BARE BONES: IRRATIONAL MAN, LAKE EERIE and LOVE IN THE TIME OF MONSTERS

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IRRATIONAL MAN (2015)

Odd flick from Woody Allen has philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) trying to find meaning in his life. When an affair with a married member of the faculty, Rita (Parker Posey) and a relationship with one of his students, Jill (Emma Stone) doesn’t help, he decides to murder a judge who is about to rule on having a woman’s children taken from her. He thinks he has committed the perfect crime and done some good, when it all starts to unravel as both his lovers begin to figure out whodunit.

As per the plot synopsis, this is a weird flick from Allen who has kinda been on autopilot for quite a few years now. The film is intriguing and has some quirky and eccentric characters, but starts to unravel in it’s last act just as the professor’s plan does. The whole notion that mild mannered Abe would just commit a random murder to give his life some meaning is a bit out there, as it is. It also seems a little too far-fetched that it would be both his lovers that start to put the clues together and actually come to believe Abe committed the murder, as it seems equally ludicrous that he would so easily conclude that he had to do it again to keep his lady loves silent. It’s one of those movie’s were it seems to be taking itself very seriously, but would have worked far better as a comedy, which it’s not, though it feels like it should be. Would also love to see Allen, for once, make a film that didn’t involve upper class elitists, that might be refreshing, too.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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LAKE EERIE (2016)

Written by and starring Meredith Majors and directed by husband and co-star Chris Majors, this is a little horror that may be too ambitious for it’s own good. Film has artist and recent widow Kate (Meredith Majors) moving into an old lakeside house. No one has lived there since the previous owner disappeared in 1969 and soon Kate starts to witness weird phenomena. Her research into the house reveals that the previous owner was an archeologist (Chris Majors) who may have discovered an amulet that could open dimensional portals. His notes indicate he may have entered one of these portals in pursuit of a banished Egyptian princess…you read that right…and Kate teams with her neighbor’s niece (Anne Leigh Cooper) to find the doorway and finally free the missing explorer.

I appreciate trying to do something a little different than the routine haunting, but this flick gets a bit convoluted long before the credits roll. The story mixes a haunting flick with something out of Tomb Raider and it doesn’t quite mesh together. The acting is also questionable from our leads and one thinks the writing/directing/producing couple should maybe have left the performances to more experienced actors than multi-tasking here. The film also doesn’t have the budget to really portray it’s alternate dimension, so it goes the Insidious route with staging it in the house with different lighting. It worked in Wan’s film, but here it just looks cheap. There is some nice atmosphere early on, but once the story starts to go all Indiana Jones meets Amityville Horror, it looses it’s grip. Yes, the attempt to do something more original is certainly admirable, but here a simpler haunting story might have been easier to pull off on a small budget and easier to swallow by the audience. Also stars Betsy Baker, who was Linda in the original Evil Dead and the incomparable Lance Henriksen in a small part as Kate’s concerned dad.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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LOVE IN THE TIME OF MONSTERS (2013)

Written by Micael Skvarla and directed by Matt Jackson, this is a fairly unremarkable and only mildly amusing horror comedy. The story has sisters Carla (Marissa Skell) and Marla (Gena Shaw) heading to a family getaway lodge to meet up with Carla’s fiancé Johnny (Jade Cater) who works there. Toxic chemicals dumped in a nearby lake start to turn the forest life and a few of the employees, including Johnny, into zombies. Now the girls and the survivors must band together and fight for their lives…oh, and there is a Sasquatch mixed in there, too.

Sure, the girls are hot and there is a lot of gore, but aside from having the zombified lodge employees dressed in Sasquatch costumes, this is another routine zombie outbreak comedy. Most of the humor falls flat and the acting and dialog are equally sub-par and that would be OK if the flick were witty and had more of a devious sense of fun, like the similar Zombeavers. There are a few amusing bits, but aside from an actual Sasquatch appearing in the last act to take on the zombified animals and people, there is little to set this flick apart from all the other by-the-numbers zombie comedies.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: HARBINGER DOWN (2015)

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HARBINGER DOWN (2015)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

For a movie that was a box office disappointment and savaged by critics, John Carpenter’s The Thing is still inspiring films and filmmakers over 30 years later. This sci-fi/horror pays homage by opening on the day Carpenter’s now recognized classic premiered in theaters, June 25th 1982. It also repeats a line (or two) of dialog and has a very similar plot. So much so, that this homage borders on rip-off at times.

