TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SPACE RAIDERS (1983)

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SPACE RAIDERS (1983)

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

Actually saw this fun little Roger Corman flick in a theater back in 1983. It’s a slight departure for Corman as it was more kid friendly in tone and came with a PG rating. It tells the tale of a young boy named Peter (David Mendenhall), who while playing in the warehouse of his father’s company, gets caught in the middle of a firefight between security and a band of pirates. Peter hides in the very cargo ship the pirates wind up stealing and now is trapped with them as they flee. He slowly endears himself to the band of thieves as he and they are pursued by both bounty hunters and a massive robot warship.

While basically void of the usual blood and boobs that Corman’s flicks were notorious for, this flick does have his thriftiness, as it’s effects are basically recycled from Corman classics like Battle Beyond The Stars, Galaxy Of Terror, Forbidden World and Android. The James Horner score is lifted from Battle Beyond the Stars and Humanoids From The Deep as well. Written and directed by Howard R. Cohen, the film makes the most of it’s minuscule budget and what it can’t accomplish with modest action and recycled battle scenes, it does with heart. Despite not being big on action and having seen a lot of the space battles before in the film’s mentioned, the film is harmless and fun in spite of it’s economical approach in a time where big budget space adventures were becoming common. It’s loaded with charm, as were most of Corman’s flicks, even if it couldn’t possibly compete with the same year’s Return Of The Jedi.

The cast also give this a bit of spunk, too. Mendenhall is cute and likable as the wide-eyed Peter who is having the time of his life with a crew of pirates. While on the subject, the likable band of rogues is captained by Vince Edwards as Hawk. Edwards, who was doctor Ben Casey on TV from 1961 to 1966, plays the ex-soldier with a heart of gold with the appropriate grit and grizzle. He is joined by soap stars Thom Christopher and Patsy Pease as Flightplan and Amanda respectively, with Drew Snyder and future Ghoulies director Luca Bercovici rounding out the crew. B-Movie icon Dick Miller also appears. Everybody takes the material seriously enough to make it work, but appear to be having fun.

This is not a great movie by any lengths, but it has a charm and heart and that makes it fun despite the low budget limitations. You have to give Corman credit for getting another movie out of SPFX, sets and music from past productions and having his filmmakers show some restraint to deliver a more kid friendly flick. One of the last of Corman’s New World Pictures productions before he sold it.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 recycled spaceships from Battle Beyond The Stars.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SCALPS (1983)

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SCALPS (1983)

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Scalps tells the gory and grim tale of a group of students on an archeological dig in the middle of the desert, who are warned by local Native American, Billy Ironwing (George Randall) to stay away from the area known as the Black Trees. The group ignore the old man and that’s exactly where they start to excavate. An unearthed medallion releases the spirit of long dead Native American sorcerer Black Claw and now he possesses one of their number and begins to kill the other members of the party, taking their scalps as gruesome trophies.

This is an awful movie written and directed by schlockmeister Fred Olen Ray, who made a career out of amateurish flicks like this. Not to say that there isn’t some entertainment in it’s badness, but it is a borderline incompetent flick at times. The acting by it’s main cast of relative unknowns is awful and the tone starts out almost comic in early scenes with an archeology professor (first Superman actor Kirk Alyn) and then shifts to more serious once we get to the desert…then back to comic again for the finale. The make-up effects are delightfully awful with a muppet-like lion creature laughably appearing at times and the rubbery transformation of possessed student Randy (Richard Hench) into Black Claw. The abundant gore however is not as bad, so at least we get some fairly effect gory deaths and scalpings to keep our interest when we are not laughing at the terrible dialog and performances.

For the most part this is a terrible movie, but as we know there can be some entertainment to be had out of terrible. There was some decent and prolific gore and certainly has heavy doses of 80s nostalgia, especially with it’s heavy electronic score by Drew Neuman and Eric Rasmussen. It has cameos from the first man to play Superman, Kirk Alyn and even the legendary Forrest J. Ackerman, who created the equally legendary Famous Monsters Of Filmland magazine. Oh, well…what kind of movie do you expect produced by someone credited as The Eel?

