Thursday, February 18, 2010

Flesh Gordon

Making porn versions of hit movies is at least as popular an American pastime as, say, buying illegal fireworks or being dismissive of intellectualism. We've all got our favorites. Star Whores. Edward Penishands. Shaving Ryan's Privates. The Domimatrix. Laurence of a Labia. The list goes on. But none of them would exist (and I'm pretty sure at least one of them doesn't) if it weren't for Flesh Gordon, a softcore smut sci-fi spoof so far ahead of its time, it came out a full six years before the movie it parodied. This is an ambitious movie that is fully committed to the righteous cause of giving the audiences of 1974 an entirely new way of viewing bush. It's a masterpiece.

Flesh Gordon proclaims its lofty aims right from the opening crawl, which a stentorian narrator reads aloud in case anyone in the audience is either a) illiterate; b) servicing his or her partner orally, thus preventing him or her from seeing the screen; or c) both. It tells the history of superheroes, how they were born during the Great Depression to give the downtrodden masses examples of virtue and strength to guide them through their troubled days. It explains the great debt that the filmmakers (L.A.-based porn-loop producers who'd made a $100,000 windfall from the sale of their first full-length feature, Mona: The Virgin Nymph) owe to the creative geniuses of yesteryear, who'd weaved such a rich tapestry of fantasy and myth for future generations to draw from.

Then we cut to a scene where a sex ray from outer space makes a bunch of people start boning in the street.

Turns out this is happening all over the globe, creating chaos and anarchy. A professor discovers the extraterrestrial origins of the horny happening and declares that his son Flesh Gordon (currently in Tibet playing in the world hockey championships) is the only one who can stop it. We are then introduced to our hero, a big blond bloke who's flying on an airplane with wicker seats. Within minutes, the sex ray engulfs the plane, causing the pilots to leave the cockpit ("Control, you've got two horny sonsabitches up here!") to join the orgy already in progress, which consists of a bunch of naked people rolling around on the floor in the passenger compartment without penetrating each other. As the plane goes down ("Yes! Go down! Go down!" cries frequently nude and perpetually ravished love interest Dale Ardor), Flesh shakes off the sex fever and takes the controls, which break off in his hand. So he grabs Dale and they parachute to safety while she blows him on the way down.

They're met by Dr. Flexi Jerkoff, who has a penis-shaped rocketship that can take them to the source of the sex ray. The cockpit of the cockship has no seats at all, just straps like an old subway car, so Flesh should have been grateful for those wicker chairs on the plane. After a mid-flight threeway that leaves Dale nude until Jerkoff gives her one of his mother's old dresses ("She was buried in it."), they crash-land on the planet Porno, ruled by the sinister and scenery-chewing overactor Wang the Perverted, who cackles a lot and likes to say things like "Seize them, dildos!" After Flesh and Co. survive an encounter with several ferocious Penisauruses (claymation cock-cyclopses that arise from the ground like the sand worms in Beetlejuice), Wang wants to make Dale his virginal bride (he apparently didn't see the beginning of the movie), while the Queen of Darkness wants Flesh for her own. But first, he must survive a brutal battle with three orange-wigged Fifth Element-looking cat-bitches. And here I thought the fifth element was love.

Flesh survives the ordeal and gets taken back to the Queen's flying swan boat, which floats through a night sky filled with animated constellations. After they make sweet, sweet love, Wang shoots the ship down, and Flesh and Jerkoff are given the Pasties of Power by the Queen's ghost. They're silver, glittery nipples that shoot cheesy optical effects. Jerkoff puts them on, and they storm Wang's palace to rescue Dale. Unfortunately, she's already been taken captive by a tribe of underground lesbians ("Oh no! Dykes!" cries Jerkoff in horror.) who try to induct Dale into their Sapphic society with a biracial orgy. When Flesh and Jerkoff show up, the lesbians unleash their guardian, a stop-motion robotbeetlevultureman who is so well animated that you actually forget that you're watching a skin flick for a moment and just get caught up in the action. No sarcasm, we're talking Clash of the Titans caliber effects work here.

Actually, for 1974, all of the effects are really amazing, and with good reason. Many of them were directed by Dennis Muren, who went on to do Star Wars and Jurassic Park and win more Oscars than any other human being currently walking the earth. The effects were so good that, due to there being a dearth of FX-oriented films released in 1974, the producers actually submitted Flesh Gordon to the Academy for consideration in the Best Special Effects category. Unfortunately, the Academy chickened out and opted not to give out an Oscar for special effects that year, instead giving The Poseidon Adventure an honorable mention. Pussies.

Anyway, Flesh and his crew are rescued from the robotbeetlevultureman by Prince Precious, good-natured homosexual and proper heir to the throne of Porno. After the less-than-enlightened view of lesbians on display just moments earlier, I expected the gays to get the same treatment, but oddly, the film is completely accepting of their sexual orientation. I guess in the world of Flesh Gordon, everybody needs to love the cock.

So Precious and his band of merry men give Flesh a lift back to Wang's castle in their rocketship, which gets shot down and crushed in the serrated jaws of the castle gate. (Clearly, Flesh should not be allowed to board any kind of craft.) Then there's a cliffhanger intermission where the narrator asks, "Is the Perverted Wang victorious?" Our heroes survive, but a spy steals the Pasties of Power, the only things that can destroy Wang's sex ray. Wang uses one to pleasure a sex slave, but then it gets stuck in her coochie. (I swear to God, this is an important plot point.) While Flesh and Jerkoff shake her up and down, trying to dislodge the pasty, Wang awakens his demon god, a fucking awesome goat-footed stop-motion monster the size of King Kong. He looks fierce but likes to mumble some too-cool-for-school swinger jive in the voice of future Coach star Craig T. Nelson. He kidnaps Dale (obviously), forcing Flesh, Jerkoff, and Precious to blast him with yet another rocketship. The monster falls off of the castle and makes every miniature in the movie explode while naked people run around in front of a rear projection screen. This goes on for like five minutes. This shit must have taken forever. Compare the effort put into these meticulously crafted models, puppets, and matte paintings to the joyless two-chicks-and-three-dicks-in-a-Motel-Six stylings of modern porn. It's like comparing Gone With the Wind to that YouTube video of the fat kid with the fake lightsaber.

This is an amazing movie, not least for a script peppered with gems like "Sir, I have a huge boner!" and "Nice job, Jerkoff!" Honestly, it's not much campier than the real Flash Gordon, and it has better special effects and way more bush. The only thing it's missing is a Queen soundtrack, and I'm sure that's just because the producers never made the band an offer. We can all lament that missed opportunity, but it can't detract from the eternal glory of Flesh Gordon.

By the way, I've never seen Star Whores, but do you think the TIE Fighters are just big flying boobs with wings? Because that's totally the way I would have done it. Oh well. Maybe they could save that for the prequel, The Phantom Man-Ass.

Tourist Trap

You ever see a movie when you were a kid and for some reason it gets stuck in your head for the rest of your life? Usually, you don't even remember the whole movie, just one particular scene, or even a single shot. You try to describe it to people, but you lack the context. It's like trying to describe a dream. "There was this, like, hallway. I think it might have been blue. Possibly from the seventies. There may have been a door, as well. Do you know it?"

This is what happened to a certain ladyfriend of mine when we got to talking about movies last weekend. Naturally, the movie that got stuck in her head was a horror movie, because nothing affects a person, particularly a child, more profoundly than mortal terror. A single creepy image, even when trapped in the middle of a preposterous movie, can sink its fangs deep into a person's psyche, injecting slow-release venom whose effects can be felt for a lifetime. When you're a kid, a scary scene is like herpes: you carry that shit around forever, whether you want to or not.

Luckily, this lovely young lady happened to be talking to Mr. Majestyk his-goddamn-self, so when she said "seventies movie where a woman gets wax poured all over her face," I knew just what she was talking about: Tourist Trap, a 1979 drive-in flick that I remembered from Stephen King's non-fiction book on 20th century horror, Danse Macabre. Big Steve called it his favorite bad horror movie, but since this was in the same book where he offhandedly dismissed Planet of the Vampires, Last House on the Left, and Mad Max, I didn't think too much of it. Of course, that didn't stop me from buying Tourist Trap on DVD when I saw it in the used bin earlier this year. When it comes to horror movies, I am nothing if not thorough.

So, in an effort to help my ladyfriend overcome her childhood fears by ripping the rubber mask from her demons and revealing them as the puffed-up charlatans that they are, I showed her Tourist Trap last night. I figured that confronting the movie that scarred her as a child would cure her of her phobia of dolls and mannequins. There was only one problem with that plan: The movie is actually kind of scary.

Tourist Trap is based on Horror Movie Plot #1: four to eight young people go somewhere they shouldn't, two to zero of them come back. This movie could have been made at any point in the past sixty years and the only thing that would change would be the hairstyles. In this case, five fun-loving, feather-haired friends (including Tanya Roberts, of Charlie's Angels, That 70s Show, and the-waterfall-scene-from-Beastmaster fame) end up at this rinky-dink redneck roadside attraction wax museum out in those scrub-brush hills in California that always make me think of M*A*S*H. The proprietor is a genial hillbilly (played by Old Hollywood beefcake Chuck Connors) who likes to emphasize the first syllable of his words ("I'm gon' go fetch the po-lice.") but who's a little peeved that the new highway took all his business away. (You ever notice how much trouble "the new highway" causes in movies?) So the way he deals with that stress is by wearing freaky rubber masks and pretending to be his dead telekinetic kid brother so he can make wax mannequins out of everybody who visits him. The telekinesis really comes in handy, because he can makes his mannequins move and laugh and jump out at people. It sounds kinda stupid, but I don't know, man, mannequins are just creepy. Particularly these ones. Some of them smile like they're thinking about some sick private joke, and some of them have mouths that flop open unnaturally wide, creating gaping black maws like in that Aphex Twin video. I could see how this movie could totally fuck you up when you're a kid.

It's not very violent or bloody, but it's one of those movies where the killer just won't stop talking. It feels like you're tied up along with his victims, unable to escape as he pours his poison into your ear, feeding you his insane nightmare logic. It's definitely got a little Texas Chainsaw in its DNA. In fact, the torture-porny Paris Hilton House of Wax remake seems to have stolen much more from this movie than it did from the seminal Vincent Price movie it took its name from.