Film opens with a Russian spacecraft, that contains an unknown specimen, crashing to Earth. Decades later, some university students are hitching a ride on the crabbing vessel Harbinger in the Bering Sea. While conducting their research, they find the wreckage of the Russian vessel from the opening scene and it’s dead cosmonaut frozen in the ice. They thaw it out and release an unknown organism that not only needs to absorb food, in this case humans, to survive, but is a shape shifter that can assume many forms. Now student and crew member alike must battle this creature that would feed on them all and possibly the rest of the world if allowed to escape…sound familiar?

Flick is written and directed by renown SPFX make-up artist Alec Gillis and shows the FX master to be out of his element when it comes to making a film around his FX creations. The script is clumsy and spends way too much time trying to pay homage to Carpenter’s classic that sometimes it forgets to be it’s own movie. There is some really bad and stale dialogue, when it’s not repeating lines from The Thing and the novice director doesn’t get much milage out of that dialogue from his cast. Aside from genre legend Lance Henriksen, we are given a crew of bland, relative unknowns. Gillis doesn’t develop much intensity or suspense and when all is said and done, doesn’t really give his monster movie much of a sense of fun either. What the SPFX team, StudioADI, does provide is plenty of monster action. The film seems very low budget, so there is nothing too extravagant, but there are quite a few incarnations of our creature whose origins do differ from the Carpenter film. StudioADI worked on the mediocre The Thing prequel and this flick seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to their work in that flick being obscured with third rate CGI…almost a do-over with practical effects being used this time around. The creature incarnations aren’t as imaginative as either Thing flick, but at least are left for us to appreciate in their practical glory. Too bad there wasn’t a better flick around them.

In conclusion, Harbinger Down is an OK movie that seems to have been made by an FX crew tired of having their work not getting appropriate screen time. That’s fine, but they should have left the scripting and directing to a more experienced filmmaker as FX man Gillis delivers a weak script and very uninspired direction. He seems so intent on showing us what we didn’t see in The Thing prequel and paying tribute to the 1982 classic, that this film borders on rip-off more than homage. There is a lot of gooey monster action, they accomplish a lot FX-wise on a small budget and it was fun to see R.J. Mac Ready’s Chess Wizard make a cameo after all these years. It’s heart is in the right place, but with more of a sense of fun, this could have been far more entertaining than it is. Also stars pretty Camille Balsamo as our heroine.

-MonsterZero NJ

A generous 2 and 1/2 Henriksens…I have a soft spot for monster flicks like this.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE TERMINATOR and ROBOCOP

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Watching this double feature tonight and thought I would share it with the rest of you!

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THE TERMINATOR (1984)

One of my favorite all time films. A wonderful example of how talent and imagination can accomplish a lot on a small budget. A tenacious little action film with a cool sci-fi premise. Simple and very effective. This is the film that really pushed Arnold into the spotlight and set director James Cameron on his course. Terminator tells the story of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a waitress trying to make ends meet, but unknown to her, she has been targeted for death by a machine sent back from the future to eliminate her. The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has been sent by a computer network in 2029 to kill Sarah as she will be mother to John Connor, the man who will rebel against these self-aware computers, who have taken over the world of the future and end their reign before they eliminate mankind. The rebels send back a soldier, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to protect her and Sarah becomes a fugitive on the run as soldier and cyborg battle for the fate of the future in 1984 Los Angeles.

James Cameron’s lean mean fighting machine of a movie is as relentless as the Terminator itself. He crafts a fast paced action classic that never stops moving yet, still tells a good story and builds the characters so we are emotionally invested in them. He gets great work from his cast and brilliant work from his SPFX people who provide some really effective glimpses of an apocalyptic future and the carnage by our title villain in the present. From models to make-up, the film has top notch work on a low budget. The action is simple yet very intense with numerous chases and shoot-outs as the cybernetic assassin will stop at nothing and go through anyone to eliminate his prey.