-MonsterZero NJ

2 rubbery, vengeful Native American spirits.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE GATE (1987)

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THE GATE (1987)

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

The Gate is a fun 1980s horror flick that was geared more towards kids, but still kept enough of an edge within it’s PG-13 rating. It tells the story of nerdy young Glen (Blade’s Stephen Dorff) who discovers that when a storm blows his treehouse over, it’s left a deep pit in his backyard. When his parents go away, big sister Al (Christa Denton) is left to babysit and while she throws a sleepover party for her friends, Glen and pal Terry (Louis Tripp) discover that the hole in the yard is actually a gateway to Hell when they accidentally unleash a demonic presence into the teen filled house.

This is an enjoyable little flick with it’s cheesy 80s effects, including some stop-motion animated demon minions and their massive leader. Under the direction of filmmaker Tibor Takács from a script by Micahel Nankin, it could have been a little more energetic and benefited from a faster pace, but still has heart and a bit of a dark side which saves it from being an outright kid’s movie. Takács directs a bit too by-the-numbers for it to be a real blast, but the second half really ignites as creatures, zombies and whirling vortexes lay siege to Glen’s home as he tires to figure a way to close the portal and send it’s occupants back where they came from. Being kids, they use everything from Heavy Metal music to verses from the Bible to get results until it’s Spielbergian final solution. The SPFX are very dated, thought that does add some charm, and there is a very 80s electronic score by Michael Hoenig and J. Peter Robinson to add to the overall 80s nostalgia the flick now has.  The cast of child actors all do well in their parts and give their characters some life beyond the stereotypical suburban kid peronas that they are written as. Some like Dorff and Kelly Rowan, who plays one of Al’s friends, went on to continue acting as adults, while other’s careers faded out after another role or two.

This flick has a cult following and is considered by some a cult classic, especially memorable for Randall Cook’s (The Thing’s legendary deleted stop motion sequence) little demonic minions that were brought to life by stop-motion animation and rubber suits on large scale sets. It is fun, though director Tibor Takács could have given it a bit more energy and urgency. The pace could have been a bit quicker, too, but it is still entertaining and has a lot of charming, cheesy SPFX effects to put a smile on our face if three suburban kids battling rubbery demons isn’t enough.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 rubbery minions.

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CULT CLASSIC CUTIES: PAULA IRVINE as LIZ in PHANTASM II!

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Cult Classic Cuties are characters from some of our favorite cult classics and midnight movies who captured our hearts and/or actresses who got our attention but, sadly, never returned to these type of flicks or whose sexy stars shined only briefly, not quite achieving scream queen status. And this installment’s cutie is…

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PAULA IRVINE as LIZ REYNOLDS in PHANTASM II (1988)!

In the 80s, we got a lot of sequels and horror franchises were popular, so, Universal decided to give it a try with reviving the Phantasm series. Thus, almost ten years after his classic Phantasm, Don Coscarelli returned to his creation with Phantasm II! In it, Michael (now James LeGros) has a psychic link with a pretty young woman named Liz, as played by cutie Paula Irvine. As Mike and the ever-faithful Reggie (Reggie Bannister), are fated to take on the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) once more, girl-next-door Liz proves quite a feisty and resourceful heroine as she escapes death at the sinister fiend’s hands more than once…and has our attention the entire time!
Irvine had only started acting a year earlier in a few TV movies before being cast as Liz in Phantasm II. It was her only horror role after an appearance in the Bates Motel TV movie and Irvine only acted for about six more years doing various TV series before leaving acting in 1994. She is a perfect example of a Cult Classic Cutie as the adorable actress starred in this one horror classic sequel and then disappeared from the genre and then acting altogether, a few years later. The still gorgeous actress speaks fondly of the role, though, and can be heard doing so on Scream Factory’s blu-ray special edition in the bonus features.

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(click on the poster for a full review)

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Irvine may have abandoned the horror genre after battling the Tall Man in Phantasm IIbut, after all, that’s a tough act to follow. She did make an impression on horror fans with her long 80s blonde hair, piercing eyes and feisty determination to not wind up another victim of one of horrors most legendary icons…and for that she fully earns her title as a Cult Classic Cutie.

Be sure to check out our Cult Classic Cuties (click right here on the link) section to see more crush worthy ladies from cult films and midnight movies!

-MonsterZero NJ

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988)

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KILLER CLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988)

Sometimes you have to lighten things up a bit during the Halloween season and what better way than with this cult classic horror/comedy!… and one I actually saw in a 42nd Street grind house just before the big ‘clean-up’ ended an era. My only time in one of those theaters and I’m glad I had the expeience.