And then Tourist Trap has one of those great seventies endings where somebody survives but they're so emotionally devastated by what happened to them that you almost wish they hadn't. They don't really know how to do these endings anymore. Nowadays, the shocking twist is to have one last ooga-booga jump-scare right before the nü-metal end-credits song kicks in. That just shows the paucity of imagination in a lot of modern horror movies. The worst thing they can think of is dying, but they don't get that there's some shit that's so fucked up that you simply wouldn't want to live through it. Your only recourse would be to make a clean break with reality and escape into dementia, which is where Tourist Trap leaves us.

An interesting bit of trivia about this movie is that it was produced by future straight-to-video kingpin Charles Band, whose company, Full Moon Entertainment, has had a lock on cheesy movies about evil little bastards since the early eighties. This is the man behind, among many others, Troll, Ghoulies, the Puppetmaster series, Dollman vs. Demonic Toys, and The Gingerdead Man, which stars Gary Busey as a psycho who gets trapped in the body of a killer cookie. Clearly, Mr. Band is just as creeped out by the eeriness of dolls, puppets, and mannequins as my ladyfriend, and it's interesting to see that it all began way back in '79 with Tourist Trap. Just think, without this movie, the world may have never been blessed with Ginderdead Man 2: Passion of the Crust. Now that's scary.

And what about my ladyfriend, you ask? Did Tourist Trap cure her of her pediophobia (fear of mannequins)? Let's just say we won't be taking any trips to Madame Tussaud's anytime soon. On the upside, at least she's still talking to me. That's more than can be said for this other ladyfriend that I brought to see House of 1,000 Corpses once. Thanks a lot, Rob Zombie. Cockblocking bastard.

Day of the Animals

This is what's known as a public service announcement. When a motherfucker stumbles across a movie in which Leslie Neilsen takes off his shirt and wrestles a bear, that motherfucker has a moral obligation to share it with the world.

Day of the Animals is one of those Nature Gone Wild movies that came out in the wake of Jaws. This time, instead of picking just one species, the way Squirm did with worms or Night of the Lepus did with bunnies (What's with all the carrots? What do they need such good eyesight for anyway?), DotA goes whole-hog (A hog is a kind of animal. That is a pun, if I'm not mistaken.) and has the entire animal kingdom (cougars, bears, hawks, snakes, rats, dogs, spiders, etc.) team up against their greatest foe: Leslie Neilsen.

Well, technically, Leslie Neilsen is just one of the many human-type beings that get animalized in this prime slice of drive-in schlock. The actual star is Christopher George, an actor known for being the guy in B-movies (Pieces, Grizzly, Graduation Day, etc.) who looks like the hero but never actually accomplishes anything heroic. The most egregious example is in The Exterminator, where he plays a detective who's supposed to be tracking down a flamethrower-wielding vigilante, but instead he takes his ladyfriend to an outdoor jazz festival and then promptly disappears from the movie entirely. Whatever your B-movie is selling, be it man-eating bears, chainsaw murders, or scumbag immolations, Christopher George is a dude fully committed to not distracting from it in any way.

In DotA, he plays a park ranger who has the bad luck of leading a group of tenderfoots into the High Sierras on the day that the ultraviolet rays pouring through the recently discovered hole in the ozone layer cause all the animals to go nuts and start attacking motherfuckers left and right. The first attack is pretty classic. They're all tucked into their sleeping bags around the campfire, when all of a sudden, this wolf jumps out of nowhere and starts gnawing on this chick's face. The way he goes after her, you'd think she'd just be a pile of red gristle, but after the wolf gets scared off, all she's got are a few minor scratches. What a lame-ass wolf. Maybe he's the runt of the wolf pack, and all the other wolves were always making fun of him because he'd never eaten anyone before. So then they peer-pressure him into attacking the chick in the sleeping bag as his initiation into the wolfgang (See what I did there?), but he chickens out at the last minute. I bet he got an earful when he went back to the pack with his tail between his legs. If wolves wore pants, he'd definitely be getting a wedgie for that shameful display.

Luckily, some vultures are on hand to finish the job when Christopher George (in the first of many bad calls he makes throughout the movie) sends the chick and her husband down the mountain to get help. She gets all pissy because she wants to stop and rest, so her man is like, "Fine! Stay here and get your eyes pecked out why don't you!" And she does. I hope he's got room on his mantle for the 1979 Husband of the Year trophy.

Meanwhile, back with the rest of the crew, the animals are mounting a unified assault, led by a steely-eyed hawk. Panthers attack from all sides, proving that the humans' defenses are useless. Their sole aim must be to incite terror, because they do little more than inflict some flesh wounds before they disappear into the darkness again.

This is when the movie starts getting good, and it's all thanks to Leslie Neilsen. He plays an alpha male advertising executive who likes to call everybody by condescending nicknames like "hotshot" or "kemosabe." He thinks Christopher George is a douchebag who couldn't find his way out of wet paper bag with scissors in his hand. Which may be true, but that's no excuse for what a magnificent asshole Leslie Neilsen is in this movie. Seriously, if there were an Asshole Hall of Fame, this guy would get his induction plaque handed to him by Don Rickles.

So this world-class asshole stages a coup in which he leads a few of the campers off in a different direction. Then he takes his shirt off and goes completely berserk out of nowhere. One second he's just a bossy prick, and the next, he's smacking old ladies and punching children. He kills a guy with a stick and tries to rape the guy's wife. "I killed a man for you! You're mine!" he yells, shaking her around by her upper arms. Then it starts pouring rain and he throws his arms wide in a crucifixion pose and starts yelling at God. Then he rejects morality in favor of the law of the jungle. "You see what you want, you take. YOU TAKE IT!" he hollers. Then a bear shows up, and his response is to engage it in hand-to-claw combat, which doesn't work out so good for him, in my opinion.

This is one of the greatest examples of overacting I have ever seen. Ever. It is awe-inspiring. It proves that Leslie Neilsen was always a comedian. It just took the Zucker Brothers to point it out to him. And the best part is, he didn't even change his acting style when he turned to comedy. It's just that the world discovered irony in the late seventies and suddenly realized that he'd been hilarious for decades. Of course, then he went and blew it by actually trying to be funny. You're missing the point, Leslie. We can get goofy double-takes from anybody. But dead-serious dramatic line readings like "My father who art in heaven, you've made a jackass out of me for years!" require a professional.

Taken as a whole, Day of the Animals is no big deal. But you should see if you can find that scene on YouTube. It'll be bandwidth well spent.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


This is one of those movies that I saw the trailer for a million times on HBO as a kid but never actually got around to watching. Which is weird, because this is the kind of shit I ate up back then: sleazy L.A. cop movies full of perverts and saxophone music. About the only thing I remember from the trailer was James Woods looking fucking badass pumping a shotgun. A good shotgun-pumping has been known to improve any movie (I'd watch Driving Miss Daisy if someone assured me that at some point Morgan Freeman racks a Mossberg one-handed) but in Cop, it figures into one of the greatest movie endings of all time. You know how most movies will build to a climax, but then stick around for a few extra minutes while the characters walk through a parking lot full of ambulances, maybe repeating some dialogue from earlier in the movie in a different context? It's like the post-coital cigarette, giving you a chance to relax after the big explosion/orgasm. Cop doesn't play that shit. It's not gonna cuddle with you afterward and ask you if you had a good time. Fuck that. When it's done, it's fucking done. It just wipes its dick off on the curtains and bounces the fuck out. It probably won't even call you tomorrow. Cop is kind of a prick like that.

But that's what I like about it. Cop is an impolite, inconsiderate, cynical, antisocial movie for like-minded motherfuckers. It's a not exactly groundbreaking combination of a Dirty Harry-style rogue cop movie and a The Wire-style police procedural. Woods plays the title character, Joe Cop, who's a fast-talking, chain-smoking, workaholic sex addict. So yeah, he's James Woods, but with a gun. He works homicide in the neighborhood he grew up in, so he knows the streets inside and out and has little patience for his clock-punching colleagues who aren't as smart or as dedicated as he is. The first scene shows him scurrying around the cop-shop, doing everybody else's job for them. Then he gets all giddy because he gets a call for a 187, so he goes out to West Hollywood and kicks down a door. (Actually, he tries to kick down the door but it doesn't work. I've been waiting my whole life to see that in a movie. You ever try to kick down a fucking door? It's not as easy as it looks.) He finds a young woman's body hanging upside down over her bed, covered in blood. It's actually pretty fucking creepy, and it even kind of freaks out Sgt. Cop, who must have seen this kind of thing a million times. That doesn't stop him from doing his job, though, and we get the first of many scenes where we see Cop quietly examining the evidence and drawing conclusions. It's nice to see actual copwork in a movie called Cop.

Then we see Cop's human side when he goes home and tells his eight-year-old daughter a bedtime story about a drag queen he busted who used to run B&E's on doctor's offices on Sunset. She eats it up ("Tell me how you caught the scumbag, Daddy!"), but Mrs. Cop is not so thrilled. She thinks he's poisoning their daughter with his sick worldview, but he thinks he's preparing her for the world. He has this incredible speech about how innocence kills, and he wants his little girl to grow up knowing about the way things really are. The wife ain't having it, though, because she believes in unicorns and happy endings and shit, so Cop is actually psyched when he gets a call about an armed robbery suspect and has to get back to work. So he brings along his old buddy (vintage That Guy Charles Durning) and ends up blowing away the perp in front of the guy's date. Not two seconds after gunning a man down in the street, he's smooth-talking this chick and offering her a ride home. And she accepts! Fully half of this movie is Cop running around boning every broad he sees. He's characterized as an adrenaline junkie, looking for a fight or a fuck, whichever comes first.

What's kind of weird, though, is that although Cop is a total womanizer, he also has a real pet peeve about violence against women. I kept waiting for him to say that his dad used to beat his mom or something, but they never really explain it. But then again, why the fuck do you need a reason to be anti violence against women? Did your mom have to have been murdered when you were a kid for that particular topic to really piss you off? Then again, Cop is based on a novel by James Ellroy, whose mother really was murdered when he was a kid, so I guess I'll shut up now.

