent officer Preston Preston- a stereotypical effete British snob- going to Sydney arrives. Preston immediately steals “Emc” and tries to peddle it to another brewing company, but Albert is already applying his theory to music. He needs to jolt acoustic music to light speed, and electrifies a hopped up violin into the first electric guitar.

Working at the patent office

Part of the fun is just in the backgrounds. There are kangaroos and wallabies everywhere, even on the campus of Sydney U. Which also has a sheep farming department, and flocks of them barge around like the cattle in Blazing Saddles town of Rock Ridge. The movie is very charming and silly, and has a great soundtrack of ’80s Aussie rock interspersed with motifs of “Waltzing Matilda,” “Wild Colonial Boy,” and “Powerhouse.” Mme. Curie speaks in an endearingly ridiculous French accent, Albert wears clodhopper boots, and overall shorts.

Tasmanian devil

Marie Curie (a delightfully cute Odile Le Clezio) is smitten by Albert’s quirky earnest genius, even though he lives in a brothel he thinks is a hotel. This irks Preston Preston, who not only wants to steal Al’s ideas, but also his girl. So he has him tossed in the loony bin, in the Mad Scientists Ward. He languishes there with the madman, finetuning his theory while the kitchen bakes kittens into pies, until Marie sneaks in to rescue him, and challenge him into fighting back against Preston Preston. With his mastery of the electric violin, he is able to blast his way out with rock ‘n roll, in time to save the kittens of course.

Hotter than radium

He takes Marie to the Scientist Academy Award Ceremony in Paris, where Preston is demonstrating his enormous atomic brewing reactor. Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud and his overbearing mom, the Wright Brothers- who knew Orville was black?- and others are present, and when Preston activates the reactor, it is of course an atomic bomb- so there’s only one way to drain the power- by inventing rock ‘n roll! This gives Yahoo Serious another chance to get in full blackface, and somehow not be terribly offensive.

Rock ‘n roll saves the world

First time director-actor-writer Yahoo Serious does a fine job, with silly homages to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly among other things. It’s a quietly funny movie that dips into cartoonish humor when it needs to. The movie is never boring, and remains amusing 20 years later. It looks like they had a lot of fun making it, with lots of self-effacing gags and a Tall Tale feel throughout. Young Einstein is the kind of silly movie everywhere in the ’80s, and rare today. It made Yahoo Serious a brief star in the U.S., he even interviewed himself on 60 Minutes, though he only had 15.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2 (with bubbles)
Could it be remade today? no way
Quotability Rating: decent
Cheese Factor: Roaring Forties Blue (the only Australian cheese I know of, and it’s a good one)
High Points: Inventing beer, surfing & rock ‘n roll
Low Point: a bit slow to start, but always fun
Gratuitous Boobies: Marie Curie in her undiewear

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I know it’s fashionable to think that Washington is full of secretive, evil organizations. But think for a minute. We’re your government. We’re the good guys! And we’re in this together.

Dean R. Koontz wrote a lot of the novels I read as a teenager. Hell, I still can’t pronounce his name without acting like a vulgar Scotsman. Watchers was the first I’d read; the tale of a bio-engineered military experiment on the loose, chased by a psychotic hitman. The experiment is twofold- a super-intelligent dog that infiltrates enemy camps, and “the ultimate predator,” which follows it in and slaughters the soldiers while they sleep. In the novel, the dog befriends a reclusive Vietnam veteran and a lonely woman, who hook up on the run.

Creepshow ripoff

In the movie, we get Corey Haim, his girlfriend and his mom instead; Michael Ironside of Scanners fame plays the ruthless government agent sent to track down the escaped experiments, and the predator looks like a dime store version of the creature from “The Crate” in Creepshow, and that’s what makes this ’80s trash. I defy you to watch this and not want the predator- or “Oxcom” as they call it- to tear Corey Haim and his ’80s hairdo apart.

Out-acted by a pooch

The movie begins with an explosion at the government facility, from which we see a Golden Retriever and a squealing ape escape. Not long after, we find Travis (Haim) trying to roll in the hay with his girlfriend Tracey, literally in the barn. Her Dad investigates before they can get it on, and unfortunately for him, the dog and the creature come by too. He gets attacked, the dog slinks away into Travis’s pickup truck, and Tracey gets to find her father’s severed head with the eyes removed.

the closest we get to gratuitous boobery

Travis takes the pooch home, and it soon becomes obvious this is no ordinary dog. He knows who Abe Lincoln is! Corey calls the dog Furface. When Travis and his mom try to console Tracey over her father’s death, they find she’s been put in a government facility, and Michael Ironside and his partner Cliff are slinking around. They’re from the Government, tasked with bringing the dog and the “Oxcom” back in- though his partner wisely asks how they expect to catch this thing- with a net?

why are you hung up? at least yer not laid off!

The movie quickly degenerates into a slasher film interspersed with Corey’s hair and the dog being smart and cute. Pretty much every character we get introduced to gets slaughtered- some guy living in the woods, three friends of Travis’s, his computer teacher, the janitor. In the novel the beast was intelligent, and knew how horrific it was; like Frankenstein, that drove its pathological hatred of its creators, and the lovable dog it was partnered with. They don’t really get that across here, so it becomes a scary guy in a Sasquatch suit with claws, given a constant stream of idiotic victims.

she obviously watched this movie twice.

I love a good silly horror movie- like the It’s Alive! trilogy (full review), and so on. This one just isn’t over the top enough to be very interesting. Michael Ironside is usually good for chewing up the scenery, but he’s too reserved here. In the book he’d be Vince- a government assassin who thinks he takes the souls of his victims, and wants to kill a pregnant woman to become immortal- but here he’s nothing near as colorful. Oh, he gets some crazy licks in, but from the guy from Scanners and a few years later, Highlander 2: The Quickening, we expect more.

stupid dog, you missed the triple word score!

