TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE SOLDIER (1982)

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THE SOLDIER (1982)

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James Glickenhaus’s follow-up to The Exterminator finds a special black ops operative code-named “The Soldier” (Ken Wahl) called into duty when rogue KGB plant a nuclear weapon in a Saudi oil field. Their objective is to force Israel off the West Bank, or they will destroy half the world’s oil supply. Aided by an Israeli agent (Alberta Watson), The Soldier’s objective is to stop them at any cost.

James Glickenhaus writes and directs what basically is a grind-house version of a James Bond movie. As such, we just wish it was a bit better, even if it does try hard. There is plenty of action, but Glickenhaus hasn’t completely honed his craft yet and there are some moments of sloppy filmmaking that hold it back. Where Bond has style and class, this film has graphic violence and the subtly of a sledge hammer. That would be fine if it didn’t get more and more ludicrous as it goes along, yet is taken a bit too serious to have a fun time with it. It’s also disappointing that it’s climax is almost action-less and The Soldier himself is barely involved with the proceedings, while his team takes desperate…and ridiculously far-fetched…measures. As for the globe trotting locations, they are used so poorly the whole thing could have been filmed here in the US and no one would have noticed the difference. There is still some amusement, like a ski chase that begs the question, if you all had guns why didn’t you pull them out to begin with and a U.S. President (William Prince) who seems a little too trigger happy to go to war with our Israeli allies. There is also a cool soundtrack by 80s soundtrack specialists Tangerine Dream and a brief appearance by Klaus Kinski as a double crossing agent. As for Wahl, he tries hard but just doesn’t have the charisma for a big screen leading man…not that any of the other cast members should win any awards, for their work, either. A sad disappointment as this could have been a lot of fun had Glickenhaus just went with the absurdity of it all.

Overall, while a grind-house James Bond flick sounds like a blast, Glickenhaus drops the ball with a ludicrous script taken way too seriously. He also has a few sloppy moments, probably by trying to accomplish too much on a small budget and it’s climax is more silly than spectacular. Despite some globe trotting locations, they are used so poorly the whole thing could have been film here in the US and no one would have noticed the difference. Glickenhaus would make up for it with his underrated Shakedown six years later.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 bullets.

 

 

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE CHURCH (1989)

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THE CHURCH (1989)

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Italian horror tells the story of a church that was built over the mass grave of devil worshipers, slaughtered by a squad of knights in medieval times…the era, not the restaurant. In modern day, new church librarian Evan (Tomas Arana) discovers the catacombs beneath the church floor and opens the seal. It unleashes the evil trapped below and locks everyone inside with it. Now possessions, demon manifestations and all sorts of demonic hi-jinx ensue as valiant Father Gus (Hugh Quarshie) tires to stop it.

This is a stylish, if not a tad silly, horror flick from Dario Argento protégé, Michele Soavi. The director and co-writer (along with Argento and Franco Ferrini) acted and worked behind the camera for both Argento and Fulci and at least visually, he learned well. The Church is never really scary and at times there are some unintentional chuckles, but design-wise there is some very creepy stuff here and some startling imagery. Soavi does give it some atmosphere, that is occasionally undone by the bad dialogue and sub-par acting, but also doesn’t skimp on the blood and isn’t afraid to show us some very disturbing sights. We have Evan pulling out his own heart, a man attacked by a fish creature in the holy water basin and a goat-headed demon having it’s way with pretty heroine Lisa (Barbara Cupisti). It’s an entertaining flick, though one probably must have a taste for Italian horror to really appreciate it. These spooky shenanigans are supposedly based on a book, The Treasure of Father Abbot Thomas by M.R. James, though after reading the synopsis, it doesn’t sound like there is much of a resemblance to the source material here.

There is no point discussing the acting to any degree, as no one here is going to win any awards. Hugh Quarsie is a noble enough hero as Father Gus, Tomas Arana is creepy as a possessed Evan and Barbara Cupisti is a cute and quite nubile heroine, who shows some alluring skin during her demon nookie sequence. There is also a small role by a very young Asia Argento as Lotte, the daughter of the church caretaker (Roberto Corbiletto).