Anyway, long story short, Cop discovers that there's a serial killer on the loose, only nobody believes him, so he starts breaking into people's apartments and playing Russian Roulette with motherfuckers to get information. There's a genius segment in the middle of the movie where he picks up this feminist chick (Leslie Ann Warren, a.k.a. The Poor Man's Susan Sarandon) and convinces her that he's Mr. Sensitive while she lays out her sob story. The whole time, he says all the right things, but just from the look on his face you know that he's rolling his eyes on the inside. I'm telling you, this Cop guy's a prick, but it all feeds into that speech he made earlier. This feminist chick had some really bad shit happen to her, but instead of toughening her up, it made her turn inward and create a bunch of fantasies and delusions about white knights and fairy tales, shit that Cop finds pathetic and dangerous. But he still wants to get laid, so he plays along. It's kind of a brilliant scene because Cop is both funny and reprehensible at the same time, and he does it all with a crocodile smile and some pregnant pauses. It's some great capital-A Acting from Mr. Woods, whom I hear has one of the biggest dicks and highest IQs in Hollywood. Not sure what that has to do with anything, but I just thought I'd throw it out there.

It also has something to do with the plot (the scene, not James Woods' dick), which, in retrospect, is kind of haphazard and unconvincing, as most plots are if you really think about them. But that's not the point. The point is watching James Woods rip through this movie like a uranium-tipped bullet, never stopping, never swerving, never looking back, never giving a fuck about what he destroys on his path to his target. And once he hits it, boom, the movie's over. It does its dirty, sinful business and gets the fuck out. I appreciate that. I enjoy a long, drawn-out love-making session with the candles and the lotion and the fuzzy handcuffs as much as the next guy, but sometimes a rough and sticky quickie is even better.

I just hope Cop still respects me in the morning.

Bloodfist II

As you may recall, Bloodfist was a cookie-cutter tournament/revenge flick in the Bloodsport/Kickboxer mold. Bloodfist II: Blood Fistier is more of an Enter the Dragon thing. It mostly takes place on this island fortress in the South Pacific, run by a dude named Dr. Su who has his own army of goons in orange pajamas. Su's deal is he had this wussy scientist with a phony German accent (not quite as bad as the gay Nazi in 9 Deaths of the Ninja, but worse than the white slaver from Raw Force, if that helps) create an undetectable steroid that makes motherfuckers super strong and impervious to pain. To test out the formula, Su kidnaps all of these champion fighters in a variety of disciplines, from boxing to karate to Greco-Roman wrestling, and makes them fight his souped-up henchman.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Bloodfist II gets the Truth In Advertising Award for 1990 because the very first shot is a close-up of a boxing glove dripping with blood. Take that, The Squid and the Whale. Then the camera pulls back, showing a very sweaty Don "The Dragon" Wilson, looking more like a Eurasian Dean Cain than ever. He looks slightly more badass than he did in BF1 but still not all that impressive. He's not very big or muscular or anything. It's amazing that this regular-looking guy was light heavyweight kickboxing champion of the world for 12 straight years. His arms aren't even very well defined. Then again, I guess he's a kickboxer, not a punchboxer, so fuck arms. Arms are for gaylords.

This is a movie that gets right to the good stuff. The very first scene is a kickboxing match. Don (apparently playing the same character as the first one, although the events of that film are never mentioned) is fighting this mustached chump who won't go down, no matter how many times Don kicks him. I've been trying to figure out if he got dosed with Dr. Su's steroid, but I don't see how that's possible, since it won't be invented for another three years, according to the timeline I gleaned from the opening credits montage of newspaper clippings. Either way, this dickrag won't stay down, until Don jumpkicks him in the neck and kills him. Everybody else acts like this shit happens all the time, but Don feels so terrible about it that he vows never to fight again.

And so he devotes his life to non-violence, growing a long ponytail and teaching at-risk kids to deal with their anger issues through positive activities like gardening and basket-weaving. After winning the love of a blind kindergarten teacher, he is eventually rewarded for his charity work and pacifist agenda by Readers Digest, who publish a cover story about him entitled "A Warrior's Peace: How A Champion Fighter Kicked The Kicking Habit." The final scene shows him quietly nursing an injured fawn back to health and releasing it into the wild, where it is reunited with its mother.

Nah, I'm just fucking with you. He doesn't do any of that shit. He just starts whoring and doesn't stop for three years until his old cornerman calls him up from Manila and says he's gotten himself into debt with Dr. Su, so he needs Don to come help him out. So Don hops on the next plane to the Philippines. He isn't in town for five minutes before badly dressed henchmen are coming out of the woodwork. Wherever he goes, there's another dude in a flannel shirt and jeans, just dying to let Don kick him in the head. The movie's about 15 minutes long at this point, and only three or four of them didn't have fighting in them. And of those three or four, one of them had tits. So already you gotta appreciate where this movie's head is at.
Then one of the bad guys gets the bright idea to not engage the world-champion kickboxer in foot-to-face combat, so he pulls a gun instead. Don gets captured and thrown on a boat with a bunch of other badasses, most of whom are played by real-life fighting experts, except for this one dude who looks like Freddy Mercury who's played by the original Deathstalker. Real all-star cast on this one.
Most of these dudes aren't actors, and that's why I like them. Their line readings are pretty flat, but they seem like real people, because they are. It makes you kind of give a shit when they start getting killed off.

So they go out to Dr. Su's island, and Don escapes and runs around for a while, kicking every henchman he meets. Then he finds out that his old cornerman has betrayed him and set him up, and he gets recaptured. Then the movie does this amazing thing where it skips the dreaded Part Where It Drags In The Middle. I don't know why more movies don't do this. There's almost always that section around the 45, 50 minute mark where the characters are sitting around, talking about what just happened and trying to predict what's gonna happen. Maybe one of them tells a story from their childhood that elucidates their motivation in the third act. Maybe the male and female leads finally get over their initial antagonism and share some smoochies in a storage closet. Or maybe, if you're really lucky, there'll be a montage in which the hero's long, dark night of the soul is illustrated through shots of him walking down the street with his hands in his pockets or standing on a small bridge, watching the ripples in the water below, thus mentally preparing himself for the battle ahead. Mostly, though, the Part Where It Drags In The Middle is just the movie trying to stretch itself out to 90 minutes by any means necessary.

That's why Bloodfist II is such a model of narrative economy. It just cuts that part out completely, then fills in the missing time with more fights. It goes from the fight where Don gets captured straight to the big showdown, which means that the concluding 35 minutes of the movie (approximately 40% of the total running time) is all fighting. Thank you, Roger Corman's Concorde Pictures, for respecting my intelligence.

The fights are pretty damned good, too, because of all the different styles involved. The first one has a heavyweight boxer hammering the ribcage of a beefy goon in red pants, but come on, dude, boxing is for pussies. Kicking is where it's at. He gets his ass handed to him, then Dr. Su gives him the thumbs-down and has him speared to death in front of the others.

Next up is Deathstalker, who's playing an Army hand-to-hand combat instructor. I like this character. I'm not sure he actually talks at all, but he says all there is to say with his cocky body language and well-timed Skoal spitting. His moves are precise and elegant, which pleases the crowd, so Dr. Su lets him off with just a broken arm. The great part about that is, after he escapes at the end of the movie (Spoiler), he takes on all these goons literally one-handed.

Then the next guy is a balding Greco-Roman wrestler who just sits in the middle of the ring and blocks every move his opponent tries. I've never seen this style of fighting on film before, and it reminded me of the fact that the dudes who always win in the Ultimate Fighting and whatnot are the grapplers. You can have fists of steel, but they're not gonna help you if somebody puts his knee on your neck and doesn't let up until you pass out. This guy actually wins his fight with a devastating series of nut punches, but Dr. Su is a jerk and has him speared anyway. Sore fuckin' loser, you ask me.

Then some karate dude gets easily dispatched, and then this lanky, saggy-faced white tae kwon do master wins his fight. I love seeing tall white guys do kung fu, because their feet are so huge. It looks like they could take somebody's head off with their big, bony ankles.

This displeases Dr. Su, so he sends in Don's old friend, who's all hopped up on go-juice. Then Don himself jumps in, and the remaining good guys escape and run around knocking over furniture and kicking ass. Don himself takes out Dr. Su by kicking him off of a balcony right in front of his daughter. Boy, I'll tell you, life ain't easy for a dude named Su.

Then all the surviving good guys cluster around Dr. Su's corpse. They look down at it pensively for a moment, like it's a shoe somebody left on the sidewalk and they're trying to figure out how the fuck somebody leaves behind a shoe, I mean, wouldn't you notice you only had one shoe on? The fuck? Then they just walk away. And that's end of the movie. Thanks for coming everybody, you've been a great crowd, we're Bloodfist II, check out the merch table, goodnight!

And that's how you make a shitty low-budget action movie: You get the fuck in and you get the fuck out. That's the Tao of Roger Corman.


Ladies and gentlemen, my DVD collection has a new crown jewel. It used to be my Australian copy of Death Wish 2, which, unlike the Region 1 release, is widescreen and doesn't have the pubes fuzzed out during the nasty parts. Yeah, Aussie Death Wish 2 had a good run at the top, but now there's a new sheriff in town, and his name is Rad.

I don't have to tell you that Rad is a stone-cold classic, but due to its anti-corporate message, its official DVD release has been suppressed, if not by the Man, then by someone in his employ. But for every injustice there is a hero, and that hero's name is RAD-ON-DVD, the Amazon vendor who's selling a gorgeous anamorphic hi-def transfer of this seminal slice of Americana. They say you can't put a price on freedom, but I say you can: $11.99, plus $2.98 shipping and handling.

The deal is, Rad is the BMX version of every movie ever made. It's about this poor local boy named Cru who's only good at one thing: riding his bike long past the age when he really oughtta have a car, or at least a friend with a car. So when this big corporation comes to town and offers a hundred grand to the rider who can win the monster mamma-jamma race known as Helltrack, it's Cru's chance to prove himself. But will he be able to overcome the corrupt system that wants to keep the little guy down? The eight or nine glorious power ballads on the soundtrack sure seem to think so.