A bonafide classic that set many careers in motion and started a film franchise that is still going decades later. If I had to make a top 10 list of favorite movies, Terminator would be on it. Also starring Lance Henrikson and Paul Winfield as two cops caught in the middle of the conflict and the first acting role for a young Bill Paxton as a punk who unfortunately crosses the Terminator’s path.

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: Amusing to know that Arnold was originally pursued to play the hero, Kyle Reese, but convinced Cameron to let him play the title villain instead. Furthermore, OJ Simpson was being considered for the role of The Terminator, but director Cameron felt, ironically, that no one would believe a nice guy like OJ as a cold blooded killer. Co-star Lance Henrikson was also considered in early stages when Cameron wanted a Terminator who could blend into a crowd, but Arnold took over the role and the rest is cinema history.

 -MonsterZero NJ

A classic 4 Terminator’s!

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ROBOCOP (1987)

Robocop is a bonifide classic, a movie that took me by surprise when I first saw it in 1987 as I thought it was going to be silly fun at best, but turned out to be a well crafted, satirical and delightfully blood-soaked good time with good performances across the board, especially from leading man Peter Weller. It is now one of my all time favorites. The story opens in a future Detroit where crime is rampant and corporations now run the police force, which is sadly being overwhelmed. Omni Consumer Products plans to build a new city, but needs crime put on a leash to insure new occupants. Devious executive Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) plans to use the walking tank, the ED 209 to bring law and order, but when it gruesomely malfunctions, junior executive Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer) jumps in with his Robocop project. This plan focuses on using fatally wounded police officers in a Frankenstein-ish process to turn them into cyborg cops to do the job the ED 209 is failing to. Now they only need to wait till an officer is ‘volunteered’ as a subject… which in crime ridden Detroit, shouldn’t take long. Enter good cop and family man Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) who is transferred to Old Detroit (by Morton who sees him as a high risk in the crime ridden area) and on his first day out with partner Lewis (Nancy Allen), is gunned down by ruthless crime lord Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) and his henchmen. The deceased Murphy is taken and transformed into Robocop, a cyborg law enforcement agent who is sent out to clean up the streets of Old Detroit. But despite having his memory supposedly wiped, Robocop starts to have recollections of his previous life, memories of a wife and child and of the vicious criminals who gunned him down. With the help of Lewis, Robocop tries to regain his lost humanity and take down those responsible for his murder. But there is a conspiracy of high level executive and low life criminals that stands in his way and once he turns his attention towards them, they conspire to make sure the cybernetic police officer and the man buried deep inside him are destroyed once and for all.

With the combination of a sharp and satirical script by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner and the over the top, energetic directing style of Paul Vehoeven, Robocop is a deliriously fun Sci-Fi/action flick with a twisted sense of humor and a giddy use of blood and gore. No more evident then in the film’s gleefully gruesome opening moments when a malfunctioning ED 209 uses it’s massive guns to blast a poor junior executive into mulch during an ill-fated demonstration. There is plenty of fast-paced action as Robocop takes to the streets and then pursues bad guys Boddicker and Jones to bring them down and avenge himself. There is also a healthy dose of social satire woven in between as well, especially aimed at the theatricality and superficiality of the media, as we get to see news clips and commercials of the type that are commonplace in this shallow futuristic world. One can say Murphy’s battle to regain his humanity seems to echo a society where we have lost ours. And what makes this movie so much more then just an action flick, is just how well the social commentary blends in with the story and action. It’s never heavy handed or preachy and is often served with a biting sense of humor, so it doesn’t overwhelm the rest of the film. The same could be said about the theme of regaining humanity in a superficial society where excess is the order of the day. Murphy is symbolic of humanity being buried under such excess as he is buried under all the microchips and shiny alloy of his robotic armor. Yet, none of this overshadows that this is also a fast-paced and fun movie about a hero up against insurmountable odds, despite his steel skin and firepower and good fighting to triumph over evil. This is what makes Robocop such a great film, it is on the surface a dynamite popcorn movie, but with a very smart and soulful center. Rarely has a movie with a scathing message and a popcorn flick been blended so well as done here.