Overall, this is creepy fun. It has some very effective imagery and atmosphere that helps even things out with the less than stellar dialogue and acting. There is some gore to go along with it’s demonic manifestations and director Soavi keeps things moving, so we don’t have much time to ponder too many questions. An entertaining Italian horror from the director of Cemetery Man.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 candles which are like everywhere in this movie.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CRITTERS 2: THE MAIN COURSE (1988)

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CRITTERS 2: THE MAIN COURSE (1988)

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Sequel to Critters finds the Crite eggs seen at the end of the first film finally starting to hatch two years later at Easter time. This gets bounty hunters Ug (Terrence Mann), Lee (Roxanne Kernohan and Eddie Deezen) and Charlie (Don Opper) summoned back to earth. At the same time, Brad Brown (Scott Grimes), whose family had moved away, is returning to Grover’s Bend to visit his grandma (Herta Ware). Now in greater numbers, The Critters descend on the town and only Scott, Harv (Barry Corbin replacing M. Emmet Walsh) and the bounty hunters are all that stand between feast or famine for the fanged alien fur-balls.

Sequel is the directorial debut of Mick Garris (Sleepwalkers, The Stand) who wrote the script with David Twohy (Pitch Black and it’s two Riddick follow-ups). As such, it’s somewhat fun, but the material is already running out of gas, as it’s basically the first film all over again just bigger. The FX are still cheesy and the gore and brief nudity do again stretch the boundaries of it’s PG-13 rating, but the sequel, otherwise, plays it safe story-wise. There is a romantic interest for Brad, named Megan (Liane Alexandra Curtis), but otherwise there is little new as The Critters make mincemeat out of anyone that crosses their path. There is still some fun to be had, but the novelty, of something that is technically already a Gremlins clone, is definitely wearing off. The film under-performed at the box office, but still spawned two more direct-to-video sequels…the third being the acting debut of one Leonardo DiCaprio.

The cast seem less enthused than the previous film. Grimes tries hard, but it’s a bit off-putting that he seemed to be playing a much younger kid only two years earlier and now is playing a young man of his real age (17 at the time) with love interest and all. The film literally takes place only two years later and the difference seems odd. Mann and Opper repeat their roles fine with Charlie now being a bounty hunter and it is fun to have Lee zero in on an identity straight out of Playboy magazine, in the form of statuesque beauty Roxanne Kernohan. Barry Corbin is now playing Harv and makes the character his own to the point where it didn’t really need to be Harv, when all is said and done. Liane Alexandra Curtis makes a cute love interest/sidekick for Brad, as teen reporter Megan and Lin Shaye is back hamming it up as Sally.

It’s not as fun as the first film, which in itself was basically a rip-off of another flick, but is far from terrible. There are some laughs and some amusing gore and even a touch of nudity this time, despite a teen friendly rating. The FX are still amusingly cheesy, though the cast seem to be just running through their paces in this one. It’s still worth a look and does make a good double feature with the first flick, but it’s not quite the equal fans would have hoped for.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 critters.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CRITTERS (1986)

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CRITTERS (1986)

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Critters is a 1986 sci-fi/horror/comedy that owes as much to the creature features of the 50s as it does Joe Dante’s Gremlins. The flick opens with alien beings called “Crites”…furry little creatures with LOTS of teeth…escaping from an interplanetary penitentiary with shape-shifting bounty hunters Ug (Terrence Mann) and Lee (various cast members) in hot pursuit. The Crites land on Earth in Grover’s Bend, Kansas near the farm of the Brown family and they are very hungry. Now mom Helen (Dee Wallace), dad Jay (Billy Bush), teen daughter April (Nadine van der Velde), young son Brad (Scott Grimes) and drunken handyman Charlie (Don Opper) come under siege by the carnivorous Critters, who have chosen them as their next course. Will the bounty hunters arrive in time before this quaint family all become alien happy meals?

