TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: RAW DEAL (1986)

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RAW DEAL (1986)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in this 1986 crime drama as disgraced FBI agent turned small town sheriff Mark Kaminski. His former boss, FBI chief Harry Shannon (Darren McGavin), offers Kaminski a chance for a reprieve, by helping him get vengeance when his FBI agent son Blair (Steve Holt) is murdered in a mob hit. In an operation conducted outside the agency, Kaminski infiltrates the Chicago crime family of mob boss Luigi Patrovita (Sam Wanamaker) as ambitious hood Joseph P. Brenner. Soon Kaminski/Brenner is chipping away at the organization from the inside, while getting close to beautiful mob moll Monique (Kathryn Harrold). His job won’t be easy, as he needs to convince Patrovita’s enforcer Rocca (Paul Shenar) that he is legit and Rocca’s sadistic henchmen Keller (Robert Davi), is not only highly suspicious of the new family member, but jealous of his budding relationship with Monique.

Raw Deal is one of Schwarzenegger’s lesser films, opening between larger hits like Commando and Predator. The film is directed by John Irvin from a script and story by four different people, despite a very simple ‘undercover in the mob’ plot. Irvin’s style is very workman-like and that suits this less bombastic Schwarzenegger vehicle, which is more crime drama than action flick. Maybe that is why it was a bit of a box office disappointment when first released, as Arnie doesn’t really crank up the body count till the last act. There are some gun fights and fisticuffs along the way, with Arnold delivering his usual one-liners after kicking butt. It is true to the 80s film style, even if toned down a bit, with Arnold effortlessly dodging bullets, yet mowing down his adversaries, until we need a bullet strike or two, so it doesn’t look too easy for the Austrian Oak. The action is well staged and the trio of Davi, Wanamaker and Shenar make suitable enough bad guys to Arnold’s noble hero, with Kathryn Harrold being very sexy and likable as the mob moll caught in the middle. If you think about the proceedings, though, as this isn’t an official FBI undercover assignment, Kaminski is actually being used as a straight-up assassin, by the vengeful Shannon. All the more amusing, that the film ties everything up in a neat bow by it’s conclusion when Kaminiski was basically carrying out vigilante justice and probably should have been arrested along with his former boss. But, hey…this was the 80s, however, and the action films then were far less concerned with reality, Miranda Rights, or legal consequences, when their heroes took out the bad guys. Either way, it is entertaining, but a very routine film for an action star at the top of his game and known for his more over-the-the top action flicks. 

Overall, the film underperformed in 1986, most likely because it was a dialed down flick when people expected more bang for the buck from it’s star. Arnold’s acting wasn’t quite honed enough to go the Goodfella’s route quite yet and it takes to the last act for him to really bring out the big guns…and even that is subdued compared to Commando’s one man army finale. It’s still an entertaining enough movie, just more of a routine action/crime thriller for Schwarzenegger, who rebounded at the box office the following year with the action classic Predator.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) bullets.

 

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: THE SACRED, THE PYRAMID and DEEP IN THE DARKNESS

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THE SACRED (2012)

Horror flick did pass the time and had some effective moments despite a familiar story. Flick has pretty writer Jessie (Heather Roop) going alone to a recently inherited family cabin to work and not only experiencing paranormal activity but, a creepy possessed doll as well. Director Brett Donowho gives us some effective moments and some atmosphere from Carey and Shane Van Dyke’s derivative script and I liked that the film had some exploitation touches as it found numerous excuses to get the shapely Miss Roop into various and plentiful stages of undress. There is even some spooky but, enticing girl/girl action as Jessie gets supernaturally seduced by an equally sexy pair of specters. Not a very good movie in a traditional sense but, certainly found it’s ways to entertain, one way or another. Also stars B-Movie regular Jeff Fahey as the traditional creepy caretaker who knows more than he lets on.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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THE PYRAMID (2014)

The disappointing thing about this found footage horror is it starts out pretty good with a group of explorers having found an entire pyramid buried under the sands of Egypt that pre-dates all the others. The initial journey inside is spooky and works well…till the ridiculously bad CGI critters show up and it becomes a silly SYFY Channel level monster-on-the-loose flick. It’s well directed to a degree by Grégory Levasseur and the script from Daniel Meersand and Nick Simon starts out OK, but, it just gets really silly in it’s last act and the phony creatures don’t help. Add to that the character of “Fitzie” (James Buckley) who was so annoying, you begged for his demise and you’ve got a potentially interesting horror that goes downhill steadily after a promising first act. Too bad, there was potential here for a fun flick. Also stars Ashley Hinshaw and Denis O’Hare.

