MacGyver Season 4 (2020)

It’s pretty amazing that the reboot of this venerable 80s show — which lasted seven seasons and only ended when star Richard Dean Anderson told TV Guide, “The only reason it went off the air was that everybody was ready to move on. I was physically exhausted and had no life.”

In the new series, Lucas Till plys Angus “Mac” MacGyver, an undercover government agent for the Phoenix Foundation, a covert agency that the rest of the world believes is a think tank. An Army EOD technician, Mac prefers to use non-lethal means to stop his enemies and excels, as always, at solving problems with unique scientific feats.

The new version of the show was created by Peter M. Lenkov — who created the comic RIPD that the movie is based on — and takes place inside the same universe as his other two shows, Magnum P.I. and Hawaii Five-O. Lenkov also wrote Demolition ManSon In Law and the second and third Universal Soldier films. A sad thing to report is that he was removed from all of the CBS shows he created in 2020 because it was said that he fostered a “toxic work environment,” with Lucas Till telling Vanity Fair, “I’ve never worked this hard in my life, and I am fine with hard work. But the way Peter treats people is just unacceptable. I was suicidal that first year on the show, because of the way he made me feel. But the way he’s treated the people around me — that’s just my breaking point.”

But a positive thing is that the series is actually pretty fun to watch. I wish that it had been a better experience for the people making it. Horror fans will also enjoy seeing appearances in season 4 from some of their favorite actors like Keith David, Peter Weller, Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project) and Tobin Bell. The Tenderloins (James Murray, Sal Vulcano, Joe Gatto, and Brian Quinn), who you may know from Impractical Jokers, also appear as waiters in one episode.

This season also finds the Phoenix Foundation being rebuilt as a privately funded entity to go up against CODEX, a secretive organization that is coordinating multiple catastrophes to get the attention of world leaders. They also possess something called File 47, which is about the end of the world. Any time the team gets close to the truth, the agent from that group always commits suicide rather than reveal their plan.

There’s even an episode with Mac loses his short-term memory and must undergo a dangerous treatment that sends his brain back in time, where he meets numerous people from his past and the past of CODEX, such as Thomas Alva Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, his mother, his evil self and even Nikolai Tesla, who helps him regain his memory and teaches him the secrets of Shiva, a superweapon he’s created.

Season 4 moves at a quick clip and it’s pretty cool that there’s an underlying story arc throughout the episodes. You can catch the DVD box set, which has just been released from Lionsgate and CBS STudios.

The Slime People (1963)

There’s so much fog in this movie, Lucio Fulci got jealous.

So much fog that the Elizabeth Dane wrecked.

So much fog…

You get it, right?

A bunch of lizard people emerge from under Los Angeles and use their fog machine to invade the city because, well, we nuked them out of their homes. Luckily, Tom Gregory (Robert Hutton, who also directed the movie) joins with a group of survivors to battle the slimy reptiles, who can’t deal with salt or their own spears.

Susan Hart — who would one day marry American-International Pictures president James H. Nicholson and appear in their beach movies — is one of the humans battling the mucky scaly heels.

This entire movie was filmed in the studios of KTLA but ran out of money after nine days. The slime creatures cost most of the money and none of the stuntmen or Hutton got paid. There was also the wild thought to use small people as giant voles who would lead the invasion, but when they watched the footage, it was too silly to use. Just think of that, as this movie is one of the goofiest films ever made. I wish I could watch that footage.

Hutton would go on to write Persecution, which was one of Lana Turner’s last films. It’s just as goofy — maybe more — than this one.

Deadly Instincts (1997)

The alien in this movie has a funny way to go about saving its planet. It’s mating with us, but also killing us, so that seems kind of over the line, you know? How lucky for that alien to land in an all-girls school, I guess. Or unlucky, if I’m taking the side of the humans.

Also known as Breeders, this movie left me with so many questions. Why is Ashley the only teacher? Who is that woman in the leather running about the place? Why is she called Space Girl? Is this a remake of the 1986 film Breeders? Can a shotgun kill a breeder alien? Was the ending setting up a sequel?

Sadly, the actress who played Space Girl, Kadamba Simmons, was murdered by an ex-boyfriend not long after this movie was finished. I really enjoyed her in this film, a true bright spot in a film that’s kind of dull.

Junesploitation 2021: Fantasy Mission Force (1983)

June 19: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie — is Jackie Chan!

Fantasy Mission Force is one of the first movies I ever owned. It was a cheap VHS tape and I was so excited to own a Jackie Chan movie in the mid-80s. However, once I watched it, I absolutely hated it. I didn’t understand why Jackie was barely in it or what a Hong Kong mo lei tau movie was.