The final battle pits Corey Haim against the beast, hiding out in a cabin in the woods with all the hunting gear he can find at the General Store. They explain his mad survival skills by showing a photo of his Dad, who was in Delta Force, and dumped him and his mom. Thanks, Dad! The effects are somewhere between The Legend of Boggy Creek (full review) and the gorilla costume from Trading Places, and if the Ultimate Predator can be taken down by Corey Haim, you know how scary it isn’t. This wasn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but it was pretty disappointing, even for low budget ’80s horror.

on the internet no one knows you’re a dog

Beers Required to Enjoy: 4
Could it be remade today? it should be
Quotability Rating: low
Cheese Factor: gubmint cheese
High Points: Michael Ironsides pulling a knife out of his neck
Low Point: starring Corey Haim
Gratuitous Boobies: some heavy petting

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Black Roses

I watched Freddy Got Fingered right before this. It is generally considered one of the worst major releases ever made. I’ve never gotten Tom Green’s humor, either. But that atrocity of a movie was more watchable than Black Roses, the story of a demonic heavy metal band that comes to a small town, turns teacher’s pet students into parent-slaughtering zombies.
Sometimes I really stretch the envelope with ’80s trash, sticking in a perfectly good classic, but this is really worthy of the title. It has the production quality and idiotic script of Troll 2 without the tongue in cheek humor. The movie begins with a bunch of demons in Rob Halford gear playing onstage, turning the audience into emaciated zombies- until the police barge in and shut them down. We then cut to the sleepy town of Mills Basin, where nothing ever happens and the parents don’t like this new hard rock music their kids are getting into.

Damian, where have I heard that name before?

The band is Black Roses, helmed by Damian- a pretty boy with some seriously impressive ’80s hair. And I know from ’80s hair, as I had some that entire flocks of swallows could nest in on their way to Capistrano. Damian has hair ostriches could nest in. They arrive in town in their Lamborghini Countachs and act all wholesome and stuff, and soon their music is playing from every kid’s stereo. And the changes begin…

This music is turning our children into zombies!

The teacher who “really cares about the kids” is Matt Moorhouse, who looks like John Stossel with his porn ‘stache; he tries to teach the kids to love poetry. But soon after Black Roses arrive, they care even less than usual. He thinks something is up, and won’t take his fellow teacher’s admonishments- that this is just like The Beatles- without investigating. It doesn’t take long for weird shit to start happening.

Don’t stand so. Don’t stand so. Don’t stand so close to me.

For example, Vincent Pastore- Big Pussy from the Sopranos- chides his son for having an earring. “Only fags and pirates wear those, and I don’t see no ship in our driveway!” Bad move, Dad. The Black Roses record starts bubbling on the turntable, then a demon bug jumps out of the speaker and pulls him right in, loafers and all. There’s a crude joke in there somewhere, but I’ll leave that up to you.

Va fongool!

The girls start getting loose and the boys start getting violent. A girl starts spontaneously playing “strip gin” with her friend’s Dad, culminating in a heart attack for the lecherous old man. I’ve never heard of strip gin, only strip poker. But that’s part of trashy movie charm. Maybe there’s strip bridge, too. ’80s trash always manages to stick in truly gratuitous nude scenes, so even “strip gin” is an explanation of sorts; they do one better next, when one of the girls decides to play with her pencil eraser nipples for 5 minutes in front of a mirror shrine to Black Roses. “Hey, we’ve got a few minutes of film left– play with your tits for a while!” Don’t worry, they’re all after the cut if you want a peek.

fig.1: the heavy duty pecker wrecker.

The teachers are too stupid to notice that something is wrong when the kids chant “Damian!” in class instead of learning. Even Matt is clueless until his teacher’s pet, Julie, forces her way into his house and tries to force a demonic blow job on him. He pushes her away just in time to see her fangs, and then she transforms into scaly monster before his eyes, in a blur of purple light. Then he beats her to death with a tennis racket. Let’s face it, you’re not much of a demon if a high school English teacher can beat the crap out of you.

That’s some weak-ass metal if the demons can be killed with a tennis racket.

Mr. Matt is pissed off that he blue-balled during his enactment of “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” and goes to the hardware store to get gas cans and flares, to put an end to this evil heavy metal for good. At the concert, Damian dresses like He-Man, but they pull out all the stops once they realize the jig is up- and Matt has to fight off the zombie students and the demon band with only his two English teacher fists. Thankfully his porn ‘stache gives him power, because he is triumphant.

And Damian is beaten up with a gong hammer. Pom pom and all.

This movie is best known for its soundtrack, Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge slumming as the demon drummer, and Vincent Pastore getting eaten by a speaker. It’s very low budget and very tedious, with plenty of actors who’d never disgrace the silver screen again and very few laughs to ease the pain. The soundtrack is pretty good for late ’80s metal, consisting of Lizzy Borden, King Kobra, Hallow’s Eve and Bang Tango. The band Black Roses itself was King Kobra with Carmine Appice on drums, and the songs are pretty good, which makes the movie more tolerable.

Carmine Appice slum-drumming

It’s an interesting relic from the late ’80s when Al Gore’s wife Tipper helped start a crusade against “porn rock,” which led to the eventual “Parental Advisory – Explicit Lyrics” stickers on CD’s. The movie does have a parent’s meeting where they talk about the “evils” of the music and if it was just a bit more tongue in cheek, or even a bit clever, it could have been a minor classic. But as David St. Hubbins of Spinal Tap says, “There’s such fine line between clever and stupid.” And Black Roses is a long way off on the wrong side of the line.

The Mentors- one of the obscure filth-bands the PMRC made me aware of

Beers Required to Enjoy: 6
Could it be remade today? DethKlok: The Movie
Quotability Rating: zero
Cheese Factor: Velveetica
High Points: Big Pussy getting eaten by a speaker
Low Point: Gahh!! demon boobies!
Gratuitous Boobies: 3 pairs… gin!


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Red Heat

As part of my quest entitled The Arnold Project, I plan on watching all of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movies, no matter how bad. I’m a big fan and consider Commando one of the best action movies of the ’80s, so this won’t be too hard. I’ve already watched Hercules in New York (full review) and you can read all the Arnold Project reviews here.