The story is simple and echoes one of those alien invasion flicks from the 50s with a small California college town being set-upon by a race of aliens, who resemble clowns, with plans of taking over the town and harvesting it’s citizens for food. It’s up to local guy Mike (Grant Kramer) and his girlfriend Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) to somehow convince the stubborn sheriff (John Allen Nelson)… who is also Debbie’s ex-boyfriend… that this is no college prank and the townsfolk are in the midst of a cotton candy covered nightmare. Can Mike save his town from the Bozo-like invaders or will they all find themselves taken to the aliens’ big top shaped mothership to be used as clown food!

Cult classic is a deviously fun romp written, produced and directed by the Chiodo brothers. Every clown cliche in the book is utilized in amusingly gruesome manner from people sealed in cotton candy cocoons, ferocious shadow puppets and popcorn that evolves into jack-in-the-box like creatures, to combating the invaders by shooting them in their big red noses. As shot by Alfred Taylor, the film is as candy colored as it’s villainous clowns and their lethal toys and the production design echoes the nightmare circus it’s supposed to be. Every prop and set has an appropriately circus-esque look but, with a sinister edge that really helps enhance the atmosphere of a sinister big top that director Stephen Chiodo gives this ghoulish delight. And the director does succeed in giving this flick both a sense of dread and a sense of fun as the alien clowns are quite amused by the carnage they create and so are we. We are almost ashamed at how much delight we take in watching a killer clown luring in a little girl while holding a giant mallet behind it’s back or a tiny clown bullied by a biker who gets his block knocked off by the little guy, literally. The Chiodos stuff more clown cliche’s than can fit into a clown car into their midnight movie thriller and all with a sinister edge and the creature effects portraying the villains are very well done, as the rest of the visual FX are charmingly old fashioned. The film can be both spooky and side-splittingly funny and more often than not, at the same time and it works perfectly. Add in John Massari’s spooky circus music imbued score and you’ve got yourself a cult classic midnight movie that accomplishes pretty much everything it set out to do!

The cast all play it fairly straight too, just like in those old 1950’s sci-fi flicks but, you can tell they are having a good time and there are plenty of tongue-in-cheek moments. John Vernon’s mean old cop Mooney chews up the scenery a bit but, it fits his character. Other than that Grant Cramer, John Allen Nelson and Suzanne Snyder all take things serious enough to make it work with the film’s tone of a semi-straight 50s style alien invasion flick… with the invaders being scary clowns with diabolical senses of humor instead of little green men.

A deviously fun cult classic and an almost perfect flick to lighten up your Halloween movie schedule when you need a break from the more intense stuff. Watch it on a night with Night Of The Creeps and The Monster Squad and you’ll have a fun film festival that will still keep the Halloween spirit ghoulishly well.

3 and 1/2 killer klowns!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)

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RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)

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

I have to admit, I am not the biggest fan of this flick. True, I was first disappointed because, I was expecting something far more serious from the co-creators of Night Of The Living Dead and Alien and instead got a silly horror/comedy trying a little too hard to be hip. But, over the years I’ve come to realize that simply not all of the bits work and it wears out it’s welcome and gimmick long before it’s 90 minutes are over. Sure it has some fun scenes and a few quotable lines and I understand that many consider this a cult classic and I respect that, but, to me the flick is mediocre at best.

The film uses the original Night Of The Living Dead as a springboard, as medical supply warehouse worker Frank (Poltergeist’s James Karen) tells newbie Freddy (Jason Lives’ Thom Mathews) that the film Night Of The Living Dead actually happened and and George Romero changed the details to keep the army off his back. The zombie outbreak was caused by a military chemical weapon called Trioxin that accidentally raised the dead and an army screw-up brought some of the containers here to Louisville, Kentucky. He shows him some drums that he claims contain the imprisoned zombies and… of course… one gets punctured and Frank and Freddy become infected and the zombie inside escapes. With Freddy’s friends on the way to pick him up and party in a nearby graveyard and warehouse owner Burt’s (Clu Gulager) misguided idea to cremate a re-animated corpse during a rainstorm, it all adds up to a night of terror for all involved as the dead rise with one thing on their hungry dead minds… BRAINS!