And Vehoeven gets great work from a good cast. Weller is perfect in his portrayal of a good cop and a good man who they try to turn into a soulless machine, but instead fights to become an extraordinary human being within his cybernetic shell. Allen is both tough and sweet as Lewis. She makes you believe she can kick your butt and is equally believable in her quest to help the man that is Murphy triumph over his computerized programing. Her joining him in a fight with overwhelming odds also gives her a nice nobility to add to an already likable character. Cox and Smith make a great team of scumbag bad guys with Cox making his Dick Jones the perfect corporate suit dirt-bag and Smith’s Boddicker, a twisted and sick criminal whose not without his charm and an equally twisted sense of humor to go with it. Ferrer is also very effective as an overambitious corporate douche who steps on the wrong toes. Strong heroes and equally strong bad guys are essential to a story like this and the film nails it along with everything else.

The FX are a little dated, but still very effective and add to the film’s nostalgia. We get some great make-up FX, as usual, from FX master Rob (The Thing) Bottin who also designed the Robocop suit and make-up for Weller and even some very charming stop motion model animation to bring the ED 209 to life by another FX legend, Phil Tippett. The FX and production design are unique, yet appear realistic as to how a near future city like Detroit might look and there is a fantastic score by the legendary composer Basil Poledouris to accent the film’s moments and add atmosphere. It is one of his best scores.

Overall, I can’t say enough about one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s recognized as a classic and is exactly that in every sense of the world. I am hard pressed to come up with any criticism about a film which is probably my favorite type of movie alongside Horror, one that is fiercely entertaining on the outside, but has something substantial going on underneath much like Cameron’s Terminator, Miller’s Road Warrior and Carpenter’s Escape From New York. All favorites and all Sci-Fi/action flicks with a solid emotional base and/or some scathing social commentary running beneath the explosions and gunfire. And there is nothing like a little butter for the popcorn. A true classic and one of my all time favorite movies. Also stars Dan (The Last StarfighterHalloween III) O’Herlihy as OCP’s CEO who appears to be a good guy here, but became one of the villains in the really disappointing sequel, Robocop 2.

 -MonsterZero NJ

4 classic Robocops.

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 -MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SURVIVAL QUEST (1989)

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SURVIVAL QUEST (1989)

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

Survival Quest is an outdoor adventure/thriller from Phantasm series writer/director Don Coscarelli that may be a bit corny at times but, is also quite charming and has a lot of heart. The movie opens with a group of people converging for a month long survival course called Survival Quest, run by passive outdoorsman Hank (Lance Henriksen). Among the participants are ex-con, Gray (Dermot Mulroney), Olivia (Traci Lin), a rich girl trying to prove she can handle herself and Cheryl (Catherine Keener), a divorcee who wants to prove she can survive on her own. Unfortunately, they are in the same vicinity of a para-military survival group run by ex-mercenary Jake (Aliens’ Mark Rolston). Run-ins between the two groups become increasingly heated and when one of the jack-booted thugs proves to be mentally unstable, blood is spilled and it turns from a wilderness survival course into a fight to stay alive.

Both written and directed by Coscarelli, this is a fun little adventure movie that overcomes some stereotypical characters and situations by simply having it’s heart in the right place. It’s a basic wilderness adventure with a slight edge, whose scant few curse words, brief nudity from the vivacious Miss Lin and moderate bloodshed would probably not even earn it’s R-rating in today’s world. It’s a bit of a departure for Coscerelli, being even less violent and more light-hearted than his Beastmaster and is actually very entertaining for the simplicity of it’s story. That story being of some likable characters from different walks of life having to bond and trust each other to survive under dangerous circumstances. That is also what makes it work so well. Despite being stereotypical, the characters are very endearing and we like them a lot. We’ve seen this story before but, it is the characters that drive it and so Coscarelli gives us a bunch we want to see make it against the arrogant and unhinged para-military bad guys…and he doesn’t turn the group into vicious killers as most filmmakers would be tempted to do in a story like this. There is also some welcome humor, especially in the first half, before things get a bit darker and there is a nice nostalgia, at this point, of some familiar faces before they made a name for themselves.