Mo lei tau means nonsense, a type of slapstick that was developed in Hong Kong that places elements that should not belong together, often with anachronisms and things that should in no way go together.

That explains why this movie, set during World War II, begins with the Japanese attack on Canada, where four generals, including Abraham Lincoln, are taken by the enemy. Lieutenant Don Wen leads the rescue, putting together a team. At first, he rejects James Bond, Rocky, Albert from Aces Go Places and Snake Plissken because he heard that he’s dead. He ends up with a dirty kind of dozen that includes two kilt-wearing weirdos, a homeless man named Old Sun, Greased Lightning the escape artist, Billy and Lily (Brigitte Lin, The Bride with the White Hair). They’re soon joined by two criminals who want money named Emily and Sammy (Jackie, finally showing up).

Don Wen dies pretty quickly when some natives attack them, followed by cannibals led by a man in a tuxedo. That man would be Yu Jin Xiang and his music is that of Chor Lauheung, a martial arts soap opera in which the actor who plays this role, Adam Cheng, appeared on. He was typecast as a James Bond type, which is why he plays this role in the movie.

After our gang kills them off, they must spend the night in a haunted house staffed by Chinese hopping vampires before they find the base. But when they get there, the generals are gone and the Japanese are all dead.

They barely have a second to catch their breath before German troops in 1970s cars attack them, except they’re all Japanese and dressed like they’ve come out of Mad Max. Everyone in the cast is killed as the movie suddenly gets dark — I was ill-prepared for this narrative switch — and only Sammy, Emily and Old Sun survive, but the older man is soon killed by Don Wen, who survived and orchestrated the whole thing.

This leads to a fight and Jackie of course wins, before driving off with the girl. But hey — Don Wen is playing by Jimmy Wang Yu, the man who starred in movies like Master of the Flying Guillotine and The One Armed Swordsmen.

So why did Jackie make this movie? Well, he owed director Jimmy Wang Yu a favor, because  Wang Yu negotiated on Chan’s behalf during a Triad dispute over his contract between Golden Harvest and Chan’s former employer Wei Lo. It’s also why Jackie made the movie Island of Fire.

This movie is goofy beyond belief, with music stolen from Planet of the Apes, HalloweenTourist Trap and The Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion. But best of all, it has Brigitte Lin shooting a bazooka. I’ve come around to this movie in my old age, but trust me, it’s really something.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Pipeline (2020)

You know, every time I believe that I’ve seen it all, something shows up to surprise me. Like this movie, which features a pipe monster that takes over a family’s house. So how does the family stay alive? Pretty simple. They rent their home out to people who will serve as food for the beast.

The best part of this movie is that it uses shadows and light to hide the beast, with the kills mostly happening offscreen. Writer/director/producer Emily Aguilar has a background in much lighter fare, making movies like Clara’s Ultimate Christmas. Yet as we’ve learned, often there’s a fine line between directors who do horror movies and those that do holiday movies for kids.

You can learn more at the film’s official Facebook page. Want to watch it? Get it on demand and on DVD from Wild Eye Releasing.

Power Book II: Ghost Season One (2020)

Just a few days after the end of the series Power, this is one of several new stories that continue the universe of the original show. Those shows will be Power Book III: Raising Kanan, which concerns the life of Kanan (50 Cent); Power Book IV: Force, which is rumored to be about Tommy (Joseph Sikora) and Power Book V: Influence, a political tale of Tate’s (Larenz Tate) rise to power.

Ghost is about Tariq St. Patrick (Michael Rainey Jr.), the son of James “Ghost” St. Patrick and Tasha Green-St. Patrick (Naturi Naughton). He wants to escape the heavy shadow of his father, but finds himself going down the same path into selling drugs. He also has to deal with the Tejada family, led by Monet Stewart Tejada (Mary J. Blige).

With appearances by Method Man and Redman, as well as Cooper Saxe (Shane Johnson) continuing to pursue the St. Patrick family, this Starz series won the Outstanding Drama Series in the 2021 NAACP Image Awards, which also saw Blige win Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.

While I’ve never watched the original series, I really enjoyed this show. It presents a world that I’d have no chance to ever be part of and immerses you in the lives of its characters.

The DVD set of season one has just been released and is a great way to catch up on the world of Power and get set for the new shows, with Power Book III: Raising Kanan starting on July 18 and Power Book IV: Force airing next January.

Death Promise (1977)

Yet another example of the end of the world New York City of the late 1970s, Death Promise — not a threat, but a death promise — is all about the residents of a tenement building (but not Tenement) are being forced out of their homes by a realty company who goes past shutting off the air conditioning, power and water to murder, not to mention lighting fires in the hall and releasing rats, the bad guys kill off Charley’s old man boxer father, the man who was trying to keep the tenants all together in the face of these slumlord tactics.