There is some witty stuff in director Dan (Alien) O’Bannon’s script from a story by Rudi Ricci and NOTLD co-creators John A. Russo and Russell Streiner but, a lot of it is fairly by-the-numbers, too and adding a lot of punk rock songs to the soundtrack doesn’t really cover up the fact that this should have been a lot more clever. It uses another classic movie as a springboard and while there is the initial clever notion that NOTLD actually happened and there was a cover-up, the film doesn’t really use it for anything other then another routine zombie siege flick. I do like the notion that they eat brains to ease the pain of death. That was a clever touch, but, aside from that, it’s just another board the windows and doors zombie movie with some only half-successful comedy and slapstick thrown in. O’Bannon directs the proceedings with a fairly pedestrian hand, translating the script to screen with very little style or finesse. The film could have used a director who was willing to really go for broke with the premise and doesn’t play it safe like O’Bannon. Even Scream Queen Linnea Quigley’s nude cemetery striptease is done quickly and over before you can blink without ever even trying to exploit the whole nude minx in a sacred cemetery angle. The gore and creature FX are well done but, stay well within the R-rated limits and the last act simply gets annoying as characters shout, curse and cry continuously about their dilemma but, accomplish very little. The slapstick reaches a fever pitch but, O’Bannon is not skilled or experienced enough a director to keep it down to a tolerable level and let’s his cast over-act and it just gets grating. The film basically showed us all it had in the first half and now just barrels along to it’s predictable conclusion. There are some fun zombie bits but, they are few and far between as the action remains focused on those trapped in the mortuary and warehouse… and splitting the characters up and thus our focus, doesn’t help things either. It’s no surprise when the film is discussed that the conversation and quotes are all about the zombies as the human characters never really register.

The cast all over-act a lot, especially Karen who you just want to shut up sometimes. Don Calfa as the mortician is in constant bug-eyes mode even before the zombie show up and Clu Gulager is shamelessly unrestrained the whole flick. Quigley is certainly fetching as nude punk rocker/zombie Trash but, her line readings are flat and her dialog, not much better. And the film sadly makes little use of it’s naked, curvaceous brain-eating sex kitten… again, O’Bannon playing it safe. Mathews spends most of his time shivering and whimpering as he takes over an hour to turn into a zombie and the rest of the cast play stereotypical Hollywood cliche’ punk rockers and hipsters… two groups that would never have hung out together in real life. Even heroine Beverly Randolph is reduced to a crying, shrieking mess and it gives us no strong characters to endear ourselves too or identify with.

So, in conclusion my original opinion remains. The film has some fun bits but, overall plays it far too safe and doesn’t really make good use of it’s premise. Anything clever the film has to offer is basically in the set-up and aside from a legitimately creepy dialog scene with a dead corpse, the film really doesn’t do anything new with the whole zombie formula except to make a joke out of it in an attempt to be hip. There is some fun nostalgia at this point and the flick is very 80, but, overall it’s an overrated attempt to get more gas out of a classic movie’s legendary status and needed a far more deft and clever hand behind the camera to succeed in what it set out to do. Watchable but, very overrated. Made enough money to warrant a number of sequels with only Part 3 being a recommendable watch…and one that might be actually better than the film that inspired it.

2 and 1/2 tar men.

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IT CAME FROM ASIAN CINEMA: MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976)

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MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976)

Master Of The Flying Guillotine is widely renown as one of the greatest martial arts films of the 70s era and maybe of all time. It is a cult classic and rightfully so, with not only presenting the traditional elements one expects in this kind of film but, some colorful characters and fantasy elements too!

The story has the Ching Dynasty leaders creating a new martial arts weapon, the flying guillotine, and entrusting this lethal decapitation device to the hands of blind master assassin Fung Sheng Wu Chi (Kam Kang), whose job is to hunt down any rebels and eliminate them. When his two disciples are killed by rebel leader, the One Armed Boxer (Jimmy Wang Yu, who also wrote and directed), he sets out to avenge them and thus the two are fated to collide… and do when a martial arts tournament inadvertently brings them together and sets them on their path to an epic confrontation… a path filled with bloodshed and treachery. One Armed Boxer might be able to defeat Wu Chi but, can he defeat the flying guillotine?