As for those faces, Henriksen was already known to genre fans for Aliens and Terminator and he is really good here as the outdoorsman who can take care of himself and look out for his charges. Mark Rolston is effective as the tough guy instructor/mercenary and his character may surprise you a bit later on. Dermot Mulroney makes for a good “bad boy” hero as his Gray has a lot more integrity than he is given credit for. Traci Lin is charming and hot as Olivia. The character may be a cliché but, Lin’s portrayal is not, as she avoids the ‘rich bitch’ persona and gives us a young woman who wants more than the posh life. Keener is also strong as the meek divorcee who finds the strength she is looking for but, not in the way she figured and, of course, this wouldn’t be a Don Coscarelli movie without Reggie Bannister and he appears here as a pilot. A good cast that elevate their characters above the clichés they first appear as.

I am a fan of Coscarelli and I consider this one of his most underrated films. It’s not a classic but, it is far more enjoyable than it’s familiar story and characters have a right to be. It’s got a lot of heart and it’s charming cast elevates the characters above their stereotypical nature. It’s fast moving, yet, has a very laid back approach that is a bit refreshing when in-your-face intensity is not what you are looking for. The film actually reminded me a bit of the nature adventures they used to crank out in the 70s although with a touch of bloodshed and violence in the mix. A simple, simply told but, very entertaining movie from Don Coscarelli. Also features some nice cinematography from Daryn Okada and music from Phantasm series composers Fred Myrow and Christopher L. Stone.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 bullets.

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COOL STUFF: PUMPKINHEAD on BLU-RAY

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PUMPKINHEAD COLLECTOR’S EDITION Blu-Ray

I love Pumpkinhead (see full review here), it’s a favorite horror, especially around the Halloween season, and one of my favorite movie monsters. The film has never been released on video or DVD in it’s proper aspect ratio, so, those like myself who didn’t catch it in it’s limited theatrical release in 1988 have yet to see it in all it’s glory… until now!

Scream Factory once again takes a cult classic title and gives it the proper respect it is due. The remastered picture looks absolutely gorgeous with rich colors and clarity that preserve the wonderfully spooky imagery director Stan Winston brought to this creepy tale of backwoods revenge. The image is presented in a sumptuous 1080 HD and there is remastered DTS audio to go with it. It’s like seeing it and hearing it for the first time.

As for the extras, there are commentary tracks from writer Gary Gerani and the creature FX team and about 3 hours of interviews and featurettes to chew on. Everything from the previous MGM DVD special edition is there, as well as, some new interviews from producer Richard Weinman and actor John Di’Aquino (Joel), as well as, an interview filled tribute to the late Stan Winston… which brings about my only criticism. The Stan Winston tribute documentary goes on for about 15 minutes too long. At about the 35 minute mark, the interviewees seem, at that point, to be rambling on and it becomes tedious and loses a bit of it’s focus. Some judicious editing would have kept this at a more reasonable length and still preserved the essence of it’s fond look back at working with the FX legend and the impact he had on these individuals. There’s a lot or repetitiveness as it drags on and would have lost none of it’s heartfelt purpose with losing a few minutes.

But, aside from that one meager critique, this is an absolute must have for fans of this flick. It is a gorgeous looking edition filled with extras that take you back behind the scenes of the making of a cult classic that sadly never got the proper attention it deserved… until Scream Factory got a hold of it. Another great collector’s edition from the awesome folks at Scream Factory! Pumpkinhead has truly been resurrected at last!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: I COME IN PEACE and STONE COLD

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This week’s double feature pairs together two very underrated B action flicks from director and ex-stuntman Craig R. Baxley. We have the sci-fi themed Dolph Lundgren flick I Come In Peace and ex- Seattle Seahawk Brian Bosworth making his action flick debut as an undercover cop in Stone Cold. Baxley is a sadly underrated and overlooked action director and it’s a shame that his skill behind the camera wasn’t more readily recognized despite the lack of attention his film’s got. These two flicks prove he could deliver some solid B-movie action entertainment… and in these guilty pleasures, he did!