I need your clothes, your borscht and your motorcycle.

Arnold plays a Commie Terminator- a dour party-line Moscow cop sent to America to extradite a drug-dealing cop killer who fled to Chicago. Written and directed by Walter Hill gave us The Warriors, Streets of Fire, and another “unlikely buddy” cop movie, 48 Hrs. (full review). This one is similar- we got two iconoclasts who clash against each other, while they seek the same target. It’s not as good as the Nolte/Murphy one, but it’s still pretty good and you get to see Arnold display his rarely-seen acting chops.

Nevah snap my behind with a towel again!!

Now, Arnie’s Captain Ivan Danko isn’t giving Viggo Mortensen’s mobster from Eastern Promises a run for his money, but he does a good job. And yes, we get to see a fight in a Russian bathhouse. Thankfully Arnie isn’t on full display, but his partner jokes that they’ve stopped calling him “Iron Jaw” and started calling him “roundheaded” because he’s circumcized. TMI, dude. Shortly thereafter they put a sting on some Georgian heroin smugglers in a tavern, but the big man- Viktor Rosta- gets away with a Taxi-Driver style holdout gun, blowing away Danko’s partner. Not long after, Rosta is picked up in Chicago with his heroin source- the “Cleanheads” gang- and Danko, to assuage his shame, is sent to escort him back to Moscow.

Sugar or Plain?

In Chi-town Jim Belushi plays Sgt. Art Ridzik, a somewhat lazy and unconventional detective working the Cleanheads case. He and his partner collar Rosta, and once Arnie shows up they are tasked with helping him escort the criminal to the airport. Immediately the thriller music starts playing- this is one James Horner score that really overplays its hand- and we know Rosta is gonna get sprung. And sure enough, the Cleanheads help him escape, killing Ridzik’s partner in the process. Danko gets clubbed on the back of the head immediately, but manages to crawl and get a locker key he palmed off Rosta during some rough interrogation. So he knows Rosta will be back to visit him…


So now Rosta’s killed both their partners, and East and West must collaborate to defeat this menace. Danko sneaked in his huge fuck-off Podbyrin 9.2mm handgun- a black Desert Eagle with a mildly extended barrel- so he and Ridzik get to wreak mayhem on the criminal element of Chicago, as long as they don’t piss off the Commander (Peter Boyle) or the Lieutenant (Lawrence Fishburne) who both have it in for them! But they just can’t argue with results, so you know the drill.

I got zis thru customs by hiding it in pompadour.

Jim Belushi is supposed to be the loose cannon against Arnie’s stone-faced tough guy with an 80’s brush-cut pompadour; the good thing is they are both essentially comic roles, with Belushi as his usual smart-ass self, and Arnie’s Captain Danko has the cool, sly humor of a Clint Eastwood role. Arnie spent 3 months learning Russian and studied Garbo’s role in Ninotchka for the film, and it’s a refreshing change of pace from his usual movie persona. I think Jim Belushi is underrated, but he’s a bit understated in this role. I would have liked him to be a little more wacky, like in Real Men (full review). About the best line he gets here is mocking Arnie’s turquoise suit: “Undercover? You look like fuckin’ Gumby.”

He’s Gumby, dammit!

When Ridzik finds a pimp who might know something (the always welcome, and slimy, Brion James of Blade Runner and Enemy Mine fame) Ridzik breaks the rules by threatening to plant drugs on him. Danko goes one further and just breaks one of his fingers, Stalin-style. After a little talk about “the rights of the individual,” Ridzik sees the benefits of a totalitarian police state, and so do we. Boy, I wish our cops could torture people instead of just planting evidence on them.

“At least gimme some lube, tovarisch!”

They follow the clues to a dancer named Cat Manzetti, Rosta’s latest pump. She’s the exotic Gina Gershon, with that wry grin and feline eyes. She doesn’t have much to do and her motivations are unclear, but she’s pretty to look at. She likes to jump in front of people they want to shoot, and lead them to ambushes, but Danko lets her go anyway. You’d think he’d send to her Siberian death camp, but he has a soft spot for the women Rosta scams. The plot, such as it is, has them fighting over the locker key and ambushing each other; eventually Rosta goes after Arnie in his hotel room, all guns blazing. As in 48 Hrs., Hill has some topless hooker caught in the crossfire, giving us all the guns and boobies a growing boy needs.

This is the 38 to Lower Wacker Drive, next stop, Witch Mountain.

There’s also a chase on a bus, which this time tries to top the previous film- by having them play chicken. The stunts are pretty good, and we get not only two buses but a train thrown into the mix. The gunplay is pretty forgettable, but what makes the movie is the chemistry between Belushi and Schwarzenegger. It’s not as comical as the Arnold/Tom Arnold duo in the excellent True Lies, but it works. Half of the time Arnie can get a chuckle with just an expression, or a lack of response. Hell, there’s a whole scene when Arnie’s watch timer goes off, “Time to feed parakeet” that is hilarious. While Red Heat isn’t the best of his movies, it’s a refreshing one, and fans shouldn’t write it off; it’s better than Raw Deal (full review).

Some nice sneak-filming in Red Square.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 3
Could it be remade today? Eastern Promises 2: Broken Promise
Quotability Rating: minor
Cheese Factor: bland as tvorok
High Points: Arnie asking if a parakeet is feminine
Low Point: Formulaic plot and copycat ending
Gratuitous Boobies: Russian bathhouse babes and a hot hooker


Filed under 80s Trash of the Week

Conan the Destroyer

Conan the Barbarian is one of my favorite movies, and definitely in my top 3 for fantasy films. John Milius and Arnold Schwarzenegger took Robert E. Howard’s dark hero and created a much-copied genre in film- the grubby, barbarian-style fantasy. And a mere 2 years later, Richard Fleischer and Arnold destroyed it, in the aptly named Conan the Destroyer. What happened? Milky and I watched it to see how fantasy moves were destroyed until Peter Jackson brought them back.
Hollywood hated the fact that Conan was for adults. Kenner even made Conan action figures in prep for the movie, and when they saw the bloody violence, sweaty sex and cannibal soup of the snake people, they quickly renamed him He-Man, and we got the Masters of the Universe (full review). Dildo DeLaurentiis then figured he could make even more money with a more child-friendly version, so he brought Richard Fleischer on board for Destroyer. The guys who wrote Ralph Bakshi’s ode to Frazetta, Fire and Ice wrote a script that got trashed by Stanley Mann, whose best movie was The Silent Flute (aka Circle of Iron) with David Carradine. Conan’s character is thrown out the window, and he’s written as a musclebound oaf.