2 star rating

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DEEP IN THE DARKNESS (2014)

Despite some flaws, most coming in the third act, and a familiar story, this flick does manage to be entertaining. Story has city doctor Michael Cayle (Sean Patrick Thomas) uprooting his family to the rural community of Ashborough to set up his practice. Obviously, this is a secluded town with a very dark secret…one the good doctor and family may not escape. Though we’ve seen the scenario many times before with films like Children Of The Corn, Wake Wood and Jack Ketchum’s book Off Season, director Colin Theys still gives us an effective and atmospheric chiller from John Doolan’s script based on Micael Laimo’s novel. It’s only in it’s final third that things get a little out of hand, get very predictable and the plot holes show the most but, leading up to that is fairly entertaining. The production has a TV movie feel…it’s made by Chiller TV…but, the make-up FX and gore are well done. Thomas also makes a good hero, though none of the cast really make a strong impression in their roles. Also stars Dean Stockwell and Blanche Baker.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and SHAKEDOWN

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This week’s double feature combines two movies I’ve covered before but, since NYC was on a lot of people’s minds this past week and the World Trade Centers figure prominently in both features, I decided to pair up two of my favorite 80s action guilty pleasures! Enjoy!

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ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

Escape From New York is one of my all time favorite B movies and a bonafide film classic. I instantly fell in love with this film upon seeing it opening night at the legendary Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. and John Carpenter solidified himself as one of my favorite directors.

An outrageously original idea has New York City in a war torn, crime filled, future turned into a maximum security prison, and legendary director Carpenter makes it work by taking his subject matter just seriously enough to make the audience buy it. Add to that a colorful cast of characters, including one of the greatest, and sadly underused, film anti-heros of all time, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) and you have the recipe for a B movie classic. The story is simple, war hero turned outlaw, Snake Plissken has been captured and is about to be sentenced to life imprisonment in New York City Penitentiary. But, fate intervenes and the President’s (Donald Pleasence) plane is hijacked on the way to a crucial peace summit and crashed inside the city. Former special forces soldier Plissken is the only man skilled enough to sneak in quietly and get him out alive and Snake now has a chance at a full pardon for all his crimes if he takes the job. But, a vicious gang leader called The Duke Of New York (Isaac Hayes) has other ideas for both The President and Snake, who has less then 24 hours to complete his mission or the world goes back to war.

Director and co-writer (with Nick Castle) Carpenter creates some nice tension and suspense and his visual eye is great at creating a gloomy hellhole out of the world’s greatest city. And Dean Cundey’s cinematography is absolutely beautiful as it captures the world inside New York, which is very effectively portrayed on a small budget. Carpenter moves the film along well, although not as fast paced as today’s audience are used to, and there is plenty of action and chases to keep one entertained. And despite being released in 1981, this film may be the last film to have a real 70s feel to it before the Lethal Weapons and Die Hards changed action films forever. Another film that inspired many and was imitated many times and another great Carpenter film score to add to the atmosphere.

As for the cast… Kurt Russell does his best Clint Eastwood as Snake and it’s only natural then to pair him up with Eastwood co-star Lee Van Cleef as Police Commissioner, Bob Hauk. Rounding out the cast is Halloween vet Donald Pleasence as the President, Harry Dean Stanton as Brain, Carpenter’s then wife, Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie, Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie and legendary soul man Isaac Hayes as The Duke of New York. And not to forget, there is also genre favorite Tom Atkins as Hauk’s right hand man, Rehme and frequent Carpenter collaborator Charles Cyphers as the Secretary Of State. A simply classic B-movie sci-fi/action flick and one of my all time favorites! MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA:  The studio wanted Charles Bronson as Snake, but, Carpenter fought for his choice of former Disney child actor, Russell and the rest is history. Also, the SPFX were done in part by a then unknown James Cameron, who went on to direct Terminator and Titanic. And despite it’s setting, most of the film was lensed in St. Louis and L.A. with only one night actual shooting in NYC at the Statue of Liberty.

One of the greatest B-movies of all time!

A classic 4 Snakes

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Shakedown

SHAKEDOWN (1988)

Shakedown is an 80s action guilty pleasure from Exterminator director James Glickenhaus that is not only his best film but, a darn entertaining cop thriller that is one of the last to take place in NYC before the 42nd street clean up and thus presents New York in all it’s sleazy pre-90s glory.

Shakedown is the story of public defender Roland Dalton (Peter Weller) who is moving on to a Wall Street law firm, run by his future father in-law, and as his last case, defends a drug dealer (Richard Brooks) accused of killing a cop. But, the dealer says it was self defense, he was defending himself in a robbery and the officer never identified himself. Dalton investigates along with lone wolf cop Richie Marks (Sam Elliott) and they discover a conspiracy of criminals and dirty cops who now want them both dead.