Despite being derivative this is a fun movie as directed by Stephen Herek from his script with Domonic Muir. Herek gives the flick a bit of a Spielbergian touch and it works well for the material. It has a fairly even mix of horror and humor and the bloodshed does push the boundaries of the PG-13 rating, while delivering some laughs. The Critter FX by the Chiodo Brothers (Killer Klowns) are enjoyably rubber prosthetics and the visual FX are delightfully cheesy. The action is limited to in and around the Brown farm with inept police deputies (Ethan Phillips) and visiting boyfriends (Billy Zane) showing up to become Critter fodder. The film is very 80s, no more of an example than a music video featuring star Terrence Mann, whose cheese metal rocker Johnny Steele becomes the face adopted by changeling Ug. It’s a bit overplayed, but is 80s hair metal to the core. The film wisely doesn’t wear out it’s welcome either, cruising in at an economical 85 minutes.

The cast are having a good time. Dee Wallace is the quintessential 80s mom next door, but despite playing a humble Midwestern housewife, she has a quiet sexiness that makes her hot. Billy Bush is the all-American, Midwest father and is the subject of a lot of Critter abuse. Nadine van der Velde doesn’t get much to do but scream and find herself in peril, but she is cute and is a fine damsel. Grimes is the hero of the film and does a good job as the nerdy kid who rises to heroic status. Opper is funny as the drunk, conspiracy theorist handyman, Charlie and Terrence Mann is solid as the terminator-like Ug and MTV idol Johnny Steele. The flick also has small roles with familiar faces, like M. Emmet Walsh as Sheriff Harv, horror icon Lin Shaye as his receptionist, Sally and the before mentioned Billy Zane as April’s ill-fated boyfriend, Steve. The Crites are all puppets and are voiced…complete with subtitles…by voice actor Corey Burton.

Sure, it was most likely inspired by Joe Dante’s classic from two years earlier, but stands up on it’s own thanks to some fun direction by Stephen Herek and a cast that knows how to play the material. The FX on all levels are nostalgically cheesy and the film has the right mix of humor and horror to entertain. It’s also delightfully 80s and shows what kind of movies New Line Cinema churned out before The Lord of the Rings trilogy turned them into a mega-studio. It was a modest hit for New Line and a sequel was paraded out two years later. Fun movie and worth a watch for 80s nostalgia fans.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 critters.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN (1982)

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THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN (1982)

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Schlockmeisters Goran and Globus of Cannon Films entered the 80s teen sex comedy craze with this raunchy cult classic. The film has gained notoriety over the years, mostly because of it’s sad, bummer…and let’s face it, more realistic…ending. The film has nerdy virgin Gary (Lawrence Monoson) trying to get laid with pals Rick (Steve Antin) and David (Joe Rubbo). Gary falls head over heels for new girl Karen (Diane Franklin) who has fallen for the slicker and more handsome Rick. Movie then follows Gary as he pathetically and sometimes creepily, bemoans Karen and Rick’s romance until opportunity knocks to try to win Karen over.

Flick is written and directed by Boaz Davidson based closely on his own Israeli film Lemon Popsicle. It follows the usual 80s teen formula of a nerd trying to win a pretty girl, though here the film deviates by not supplying the predictable happy ending. Also, in most of these features the nerdy guy is a likable hero, here Davidson makes Gary a bit pathetic and creepy at times. Was it intentional or not, it’s hard to say, but Gary at times does seem like he’s a little too weird, like potential serial killer weird. It’s a little hard to want to see the sweet Karen with him, even though she is with Rick who turns out to be a real jerk. While not typical of teen comedies, it certainly seems more realistic in terms of how life works out in these situations, especially at that age. There are some fun bits, but there are also some sleazy ones, such as when the boys hire a hooker, who proceeds to humiliate the inexperienced Gary. The cast are all fine for this sort of thing, especially Franklin who makes for an appealing girl-next-door and there is a great soundtrack of 80s classics.