Telling the story of Rad is sort of like telling the story of Jesus. Everybody knows it, it's been passed down through the generations, so what's the point? What understanding can I bring to this timeless tale that hasn't already been done to death by countless scholars, philosophers, and poets? Well, just like Mel Gibson proved with that scene in The Passion of the Christ where Jesus invents the table, you can always bring a new angle to an old story. We always knew that Jesus died for our sins, made wine out of water, took a beating like a man, all that shit. But did you know that he also revolutionized the way people eat dinner? No, of course you didn't. Only Mel Gibson knew that. And that's the job of the artist: To make old shit new again.

With that in mind, I would like to call attention to an overlooked facet of Rad lore: the skull scene. See, about halfway through Rad's perfectly paced 91-minute running time, Cru has hit a bit of a snag. He's managed to qualify for Helltrack, but the lisping fat-cat organizer is afraid that Cru's natural talent might upstage Bart Taylor, the Aryan prettyboy he's got in his pocket. So just like every other filthy capitalist pig who gets beaten fair and square on a level playing field, he changes the rules of the game to state that only riders with sponsors can compete. Cru doesn't have a sponsor ("I ride for me," he declares in a spine-tingling display of Nietzschean self-reliance) so what does he do? Does he go home and cry about it? Hell no. (He does that later.) He says fuck it, I'm gonna be my own goddamn sponsor. So he starts his own company, Rad Racing, and gets all of his friends and classmates to come together to print up some T-shirts with his awesome logo on them.

Here's where the skull scene happens. All the 28-year-old teenagers have gathered in the high school Home Ec room to volunteer for T-shirt duty, and one of them walks up to Cru's new girlfriend (played brilliantly by future Full House star Lori Loughlin and her shoulder pads), puts a human skull on her desk, and says "Thank you." This character is never seen again. This puzzling scene raises a lot of questions. What does the skull symbolize? Who is this character? And perhaps most baffling of all, what is he thanking her for?

Obviously, stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham is not going to give you any straight answers. After all, the success of any great work of art lies in its ambiguity. But I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb when I say that the skull scene is a reference to another classic drama, William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Oft considered the best work of Western literature by those who haven't seen Rad, Hamlet features a scene in which Hamlet, prince of Denmark, has come upon the exhumed corpse of his old friend and court jester Yorrick. Hamlet holds the deceased comedian's skull aloft and laments the impermanent nature of human accomplishment. Yorrick spent his time on earth making people laugh, but now all of his merrymaking has been forgotten, and all that he was has been reduced to a crumbling pile of bones. Is this what Needham is saying all of Cru's efforts will amount to? Even if he manages to win Helltrack and astound the multitudes with his bicycling acumen, he, like all of us, will eventually die, and his two-wheeled deeds, no matter how gravity-defying, will be scattered like so much dust in the ever-swirling winds of time.

Dude, what a fucking bummer.

But as anyone who saw Smokey and the Bandit can attest, Needham is not a filmmaker content to parrot the ideas of others. His work is too textured for that. I believe that the skull scene in Rad is not a mere appropriation of Hamlet's morbid fatalism, but a refutation of it. My proof for this theory lies in the mysterious skull-bearer's cryptic display of gratitude. I believe that by leaving the skull behind and thanking Lori Laughlin (an Ophelia substitute due to her association with water throughout the film), he is acting as a Hamlet surrogate and abandoning Shakespeare's nihilism in favor of the can-do spirit represented by Cru and his team of supporters. This scene, even more so than the infamous "bicycle boogie" set-piece, is the heart and soul of Rad. I believe that Needham is saying that while we may all be destined for the grave, our actions, if they are pure of intent and unswerving in execution, will live on forever in the memories of those they inspired. Not only is this scene joyous and life-affirming on an emotional level, it also places Rad firmly in the context of literary history.

Or maybe they just had a skull lying around on set that day.

Though the mystery of the skull scene will continue to arouse debate long after we've all met our respective dates with destiny, there's no mystery about Rad's many other awesome moments. Its opening credits sequence alone is worth the price of admission. Two BMX riders perform balletic freestyle maneuvers worthy of Cirque de Soleil, and they do it sporting mullets so severely delineated that they resemble coonskin caps. Then we cut to a single line of dialogue ("Let's rock this sucker.") before we see Cru BMX his way through his morning paper route, thus characterizing him as a resourceful free-thinker with strong ties to the community. Then there's a dialogue scene, and then Cru has to race a mustached motorcycle cop through a lumber yard. Then there's another dialogue scene where Cru's mom Adrian Balboa says he can't pursue his dreams because he needs to take the SATs, which, like Haley's Comet, only come around once in a century, so if he misses them, it'll be a lifetime of demeaning manual labor for him.

Then the professional bike riders come to town. The evil ones are top-ranked Bart Taylor and his twin henchmen, Xamot and Tomax, who like to dress up in Buck Rogers disco outfits and perform creepy threesome-inspired dirty dancing routines with their shared groupie. But then Cru catches the eye of the world's only female BMXer, and they go out on the dancefloor on their bikes to perform the sexiest goddamn mating ritual you've ever seen. While Real Life's synth ballad "Send Me An Angel" plays and the crowd claps along, they sublimate their mutual lust into their bicycles, sensually pumping their pedals and manipulating their machines into all the positions they long to twist each other into. It is a moving and invigorating display of eroticism that has yet to be equaled in American cinema.

Then there's another dialogue scene, then it's back on the bikes so Cru can learn how to do backflips. Then there's some more dialogue. Then he qualifies for Helltrack by taking all these shortcuts that all of the corporate-sponsored riders are too institutionalized to notice. Little more than trained monkeys plastered with advertisements, they are powerless against an independent thinker like Cru.

Then there's some more dialogue, and Cru goes bike-frolicking in the fields with his girl. Then there's some more dialogue where the evil businessmen try to disqualify Cru from the competition. Luckily, the whole goddamn town knows who Cru is from his paper route, so they raise the money to get him back in business. This scene is an uplifting celebration of local activism as the seemingly disenfranchised townsfolk pool their resources to anoint Cru their avatar who in their stead will slay the mighty dragon known as Big Business.

Then it's time for Helltrack, a four-lap gauntlet of athletic prowess and shameless product placement. Cru's intuitive riding style lets him take an early lead, but he is soon torpedoed by Xamot (or maybe it was Tomax) so that Bart Taylor can win the race and protect their team's precious endorsement deals. But Bart proves himself to be more than a capitalist running dog when he takes his own teammates out of the race so that he can face Cru fair and square. It's clear that Bart has never faced such a worthy adversary, and he finds the taste of competition far more enticing than the color of money. Cru emerges victorious, costing Bart his sponsorship, but that's okay because he always has a place on the Rad Racing team. Bart's conversion from corporate lackey to revolutionary is Cru's ultimate triumph, for even though he races only for himself, his true legacy will be represented by all those his feats have inspired.

To be rad, or not to be rad? That is the question. And I think we all know the answer.


Today we've got the 1986 killer monkey movie Link. It's about this cornfed American broad (played by Elizabeth Shue at her most succulent and deflowerable) who takes a job as the assistant to this wacky primatologist, played by General Goddamn Zod himself, Terrance Stamp. He's got an old mansion out in the British countryside, which is apparently so overrun with feral dogs that decent people can't even leave their houses for fear of mauling. Professor Zod is trying to prove that monkeys are as smart as people, but it's not going too well because they're, you know, not. He's got three test subjects: Voodoo, a crazy chimpanzee he keeps in a cage so she won't eat his face off; Imp, an adorable little baby chimp who likes huggins and kissins; and Link, a 45-year-old ex-circus orangutan who thinks he's the butler. The movie makes you think Voodoo is going to be the villain, but she's just a red herring, because once Link gets wind that the doc is going to have him put down, he throws Zod down a well and kills anybody who tries to stop him from smoking cigars in the kitchen and watching Elizabeth Shue take a bath. I think we can all appreciate where he's coming from on that one.

I love monkeys. Monkeys make me happy, and this movie has a hell of a monkey. I don't know how this is possible, but somehow the ape who plays Link has the shabby charm and genial menace of Sid Haig. He just hangs back the whole movie, stealing scenes from his Oscar-nominated co-stars with just a cock of his monkey eyebrows, but when he swings into action and breaks a Rottweiler's neck against a fencepost, you know that this is an ape to be reckoned with. Link even gives Clyde from Every Which Way But Loose a run for his money in the Greatest Monkey Of All Time sweepstakes. True, Link doesn't drink beer or give the finger, but he does wear a suit and light his own cigars. And it's not just that he wears a suit. You can throw a suit on any old ape, but if he doesn't have the panache to pull it off, he looks like some no-class punk showing up for a job interview in his older brother's hand-me-downs. Link, however, is so damn suave, he can even get away with taking off his jacket and rolling up his shirtsleeves like your bachelor uncle at your sister's wedding. Dapper, yet down-and-dirty. Clyde was blue-collar to the core, but Link is more like an ape from the wrong side of the tracks who bettered himself through sheer force of will. If he were a human, he'd be the type of dude who teaches college history but has a faded Black Flag tattoo on his shoulder.

The thing I like about Link is that he's his own man. Unlike Clyde, he's nobody's sidekick. I still get chills when I think about Clint's line in Any Which Way You Can where he's like, "Clyde's not a pet, goddammit. He's a person just like everybody else," but Link doesn't need anyone to stand up for him. He's willing and able to protect his rights by any means necessary, unlike that house monkey Clyde. I still think I'm going to keep Clyde as my Spirit Orangutan, though, because when I meet him in my Happy Place (the horror section of a mom-and-pop video store, circa 1992) he'll just want to kick back and drink some beer, not rip my arm off like Link is prone to do. You have to respect Link more, but you'd rather hang out with Clyde.