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I COME IN PEACE (1990)

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

I Come In Peace (released in foreign territories as Dark Angel) is a really fun 1990 sci-fi/action flick and it fits in quite nicely with other similar themed movies from that era like The Terminator and The Hidden. Maverick cop Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren) is having a really bad day. While on stakeout to bust drug lord Victor Manning (Day Of The Dead‘s Howard Sherman) he is distracted by a liquor store robbery and it not only costs his undercover partner his life, but allows a third party to come in and steal the heroin that the drug dealers just stole themselves from federal evidence storage. Federal involvement gets Caine a new straight-arrow FBI agent for a partner (Brian Benben) and his investigation has a few too many mysteries for his liking. Worse still, this mysterious thief is using the heroin to kill and as Caine and Agent Smith continue to clash, the evidence starts to point to the possibility that there is something otherworldly going on here. Soon Caine and Smith find that not only are they targeted by Manning’s people, who think Caine has their dope, but they are caught in the middle of a battle between an alien drug dealer (Matthias Hues)…who is here to harvest human endorphins manufactured by injecting folks with the stolen heroin…and an alien cop (Jay Bilas) trying to stop him. Warring aliens, vengeful drug dealers, an uncooperative partner and an angry girlfriend (Betsy Brantley)…is there any way Caine can get out of this alive?

Under the guidance of former stunt coordinator and stuntman Craig R. Baxley, getting the answer to that question is a lot of fun. I Come In Peace is a very fast paced flick with numerous action scenes that are well staged and shot, nothing groundbreaking, but very effective and energetic. The science fiction aspects of the story are kept fairly grounded, so the flick never gets too fantastic as to lose our suspension of disbelief. And one of the reasons we go along with it is that Baxley takes the subject matter just serious enough to not make a joke out of it, but the tone is light enough so we have some fun…and he serves up enough of the action to keep us from thinking about things too much, just in case.

He gets good work out of his cast. This is still one of Lundgren’s best and most relaxed roles. He seems to be having a good time and works well with Brian Benben as they clash and then slowly learn to trust each other and bond. David Ackroyd is appropriately slimy as Smith’s double crossing FBI boss Switzer and Betsy Brantley is cute and feisty as Caine’s coroner girlfriend. As the aliens, Matthius Hues is quite formidable and has a dangerous presence as the drug dealer who seems to say very little but the title phrase and Jay Bilas is equally formidable, yet in his brief dialog scene comes across as an honorable alien lawman.

Both aliens wisely have minimal make-up, so their personalities come through without being buried in prosthetics. The Houston locations give the film a unique look as most flicks like this are set in L.A. or NYC and the FX, stunts and overall production value look good on a modest budget, especially when presenting the carnage caused by the various alien weaponry. And the film is refreshingly CGI free.

I Come In Peace has a cult following and it deserves it. It may not have gotten as much attention as some other similar flicks from the 80s…and while the movie was released in 1990 it is still so 80s with the hair, clothes and Jan Hammers electronic score…but it is a really entertaining, fast moving, action-packed flick that is just a good 90 minutes of escapist entertainment.  Sure it has it’s flaws, but it doesn’t try to be anything more then it is and is very efficient at what it does. Baxley followed this up with the equally entertaining action flick Stone Cold with Brian Bosworth and Lance Henriksen. I Come In Peace would make a nice third feature along with a viewing of The Terminator and The Hidden!

I Come In Peace is available now under it’s Dark Angel title in a beautifully transfered blu-ray from the awesome folks at Scream Factory. A must have if you are a fan of this flick!

3 and 1/2 CD shaped alien weapons!

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STONE COLD (1991)

Stone Cold is a really fun B action movie that sadly was not appreciated when it first opened but, now seems to have garnered a very well deserved cult following. The film was the action flick debut of ex-football player, the notorious Brian Bosworth and had it been better received, might have led to a more prolific action flick career for the former Seahawk in other B movie epics like it.

