Runaway (1984)

Michael Crichton is the storytelling engine behind so many of the Ancient Future genre that we’re talking about all this week, someone who was ahead of his time at one time and now, we can look back at his films and say, “Wow, that future sure got old.”

Before he was doing ads about reverse mortgages where he has to outright tell you that this scam is not a scam, Tom Selleck ruled the world, turning down Indiana Jones for Thomas Magnum and then making this movie where he played Sgt. Jack R. Ramsay, an expert at stopping robots and machines gone wrong or “runaways.”

He used to be a real cop, but his fear of heights caused him to pause, which let a criminal escape and a family to get killed. The on the beat police look down on his robotic patrol, but his new partner Karen (Cynthia Rhodes, Penny from Dirty Dancing) is super into it. And now there’s an actual homicide by robot and untrackable computer chips and an evil genius named Dr. Charles Luther (Gene Simmons, of course) behind it all.

He’s out to kill an ex-lover (Kirstie Alley) who is trying to sell his inventions to the highest bidder. I mean, she’s right to do so, because he’s made some stuff that doesn’t even exist 37 years later, like bullets that lock onto their targets and have cameras on them to guide them to kill whomever they target.

The end of the film has the battle we’ve always wanted, Selleck vs. Simmons, on a skyscraper under construction guarded by robotic bugs that spit poison.

And in the middle of all this tech, G. W. Bailey gets his Police Academy role as Lt. Harris from started early as the chief of police.

Crichton didn’t just write this one. He directed it, too. He did the same for PursuitWestworldThe Great Train RobberyLookerPhysical Evidence and Coma, which had a small part for Selleck.

For all the fun I make of these old tech films, this one was pretty on the ball when it came to predictions of today. Sure, we don’t have bullets like that, but we do have robot vacuum cleaners, the Internet, voice-activated computers, social media, retinal identification, drones, laptops and police officers armed with semi-automatic guns.

What’s really interesting about Runaway is that it was the favorite movie of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who brought up Tom Select and his character from this movie numerous times during the 1989 trial that led to his execution.

The Net (1995)

Sure, the internet existed in 1995 but in no way did it work like it does in this movie, which is perhaps most memorable for positing a world in which Dennis Miller has seen Sandra Bullock’s intimate parts and for also giving us the best pizza ordering site we’ve ever seen.

I’ve also realized that I watch a ton of Sandra Bullock movies — I wish I knew her well enough to call her Sandy — and she eats a lot in them. This video confirmed my theory.

United States Under Secretary of Defense Michael Bergstrom commits suicide after being informed that he has HIV. This ignites a tech-thriller where Angela Bennett (Bullock) never leaves the house and works, communicates and even orders food — seriously, that pizza ordering scene! — online. In 1995, this was considered the future. In 2021, after a year of living with a pandemic, it’s life.

After a vacation to Cancun, Bennett discovers that a backdoor she stumbled upon is part of a conspiracy and that the net itself has erased her from existence. Before you know it, she’s sleeping with hired killers and trying to get her life back while realizing that maybe she should have gone outside every once in a while.

This movie sums up the “ancient future” genre in the way that the internet looks dated yet can do things that it struggles to do today. Also, despite being someone who never goes outside and doesn’t care about how she looks, Bullock remains gorgeous. Such is Hollywood.

You may remember the direct-to-video sequel directed by this movie’s director Irwin Winkler’s son Charles. But did you know this was a TV series? Yep. It starred Brooke Langton — who was in the basic cable all the time double feature of The Replacements and The Benchwarmers — as Angela.

Now, you may ask, is this a cyberpunk film? Well, it has one reference. Angela’s drink of choice is a mix of gin and vermouth with a pearl onion instead of an olive. That’s a Gibson, a reference to one of the creators of cyberpunk, William Gibson.

Beyond Terror (1980)

Cauldron Films has put our four movies* and as far as I’m concerned, they’re four for four.

Written and directed by Tomás Aznar, this Spanish biker/slasher/occult freakout thrilled me with every single frame. It starts with one of a group of robbers posing as a prostitute before she brutally knifes a man, then she joins three others to rob a bar.

Taking a middle-class couple hostage and holding out in the home of an old woman and her grandson, they act just like you’d expect a home invasion biker gang to behave, killing everyone in their path when they’re not screwing in churches.

Before they kill her, the grandmother prays to Satan to destroy the bikers and from there on, they see ghastly visions of her dead grandson, you know, when they’re not having sex and killing more people or being chased by Ossorio-like Templars through a desiccated chapel. Oh yeah — there’s also supposedly a fortune guarded by those very same Blind Dead-ish mummies in the catacombs beneath the ruins.