A lot of people probably won't be able to get into this movie because they don't see monkeys as scary. And I will agree that they are inherently hilarious. They're almost like people, but they're clumsier and stupider so it's always a good time watching them try to do people things like use a phone or smoke a joint. They're the retards it's still politically correct to laugh at. But, like retards, people don't realize how strong monkeys are. Even a tiny little chimp like Imp who gets carried around like a baby the whole movie has the strength of many men. And a big fucking orangutan like Link? He could tear your head off with one hand and throw your body across the room with the other. We are talking superhero strength here. He's like a fucking bear who knows how to work a doorknob. We should all be thanking our lucky stars that monkeys are better people than us, which is why they put up with our shit when we ask them to be in movies like this.

Anyway, I liked this movie a lot because it treats monkeys like individuals. They have their own personalities and desires, and they're allowed to be flawed and human like anybody else. Even at the end, after Link has killed a whole bunch of dudes and thrown two perfectly good cars off a cliff, you still feel for him because you can understand his motivations. Sure, he can wear a suit, work a computer, and stir up a highball, but everyone still treats him like a second-class citizen. In their eyes, he'll always be just another stupid monkey. A self-respecting primate can only take that shit for so long before he stands up on his own two feet (probably swinging his long ape arms over his head like he's doing the wave) and says, "Look, motherfucker. I'm here. I'm hirsute. Get used to it." Even though Link dies at the end (spoiler), he goes out with a defiant dignity that I found quite moving.

Link is directed by Richard Franklin, the underrated director of the underrated Psycho II. He's one of those Hitchcock acolytes whose movies ape (See what I did there?) the wry aloofness and visual storytelling of the master. I don't know if they make guys like him anymore, who knew the best way to create an exciting sequence of events using as few shots as possible. Most directors nowadays just shoot miles and miles of footage and then figure it out later, but you can tell that Franklin economically designed his sequences like puzzles, so that every individual part both provided crucial visual information and fit seamlessly into the whole. That's what being a director used to mean. He was the guy who figured out the best way to tell the story that was in the script, not the guy high-fiving himself about that awesome shot of the hero's trenchcoat billowing behind him after the Hummer exploded. Nothing against exploding Hummers, but a guy like Franklin could keep you enthralled with just a shot of some feet walking up some stairs. And if those feet belong to a cigar-smoking monkey, even better.

Shock Waves

Shock Waves is your basic pretty good horror movie. It's got a pretty good story, pretty good acting, pretty good direction, and it's based on a pretty good idea. The problem is, I don't really do pretty good movies. Pretty good movies don't make for very interesting reviews. But since I promised long-time reader and indispensable nerd studies correspondent Dan that I'd review it because he won the first annual Spot The Other Simpsons Reference In My Hawk The Slayer Review sweepstakes, I'm giving it my best shot.

Shock Waves is about these indestructible aquatic Nazi zombies who get trapped in their sunken ship off the coast of some Caribbean island. Then they come back to the surface for some reason, possibly related to the never-explained shock waves of the title. The DVD cover calls Shock Waves "the best of the Nazi zombie movies." I love that Nazi zombies get their own sub-sub-genre, but if this is the best one, then somebody needs to get to work on raising the bar right now. Like I said, this is a pretty good movie, but I tend to think that a movie about Nazi zombies who stalk hot chicks in bikinis should be a lot sleazier than this. Luckily, there's this German nazisploitation flick coming out called Dead Snow that looks pretty rugged. Usually, German horror movies are joyless affairs about systemic cruelty and corpse-fucking, so I'm looking forward to seeing if they can finally lighten up and make one that doesn't make you want to disembowel yourself while jerking off so that you cum geysers of blood, like in the heartwarming conclusion of Nekromantik.

Shock Waves starts with an actual still photo of some Nazi officers, looking like the Cocky Aryan Asshole Academy's graduating class of 1946. A Larroquettian narrator tells us the story of an SS unit that had been created from the corpses of dead prisoners and psychopaths. They were supposedly invincible warriors who killed with their bare hands, but since no members (Heh, I said "members") of their unit (Heh, I said "unit") were ever captured, their existence could not be verified. This little intro was clearly trying to go the Texas Chainsaw route of blatantly lying to the audience and telling them that what they are about to watch is based on a true story, even though it's total bullshit. I appreciate that kind of dishonesty in a movie.

Then the movie totally fucks with you by introducing a second narrator. As we see some fishermen rescuing a sun-damaged ingénue from a rowboat adrift in the middle of the ocean, we hear her voice telling us that only now does she remember the ordeal that put her in that situation. Then we flashback to happier times, when she was an outrageously adorable brunette in a canary-yellow bikini. She's played by Brooke Adams, whom you may remember as the chick who could make her eyeballs wobble in the first Body Snatchers remake. Already we've got two narrators and a flashback, so you'd be forgiven for thinking this flick was in trouble. That's the kind of shit Al Adamson used to pull when he'd try to combine footage from three different movies into one supermovie about bankrobbers and go-go dancers and mad scientists. But don't worry, things get much more straightforward from here, and the movie ends up being very professional for what must have been a punishingly low budget.

As Brooke warms her cupcakes in the sun, we meet all the passengers and crew members of this shitty little boat that's on its way to God knows where. Among others, there's the hunky first mate in mustache and bell bottoms, the alcoholic cook, and the captain, played by legendary thespian and Carradine paterfamilias John, who was notoriously unparticular about the movies he allowed himself to appear in. This one could clearly only afford him for a few days, because he disappears after the first 20 minutes. He's nice and crotchety in the few scenes he's in, though, so I think they got their money's worth.

This early sequence also introduces the bane of this movie's existence: the asshole character who is in the exact same predicament as everybody else, yet feels the need to complain about everything all the time as if it were only happening to him. He's a prissy bastard with a whiny voice who looks and acts like Porky Pig, minus the endearing stutter. He reminded me of my first college roommate, a middle-aged 21-year-old who smelled like the water that collects on top of cottage cheese and thought that black people were an urban legend. Both of them covered up their essential lack of social skills with an unfunny brand of petulant sarcasm that makes large groups of otherwise nonviolent people want to kill them, sink their bodies in the swamp, and never speak of it ever again. Luckily, this character is one of the first to die, but it doesn't happen soon enough, and his suffering is over far too quickly.

Anyway, after the introductions are over, the sky turns yellow for some reason and there are some bubbles in the water. I guess this is when the "shock waves" raise the zombies from their aquatic slumber. Then the boat gets lost and everybody washes up on this island, where Peter Cushing is practicing his German accent on every third or fourth line of dialogue. He's the commander of the Nazi zombies, and he's been hanging out in this abandoned hotel for 30 years, waiting for them to come back. Touch-and-go accent aside, Cushing does right by the role, as usual. One thing about Cushing, you could always count on him to give his all. Carradine might phone it in more often than not, but Cushing always gives you full value. He's about a hundred years old in Shock Waves, but he's still tromping around the jungle like an infantryman, wearing a short sleeve shirt that reveals his bony old arms, which are by far the scariest things in the movie. His forearms are so veiny they look like porn star cocks.

Anyway, Shock Waves is sort of notable in that it's a zombie movie that doesn't really owe much of anything to the Romero zombie mythology. It came out after Night but before Dawn, so it's not fully locked into the rules yet. These zombies don't eat flesh, they're not contagious, and I don't think you can kill them by shooting them in the head, although nobody ever tries. In fact, I find their whole reputation for indestructibility to be highly suspect, since they take no damage through the course of the film. They don't get stabbed, hacked, bludgeoned, shot, electrocuted, set on fire, or any of the awesome things that people like to do to zombies. The only way to kill them is to take off their stupid goggles, which makes them just sort of keel over and die. This is where Shock Waves drops the ball. Half of the fun of zombies is that, unlike werewolves, vampires, Jasons, or other superpowered monsters, their victims have a sporting chance. Get yourself a weapon and keep moving and you could probably take out your fair share before their numbers inevitably overwhelm you. That's why people love zombie movies. They get to experience the taboo exhilaration of chopping motherfuckers up with no consequences, while still getting the thrills and chills of your standard people-in-peril flick. It's the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, Shock Waves only gives you the best of one world. And not even really, since all the zombies ever do to people is drown them. There is seriously not a single drop of blood in this movie.

But what Shock Waves does have going for it, in addition to Brooke Adams' constantly displayed cleavage, is some nice atmosphere and some strikingly designed monsters. They're like Kraftwerk zombies, dressed in matching black jumpsuits and moving in synch with each other, which leads to some pretty great shots of them rising up out of the water in staggered patterns silhouetted against the horizon.

The pace of the film is slow and dreamy, its eerie ambiance aided by an early synthesizer score. One thing I liked about the way the standard cat-and-mouse suspense scenes played out was that the victims more or less had the right strategy, but then they'd completely fuck it up at the last minute. Like, they have the entirely workable idea of locking themselves in the walk-in freezer, but then the panicking claustrophobe shoots off a flare gun in there and they have to evacuate because of the smoke. Or there's a part where they're pushing a small boat out to sea. They're almost home-free, but then one of them falls down, so everybody stops and then the boat drifts away and they're suddenly totally fucked again. Stuff like this adds to the nightmare feeling of the flick. You ever have one of those dreams where you're just trying to do one little thing like put your shoes on or fuck this chick you went to high school with, but then suddenly everything changes on you? Your shoes disappear and you find yourself wandering the streets barefoot, or maybe that chick from high school suddenly turns into Steve Buscemi and you wake up questioning your sexuality? The movie's like that. Unlike the zombies, which never decompose, Shock Waves is an exercise in entropy. Everything goes wrong all the time, despite the characters' best attempts to hold it together. Sort of like life, only with less blood and way more of Peter Cushing's naked, throbbing forearms.

UPDATE: Dead Snow is in no way a better Nazi zombie movie than Shock Waves. Also, it's Norwegian, not German. I keep thinking everything's German lately.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Otto; Or, Up With Dead People

If you see only one gay German arthouse zombie porno this year, I'm guessing it should probably be Otto; Or, Up With Dead People. It's got all the hot, hot cocks you or your heterosexual ladyfriend could possibly want, and it's completely ridiculous in a way that makes me think they did it on purpose. And you get to see a queer zombie stick his humongous dick in his undead lover's gaping torso wound. So there's that.