The story focuses on maverick Alabama cop Joe Huff (Bosworth) whose loose cannon tactics and current suspension catches the eye of the FBI. They want Joe to go deep undercover in a vicious biker gang named The Brotherhood. The Brotherhood and it’s leader Chains (an awesome Lance Henrikson) are not only expanding their criminal operations, but have targeted District Attorney Brent “The Whip” Whipperton (David Tress) for assassination as he runs for governor of Mississippi and has his own sights set on taking the gang down. Huff becomes outlaw biker John Stone and infiltrates the gang with the hopes of bringing them to justice and halting their murderous plans, but the suspicions of Chains’ sergeant-at-arms Ice (William Forsythe) and getting too close to his ‘old lady’ Nancy (Arabella Holzbog) could jeopardize Huff’s mission and make John Stone the gang’s next target.

Stone Cold is written by Walter Doniger and directed by former stuntman Craig R. Baxley, who also directed the cult classic I Come In Peace with Dolph Lundgren. Baxley gives the film a fast pace and delivers some really energetic action scenes, just like he did with I Come In Peaceand the film is populated with some fairly colorful characters. The plot is certainly no worse then anything starring Norris, Seagal or Van Damme at this point in time and the film delightfully still has that 80s action movie feel which hasn’t been shed yet at this stage of the early 90s. The flick is really a fun time and maybe at this point, people were just tired of action fantasies with larger than life, over the top heroes or perhaps people had had enough of Bosworth after his over-hyped and incredibly disappointing and brief NFL career, so it bombed. Who knows? Over twenty years later the film can be viewed with lots of nostalgia and is a real blast and I personally have always enjoyed it for the over the top action fun it is. Baxley also continued his style of using untraditional locations. While most flicks tend to use LA or NYC as settings for flicks like this, Baxley gives us some refreshingly different Mississippi set action that gives the film a more unique look. There’s some crisp and well framed shots courtesy of cinematographer Alexander Gruszynski and a cool action score by Sylvester Levay who also scored Stallone’s similar Cobra. As far as this type of action flick goes, Baxley delivers the goods and with a few brews, this movie rocks!

The director also gets good work from his cast. As for Bosworth, sure his bleached blonde mullet is ridiculous and he is a little too much of a clean-cut pretty boy to be believable as an outlaw biker, but he’s actually fine in the role of Huff/Stone and is no more wooden then Norris or Seagal in their earlier features. He received a Razzie for his performance, but as these flicks go, I think he would have been a suitable B level action hero had this film been more successful and he got more work. The real star, in my opinion, in this flick is Lance Henrikson, who is at his serpentine best as bad guy, Chains…a brutal, psychotic yet charismatic leader that would fit right in on Sons Of Anarchy. It’s one of my favorite Lance Henrikson characters, a Hell’s Angels style Jim Jones and Lance is having a blast with it. William Forsythe is right behind him as his brutal enforcer, Ice. Forsythe exudes menace and it’s disappointing his character didn’t have a more epic showdown with Bosworth’s undercover cop. Holzbog is not only pretty, but gives Nancy a bit of a heart and soul under the seasoned biker momma exterior. She conveys a quiet strength and is another character that is underused in the film. Rounding out is Sam McMurray as Huff/Stone’s nerdy FBI partner and Rocky V’s Richard Gant as the FBI head who recruits Huff and you have a B movie action flick that is filled with some good character actors giving weight to some cliche’ characters.

Well, what can I say…this is among my favorite B-Movie action guilty pleasures. Sure it has faults, but it makes up for the plot holes, lapses in logic and sheer implausibilities by being a blast of a good time. We get an overstuffed hero going up against some fiendishly cartoonish biker villains and surrounded by constant and well orchestrated action sequences. I also liked the less tradition settings and Lance Henrikson gives one of his all time best villains. Another film finally getting the love and respect it deserves after initially being all but ignored.

3 and 1/2 bullets.

raid rating

After watching the trailer for Stone Cold, it’s no wonder it didn’t find an audience. Whose idea was this?

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: PUMPKINHEAD (1988)

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PUMPKINHEAD (1988)

Keep away from Pumpkinhead,
Unless you’re tired of living,
His enemies are mostly dead,
He’s mean and unforgiving,
Laugh at him and you’re undone,
But in some dreadful fashion,
Vengeance, he considers fun,
And plans it with a passion,
Time will not erase or blot,
A plot that he has brewing,
It’s when you think that he’s forgot,
He’ll conjure your undoing,
Bolted doors and windows barred,
Guard dogs prowling in the yard,
Won’t protect you in your bed,
Nothing will, from Pumpkinhead.