Guillotine is a lot of fun, especially if you are a fan of martial arts flicks from this classic era. Director, writer and star Jimmy Wang Yu brings all the martial arts action one expects and adds in some colorful and eccentric characters to populate the tournament where a lot of the action takes place. We get a Thai boxer (Sham Chin-bo), an Indian Yogi (Wong Wing-sang) and even the tournament president’s feisty and skilled daughter (Doris Lung) who all battle in the competition with an assortment of weapons and martial arts styles. It’s all very entertaining to watch as we wait for the epic showdown between blind assassin and one armed rebel leader. And when that finally happens, we aren’t disappointed. Yu keeps the action coming fast and furious and the different styles make for some varied fight choreography and his visual style is simple and well photographed in widescreen by Chiu Yao-hu. It’s a simple story and yet it is crafted to allow for a lot of variety in the action and characters and a lot of action, period. And most of all, it’s a good time. Add in a cool electronic score by Frankie Chan and it becomes a real martial arts treat.

The cast all perform their eclectic characters well, giving each there own style and personality. As the star, Jimmy Wang Yu makes his One Armed Boxer, who is a returning character from his 1971 One Armed Boxer, a nobel and humble man who is lethal when provoked to fight. And as his adversary, Kam Kang is a dangerous and heartless villain whose mastery of the flying guillotine makes him a formidable foe. The rest seem to being having a good time with their colorful characters and handle the fight choreography well.

All in all, this is a martial arts classic and if you are a fan of the 70s era martial arts cinema it is a must see. The film has everything you’d want in one of these flicks, action, drama and a variety of fighters and fighting styles and not without a little bit of humor amidst all the combat and drama. Add to that some wonderful 70s nostalgia from a type of film that they don’t make anymore and you have not only a bonfire classic but, a damn good time!

4 flying guillotines.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL and SUBURBIA

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This week’s double feature is a repost of one of my very first double features and it is in tribute to the sad passing of the last of the original members of The Ramones, Tommy Ramone. Farewell and R.I.P.

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ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979)

Roger Corman produced cult classic featuring legendary punk rockers The Ramones and revolves around their biggest fan, rebellious teen Riff Randall (P.J. Soles), and her efforts to see her favorite band in concert. But, standing in her way is the new stuffed shirt principle, Miss Togar (Mary Woronov) who’s out to stop her, ban Rock ‘N’ Roll and end the fun at Vince Lombardi High School forever. Can Riff and the Ramones save the day for the students of VLHS? Musical comedy is light and fun as directed by Allan Arkush and features a lot of the Ramones music, and who can argue with that! There are a lot of funny set pieces to go along with the great music and most of the characters are played for laughs including Togar and stuffy music teacher Mr. McGee (Paul Bartel). Made in 1979, film is actually ahead of it’s time as it comes across more as an 80’s teen comedy like Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Flick made cult icons out of P.J. Soles, Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel, who himself directed the cult classics Death Race 2000 and Eating Raoul. A fun Rock ‘n’ Roll musical and a must see for Corman and Ramones fans. Also starring Clint Howard, VInce Van Patten and Dey Young as Riff’s best friend, Kate.

MonsterZero NJ trivia: Rock ‘N’ Roll High School was shot by frequent John Carpenter collaborator Dean Cundey (Escape From New York, The Thing).

Available now from the great folks at Shout Factory!

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Farewell and R.I.P. to one of the greatest bands of all time!

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SUBURBIA (1984)

Another Roger Corman produced cult classic about a group of poor urban punk rockers in L.A., who, as outcasts, come together and form the “family” unit, in an abandoned house, that was denied them in their own dysfunctional homes. Director/writer Penelope Sheeris overcomes the minimal acting talent from her cast of unknowns to create a strong, poignant and sometimes shocking portrayal of the poor urban youth during the 80’s era recession, who got caught up in the underground punk movement. Spheeris avoids the stereotypical portrayal of punks that most films, from then till now, have embraced and portrays them as human beings whom society and their own families have cast out. Unfortunately, their need to rebel and nonconformist style brings them into conflict with some of the more narrow minded members of their community, as well as, the police… and with tragic results. Suburbia has a raw and gritty realism to it that makes it a surprisingly powerful low budgeter about urban youth and how they are neglected and misunderstood. Features performances by legendary punk bands TSOL and The Vandals.

MonsterZero NJ trivia: Punker Razzle is played by a certain “Mike B. The Flea” … three guesses what Mr. “Flea” does now.

Also available  from the great folks at Shout Factory!

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