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!

-MonsterZero NJ

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.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 bullets.

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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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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN II

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With the Holidays here what better way to show some cheer then by featuring a couple of Rob Zombie movies…and holiday themed Rob Zombie movies at that…OK, the holiday is Halloween, but since it’s Halloween all year round at MonsterZero NJ’s, these flicks are appropriate…in my twisted little mind anyway! I know Zombie’s Halloween features have caused a lot of controversy and evoked some strong feelings both pro and con, but that’s far better in my mind than indifference. So, what did I think of them? Read on…
Both reviews are of the director’s cuts…

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ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN (2007)

(Click on the highlighted links to go to corresponding previous features here at MonsterZero NJ’s Movie Madhouse!)

There are things I like about Rob Zombie’s remake and things I don’t. As far as the things I didn’t like, Zombie’s biggest mistake is de-mystifying Michael Myers. Carpenter’s original had an average little boy from an average family, savagely murdering his older sister for no apparent reason on Halloween night. Zombie makes him the product of a broken white trash home with a stripper mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) who has a taste for loser boyfriends (William Forsythe). Giving Myers a reason for his violent behavior takes away the mystique the character had. Zombie’s Myers is a damaged young boy (Daeg Faerch) who tortures small animals and graduates to killing people and is sent to an asylum where he silently grows into a homicidal man (Tyler Mane). Carpenter’s Myers was pure evil, the young boy stopped existing and grew into a vessel for an unexplained evil force and it was random and thus spookier. The original Myers became a supernatural being, where Zombie’s Myers is all too human. Another mistake is spending almost an hour examining Myers youth and incarceration at the mental hospital before he is set loose to return home to find his little sister, now a teenager with the adopted name of Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton). Carpenter got things rolling within a few minutes in the original and his flick focuses on the stalking of Laurie and gets the scares started early. And Laurie Strode is a random victim in Carpenter’s flick, the convention that she was related to Michael wasn’t added till the original’s sequel Halloween II. Finally, the casting of genre legend Malcolm McDowell, as Dr. Loomis, doesn’t work for me. I love McDowell, but his portrayal is a bit off. He didn’t quite seem to fit the role. He also botches a couple of the classic lines and these lines are important to the mythos. Patrick Stewart would have made a far better Loomis, not that he would have done such a film.

On the plus side, Zombie does have a nice visual style and things do get intense once he finally let’s Myers loose on the peaceful town of Haddonfield. Zombie’s Myers has a savageness that the original Myers lost after being dragged through numerous sequels, and the havoc he raises is some of the best action the character has seen since the original. Tyler Mane does make an imposing Myers and his Myers is filled with rage whereas Carpenter’s Myers was more methodical. Aside from my feelings on the casting of McDowell, the rest of the cast are fine. Sheri Moon Zombie shows some nice depth as a mother helplessly watching her son become a monster. She generates some real pain in her eyes and it makes her very sympathetic. Scout-Compton is a spunky and cute heroine and plays Laurie as a typical modern teenager,  but also gives her part the needed intensity when HE comes home and she’s forced to save her babysitting charges and fight for her life. Zombie also peppers the film with familiar faces. We get Halloween sequel veteran Danielle Harris (Halloween 4 & 5) returning to the series now fully grown to play Annie Brackett and she plays a typical feisty teen girl with boys on the brain and genre vet Brad Dourif is cast as her father, Sheriff Brackett who is conflicted as to whether to believe Loomis’ warnings or not. We get cameos by the likes of Dee Wallace as Laurie’s mother, Ken Foree as Joe Grizzly, a trucker who unfortunately provides Myers with his trademark coveralls, Sid Haig as a cemetary caretaker, Danny Trejo as a hospital orderly who takes pity on Michael and Richard Lynch as Michael’s school principal. There is also a nice re-imagining of Carpenter’s score by Tyler Bates which adds some spooky atmosphere especially in the second half when Myers is finally unleashed and Phil Parmet’s cinematography captures Zombie’s visuals very well.

The scenes in Haddonfield are really what worked for me as they should have. Zombie shows he can produce some suspense and scares and he cranks it up here. Too bad he chose to focus a good deal of the running time on Michael’s youth and incarceration which is less interesting as we know where it all leads, as this is a remake after all. As for the climax, without giving away any details, Zombie chooses to end his remake with a blunt shock ending where John Carpenter crafted an opening ending that left us with a feeling of dread even after the film was long over. It’s not a bad ending and does have resonance, but doesn’t have the bone chilling effect of the original.

I stand by my opinion that Zombie has a great horror film in him but, he needs to concentrate on using his distinct visuals more often and moving past his fascination with the 70’s grind house style filmmaking and the white trash characters that inhabited a lot of those films. There is nothing wrong with paying homage to your influences, but Zombie has covered that ground in his first three films now and I think he is capable of his own style.

The lowdown: better than pretty much all of the sequels after Halloween III (which, as you may know, I like a lot!), but a far cry from John Carpenter’s original masterpiece. I at least give Zombie the credit for trying to do his own thing instead of a stale shot for shot remake.