Comedy Conan!

I mean, Conan wasn’t that smart in the first one, but he wasn’t a drunken, easily led dope like he is in this one. We meet him with his new buddy Malak (Tracey Walter, Repo Man), a fellow thief. They’re running from a bunch of heavily armored horsemen with nets, who want to capture them. After Conan hacks them to pieces, we see two others watching from horseback- Queen Taramis and her guard Bombataa (Wilt Chamberlain, never in a feature film before or after this mess). They want to hire Conan to steal a mystic horn, with the help of Princess Jehnna (hottie Olivia d’Abo, Bolero). She is a virgin marked with a sign, and is the only one who can safely touch the key that will release the horn.

How come your breasts are always bigger than the women’s, Arnold?

Milky remarked, “Good idea having Wilt Chamberlain guard a princess’s virginity.” And yes, I imagine Olivia d’Abo was probably #10,001 on Wilt’s list. Queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas, Ursa from Superman II) hypmotizes Conan (see this post for an explanation) with her mesmerizing eyes and makes him think she can ressurect Valeria, and give him his own kingdom for his troubles, so he joins right up. Conan is now a sucker. A few seconds later, Taramis tells Bombataa to kill Conan as soon as they are done needing him.

“Don’t worry, Wilt has pledged his life to defending your hymen.”

On their journey, they return to the city where Conan punched the camel in the first movie- and this time it spits on him! So he punches it out again. It’s there that they pick up Grace Jones, that iconic singer and horrible actress who’s also responsible for appearing in one of the worst Bond movies, A View to a Kill. But like Arnold, she’s got presence. She kind of sticks out here, but Zula fits the Conan universe from the books well. She’d be a Kushite she-warrior. She’s chained up in the center of town, being harrassed by the townsfolk who have branded her a brigand. Conan being wise and fair, cuts her chains and lets her have a fair fight. She swings a stick around like a pro, and wears one of the least goofy helmets in the movie. A worthy comrade.

Conan and Zula in a lighter moment.

It’s unfortunate that the only characters who return from the first movie are Arnold, Mako, and the camel. And Mako doesn’t even remember Conan. They rescue him from some cannibals, with Fleischer’s trademark swordfights- the zing! of a blade and a head flying up is mostly what you get- and “Akiro” pledges his sorcerous skills to the barbarian. By the mid-80s, movies began having plots like video games. Go from city to city, collecting your party. Find the spooky wizard’s secret island. Hack hack hack. heal heal heal.

Malek trying to put ointment on Zula’s axe wound.

It was a real bad idea watching this right after Conan the Barbarian, which has some of the best set design ever. The cities look real, even when they are models; the castles and markets look like they fit in, and the Towers of Set stick out like ancient Churches of Scientology. Ron Cobb did a fantastic job with the production design. The demons that Valeria must save Conan from don’t look that bad, but boy does the animated “bird of smoke” look silly in this one. It looks like it has cartoon stink lines radiating from it, as it carries sleeping Jehnna off to the wizard’s castle. Bad idea mixing animation and models in the same scene without knowing what you’re doing.

Stinky smoke bird

It’s even worse once they get inside. The inside of the castle consists of nothing but a huge pillar with a spiral staircase, and you can see the change in color of what’s a matte and what isn’t. But who cares? Conan is about the fights, right? WRONG! The sorcerer has Jehnna locked in his bedchamber, which is past a hall of mirrors. When they approach, he sees them in his crystal and whispers, “too late.” I assumed this meant he broke her mystic cherry, but no such luck. Evil Wizard reminder- if you capture a virgin who has to stay a virgin to complete her quest, why not? You’re an evil wizard, dammit. Are you gonna wait and ply her with champagne Polanski-style? (Olivia d’Abo was only 14 when this was filmed. Oh, I went there).

For a virgin, she dresses quite provocatively.

Conan gets trapped in the circular room of mirrors, and soon 12 red-robed figures appear, then meld into one Giant Lizardman with Man-Boobs. For some reason, he doesn’t have scales on his chest, and we’re subjected to flabby wizard tits. It is my conjecture that they are the true source of his power, not the mirrors. Conan and the Man-Boob Lizard have a lame pro-wrestling style fight, where Arnold gets to scream AGGHGHAAAAH!!! a lot, which is always my favorite one-liner of his. HastAGHGHGAAAAA la Vista, baby. I won’t tell you how he defeats the Wizard, but let’s just say Conan never appeared in a sequel due to 84 years of bad luck. There’s actually a nice effect when Toth-Amon (a real wizard name from the Conan books, woo) decides to touch the Key he’s been guarding, and light spills out of his eyes and wounds until he goes pop like the weasel. Pat Roach plays Toth-Amon- he was Brytag in Red Sonja, the big bald mechanic in Raiders, and many more memorable big galoots.

He is only vulnerable in the moobs, Conan!