This flick is a cult classic and while it’s routine in some aspects, it breaks the traditional format by having a hero who is a bit of a creep and a bummer of an ending. It touches on some subjects, like abortion, that most films like this avoided yet does have the constant pursuit of sex by a group of horny teens that many of these comedies based their meager plots around. There is a lot of 80s nostalgia attached to it now, especially with a classics filled soundtrack and you could do much worse for an example of this popular 80s film trend.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 condoms.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: RAWHEAD REX (1987)

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RAWHEAD REX (1987)

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Rawhead Rex is a 1987 British horror based on a short story by Clive Barker. It has a pagan demon (Heinrich von Schellendorf) being unleashed from his tomb in Ireland when a farmer removes a protective stone. The creature goes on a killing spree, claiming victim after victim, till he murders the son (Hugh O’Conor) of an American researcher (David Dukes), who vows to find a way to destroy the monster once and for all.

Flick is lamely directed by George Pavlou from a screenplay by Barker himself. The director fails to bring any scares or intensity to the tale, even with Rex reigning bloody terror on Ireland’s trailer parks and tourists. You’d think that with this local legend being so well known in a small town, to the point of being included in a church stained glass window, that a local farmer would known better than to remove the stone that has imprisoned the beast for centuries. The creature himself is extremely rubbery and when it roars, you can see actor Heinrich von Schellendorf’s own mouth inside it’s maw. The monster is dressed like he’s a member of a Danish heavy metal band, complete with mohawk and there seems to be little rhyme or reason for his killing. It’s very random. There is also little explanation as to why or how Rex gains control of a local priest (Ronan Wilmott) by pissing on him. The acting from a cast of basic unknowns is quite underwhelming and despite the amusement of abundant gore, the make-up and visual FX are all quite cheesy. The climactic confrontation with Rubberhead Rex is also silly and we get little explanation as to why things work out the way they do. It seems made up as they go along…like the rest of the movie, to be honest.

I never understood the love for this flick. It has a decent fan-base and is fondly remembered, but I am not a fan. A recent revisit didn’t change my mind, even with laughably cheesy FX and a lot of 80s nostalgia. It’s not scary. It’s not intense. It has a very thin story that really doesn’t go anywhere and it’s creature is too rubbery and silly looking to be the least bit effective. There is a lot of bloodshed and heads ripped off, but otherwise, little to recommend. For it’s fans only.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 rubbery Rexs.

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: DRACULA’S DOG (1977)

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DRACULA’S DOG (1977)

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Also known as Zoltan: Hound of Dracula and based on the book Hounds of Dracula by Ken Johnson, this 1977 horror features the legendary vampire’s mutt trying to recreate his master. After being accidentally revived by Romanian soldiers excavating a tomb, Dracula’s manservant Veidt Smit (Reggie Nalder) and his dog Zoltan, set off to America to find Michael Drake (Michael Pataki) who is the last surviving member of Dracula’s bloodline. Once they find him, they plan to turn him into a bloodsucker and their new master. In hot pursuit is Van Helsing-like Inspector Vaclav Branco (José Ferrer) who plans to stop them and their fiendish plot.

Canine-centric vampire flick is written by Frank Ray Perilli, based on Johnson’s book and directed by Albert Band, father of Full Moon Studio’s Charles Band. It’s a silly movie for sure, though played very straight and if there is anything that actually works here it’s that Zoltan and his pack of vampire dogs are kinda fierce and spooky thanks to trainer Karl Miller. There are some fun goof-ups, along the way, like the opening scene that takes place in Romania, with the Romanian army, where a military jeep clearly says “U.S. Navy” on the hood. It’s low budget is no better illustrated than by the fact that it mostly takes place outdoors during a Drake family camping trip, reducing the need for sets. The make-up and gore FX are by Stan Winston, so at least they are done well and director Band does give the silly proceedings a bit of atmosphere. The fact that it’s a film about Dracula’s dog and is taken as seriously as it is, at the very least gives it’s makers some audacity points.