3 Zombie Myers!

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ROB ZOMBIE’S HALLOWEEN II (2009)

WARNING: If you haven’t seen Zombie’s Halloween remake, there are some points of discussion in the sequel review which may contain spoilers for the first film…
This is the film of the two Zombie Halloweens that get’s the most flak, but to be all honest, I’ve come to like this one because it’s more of a Rob Zombie film featuring Carpenter’s characters. He’s free from the confines of a remake and doing his own thing. The results can be mixed, but it is still better than any of the post Halloween III sequels. This film takes place immediately after the last with Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) and Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris) in the hospital being frantically worked on and Myers being hauled off to the morgue. But when an accident wrecks the morgue transport, the resilient Michael Myers rises from his slab and walks off after murdering the surviving van occupant. He disappears and the story picks up two years later with a traumatized Laurie living with Annie and her father (Brad Dourif) while Laurie is trying to deal with the approach of Halloween and the fact that Myers’ body was never found. Of course it’s no secret to the audience that Michael is on his way back to Haddonfield to finish what he started and leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.

The fact that this sequel never really feels like a “Halloween” film works both for and against it. It’s more of a Rob Zombie film and here he is not afraid to take Myers’ mask off or get inside his head for some beautifully visualized hallucination sequences of Michael’s dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie). Tyler Bates also forgoes the traditional Halloween music for the most part and his score is quite good despite not imbuing the Halloween sound and flavor like all the other movies. Zombie gives his sequel a more methodical pace and while the film never really gets scary, there are some real brutal and intense moments such as Myers’ reuniting with Annie. There are some savagely violent scenes here that are very effective, but by the end of the film, you do feel a bit bludgeoned with all the brutality. McDowell returns as Loomis who is now a pompous bestselling author writing books about Myers and profiting from the horrible experience that left many dead. I didn’t like Dr. Loomis being portrayed as an egotistical asshole. Just didn’t work. The character was always representative of the good fighting the evil and now he is a douche who is willing to sell everyone out to make a buck and himself famous. It also makes his last minute change of heart near the climax hard to swallow. Ironically since McDowell is freed of the confines of the tradition portrayal of the Loomis character, I accepted him better in this incarnation of the role despite not liking the direction the character is taken.

There is a lot of other things to like here, too, though, unless you are a Halloween traditionalist and just can’t forgive Zombie for taking his own direction with things. There are some really twisted and bizarre dream sequences that have beautiful and surreal visuals that really impressed me and cinematographer Brandon Trost captures them well as with the look of the rest of the film. Much like the final act of Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, it is when Zombie takes his camera into these surreal sequences that his films really come to life and sadly he doesn’t do it often enough, thought I really liked what he did here and how these sequences got into both Myers’ and Laurie’s heads. I liked the sequences of Myers hallucinating that he sees his dead mother and his younger self (Chase Wright Vanek here as Faerch had outgrown the part), egging him on to kill. And the same for Laurie Strode’s nightmares. Great stuff. And I really liked the WTF ending. He really went outside the comfort zone of this series and in terms of traditional Halloween lore and it was daring. The Kubrick-esque final shot gives the appropriate chills the remake’s end lacked.

He gets some really good performances out of his cast again. Compton is good, but I do prefer her as the sweeter Laurie then the foul mouth tattooed traumatized girl here…though the progression is understandable and she does come across as a very messed up teen, mixing psychological damage with teen angst. Danielle Harris shows that she has grown into a really good actress as Annie, who was far more seriously hurt by Michael and yet is handling it a lot better then Laurie. She’s both friend and mother to Strode while soldiering on with her own life. A strong young woman and it makes her confrontation with Myers all the more powerful. And last, but not least, genre favorite Brad Dourif gives what might be the performance of his long career. Yes, he is that good and thankfully Zombie gives him a lot of good material and scenes to show it in. I loved him in this. Again, we also get some cameos by genre vets and Zombie favorites like Margot Kidder as Laurie’s psychiatrist, Howard Hessman as Laurie’s record store/cafe owner boss and Daniel Roebuck as a delightfully sleazy strip club owner.

While it’s not a great movie, I do like it for what it is and the risks Zombie took here with characters that are quite endeared to horror fans. Ironically, Zombie has been criticized and chastised for taking these risks, while equally so for not taking enough risks in the previous film. Sometimes you just can’t please fans when it comes to poking around an established classic. I hope someday Rob Zombie makes an original film that finally lives up to the potential he constantly shows. This film showed a progression from Halloween and I think we are seeing him move away from grind house and more toward Zombie. While many horror fans would disagree, I like this flick and recommend it as long as you have an open mind as to how classic characters are utilized and aren’t offended because someone took an established franchise and thought outside the box with it.

3 Zombie Myers!

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For a look at Zombie’s House Of 1000 Corpses and The Devils’ Rejects click here!

And for a look at his The Lords Of Salem click here!

For a profile of Screen Queen extraordinaire Danielle Harris click here!

For our look at the original Halloween click here and it’s first two sequels here!

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