Legacy sequel to one of the greatest Christmas movies of all-time takes place in 1973 with an adult Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) now a married, down on his luck writer struggling as Christmas approaches. He sadly gets a call from his mother (Julie Hagerty) that his father (Darren McGavin in footage from the original) has died. With pennies to his name, Ralphie loads up his family into their car and heads back home to Hohman, Indiana to spend Christmas with his mother.
Well intended flick is directed by Clay Kaytis from a script and story by he, Nick Schenk and star Peter Billingsley. It really tries hard to recreate the magic and tone of the original, but it feels forced instead of part of the story as in the first film. No more evident than Ralphie’s elaborate daydream sequences. They fall flat here where they were absolutely delightful in the original movie. It lacks the heartfelt whimsy of A Christmas Story, though one can still appreciate what the makers were trying to do, even if it doesn’t work nearly as well as the first time around. This holiday flick is also a bit too drama heavy at times to be the light breezy fun the original film was and still is. Sure, it is amusing to see Ralphie, Flick (Scott Schwartz), Schwartz (R.D. Robb), Randy (Ian Petrella) and even Scut Farkus (Zack Ward) and Grover Dill (Yano Anaya) again played by the original actors, but even some of their roles seem forced in instead of a natural part of the story. Ralphie’s wife and kids (Erinn Hayes, River Drosche and Julianna Layne) aren’t nearly as memorable as they need to be either, especially amongst all the other classic characters. It’s not terrible and certainly not unwatchable, but it just doesn’t recapture the magic that it tries a little too hard to recreate.
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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.
I thought I would profile two lesser known titles from Matheson’s illustrious and expansive body or work…
THE NIGHT STALKER (1972)
For a while, this 1972 TV movie was the most watched program in television history. A well made story of a fallen from grace reporter (Darren McGavin) who comes to believe a series of murders in Las Vegas are being committed by an actual vampire (a creepy Barry Atwater). As the authorities (led by movie and TV vet Claude Akins) are in denial, reporter Carl Kolchak decides to confront and destroy the undead fiend himself, if the bloodthirsty Janos Skorzeny doesn’t kill him first.
A solid horror thriller for a TV movie and a strong characterization from Christmas Story dad, McGavin as Kolchak. There is very little blood, as it was made for TV, but director John Llewellyn Moxey (Horror Hotel) directs from legendary writer Richard Matheson’s script based on the book, ‘The Kolchak Papers’ by Jeff Rice. Moxey makes up for the lack of the red stuff by providing a healthy dose of thrills and chills and takes the proceedings very serious, which makes it all work. The Night Stalker is considered a classic by many and it spawned a decent sequel, Night Strangler, before becoming a TV series that sadly took a campy approach to the supernatural stories and the Kolchak character. Classic TV movie is said to have been the inspiration for The X-Files, which returned the favor by having McGavin guest star in 2 episodes as an agent. Also starring Simon Oakland as Kolchak’s long suffering boss, Tony Vencenzo, who would also join McGavin in the sequel and the short lived series. I am proud to say I watched this the night it first aired and it scared the heck out of my 7 year-old ass!
MonsterZero NJ Extra Trivia: There was a brief run new version of the show in 2005 with Stuart Townsend as Kolchak and now talk of a movie version with Johnny Depp as Kolchak and directed by Shaun Of The Dead’s Edgar Wright.
Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) supernaturally savvy reporters
Not quite a trailer but a promo that mixes scenes from both The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler…
THE NIGHT STRANGLER (1973)
After being chased out of Las Vegas as part of covering up their vampire problem, sequel to the classic Night Stalker has Carl Kolchak now in Seattle and coming up against a serial killer who is part Jekyll/ Hyde and part Dorian Gray. Kolchak’s investigation leads him to a doctor (The Six Million Dollar Man’s boss, Richard Anderson) who resurfaces every twenty-one years to murder victims for a serum that keeps him alive and young. As with the previous entry, Kolchak is the only one who believes there is something supernatural going on and the only one who figures out how to stop it.
For a sequel, it’s not bad and pretty entertaining in it’s own right. Directed by Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows, Trilogy Of Terror) and again written by legendary genre writer Richard Matheson (Twilight Zone, The Night Stalker and Spielberg’s Duel), the film has it’s share of spooky moments and suspenseful chases as Kolchak once again finds himself alone and trying to stop the fiend, before his serum is complete and he goes back into hiding. The formula didn’t start to wear thin till the often silly weekly series that struggled to keep coming up with supernatural opponents for the intrepid reporter. They probably should have stuck with an annual TV movie instead. Strangler also features Simon Oakland returning as Vencenzo and an adorable and fiesty Jo Ann Pflug as a belly dancer with a soft spot for McGavin’s hard nosed reporter. Also stars legendary actors, John Carradine, Margaret Hamilton and “Grandpa” Al Lewis.
MonsterZero NJ Extra Trivia: A third film written by Matheson was planned, but ABC went with a weekly series instead. The film was called The Night Killers and would have involved Kochak and Vinchenzo working together in Hawaii and investigating a story involving aliens, a UFO and a plot to colonize earth…sound familiar, Mulder and Scully?
Rated 3 (out of 4) supernaturally savvy reporters
MZNJ Trivia: A third film written by Matheson was planned, but ABC went with a weekly series instead. The film was called The Night Killers and would have involved Kochak and Vinchenzo working together in Hawaii and investigating a story involving aliens, a UFO and a plot to colonize earth…sound familiar, Mulder and Scully?