As for the cast, the doberman playing Zoltan is definitely the standout. He is a spooky pooch. Reggie Nalder (Salem’s Lot) is creepy as Smit, but Nalder always did nail creepy in his performances. Pataki plays it straight as the clueless last heir to Dracula’s coffin and José Ferrer takes the material very seriously as the valiant Inspector Branco. The supporting players are a mixed bag and the other dogs in the film prove the most effective actors in their roles.

This is a silly flick, though taken very seriously by the cast and crew. It makes it all the more watchable, but it still is about Dracula’s best friend, after all. There is some decent make-up and gore courtesy of a young Stan Winston and it does have some atmosphere to go along with the unintentional chuckles. Worth a look. Only in the 70s, folks!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 hounds of Dracula.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE THRONE OF FIRE (1983)

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THE THRONE OF FIRE (1983)

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Italian sword and sorcery flick has The Devil’s messenger, Belial (Harrison Muller) demanding witch, Azira (Beni Cardoso) bear him a child. He takes her, and after a thunder and lightening filled birth sequence, she bares him a cheesy rubber creature. The baby grows up into the powerful…and human looking…warlord, Morak (also Muller) whose mission is to kill the king and take his throne. It’s not just any throne, however, it is the Throne of Fire and only a rightful ruler may sit on it. Anyone else will be incinerated. To be worthy, he must marry the king’s daughter, the very reluctant Princess Valkari (Sabrina Siani) during a solar eclipse. Standing in his way is the warrior Siegfried (Pietro Torrisi, billed as Peter McCoy) who vows to free the princess and slay Morak.

In the 80s, the Italian cinema took advantage of any trend and cranked out Escape From N.Y. rip-offs, Road Warrior rip-offs, dozens of zombie films after Dawn of the Dead…and numerous Conan imitations, this being one. Throne…or Il trono di fuoco in it’s original Italianis directed by Franco Prosperi from a script by Nino Marino and is a cheesy, fun movie despite the serious tone. The sets look like they are from an episode of Star Trek, the fight scenes are badly choreographed and the dialogue, terrible and obviously dubbed…just listen to Morak happily reassuring his mom that he will slay women and children to get to the throne. Good times! Hero Siegfried is a muscular, bare-chested champion direct out of the Conan/Hercules clone catalogue and villain Morak’s army of thugs always attack him one at a time. We also get sexy, blonde, scantily-clad warrior princess Valkari, as played by Sabrina Siani, who seemed to be the Italian cinema’s go-to barbarian chick in the 80s. There is sorcery along with all the swordplay, including a spooky visit to the aptly named Well of Madness and various spells, both good and bad. The film is an amusing series of pitiful escapes and recaptures, taking place in and around the same castle, till the final confrontation which begs the question that if Morak could place the defiant Valkari under his spell, why did he wait till the end of the movie to do it? Who cares!…as long as we get to see people on the royal hot seat go up in flames every now and then. Wooden acting and wooden swords, it’s all a lot of cheesy fun with equally cheesy FX to go along with it.

Far from a classic…or even a good movie…Throne of Fire is a lot of “so bad it’s good” fun with swords and sorcery, muscles and maidens, all done with low budget ineptitude, but with plenty of dubbed charm. If nothing else, we have our loincloth wearing hero and animal-skin bikini clad heroine to provide eye candy, depending on your barbarian babe preference.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 warrior princesses before Xena made them cool.

 

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE UNSEEN (1980)

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THE UNSEEN (1980)

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Exceptionally boring horror finds a newswoman, her sister and a friend (Barbara Bach, Karen Lamm and Lois Young respectively) heading to a small town to cover an event and a mix-up leaving them with no place to stay. They stumble upon an old house, that is now used as a museum and creepy owner Ernest Keller (Sydney Lassick), invites them to use his spare rooms. So, of course, three pretty girls accept an invitation to stay in a spooky old house with a man who is creepy from the get go. No surprise, this old house has a secret and the three young women will soon find out it is a deadly secret.