Now they have the Key, on to the next level! Bombataa- probably named after Afrika, the guy who sang “World Destruction” with Johnny Rotten- isn’t very good at hiding Queen Taramis’s real plans for Conan. They get attacked by the Queen’s Elite guard, including Sven-ole Thorsen, who played Thorgrim, the guy with the big fuck-off hammer from the previous movie. They have a protracted and anticlimactic battle, which ends with Bombataa taking a few swipes at Conan, too. What the fuck, dude? His only response is, “I thought you were going to hurt the girl.” But why did the queen’s guards attack us? “Um, not on her orders!” Okay, it’s all good, brah!
While the previous movie gave us memorable lines like “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the women!” and Thulsa Doom’s endlessly quotable psychotic cult leader babble, here we have to settle for seeing Conan drunk and stupid, saying things like “give me the promise I was kingdomed!” He sounds a lot like pot-head Arnold from the Conan the Barbarian DVD commentary. It’s really embarassing to watch Conan graduate from the pit fighter born of the Wheel of Pain, who survived the Tree of Woe (sort of) and nearly single-handedly took down the Cult of Set, into frat boy Conan, who’s only good for comic relief. Most movies have a comic relief character, but here we have Malak, Grace Jones and Mako all mugging it up, plus our hero. It almost feels more like Olivia d’Abo’s movie, because she’s about the only character we can take seriously. Or maybe we’re just staring at her boobs (Dude, she’s 15! So what, she’s like 40 now).

“This spell requires mandrake root… and Metamucil!”

They steal the horn from its incompetent ancient guardians, and Mako gets to have a Wizard Battle. Wizard battles involve lots of groaning, and from behind closed doors might sound like Old Man Wizard needs more fiber. But as always, Mako can do anything and we’ll forgive him. Hell, they should have made a spin-off TV series with him. But all his groaning is all for naught, as Bombataa traps them with a rockslide and spirits Jehnna away for her virgin sacrifice. In the director’s cut I like to imagine that Jehnna wasn’t a virgin when he brought her back to Taramis. I just can’t see Wilt playing such a kiss-ass to the Queen. But that’s what he is.


He’s really only in the movie so we have someone huge to fight Conan, and the barbarian is finally pissed when he realizes he’s been swindled. So he heads to Taramis’s castle with his friends to fuck her shit up. He kicks Wilt’s ass so handily that you wonder why we thought he was so bad-ass with his spiked and beaked mace, but we finally get some bloody fighting, with Bombataa chomping Conan’s ear off, as they wrestle and stab each other. Zula and the rest are left to save the girl, and unfortunately, saving the girl in this case means Releasing the Rampaging God Dagoth, Who Is Pissed Off That There’s No Virgin in His Cheerios.

The folks at use this to say he’s on’y 5’11”

The end is really the best part of the movie- Dagoth is a huge slavering web-footed reptile with a rhino horn for a nose. It was Andre the Giant under the make-up, so Dagoth is a massive lumbering beast. Can Conan defeat a god? You’re damn right. Bare-handed, too. Now that’s the Conan we remember, the guy who succeeds because he doesn’t think he can fail. It’s too bad that after he tears Dagoth’s horn out, he didn’t stick it up the dead god’s ass and kick it out his brain. That would have been something.

Pro-wrestling with the gods

While Conan the Destroyer is an order of magnitude greater than Red Sonja, it was still an enormous disappointment. Conan went from being a vengeful warrior who was a little wet behind the ears, to a legendary swordsman who’s mostly a drunken idiot when he’s not killing people. Couple that with comic relief like Malak- who’s useless in a fight unless he can jump behind you on your horse and stab you in the kidneys- and not one but two non-acting celebrities, and even if the script wasn’t toilet paper you’d be in trouble. The original story was published as a graphic novel called The Horn of Azoth, and I remember reading it when it came out. Now, THAT story would have been awesome on-screen. But Dino DeLaurentiis didn’t like leeches, so it got scrapped. I’ll give him credit though, he’s produced a lot of stinkers, but many great adventure movies. And he’s still doing it at 100 years old.
The film looks decent- Fleischer directed epics like The Vikings and his DP was Jack Cardiff, who’s made beautiful films like and even Black Narcissus, The African Queen and even Rambo: First Blood Part II. The DVD doesn’t show it off real well, being nonanamorphic and dull. Was 1982 the last of the golden years of the ’70s? I think so. And will be posting about it soon. Seeing how Conan changed from awesome to awful in 2 years just proves my point.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 3
Could it be remade today? Sadly, yes.
Quotability Rating: Low
Cheese Factor: Fromunda from Crom’s loincloth
High Points: Great end battle.
Low Point: Fat, drunk & stupid is no way to go through life, Conan.
Gratuitous Boobies: Nope! Olivia d’Abo nearly pops out of her dresses a lot though.


Filed under 80s Trash of the Week

Red Sonja

“If danger is a trade, I’ll learn it by myself.”

I’m very glad they changed Arnold’s character from Conan to Kalidor for this turd. Brigette Nielsen is the red-haired swordswoman who was brutally raped and her family slaughtered when she refused to be scissor sisters with the Evil Queen Gedren (Sandahl Bergman). She’s supposed to be a master of the sword, but she gets in trouble a lot, and Arnold rides in out of nowhere to save her ass every time. Arnie’s wife Maria Shriver said of it, “If this doesn’t kill your career, nothing will,” and she was right. “It’s the worst film I have ever made.” He joked, “Now, when my kids get out of line, they’re sent to their room and forced to watch Red Sonja ten times. I never have too much trouble with them.” Red Sonja is definitely 80’s trash.

80’s villain note: If you have someone’s family killed, they will scream for vengeance.

After a rapey montage, we see the guardians of the Talisman, a glowing green rock that gets its power from “light,” and was used to create the world. They’re all women in white robes with swords, and Gedren’s soldiers- who wear huge gaudy helmets- sneak in and slaughter them all. You’d think Guardians would have a lookout, but oh well. The Guardians are about to lock the Talisman away to save the world, but Gedren has them thrown into a pit and sealed up instead, taking the rock for herself.

Next time, take the lead role.

I’m not sure how the Talisman works, but it seems to make storms that can destroy entire cities. Kalidor meets the lone survivor of the Guardians- Sonja’s sister- and is tasked with telling Sonja of her death. He meets Red after her Sword Mitzvah, where she’s told by the Master that there is nothing more he can teach her. Unfortunately he must suck, because she needs more bailouts than GM and AIG combined. Brigette looked really good back in ’86 with a red ‘do, but she acts like a female Arnold in Hercules in New York (full review).

We hold this candlelight vigil for the victims of Happy Fun Ball.