O;O,UWDP is the story of a young gay zombie named Otto who dresses in the standard emo private school kid uniform of eye shadow, shirt, tie, and hoodie, but with some white contact lenses thrown in to ghoul him up a bit. He's kind of a metaphor for the movie itself: a snotty art flick disguised as a horror movie that gets self-indulgently morose about capitalism while people with real problems just get on with their lives. I mean, look at that title. Is that not the most pretentious (and incorrect, I might add) use of the semi-colon you've ever seen? Normally, this kind of thing would piss me off (hot, hot cocks or no), but I tend to think the director (some guy with the unlikely moniker of Bruce LaBruce) meant it to be funny, so I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt. It's hard to tell with Germans.

We open with shots of Otto striding somnambulantly toward camera while superimposed over a montage of war footage as some music plays that sounds like they recorded two steel balloons fucking and then ran it backwards through a broken tape deck. Then we see Otto haul himself up out of a very shallow grave. Then there's a very beautiful shot of him striding through a tall field of bright yellow wheat. Then he walks around for a while. Most of the movie is about Otto walking around. Then we hear from our first narrator, a snobby German chick named Medea who elucidates all of the various things that zombies have always symbolized in film but that Romero always respected us enough to figure out on our own. This is what happens when art school people make horror movies. They think they're so smart when they inject a little social commentary into the genre, not realizing that it's always been there. It was just hidden in the subtext, rather than spat out in obvious rhetoric like some Goth kid's blog. But then again, I think we might be dealing with satire here, so I'm cutting it some slack.

The story's all chopped up and discombobulated, but the basic deal is that this chick is making a black-and-white movie called Up With Dead People about a gay zombie uprising. (Zombies = the disenfranchised = homosexuals = ALLEGORY!!!!!!) Then she meets Otto, who says that he's a real zombie. He doesn't remember much about his former life, but he slowly recalls his ex-boyfriend and the fact that he's a vegetarian, which is why he can't quite bring himself to eat human flesh (cats and bunnies are okay, though). He starts having some flashbacks about the times he frolicked with his ex in the neighborhood photobooth. The whole time, he's dropping some woe-is-me narration about how he just wants to feel something, i.e. the dehumanizing effects of our homogenized consumer society. Then he gets picked up by some dude and maybe eats his guts, or maybe not. Maybe Otto isn't really a zombie at all. Maybe he's just an escaped mental patient who needs a bath. Who knows?

So Medea puts Otto in her movie and proceeds to expound at great length about all the things he's supposed to represent while she makes him stand on top of garbage heaps and eat raw chicken. She's annoying but cute, with the kind of curvy real-chick body you rarely see in movies, but you never see her naked. Get that out of your head. This movie only has eyes for cocks. Which is funny, because she's a lesbian whose girlfriend lives in a silent movie. Even when they're in the same shot, the girlfriend is in scratchy black-and-white and only talks in subtitle placards. Yeah, I don't get it either, but that's art, man.

Anyway, there's a big gay zombie orgy full of cocksucking and flesh-eating, and then Otto gets gay-bashed by the least tough-looking street toughs I've ever seen. Then he hooks up with his co-star Fritz for some non-cannibalistic love-making, and his eyes turn brown for a minute so maybe he comes back to life or something. Then he lights himself on fire like the Rage Against the Machine cover, only it's just the last scene of Medea's movie, so he's okay. Then he stands in front of a rainbow and hitchhikes north, where the cold will preserve his rotting flesh and maybe he will meet up with more of his own kind.

I don't really know what this flick is trying to get at, but it's certainly unique and pretty entertaining once you figure out that it's supposed to be funny. What it resembles more than anything else, though, is an Ed Wood movie. Not necessarily in quality, but in form. It hits all the Woodian staples: 1. Didactic narration explaining the themes of the movie in a paradoxically straightforward yet bewildering fashion; 2. Indecipherable story structure; 3. Extensive use of incongruous stock footage; 4. Random expressionist dance sequences; 3. Terrible, flat acting in a variety of indecipherable accents. (That last one shows more of a John Waters influence, however, since the actors were clearly being coached to speak as unnaturally and theatrically as possible.) All of this, plus its queer subject matter, would make it a great companion piece to Glen Or Glenda.

All in all, I'm glad I saw this bizarre film. The more I think about it, the more I think it was mostly meant to be a meta-fictional essay on the zombie movie, that most metaphorical of horror sub-genres. By dragging all of the usual subtext out into the light, it effectively steals the thunder of all critics who insist on attaching allegorical significance to every horror movie. Of course, if the movie is saying that all that metaphorical mumbo-jumbo is bullshit, yet the movie consists almost entirely of that exact same metaphorical bullshit, then it kind of ends up being about nothing at all. This is what happens when irony eats itself.

Anyway, that's my interpretation. The movie might just be an excuse to show pretty boys rubbing their cocks on each other with a little blood thrown in to make it marketable. Either way, it was the weirdest date movie I ever saw.

UPDATE: It turns out that Bruce LaBruce is Canadian, not German. He's a heavy-duty queercore director best known for No Skin Off My Ass. I have already offended one Canadian with my error, and I apologize for any further irritation it may have caused to any of our neighbors to the north, regardless of their sexual orientation.


The makers of Boardinghouse (1982) claim that it's the first-ever shot-on-video horror movie, and I tend to believe them because, like all pioneers, they clearly didn't have a fucking clue what they were doing. It looks and feels like somebody's high school project, provided the administration had a liberal nudity policy.

Boardinghouse has an admittedly amazing exploitation premise. It's about this poofy-haired blond L.A. hipster sleazebag (writer/director/producer John Wintergate, acting under the awesome pseudonym Hawk Adley) who buys a cursed house that kills everybody who lives in it. He then moves in and rents out all of the spare bedrooms to eight or nine chicks of variable hotness so he has his own harem. None of them seem to have jobs or social lives or anything, so all they do is horse around in the pool and hang out in the kitchen in their underwear. Every now and then, one of them takes her top off and hops into bed with him. They roll around for a while and he squeezes her boobs. The fact that one of these broads is played by Wintergate's wife lets you know a little more about their marriage than I think I'm comfortable with.

Did I mention that he's telekinetic? Yeah, he likes to sit around in his leopard-print bikini briefs and breathe real heavily while making stuff bounce around like it's hanging on the end of a fishing line. Which, clearly, it's not, because, you know, magic. Duh.

It took me forever to watch Boardinghouse. I don't mean it took forever to get around to watching it; I mean the actual watching process took forever. I watched it in 15 minute chunks over the course of three weeks, usually right before bedtime or just after getting up. Consequently, my memory of it feels more like a series of vaguely related dreams than a single unified work. The fact that its story makes no fucking sense whatsoever probably helps with that.

Here are some things things I remember, in no particular order:

1. There's an opening crawl that's supposed to be an FBI file or something.I think it's about the history of the boardinghouse (Why is it one word? Is it Dutch?) and it's written in awesome old-timey green computery letters on a black screen, and every now and again, they cut to...I don't know. Something. People dying of...something. Sorry, man, wish I could help you.

2. Wait, actually, it starts with an announcement that the film will be shown in HORROR VISION! which consists of a gloved hand appearing onscreen accompanied by some psychedelic Lawnmower Man computer graphics. This is intended to warn the more sensitive lunatics in the audience that something gory is about to happen. I only remember it happening once or twice over the course of the picture so I think maybe this idea got lost along the way. I don't think any of us are quite prepared to deal with the amount of blow that likely went into the production of this movie, so I guess we can forgive them for not sweating the small stuff.

3. Then I think somebody breaks out of a mental institution. There's no way to be sure but I vaguely remember somebody dressed like an orderly getting the mind whammy put on him and being forced to pull ketchup-coated sausage casings out of his shirt.

4. At some point, a hitchhiker stops by and gets thrown in the pool by the ladies, then he goes upstairs and get electrocuted by a hair dryer in the bathtub. He's never heard from again, but then one of the chicks is seen troweling in the garden. Suspicious? Your guess is as good as mine.

5. I'm pretty sure somebody flies one of those weird prop planes with the engine in the back. I don't know in what context, but yeah, I'm 95% sure that happened.

6. One of the chicks gets stabbed through the hand by a telekinetically controlled steak knife. It goes straight through her palm, probably severing a few tendons, but they just wrap a towel around it and send her on her way.

7. The blond dude is taking a bath when one of the chicks visits him in her lingerie and he impresses her by making a bar of soap fly around. Then he pulls her in with him and promises to teach her how to be a creepy New Age psycho like him.

8. At some point, I'm pretty sure there's an honest-to-God pie fight between a few of the ladies. Now that you mention it, I think Mr. Wintergate/Adley might be into sploshing, because there's another scene where a chick opens the fridge and gets a faceful of telekinetic yogurt.

9. Ooh, this is a good one. One of the chicks is taking a shower when suddenly blood starts leaking out of the cracks between the tiles, so she freaks out so bad that she mushes her boobs up against the glass shower door six or seven times instead of opening it. Then when she finally manages to escape, she looks in the mirror and she has the face of a pig monster, but when one of the other broads bursts in, the pigface disappears. Then they check the shower and declare that nothing's wrong, even though the grout is still stained red.

10. The blond dude is on the beach making out with one of the topless chicks in his stable when somebody clonks him on the head with a rock and she's like, "What the hell did you do that for?" Then she starts bleeding from the eyes and mouth and stumbles naked down the beach for a while before collapsing in the surf. Then the blond dude wakes up and is like, "Wow, that was weird."

11. Some cops stop by and investigate something. One of them is forced to shoot himself in the head at the end, that much I remember. I think one of them has a manilla folder.

12. Somebody goes to the library and narrates pointlessly about it. Actually, now that you mention it, I seem to remember that one of the chicks had a possessive ex-boyfriend who narrated pointlessly, too. What's with these movies that will just let any asshole off the street narrate them? Have some self-worth, movie.

13. Somebody has a dream...with some monsters...and a smoke machine...and maybe a hand under the bed...there might be a teddy bear voodoo doll in there, too, or that could be a different scene. This part's pretty fuzzy.

14. One of the chicks is in a band that plays at the house. They sound kind of like Joan Jett crossed with Berlin crossed with fetal alcohol syndrome.