As directed by Danny Steinmann (Friday the 13 Part V) from a script by Michael L. Grace, this is a dull flick with basically little going on, including a dismally low body count for a slasher and very little blood and gore. It takes almost the whole movie to finally gather a little intensity, when Bach’s reporter Jennifer finds herself in the cellar with the Keller’s hulking secret (Animal House’s Stephen Furst). Unfortunately the hulking secret is more laughable than menacing, so there really isn’t much to make up for the slow pace and lack of suspense we have endured up to this point. Sure, the house is spooky and Lassick’s Keller can be very unsettling, but it’s not enough to make this film scary or even involving and our three lasses aren’t endearing enough to get us emotionally invested. Silent Scream did the whole hidden, crazy relative in the house thing a whole lot better that same year.

Despite what should have been a star making turn in The Spy Who Loved Me, Bach’s career never really went anywhere. She’s a bit wooden here and isn’t really that memorable as a final girl when she finally meets “Junior”. As Junior, it’s almost sad to see Stephen Furst, who gained notoriety as Flounder in Animal House, as, basically, a giant, deranged baby and the effect of his tantrums and efforts to kill Bach are laughable with the way the character is directed. It’s Sydney Lassick who is really creepy and even he goes a bit too over-the-top at times to remain effective. Lamm and Young are fine as Bach’s companions and Lelia Goldoni is sympathetic as Ernest’s abused sister/lover and mother of Junior.

This flick has a reputation, not sure why, but there is something about 80s horrors, even the worst have some sort of following. It was a great decade for horror. This one, however, is dull and even when it picks up, it provides unintentional laughs instead of chills. Barbara Bach shows little of the fire she showed as a Bond girl and the late Stephen Furst’s role is more embarrassing than memorable. I suppose if you’re an 80s completest, you should at least check it out, but don’t expect much.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 very large diapers.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CONQUEST (1983)

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CONQUEST (1983)

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Sword and sorcery flick from Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci tells the story of Illias (Andrea Occhipinti) who travels to a dangerous land as part of a coming of age ritual. With only a magic bow, he enters a dark land ruled by witch Ocron (Sabrina Siani). Along the way he meets warrior Mace (Jorge Rivero) and the two team up to try to defeat Ocron, who has set her sights on Illias and his bow.

Directed by Fulci from a script and story by four people, no less, there is actually very little plot here considering all that collaborated on it. Like most of Fulci’s flicks it is atmospheric and there is plenty of his trademarked gore, but it’s hard to get involved in something which has so little story to get involved in. Illias, at first, has no real goals entering this dark land and only finds a purpose once he sees the effects of Ocron’s influence and becomes a target of she and her werewolf-like minions. Visually the flick appears to be filmed entirely through smoke and a gauze filter, though Fulci’s visual style still comes through even with minimal sets and costumes. No better example than Ocron herself who is a beautiful nude woman who wears a spooky gold mask and seems to have a snake fetish. Sexy and creepy! The gore FX are solid as in all Fulci films, but the animation effects, and creature costumes are cheap and cheesy. Frequent Dario Argento collaborator and Goblin keyboardist Claudio Simonetti provides the music and Alejandro Ulloa provides the murky cinematography. The cast are all fairly wooden, with only Jorge Rivero adding some life to the roguish Mace and Sabrina Siani’s natural charms making for a visually tantalizing villain.

With a career of mostly horror flicks this was an unusual project choice for Fulci. The film has a lot of his trademarked elements, but suffers from having what barely qualifies as a plot. The costumes and sets are minimal and the non-gore FX are cheesy at best. The acting is also sub-par and the film oddly switches focus from Illias to Mace in the last act, which negates any interest we might have had in the young lad’s quest. The film is still watchable and there are some things to enjoy, but it is another sign of the legendary director running out of gas after delivering so many classics just a few years earlier.

-MonsterZero NJ

Beautiful Italian actress Sabrina Siani, sans creepy mask.

Rated 2 and 1/2 arrows from a bow far more magical than the film it’s in.

 

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