Fortunately for the audience — and bad for the antagonists — Charley (Charles Bonet, Way of the Black DragonThe Black Dragon Revenges the Death of Bruce LeeDon’t Go in the House) and his friend Speedy (Speedy Leacock) are martial arts experts, making this movie the result of a one night stand between Enter the Dragon and Death Wish.

Beyond just ruining the board members of Iguana Realty’s lives, our friends are now planning on murdering each and every one of them. Well, it wasn’t called Maim Promise, so that makes sense.

To get his revenge, Charly’s master Shibata (Thompson Kao Kang, who was the action director of this movie, as well as a stuntman who appeared in movies like The Karate Killers; sadly he was killed by a Hong Kong cop in what was called a “trivial street quarrel”) reads him a letter from the dead dad, which sends him to study under Ying (Tony Liu, who was in The Big BossEnter the DragonFist of Fury and many more), where he learns how to take out everyone in his way. That means throwing stars, arrows to the head and death by rats.

Brought to theaters by Howard Mahler Films, the same people who brought From Beyond the GraveThe Big Doll HouseThe Killer Must Kill AgainDeep Red and Devil’s Express to your grindhouse, this movie boasts an incredible Neal Adams-drawn poster.

You can watch the Rifftrax version on Tubi or get the Vinegar Syndrome blu ray at Diabolik DVD.

Redemptio (2019)

This docudrama, which combines real interviews with seven inmates of the Catlagirone prison with reenactments of their crimes, is the creation of writer/director Fabio Cillia.

According to the film’s distributors, One 7 Movies, “Redemptio is a docufilm of its own kind: thanks to a special permission from the Italian Ministry of Justice, Redemptio presents seven authentic interviews to inmates held in the Catlagirone’s jail (Sicily). All the interviews are genuine, as those men tell the story of their lives in prison: what they dream, what they hope, what they need. Different stories from different men, convicted for various crimes, from robbery to murder. Different men but with a common fear: what is expecting them outside, once they will finally be released.”

It’s kind of strange that One 7 Movies put this out, as they usually release stuff like Sex and Black Magic or Sex, Demons And Death. But if you’re interested in what a true crime documentary from Italy would be like, then you should check this out.

You can learn more by checking out CAV Distributing Corporation‘s site, who is releasing this in the U.S. or watch it on Amazon Prime.

Censor (2021)

Obviously, we’re kind of invested in video nasties, what with our deep dives into sections 1, 2 and 3 of the films that were criticized for their violent content by the UK press and various organizations such as the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association.

Thanks to a loophole, these films did not have to pass through the British Board of Film Classification. Soon could rent films that could never have made it into British theaters. Obviously, guardians of decency and morality soon lost their minds. It’s kind of hard to put this into a U.S. frame of mind. Sure, we had the PMRC, but we didn’t grow up in Thatcher’s England.

Yet nearly forty years later, the lure of video nasties still gets our collective lizard brain excited. We live in a place where you can now just load up something like Anthropophagous on a streaming service, but at one point, it wasn’t just hard to find that movie. According to the Video Recordings Act 1984, all video releases required BBFC certification, along with a stricter code of censorship on home video than it did for actual films. If caught renting or selling these movies, authorities could use the Obscene Publications Act 1959 to levy fines, potential jail sentences and even close down businesses.

All we got were stickers on our albums and some scattered record burnings. Nothing like the outright panic that occurred in the UK.

This is the world that Censor takes place in.

Enid is a video censor (Niamh Algar) who approves a movie* that a killer claims inspired him to devour his wife’s face. Her notoriety leads to a producer named Doug Smart (Michael Smiley) to personally ask for her to censor his newest film, Don’t Go in the Church. He’s also attracted to the woman he sees hidden behind her thick glasses and severe lack of fashion, saying that she should be in one of his movies.

Enid replies, “I don’t think I like the idea of being raped and cut into pieces on screen.”

The shady producer shoots back, “The public would love it.”

As she continually watches the film in an attempt to slice its most worrisome moments — Enid is fastidious in her job, unlike many of her co-workers — she is reminded of her sister Nina, who disappeared when she was only seven years old. She becomes convinced that the actress Alice Lee (Sophia La Porta) is her missing sibling who has been forced to appear in these increasingly violent films.

With her parents asking her to move on, Enid has no choice but to use the attraction that the producer has for her and follow him home. He thinks he’s getting a chance to sleep with her. She wants more information on Alice Lee’s next movie with director Frederick North (Adrian Schiller). As he attempts to seduce her, she pushes him away, causing an accident where he’s violently impaled on one of his awards. At this point, reality and dreams start to mesh, brought together with the lines of tracking and fuzz that VHS movies once awarded us with.