Okay, now we've gotten to the final stretch, which I just watched last night, so its memory hasn't wiggled out of my grip yet. While the band is playing, the blonde chick with the trowel pulls aside the band's manager (a stereotypical showbiz sleazoid with a plaid blazer and a Rex Reed mustache) and starts making out with him and calling him Daddy. At first, you think it's just some skanky sex talk, but then she warns him not to go back to Mommy and starts going all demonic and shit. She stands in front of a light show stolen from the local roller rink and her face gets all distorted like a carnival mirror while talking like the Evil Dead and you BUG THE FUCK OUT because it's like the movie has lost its fucking mind. It's like some dude sitting next to you on the subway who seems normal enough but then he suddenly starts talking to you about how Puff Daddy and Jesus are really the same dude, after all, have you ever seen them in the same place? This scene kind of broke my brain. I remember all that shit I mentioned earlier, but I have no idea who these two incestuous motherfuckers are or what they have to do with the bordinghaus or why she has telekinetic powers that let her rip this doughy bastard's heart out of his chest with her mind. Then the blond dude walks in to explain everything. He's like, "Wait, your name is Dee! D is for Deborah! You're Deborah Hoffman!" And I'm like, "Who the fuck is Deborah Hoffman?" I probably should have paid more attention to that scene with the manilla folder.

Then the chick in the band shows up, and her and the blond dude give the evil broad the Care Bear Stare until some red computer graphics spill onto the screen. Then the movie ends, but first there's about five minutes of green-on-black computer text letting you know that the chick in the band got a record contract with RCA and the blond dude went on to be the system administrator for "Space Program." Not "the" space program. Just Space Program. That's what it's called. I'm assuming it's some kind of storage company.

I don't know, man. Boardinghouse was a long slog, but there was something hilarious in every 15-minute segment I watched, and that life-changing last scene made the whole thing worth it. And the cheap-ass keyboard score was pretty awesome. It sounded like somebody poured Mountain Dew into John Carpenter's synthesizer, gave him a glass of absinthe, and made him play the Halloween theme over and over again. And boobs are pretty cool, I guess. I have no beef with boobs.

I wish I could break it down a little more, but that's all I got, dude. Some works of art just defy analysis.

Catch The Heat

It occurred to me last night that, by the year 2012, I will likely have seen every single action movie made in 1987. It's not a goal I've set for myself or anything. It's just something that's bound to happen on its own if things continue the way they've been going.

Last night's epiphany-inducing Class of '87 alumnus was Catch the Heat, an almost entirely forgotten action programmer about a buxom Chinese-Jewish lady cop named Checkers Goldberg who has minimal kung fu chops and even less acting talent. She's introduced on an undercover sting operation, dressed up as Madonna's aerobics instructor as she tries to buy heroin from the over-faced guy who played the Night Slasher in Cobra. He admits somewhat sheepishly that he never made it with a "China chick" before, so he pulls a pistol on her and tries to get her to go down on him in his pickup truck, but then fifty cops pop out of the woods and slap the cuffs on him. Then her partner—a wisecracking white guy who wants to jump Checkers, if you know what I mean—interrogates him by pointing his service revolver at his junk and saying "Give me a name or I give you a vagina."

That's the one thing that Catch the Heat has going for it: a hilariously overwritten script. It was penned by Stirling Silliphant, the absurdly prolific Hollywood hack behind such cheese classics as The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Shaft In Africa, and, of course, Over the Top. His style is what I like to call Mid-Twentieth Century Ecstaticism, which is characterized by the writer being so in love with the sound of the customized hepcat argot he's concocted that he forgets to ever write a line that could possibly be spoken by a live human being. By 1987, Silliphant had been put out to stud on the Elderly Screenwriters Dude Ranch, so he hadn't spoken to another person in years, which led to him having hundreds of terminally witty conversations with himself. After he'd collected enough of them, he cut-and-pasted them into the Movietron Cliché-O-Matic 9000 (of which he was co-inventor), turned up the Quirk Index to 8 or 9, and pumped out Catch The Heat.

He wrote a hell of a part for the lead chick, which is understandable, since she was his wife at the time. She gets to do kung fu, ride a dirt bike, perform a gymnastics/jazzercise routine, do a kabuki tango, and go undercover as a ditzy showgirl from Hong Kong named "Cinderella Poo." It's a star-making role, indeed, but it's too bad they didn't get a star to play it. This chick is semi-cute, I guess, but she looks like she's trying to give herself a hernia with her ham-fistedly sarcastic line readings. She says every sentence like it's "Yippee kay yay, motherfucker." But the jewel of the movie is her astonishingly shrill performance-within-a-performance as Cinderella Poo (considered an aphrodisiac in some circles). Her wide-eyed fembot expression, cutesy-pie vocal tone, and stereotypical docile Asian sex slave demeanor made me so uncomfortable that I had to reorganize my DVDs whenever she was talking so I wouldn't have to look at the screen.

Anyway, the plot: Checkers' partner flies down to Buenos Aires on a tip from the Night Slasher and discovers that Rod Steiger (playing what the back of the DVD box describes as "a ruthless talent agent") is somehow smuggling heroin into the States. So the partner calls up Checkers—who's fresh from a motorcycle chase that ended with her in the river—and talks to her on the phone while a uniformed cop stares at her titties through her wet wifebeater. It turns out that this scene isn't gratuitous, though, because her ample bust is actually part of the plot. In order to go undercover in a modern dance troupe, she has to pretend to be small-chested because the way that the bad guy is sneaking his product into the country is by giving the models he represents heroin-filled breast implants. The conversation he has with Checkers about how having big knockers will make her a star is like Curb Your Enthusiasm it's so embarrassing. When Checkers finds out his evil scheme, she gets so pissed that her eyes bug out like Jean-Claude Van Damme's and she yells "Talent agent?! He's a monster!"

But before that happens, she has a kung fu fight with legendary character actor Professor Toru Tanaka, the Hawaiian man-mountain with a Ph.D. in Ass-Kicking who brought some gravitas to The Running Man, The Perfect Weapon, and Pee Wee's Big Adventure. Unfortunately, since he once again plays a bad guy, he gets killed when Checkers wraps her legs around his head like her crotch was an Alien Face-Hugger. Then one of the other henchmen recognizes her and says, "It's Checkers Goldberg! That fucking Chinese Jew! Half-heeb, half-chink!" So Checkers takes that racist prick out and goes undercover at the paramilitary compound where Rod (who is hilariously bored through the entire movie) gives the girls their H-injected boobies. Then there's your standard two-pronged action climax, in which Checkers karate chops all the villains inside Rod's palatial, pillar-strewn mansion while her horndog partner (who's in the middle of a half-assed buddy comedy with a Brazilian detective who can't pronounce the word "lobster") leads the SWAT team against the dozens of goons on the outside. I don't want to give anything away, but somebody may or may not get shot and fall over a second-story railing.

In conclusion, Catch the Heat is fucking retarded and thus highly recommended.

Hit List

When you walk around any video retail outlet and see all the unwatchable shit they got on their shelves, it’s hard to believe that there’s a single goddamn movie that isn’t out on DVD yet. But it’s a sad fact that there are still plenty of titles that have never gotten the digital treatment and probably never will. The formerly booming DVD market has plateaued, and where there was once profit in digging up obscure flicks and spot-polishing them for you sonsabitches with apartments big enough to fit those humongous rectangular-ass TVs, now there is only risk. That’s why you have to go through back-alley channels if you want to see the amazingness that is William Lustig’s Hit List.

Lustig is the world-class sleazeball who made Maniac, the movie so disgusting that even Tom Savini was like, “You know, I think we might have gone a little too far on that one.” Lustig also made the underrated Robert Forster revenge picture Vigilante and two-and-a-half Maniac Cop films before becoming some kind of big muckity-muck at Blue Underground Home Video, purveyors of some of the prettiest-looking shitty movies you’ll ever see. So this is a dude who knows his fuckin’ exploitation. When you hand him a generic script about a regular joe whose son accidentally gets kidnapped by the Mob, he knows you gotta put a little extra sauce on there. We’ve seen this type of shit a million times before, but have we seen it with Lance Henriksen as a ninja?

Right away you can tell that this is an amazing movie because it starts with a POV from the flower arrangement on top of a coffin. It's being carried to its final resting place, but then a cop (you can tell he’s a cop because he’s played by Charles Napier’s industrial-sized face) breaks open the coffin and stabs the fucking corpse (a priest, mind you) in the chest with a shovel. The dearly departed is stuffed full of heroin, so Chuck hauls the mobbed-up funeral director in for drug trafficking. This is a great opening for a movie because it lets you know that you don’t know shit. In a flick where the good guys are allowed to chop up dead priests in front of friends and family, anything can happen.

Let me talk about Charles Napier for a sec. He’s got almost 200 credits on his résumé, everything from the original Star Trek to Russ Meyers’ Supervixens to The Blues Brothers. This is a dude who is so good at playing these big, bull-shooting law-enforcement types that you gotta wonder: What are we gonna do when he’s gone? I look at today’s crop of actors and I worry that there’ll be nobody to replace him. You really think we’re gonna be able to slap a Stetson on Seth Rogen in 15 years and he’ll be able to convincingly play the corrupt sheriff of a Nevada town overrun by white slavers? Hell no. They don’t make dudes like Charles Napier anymore, and if they do, they don’t put them in movies. The Charles Napiers of the world, the M. Emmett Walshes, the Dan Hedayas, the Bill Dukes, they just aren’t around anymore. And we as supporters of action cinema need these guys, because they bring the extra color to what is by and large a paint-by-numbers genre. There’s always gonna be scenes where the main bad guy kills one of his own men to show how evil he is, which is why it’s so important to have strong, distinctive character actors to help us tell them apart. I haven’t saluted anybody in a while, but holy fuck, I'm saluting the shit out of Charles Napier right now. He might never get the glory, but I swear to Christ I’ll fight anybody who says there’s a movie in his filmography that he didn't improve by being in it.