Her first bailout is when she takes the Toll Road- what is this, New Jersey?- run by a tyrant named Brytag, who demands payment, “the tender kind that all women give to Brytag.” Red’s not having none of that, and has a duel to the death with him, after he promises that his men will let her pass if she wins. Of course, they lie, so Conan- cough- Kalidor- has to show up to fight them off. Then he conveniently locks the gate and says he’ll stay behind and fight so she can escape. Otherwise it would be a Kalidor movie with Arnold, and might be more watchable.

“Maybe if you didn’t eat brontosaurus legs, you wouldn’t be so fat.”

At this point I thought the movie was bad, but I’d slog through it to see redheads in chainmail bikinis. Then Prince Tarn and his companion the James Coco impersonator show up. Prince Tarn is played by Ernie Reyes Jr., best known as the annoying little kid named Tai from The Last Dragon (full review). Thanks to Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (full review), the little Asian sidekick was a staple of the mid-80s, like the side boob. At least Reyes can fight. He plays a young prince whose kingdom is levelled by Gedren with the Talisman. In the thankless role of comic relief is Paul Smith (Bluto from Popeye) as Falkon, his obedient and much-suffering servant. He’s the fat knife-throwing guy who fights with a brontosaurus hambone. It’s too bad there’s not still meat on it for him to gnaw on, but he does that later.

Underwater metal monster. Just wait for it to rust, duh.

They aimlessly wander the countryside and come upon some ruins they explore for no good reason. When the little Prince spies a huge pearl, he forces Falkon to try to pry it out, and releases a metallic water dragon thing that splashes them around. Of course, Kalidor shows up to go for a swim with it. Red Sonja really isn’t very good for girls’ self-esteem. Don’t worry, even if you’re a Sword Master, you’ll still suck compared to the guys, but cuz yer hot, some warrior dude will show up and save your ass, so don’t worry about it! I was hoping there’d be a sequel where she was an unfulfilled housewife, attacking the dishwasher with her broadsword. When Arnold’s flirting goes too far, she challenges him to a battle, since “No man may have me, unless he’s beaten me in a fair fight.” They duel until they are both exhausted, but because it’s a draw, Kalidor goes to bed with blue balls that night.

“So, the only man that can have you, is one who’s trying to kill you. That’s logic.”

The one person she doesn’t need Kalidor’s help to defeat is the other woman in the story, Queen Gedren. Sandahl Bergman has a lot of fun playing the villainess, risking the very world to increase her power. I began to wish she said typecasting be damned, and dyed her hair red to take the lead role, which she was offered. Their swordfight shows that she’s more athletic and capable for the fight choreography, and can act her way out of a paper bag, as long as it’s not closed too tightly. Red Sonja triumphs as expected, and we get to see Arnold in the rare role of romantic lead, when they kiss and make up at the very end. But like little Prince Tarn, we want to go “eugh,” and fast forward to the bloody battles we were promised.

“If you knew how much this chainmail chafes, you’d leave me alone.”

With this and his abysmal, comic sequel Conan the Destroyer, Richard Fleischer seems to have single-handedly ended the ’80s sword & sorcery craze that John Milius and Arnold began with Conan the Barbarian. Who knows what the hell happened to Richard Fleischer. He had memorable films every decade, until the ’80s hit him smack in the face. 1950’s Armored Car Robbery is a gritty crime film that inspired many others; in the ’60s he had Barabbas, and a great run in the ’70s with Mr. Majestyk, Soylent Green, Tora! Tora! Tora! and the trashy cult classic Mandingo. Then in 1980 he remade The Jazz Singer with Neil Diamond, and it was downhill from there. My theory is that Neil trapped him in a room and played “Turn on Your Heart Light” until his brain melted. Watch Red Sonja and you’ll agree.

“Late-uh, in your trailer. Den we do da real love scene.”

I hope the rumors of Robert Rodriguez remaking this movie with Rose McGowan (Grindhouse, The Doom Generation) in the title role are true. Red Sonja‘s tale deserves a good telling. She’s the iconic swordswoman character. Apparently Rodriguez is out now that he & McGowan have called it quits, but another director has been handed it. On the Movie Set Blog, there’s a brief synopsis, which doesn’t sound all that great. Pity.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 4
Could it be remade today? Sure, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Quotability Rating: zip
Cheese Factor: Hyborian stank cheese
High Points: … well? we’re waiting! um…
Low Point: Pretty much everything.
Gratuitous Boobies: Just sword girls in bikinis round these parts.

Arnold constipated, trying to pass this turd of a movie.


Filed under 80s Trash of the Week

Footloose- where the white boys dance

Kick off your Sunday shoes
Oowhee, Marie
Shake it, shake it for me
Whoa, Milo
C’mon, c’mon let go
Lose your blues
Everybody cut footloose

I was 13 when Footloose came out, and I still haven’t seen it. Kenny Loggins had a lock on ’80s movie themes, and I figured “I’m Alright” from Caddyshack and “Danger Zone” from Top Gun were enough. And even in the wake of the PMRC trying to censor “porn rock” in the ’80s, I thought a town banning the rock and/or roll music was unbelievable. But now, seen through the lens of nostalgia, I gave Footloose another look.

“Boy, I’m charging you with inciting to Quiet Riot.”

Kevin Bacon plays Ren, a hip kid from Chicago who moves to some podunk town in Utah with his mom after his Dad bails on them. As the outsider, he takes some crap from the local jocks and smart-asses. He ends up befriending one named Willard (a surprisingly skinny Chris Penn) when he shows that he’s got balls and won’t be bullied. However, one thing he can’t overcome, or even comprehend, is the town’s repressive attitude toward dancing and rock & roll- they’re both banned, and you can get pulled over for playing Quiet Riot in your car. The town’s lawmakers are quite convinced that if you bang your head, the Metal Health will drive you mad. And they don’t want you goin’ mad.