This moves Enid literally into the woods, seeking out the set and directed North, who confesses that all that he knows is that his movie was based on a true story. He casts her in the film without knowing that our protagonist has completely dissociated herself from reality and has the mission to rescue her sister and thereby end the blight of the video nasties.

Director and co-writer** Prano Bailey-Bond explored similar territory in her 2015 short Nasty, a film in which a young boy searches for his missing father by watching the lost man’s collection of video nasties. For a first feature, she does an admirable job of keeping a consistent tone of dread and nastiness; this would fit somewhat into the giallo subgenre of “woman slowly losing her mind in an attempt to come to grips with her past,” which may be the longest name of a sub-genre ever.

Unlike movies set in the 80s that keep things strictly neon, production designer Paulina Rzeszowska and director Bailey-Bond strove to keep things within the gray world — until we enter the videodrome, as it were — of Thatcher. Once those films start to play, they feel real, as the goal was that each fake movie had to have its own storyline, even if we don’t see them play out in Censor. What we end up with is a sinister Wizard of Oz, where the escape to fantasy looks filled with the colors of Bava and the soft darkness of Eurohorror.

The film may have an ending you see coming from the beginning, but it’s still a pretty entertaining and tight affair. And hey — anyone making horror movies that are just 82 minutes long understands exactly one very important and lost rule of how the genre should play.

You may be upset with the fact that your beloved video nasties will get a new audience of people who may not understand why they’re important to you. Perhaps you will get the opportunity to explain it to them and open the gates somewhat. Or you can always avoid it, wait for this to pass over and content yourself by watching Bloody Moon for the twentieth time.

As for me, I hope that someday, Bailey-Bond makes a full version of Don’t Go Into the Woods, because it looks like the kind of film that I absolutely love.

You can learn more about Censor at the official site.

*It’s Deranged, the real 1974 movie directed by Alan Ormsby and Jeff Gillen. I kind of love how Censor balances films created within its universe with actual movies.

**Co-writer Anthony Fletcher also worked on both of these films.

Junesploitation 2021: The Passover Plot (1976)

June 19: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie — is free.

Hugh J. Schonfield was a British Bible scholar who specialized in the study of the New Testament and the early development of the Christian religion. I bet he never believed that when he went from being one of the original Dead Sea Scrolls team members and writing a non-ecclesiastical historical translation of the New Testament to writing The Passover Plot that it’d be made into a movie with Zalman King, Dan Hedaya and Donald Pleasence.

The central thesis of Schonfield’s book that Jesus was completely convinced that He was the Messiah, as he was a descendent of King David. Therefore, he calculated His journey, keeping many of the Disciples on a need-to-know basis of his true plans, which ultimately included dying on the cross and being resurrected so that He could rule as a king on Earth.

Then things went wrong.

The plan was that Jesus would not end up being on the cross for more than a few hours, as Jewish people by law had to be taken down in time for Sabbath. One of His followers was to give him a drug to knock him out. Then, Joseph of Arimathea would take His body while Jesus healed. However, a Roman soldier — one assumes the one played by John Wayne in The Greatest Story Ever Told — stabbed Jesus and killed him before The Passover Plot could be completed.

Producer by Wolf Schmidt and Menahem Golan (yes!), The Passover Plot was written by Paul Golding (the writer of Beat Street), Patricia Louisianna Knop (the writer of 9 1/2 WeeksWild OrchidRed Show Diaries and the wife of Zalman King) and Millard Cohan.

Jesus — called Yeshua of Nazareth — is intense, but that’s because that’s Zalman King’s acting style. He’s up against Pontius Pilate (Pleasence), who is working with the Jewish High Priests to rule what will someday be The Holy Land. There’s a commotion at the temple, presumably led by Barabbas, which Jesus hopes to calm so that He can bring the people together and become the Messiah. Either that or ask Jusad (Scott Wilson) to betray him so that he can fake his death.

This movie plays fast and loose with the Gospel and the direction by Michael Campus — yes, the same man who made The Mack and Z.P.G. — is kind of wild. But hey! It has a score from Alex North, who did Spartacus and Cleopatra, plus Academy Award-nominated costumes by Mary Willis, who also worked on both the TV movie and original versions of The Diary of Anne Frank.

How about this for weird? This movie has the same cinematographer as Lemon Popsicle and The Last American Virgin, Adam Greenberg.

My favorite thing about this whole controversy was that Pat Boone bought national syndicated TV time to create an hour-long show asking people not to go see this movie. In fact, he even called Donald Pleasence on the phone to ask him why he was in it, thereby proving my theory that Mr. Pleasence never said no to anything that would have him perform on camera.

Also, in The Greatest Story Ever Told, Pat played the Angel at the Tomb. Who did Donald play? Satan.