– Ed Justin

The Halloween season is upon us and in celebration, Tomb Of Nostalgia and Horror You Might Have Missed will be taking a break while MonsterZero NJ presents Halloween Favorites which will obviously focus on horror films I consider essential viewing for this spooky time of year. And what better way to kick off this look at some of my favorite films for my favorite time of year then with a film that is one of my top Halloween season flicks… Pumpkinhead!

Pumpkinhead tells the grim tale of a group of partying twenty-somethings from the city who head into the Appalachian Mountains for a weekend of drinking and dirt biking in a secluded cabin and run afoul of a local legend who is quite real. While stopped at the rural general store of kind, local man Ed Harley (the legendary Lance Henriksen), drunk jerk Joel (John D’Aquino), who already has injured a girl in a drunk driving accident, takes out his dirt bike and proceeds to carelessly run over and kill Harley’s son Billy (Matthew Hurley). Enraged with grief, Harley turns to a mountain woman who is rumored to be a witch named Haggis (Florence Schauffer) to evoke the demon Pumpkinhead that Harley saw once as a boy. The demon is said to grant vengeance to those who call upon it. But as both Harley and the young vacationers find out, evoking Pumpkinhead comes with a powerful price, as not only will it stop at nothing till all it’s prey, including good natured Chris (Jeff East) and his girlfriend Tracy (Cynthia Bain), are dead, but may take Harley back to Hell with it when it’s done. Can a now regretful Harley stop what he started and save the remaining youths or will the demon of vengeance have all their souls before it returns to the pumpkin patch from whence it was called?

Pumpkinhead is a very spooky horror dripping with Halloween atmosphere thanks to the great visuals from first time director and make-up SPFX legend Stan Winston. With a truly great looking creature and production design that oozes All Hallow’s Eve, this is a welcome edition to any Halloween season movie viewing. Aside from his awesome monster, Winston not only gives us some great settings…such as Haggis’ cabin, the pumpkin patch from which Pumpkinhead originates and an abandoned church where our remaining characters flee to…but he also creates some nice suspense, tension and chills. The biggest factor in the film’s effectiveness, though, is imbuing the title creature with a great sense of character and menace. Pumpkinhead is a vicious and unforgiving demon who shows no mercy and even seems to enjoy taunting and then killing his victims. When Ed Harley, who is cursed to feel it’s victims’ pain, changes his mind about calling it, the creature still will not stop till all are dead. Winston, who also co-wrote, also creates likable characters for us to fear for. They are all pretty good people with Joel being the exception and even he shows us he has a soul when he realizes that his friends are being slaughtered because of his selfish actions. A key to a good horror is empathy with it’s characters and here we feel for them as the backwoods demon relentlessly pursues them for a nasty death.

Winston gets good performances out of his cast with Henriksen creating one of his best roles in Ed Harley and the young cast members, like East and Bain, creating likable victims to root for. D’Aquino does a great job of making Joel an unlikable jerk and yet being very convincing in his moment of redemption when it comes. Film vet Buck Flower has a strong presence as mountain man Mr. Wallace and Schauffer is downright chilling as the witch, Haggis.

Overall, Pumpkinhead is part slasher, part backwoods horror and part monster movie with some great special FX to present it’s title creature and the carnage it creates and surrounded in some very spooky visuals that evoke the spirit of Halloween in almost every shot. It is an underrated horror that got a sadly ineffective limited release back in October of 1988 and then dumped onto VHS and then DVD. It should have gotten better and thankfully, it has developed the cult following it deserves and Pumpkinhead himself is now regarded along with Giger’s Alien as one of modern horrors most iconic creatures.

Sadly, the film was followed by three awful sequels and if any character deserves a reboot and another chance, it’s dear ole Pumpkinhead! Also stars Brian Bremer as Bunt Wallce, a local boy trying to help the city folk escape the monster’s wrath and Big Bang Theory’s own Mayim Bialik as one of the Wallace kids.

3 and 1/2 Pumpkinheads!

pumpkinhead rating

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