Anyway, Hit List is full of dudes like Charles Napier, which is one reason why it rules. We got Rip Torn as the head villain, a real flamboyant mobster who loves laughing, swearing, and being a total piece of shit. Then there’s Leo Rossi as the gangster funeral director-turned-informant. He’s got about a hundred credits under his belt, 90% of them either cops, crooks, or crooked cops. Then we got Uncommon Valor’s Harold Sylvester as the black best friend who dies at the end of the first act, Ken Lerner playing a sheisty lawyer, as per usual, and TV staple Jere Burns (Dear John) as Napier’s partner. You might not know these names, but you know these faces, and their presence gives Hit List a big boost.

But the movie’s ace is my man Lance Henriksen. When Rip Torn needs some informants rubbed out, he calls up Lance at the shoe store where he works. See, Lance doesn’t kill people for the money, since he’s already got this sweet Al Bundy gig where he gets to tickle fat ladies’ feet all day. He does it because killing people is a good time. Sort of a hobby, I guess, but everybody needs to find something they really love in this life. Lance is always gonna be a bad motherfucker no matter what, but when he dresses up like a ninja and grappling hooks his way into a jail to slaughter everyone inside with knives and guns and his bare extremities, you realize that you are in the presence of the eternal awesome. They gave him some blue contacts for this role and it makes him look real creepy, but most of his badassness comes from the fact that he’s just so calm and implacable about murdering. He even does the Michael Myers head-tilt thing after he hangs a guard on a cell door. He’s just gonna keep coming until you’re not alive anymore, and then he’s gonna go keep it real at the shoe store. That’s the type of dude he is, and that’s why he’s more awesome than we as a society deserve.

Hit List’s weak link is its star, Airwolf's Jan-Michael Vincent, who was deep in the grips of wife-beating and binge-drinking at this stage in his career. Even that’s entertaining, though, because it makes him the laziest fucking hero in movie history. Every chance he gets to lay down or have a seat, he takes it. There’s this one scene in the backyard where he’s sprawled out on some patio furniture and it looks like they had to wake him up in between takes and put some peanut butter on his gums like Mr. Ed to make him mouth his dialogue. Every time he’s gotta run or shoot or punch somebody, he gets this look on his face, like, “Aw, don’t make me work.” It’s amazing.

Anyway, the plot is that Lance is supposed to rub out the funeral director, who the feds have stashed in a safehouse across the street from Jan-Michael’s place. As a Plan B, he’ll grab the dude’s kid for insurance if he has to. But due to a wacky mishap, Lance goes to the wrong house and snatches Jan-Michael’s kid instead. The feds are no help, so Jan-Michael reluctantly gets off his ass, takes some Alka-Seltzer, and teams up with the funeral director to save his son and get some payback. Naturally, 2/3 of Jan-Michael’s dialogue is something along the lines of “I don’t care about that. All I want is my kid back.” Then there’s a shootout at a Laser Tag venue where nobody notices all the gunfire. It’s weird to have all these kids with Spaceballs helmets on running around in the middle of a gunfight.
The conclusion is a real showstopper. Jan-Michael chases Lance to the top of this parking garage and blasts him eight times in the chest with a six-shooter. Really, he just shoots the fucking hell out of him. Squibs a’poppin’, I’m telling you. Even I thought he was dead at this point, but then he jumps off the roof of the garage onto Jan-Michael’s car and gets dragged around for like 15 miles. Lustig did some similar person-hanging-off-a-moving-car stunts in a couple of the Maniac Cop movies, and he’s real good at it. It looks seriously unsafe to be attempting this shit without the benefit of being Thai. I mean, Lance is like fucking Jason at this point. You just can’t shake this motherfucker until that thing on the poster happens. (I don't know how to post pictures so I will wait while you Google it and take a look. Funny story, that poster was up on the wall in my 7th grade English class for no good reason, along with Lair of the White Worm.) The nice thing about a movie with a poster like that is that if it ever starts to drag you always know that at least you have that to look forward to.

Hit List is highly recommended to awesome people who like awesome things, but you gotta be seriously committed if you want to see it. The Man doesn’t want you to see Hit List because it might make you start wondering why they don’t make films like this anymore yet Nic Cage makes six or seven terrible movies every single year. Shit, the Illuminati must be involved. There’s no other explanation. They’re protecting themselves by keeping movies like Hit List out of circulation. But for every villain there’s a hero, and that’s why you need to start checking out sites like, where selfless motherfuckers are selling DVD-R’s of suppressed classics at rock-bottom prices. Or you can do what I did and buy Hit List on VHS for a buck and then get it transferred to DVD by the Pakistani dude who owns the video store/cobbler/tailor/electronics repair/phone card wholesaler in the post-industrial wasteland where your office is now located. This is not the most convenient option, but no one ever said the path to righteousness was without its hurdles.

12 Rounds

When a guy like me sees the words “WWE Studios” and “From the director of Die Hard 2” on a poster, it might as well say “Free tickets to Blowjob Island” because there is no force on God’s green earth that will keep me away.

You may remember Die Hard 2 director Renny Harlin as the crazy Finn who dangled a dude in between two jet planes in Cliffhanger and fed Sam Jackson to a CGI shark in Deep Blue Sea. He’s been around since the eighties, having survived Freddy Krueger, Andrew Dice Clay, and marriage to Geena Davis. His specialty is big, loud movies that straddle that fine line between “knowingly preposterous” and “legitimately retarded.” This is best exemplified in the future cult classic Mindhunters, a movie that is either jaw-droppingly stupid or utterly brilliant, depending on who you ask. And you know what? I don’t really want to know if Renny is in on the joke or not. Whether he’s celebrating/skewering the clichés of action cinema on purpose or by accident, I’m a major Renny Harlin fan, even if he doesn’t hit it out of the park every time. Driven was boring, The Covenant wasn’t as outlandish as a movie where Banana Republic warlocks call each other “wee-otches” should be, and as far as I know, Cutthroat Island is still the biggest money-loser in Hollywood history. But as long as people keep giving him millions of dollars to continue his lifelong quest to blow up every manner of structure and vehicle ever invented, I will be there to support him.

Renny’s benefactor on 12 Rounds is WWE Studios, the prestigious motion picture production company known for starting with the premise of “big muscley guy hits people” and then leaving well enough alone. 12 Rounds isn’t as retarded as The Marine, also starring the bubbly biceps of three-time world champion wrestler/wigger stereotype John Cena, but it’s a better all-around film. It’s sort of like Saw as a PG-13 action movie, in that it’s about one of those psychotic übergeniuses that like to play sadistic games with law enforcement officials. In this case, we got an Irish arms merchant who wants to get revenge on Detective Cena for accidentally causing the death of his ladyfriend. So he kidnaps Cena’s anorexic blond girlfriend (Walking Tall’s Ashley Scott, in her second role as “designated hostage” in a movie starring an ex-wrestler) and makes Cena run around town performing little tasks that involve jumping onto runaway trolley cars and escaping from falling elevators. It’s sort of like eight or nine imaginary Speed sequels crammed into one movie.

This is not the greatest movie ever made (I apologize if I gave you that impression), but it gets the job done. It certainly could have been wackier, but it maintains an enjoyably lightweight tone, even when everybody from Cena’s best friend to his plumber keep getting killed. Stuff blows up real nice, and the pace never flags. It never devolves into pointless comedy like The Marine, and you can actually tell what the fuck is going on most of the time, unlike Stone Cold Steve Austin’s The Condemned. True, someone must have shown Renny a Bourne movie at some point, because he forgoes his usual elegant, confident camerawork in favor of some mild shaky-cam, though thankfully not while the expensive shit is happening. (Note to parents: If your child expresses a desire to be a film director when he grows up, you must at all costs keep him from ever seeing any of the works of Paul Greengrass. He will immediately throw out that tripod you bought him for Christmas and start attempting cinematography that looks like the camera was strapped to the back of a bumblebee.) Aside from that, the flick is very old school. There seems to be very little CGI. This is a straight-up stunts movie, with maybe a little greenscreen compositing thrown in. If The Marine was looking to bring back the eighties (and failing), then 12 Rounds is looking to bring back the mid-nineties (and succeeding).

As for this John Cena guy, I’m kind of on the fence. On the one hand, we haven’t had an action star who looked this much like an action star in a long time. There’s nothing offbeat or gritty about him. He’s just Joe All-America, only lumpier. He’s like a bowl of Wheaties with human growth hormone sprinkled on top. While I appreciate that in theory, in practice this guy is nine kinds of bland. He has no attitude, so he’s a completely reactive hero. Shit happens and he just deals with it. He’s like a video game character. Where Bruce Willis would give you a look that tells you how he’s feeling about having to throw a boat at an escaping felon (long story), Cena just kind of does it. You never doubt that he could beat a motherfucker’s ass, but he lacks that human touch that would put him in Jason Statham territory.

Also, Cena seems to have a thing for characters who know how to kick ass but are clueless at domestic life. In The Marine, he played a dude who got booted from military service for being too badass, so the whole first act is about him being unable to adjust to civilian life. 12 Rounds is similar because he's a dedicated cop but his girlfriend says she can't trust him around the house because he isn't helping out with the chores. But the funny part is that the plots of both movies utterly fail to illustrate these themes in any way. The Marine makes it seem like Cena's wife will have to get kidnapped every single day in order for him to have something to do with his time, while 12 Rounds has Cena asking his girlfriend if she "trusts" him (Screenwriting Cliché #12: Have a character repeat another character's line of dialogue from earlier in the movie in a different context) right before jumping out of a helicopter with her. Dude, you're missing the point. She always trusted you when it comes to throwing yourself off of moving vehicles. She just didn't trust you to fix the leaky valve under the sink. And you know what? She probably still doesn't, because the script has given her no reason to. Sure, she knows you'll be there for her whenever she gets taken hostage by terrorists, but will you remember to take out the trash? The jury's still out on that one.

Anyway, I want to welcome my man Renny back to action films after wallowing in horror-thrillers for several years. He definitely hasn’t lost his touch. Maybe now they’ll finally let him make Werewolves on the Moon, which got stuck in development hell a few years back. Think of the potential awesomeness of that. I mean, if you were stuck on the moon with some werewolves, you’d be totally fucked, because it’s always a full moon on the moon.