L’il ditty, bout Chuck & Ariel… two American kids livin’ in the heartland

Reverend Shaw (John Lithgow) has the town locked down; his son died in a car accident coming home from a rock ‘n roll dance, and as usual, he doesn’t blame his stupid drunk-driving Darwinian failure of a child, but the music. So he keeps a tight leash on his daughter Ariel (cellist Lori Singer), who in place of rocking and rolling, likes to perform suicidal stunts. Such as standing on her boyfriend’s pickup truck and her friend’s car, while they play chicken with a tractor trailer, or dodging trains at the last minute. Seriously, if Daddy knew what she was doing, he’d toss a pile of Mötley Crüe records and a six-pack in her room and tell her to go hog wild.

She has a thing for big trucks and trains… repressed much?

Her boyfriend is Chuck, and being the douche of the film, has to bully and challenge Ren to a game of chicken with tractors. You know, to give it a country flair. Or maybe it’s because Ren drives a beat-up VW Beetle and Chuck’s truck would go over it like a speed bump? Either way, this is the scene jammed in to make male viewers stay put during a movie about dancing. Ren wins because he can’t find the brakes, and the school gives him a begrudging respect. But more importantly, Ariel decides he’s the big dog now, and starts working her wiles on him. Because she’s a crazy preacher’s daughter, her idea of fun is to meet on the railroad tracks at night, and make Ren save her from being hit by a train. In a normal movie, that would be followed by him dumping the crazy bitch off home, but this being an 80’s Trash of the Week, it makes romance bloom.

“And the Lord did boogie.”

Once enough kids are on Ren’s side, he decides to take his case before the town council, and ask that the school be allowed to have a prom. He quotes from the Bible about David dancing for the glory of God, but still doesn’t win them over. They claim that if kids dance, “one thing will lead to another,” and people will crash it with booze and violence will erupt. Ren decides they’ll have a dance at the Roller mill where he works, outside the city limits. But there’s another problem, his buddy Willard can’t dance, so we’re subjected to a montage of dance training sequences in manly places, like the school gym, and near tractors, and on the wrestling mats. Let’s hear it for the boys- they manage to not look totally gay while doing it, and that’s saying something.

Chris Penn, before he discovered donuts.

Reverend Shaw finally breaks down when he’s butting heads with his daughter, because she won’t tell him where she goes all night. Her comeback is actually pretty good- “you care more about me when I’m not home, than when I’m right here!” But he slaps her a good one anyway. Lithgow doesn’t play him as a monster; he is just misguided, distraught over the loss of his son. Which would mean Ariel lost her brother, but she doesn’t seem to care much. Nor does her mother Vi (Dianne Wiest, looking even more alien than usual). What finally changes Reverend Shaw’s mind is a bizarre shoehorned “message” in the screenplay. He’s in his church, having a final spat with Ariel, when she’s come to confess her sins. She says she’s not even a virgin! Now, I expected him to call forth fire and brimstone, but he’s interrupted by smoke, from outside. Lordy, no! The folks are havin’ a good ol’ book burning! See what we have stooped to and become?

If you think these prom outfits are bad, wait till you see mine

I wonder how many teenage girls in the ’80s tried to defuse there Dad’s anger at finding that his little girl wasn’t as pure as the driven snow, by having their friends stage a book burning outside. I don’t know why they weren’t burning rock records, which actually did happen in the ’80s during the PMRC Witch Trials (when Al Gore’s crazy wife was trying to get the Senate to act on “pornographic rock records.” He didn’t care as much about polluting the air with burning records back then.) When the Rev sees where his intolerance has led his town, he breaks down and supports the dance.

Loose feet at last!

And what a dance! Pink Balloons! Never-ending glitter confetti falling like snowflakes! And prom outfits you’ll never see again. I remember what an 80’s prom was like, mine was in ’89, when Guns ‘N Roses’s Appetite for Destruction wasn’t yet sated. Our theme song was the love theme from St. Elmo’s Fire, a film I have refused watch our of pure petulance. And their prom is actually better than mine was, despite it being held in a mill. Then again, they had Kevin Bacon and a young Sarah Jessica Parker cutting loose. Foot loose. Tearin’ off their Sunday shoes.

Fro-mullet and a genuine Miami Vice tuxedo.

This movie was huge. The soundtrack was inescapable in 1984. I also blame it for the ubiquity of thin ties in the ’80s. I had a powder blue satin one, myself. If someone gave it to me now I’d strangle them with it, but I wore it willingly. In 20 years I imagine we’ll be laughing at goatees and messenger bags. Hell, we can laugh about those now! Footloose is a disjointed film that tries to do a lot. It doesn’t always succeed, but it’s a solid high school story with a decent soundtrack, and some memorable scenes with actors who’ve gone on to bigger and better things. Kevin Bacon, famous for slimeballs in Sleepers and The Woodsman, was almost a prettyboy here. Chris Penn is so far off from his role as Nice Guy Eddie, your go-to guy for “easily enraged fat guy” of the ’90s that he’s barely recognizable. And Sarah Jessica Parker of “Sex in the City” is positively adorable, back when she had measurable body fat. Nowadays she reminds me of a talented giraffe. So if you want to revisit 1984, Footloose isn’t the worst way to do it. It’s popcorn with little nutritional value, but sometimes that’s what you need- trash.

Sarah Jessica Parker, back when she used to eat food.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 3
Could it be remade today? They tried a musical. It failed.
Quotability Rating: Low
Cheese Factor: Provolone (aka smelly feetloose cheese)
High Points: Ariel’s suicidal hijinks
Low Point: You’re not a virgin? Wait, books are burning!
Gratuitous Boobies: Zip! This is Utah, dummy.


Filed under 80s Trash of the Week, Music

Red Dawn


John Milius, director of Conan the Barbarian, went on to make another iconic movie in the ’80s- Red Dawn. Back when we thought nuclear war was inevitable, and we still stung from the shame of Iran holding our people hostage for over a year, we really believed that we could be invaded and taken over. But our country was born of a guerrilla war, so why not another one? Red Dawn delivers, with more violence per minute than any film up to its time. Remember, the guy who made this was the inspiration for Walter Sobchek in The Big Lebowski, and he lives up to his reputation.