Sure some of the action is a bit overblown and the FX in the final showdown very cheesy but, Shakedown, as written and directed by Glickenhaus, is a down and dirty good time with a New York City bathed in neon lights, covered with empty crack vials and where sex, drugs and murder are a common occurrence. Add some 80s nostalgia to the mix and you have a whole six pack worth of Saturday night entertainment that is both grind-house action flick and slick crime thriller. But, aside from it’s dirty, backstreet depiction of New York and some over the top action scenes, what really makes Shakedown work is that Elliott and Weller makes such a great team. They work very well together and it’s a shame the film never caught on enough to further the adventures of Marks and Dalton. The characters and the actor who portray them, really click and begged for a series. Supporting cast all perform well too, including Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas as drug lord Nicky Carr, Blanche (Sixteen Candles) Baker as Dalton’s fiancé and hot Patricia Charbonneau as the assistant D.A. and Dalton’s former flame.One of my favorite 80s guilty pleasure action flicks. A fun movie.

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: The original title for the film and it’s title in other parts of the world was Blue Jean Cop which is a term used in the film for a cop on the take (dirty cops can afford designer jeans as opposed to Wranglers or Levis). Also, Director Glickenhaus made a few more flicks, including the campy Gary Busey action vehicle Bulletproof, before leaving show business to work at his father’s investment firm and became a successful investment professional and car collector.

3 and 1/2 bullets!

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (2007)

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THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (2007)

I’ll start off by saying that this is a highly unpleasant film and I don’t think I could ever watch it again. That being said, I have to give the filmmaker’s credit for making a very effective film that is all the more horrifying since it is partially based on the real life torture and murder of Sylvia Likens in 1965, by not only the woman whose care she was in, but by the woman’s children and some of the neighboring children as well. The source material for the film is Jack Ketchum’s fictional novel of the same name which is loosely based on the Likens murder and tells the story of two girls Meg (Blythe Auffarth) and Susan (Madeline Taylor) who are sent to live with their Aunt Ruth (a sinister Blanche Baker) and her three sons after the death of their parents. Ruth already shows signs of being unhinged as she treats the neighborhood kids to alcohol and cigarettes, but really takes a dislike to the very pretty and mature Meg, especially when she takes away the attention of the boys from Ruth. Soon Meg is targeted for severe punishments that escalate into imprisonment, torture, rape and mutilation by Ruth, along with her sons and their friends. Hidden away and with no one to come looking for her, Meg is helpless to their increasingly violent and depraved acts while a fearful and equally helpless Susan can do nothing to save her and the neighbors don’t want to know anything beyond their own idyllic four walls.

As directed by Gregory M. Wilson, this is one hell of a rough movie to sit through. Wilson wisely implies the worst of the torturous acts, but there is enough of it for you to get the idea of what kind of nightmare this poor young girl is going through and when his camera turns away from the rougher events, you know enough of what is going on to be properly mortified as your imagination does all the work. And what’s even more horrifying than the acts committed, is that they are being committed willingly and almost enthusiastically by so many and by those so young. Not only did this poor girl do nothing to instigate this, but as you’re watching, you can’t help think that to a degree, this actually happened. Obviously, Ketchum jacked up the viciousness and cruelty to make his novel more of a horror story and changed names and certain details, but it is still based on fact.

The cast also help make this very effective, with Baker being a completely detestable and horrible person, simply a monster in suburban housewife clothing. Auffarth makes a sweet and undeserving victim, who we really like and thus feel terrible for, as we watch helplessly from our seats as she becomes the object of the worst in human nature and by those who themselves are far too young to be even thinking of such vile acts, much less engaging in them. Auffarth’s portrayal of Meg’s gradual giving up and submitting to what’s being done to her is enough to crack even the hardest of hearts.

This is not a film I can recommend per say as much as just acknowledging the filmmakers’ accomplishment at the telling of a truly horrible fact based series of events. This was probably not an easy book to adapt, but the script by Daniel Farrands and Philip Nutman along with Wilson’s direction, are both unflinching and yet restrained. They get the story told without crossing the line into exploitation, as it easily could have done.

So credit where credit is due, you horrified a guy who has been watching all kinds of horror movies for over four decades and seen some truly gut-wrenching things committed to film. It was an effective and well made movie that I never want to watch again. Also stars Grant Show and Catherine Mary Stewart as the oblivious parents of David (Daniel Manche), one of the few kids who shows a bit of moral backbone and William Atherton as the adult David whose painful remembrance narrates the tragic tale. A horrifying film, but one that avoids being exploitive about its easily exploitable subject matter.

3 stars. I just feel my usual rating style would be a bit crass considering the truth based subject matter.

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