Soviet Union suffers worst wheat harvest in 55 years… Labor and food riots in Poland. Soviet troops invade… Cuba and Nicaragua reach troop strength goals of 500,000. El Salvador and Honduras fall… Greens Party gains control of West German Parliament. Demands withdrawal of nuclear weapons from European soil… Mexico plunged into revolution… NATO dissolves. United States stands alone.

The story begins in the heartland of the American West, in a small Colorado town. We’re given little time to meet the characters or drink in the setting- like fellow partisans, we will meet them in combat. A schoolteacher is giving a lecture on Genghis Khan (one of Milius’s favorite subjects) when he sees parachutists landing in the schoolyard. He goes out to investigate, and is gunned down by paratroopers in uniform. The invasion of America has begun! Schoolkids are massacred, but a few boys escape in their brother’s pickup truck and make it to their Dad’s gas station and convenience store to regroup.
The boys are naturally led by the eldest, Jed- played by Patrick Swayze of future Road House (full review) fame- and include a young Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, and eventually some girls- Lea Thompson from Back to the Future as Erica, and Jennifer Grey, best known as Ferris Bueller’s sister, as Toni. Rob’s Dad sends them into the mountains to hole up, but Jed & Matt want to find their own father- and that leads them to the re-education camp, where the rebellious types, identified by the treasonous mayor, have been concentrated. Their Dad is none other than Howard Dean Stanton at his grungiest, telling them to cry no more, and to avenge him. Because he can’t pick them up when they fall off the swings anymore… they need to take care of each other. It’s situations like these where a pair of wire cutters comes in handy, but the Leatherman wasn’t invented yet, so I don’t blame the kids for not breaking their Dad out.

I burn your decadent capitalist National Lampoon!

Shortly thereafter, they begin their partisan campaign- the town is overrun with Russians in tanks, commie soldiers burning books in the street, and you can’t even get your decadent rock music at the store without zoldatten peering at you from under their fur caps. No red-blooded American teen of the ’80s is going to tolerate Der Kommissar in the record shop. So they begin a guerrilla campaign at the gas station. In one of the movie’s most effective scenes, Toni lures a group of tankers into robbing her of food, and when they chase her, the boys pop out of ambush and take them out. From there, they are emboldened despite the Commies executing prisoners by the dozen.
Jed & Matt see their father executed from afar, and they commit to fighting the Red Menace, no matter what the cost. To their great luck, the sparse American resistance leads to a fighter pilot ejecting near their encampment, and they soon have a leader with military training leading their strikes- Col. Andy Tanner (Powers Boothe). He’s the perfect bad-ass, and tells them that compared to the folks in the cities that got nuked, they have it good- they can hunt deer for food, instead of rats, or each other. When a boy kills his first deer, they make him drink its blood to honor its spirit.

Can I mix this with some Coke?

With Boothe leading them, the Wolverines become a terror to the invaders, striking everything them in their camps, their convoys, and even taking out tanks when they’re caught in the crossfire. They deal with traitors, crack commando squads, Hind helicopters hounding them on horseback. The group is winnowed by combat and soon every mission may be a final suicide ruin. We even get to see things from the invaders’ side, with Cuban colonel remembering his own days as a guerrilla, and giving the Wolverines a begrudging respect.

She even has the Sly Stallone snarl goin’ on.

Milius keeps amping up the action while keeping to a tight story about teaching spoiled American brats what a real war on American soil would be like. Sure, it’s a fantasy of sorts- and if you don’t think the movie is trashy, it’s about rednecks saving the country against Russkies and Red Cuba foreigner types- but his relentlessly violent script isn’t mere wish fulfillment, but an attempt at bringing the reality of war home to a country that hasn’t seen it up close since the 1860’s. It’s much different when you’re sending your boys off to die someplace and aren’t seeing bombs dropped on Mom and her apple pie.
Milius doesn’t make the film oppressively brutal, either. There’s plenty of tongue in cheek, such as when some Soviet soldiers visit a National Park, and translate the sign through the filter of propaganda, or when he pans from a bumper sticker reading “They can have my gun when they pry it from my cold dead fingers” to a dead hand, with a gun in it, getting pried out by a jackbooted soldier.

When the war’s over, Andy, can I join the mile high club?

The kids play touch football when they’re not planning missions, and the girls are treated equally- because they fight too. However, this is still a boy’s world. There’s no room for romance except Lea Thompson getting a crush on Powers Boothe, as creepy as that is. And whenever things begin to look too much like a pigeon shoot, we see the brutal reality of civilians mowed down for supporting the partisans, or the rain of metallic death awaiting kids with AK47’s against an attack helicopter.
Milky and I tried to recapture the Cold War paranoia of the early ’80s by donning our Soviet trooper hats and speaking only in pidgin Russian we’d picked up from movies. It felt horribly wrong to wear dirty pinko commie regalia while our people were being slaughtered, but that just speaks to the effectiveness of Milius’s nightmare fantasy- where America would have to be destroyed in order to save it, and once again slake the Tree of Liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

Tovarisch, I have come to respect these “wolverines.”

Our country was born in revolutionary violence, and in the late ’70s and early ’80s whence I was raised, the country was in both an economic and spiritual malaise. We made even shittier cars than we do now, like the Pinto, of which I drove one of the few unexploded specimens. Until Reagan and Yakov Smirnov made us feel good about ourselves, we needed a movie like this. If you don’t believe me, after a few years of this Wall Street treachery we’ll see a remake.

Beers Required to Enjoy: Zero, but the more the better
Could it be remade today? Da! I mean, nyet! Russia is ally!
Quotability Rating: Awesome
Cheese Factor: Land O’ Lakes White American, baby!
High Points: WOLVERINES!
Low Point: The lack of Red Day, Red Dusk, and Red Twilight sequels
Gratuitous Boobies: No such capitalist decadence!

And if you think something like Red Dawn couldn’t happen again, Soviet soldiers have been spotted in the suburbs, infiltrating our karaoke bars to sing Soviet anthems such as “Back in the U.S.S.R.”

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