It’s packed with menace, gore, sex and meanness — exactly the kind of Eurohorror that always played well over here. It has that glorious shot on film soft darkness that I love so much, as well as drugs, shootouts and a final twenty minutes that are a delirious thrill ride.

Más allá Del Terror was never released ever in the United States until now and I have no idea why.

You can right that wrong by grabbing a copy from Cauldron Films. The limited edition slipcase version may be sold out, but there’s another edition coming soon. We’ll update this post when that happens.

*American RickshawCrime of the Black Cat and Abrakadabra are the other three.

PS – Fans of Warren Comics will spot the art that was lifted for the German VHS release. It’s the Frank Frazetta cover of Vampirella #11.

Badlands 2005: The Brides of Lizard Gulch (1988)

This unsold TV pilot — made in 1988 for ABC — tried to take advantage of the boom in all things post-apocalyptic. It was even shot in some of the same places that Max Rockatansky race across, like Bourke-Wilcannia Road, Broken Hills and The Barrier Highway in New South Wales, Australia. And directing it? George Miller.

No, not that George Miller.

The George Miller that directed The Man From Snowy River and The Journey to the Center of the Earth TV mini-series.

That said, this movie also features Hugh Keays-Byrne, who was Toecutter in Mad Max and would one day become Immortan Joe in Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s also got Gus Mercurio (he was in plenty of Australian films like Harlequin and Turkey Shoot), Justin Monjo (who was in the post-apocalyptic The Blood of Heroes), Debra Engle (who played Blanche’s daughter Rebecca on Golden Girls), Caitlin O’Heaney (He Knows You’re Alone) and even Sharon Stone in an early role.

It goes so far to be a Mad Max-style film that they used stunt coordinator Glen Boswell (The Road WarriorRazorback, Mad Max Beyond ThunderdomeDead End Drive-In). A lot of the crew — art director Rob Robinson and assistant directors Tony Wellington and Nikki Long — also worked on the end times film Sons of Steel.

It’s all about the aftermath of a severe drought that has pushed America away from the west and made water the most precious resource there is. As settlers move back into the destroyed cities, U.S. Marshalls like Garson MacBeth (Lewis Smith, Perfect Tommy from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai) and his cyborg partner, Rex (Miguel Ferrer, who a year earlier had helped build RoboCop) are there to protect them.

Sure, it’s kind of silly, but I loved the idea of MacBeth being obsessed with the idea of the west that he only knows from old movies and TV shows. And any post-apocalyptic movie that ends with Miguel Ferrer becoming a T-800 style robot and unleashing a barrage of bullets is something that I’m totally going to enjoy. Oh yeah — and it’s written by Rueben Leder, who also wrote A*P*E*!

You can watch this on YouTube.

A Chapter In Her Life (1923)

Based on the novel Jewel: A Chapter in Her Life by Clara Louise Burnham, this film was the second time that Lois Weber had directed an adaption of that book. The first was 1915’s Jewel, which she co-directed with her husband Phillips Smalley. She went uncredited on that movie but this one, made shortly after their divorce, gave her full credit.

Somehow, within this mainstream film, the views of Christian Science are shown to win the day for young Jewel. She’s staying with her angry grandfather while her parents go overseas on business, but all the vitriol is easily fixed thanks to our heroine’s love and trust in others.

Lois Weber is an intriguing figure in film history and one worthy of study.

Born in Allegheny, PA, Weber was first a streetcorner evangelist before starting her career as an actress. She appeared in what experts consider the first narrative film, 1908’s Hypocrites*, and by 1911 was co-directing and starring in the film A Heroine of ’76.

By 1914, she was making 27 films a year. In the spirit of her early call to evangelism, she began directing, writing and then producing films dealing with the themes of abortion, alcoholism, birth control, drug addiction and prostitution.

One of her many innovations was the split-screen, which she used in 1913’s Suspense, as well as early experiments with sound. She also made the first adaption of Tarzan in 1918.

She wasn’t a novelty. She was actually Universal Studios’ top director and even had her own production company. Sadly, her career didn’t translate to talking pictures, but that isn’t because of her gender.

Lois Weber died after making only one talking film, 1934’s White Heat. By that point, she’d been forgotten by Hollywood, but more than 300 people attended her funeral, which had been paid for by Frances Marion, the most renowned screenwriter of the 20th century and someone who had been inspired by Weber. In 1960, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Kino Lorber has released A Chapter In Her Life and Sensation Seekers on blue ray, with 2K restorations by Universal Pictures. I was excited to see a clean-looking copy of this film, as well as to learn more about Weber’s life. It’s pretty astounding that she was a divorcee and a leading force in Hollywood at a time when both of those things were well outside the boundaries of normalcy.

*A film that features a full-frontal female nude scene.

Solarbabies (1986)

There was a time, like probably 1986, where end of the world movies and rollerskating movies crossed paths to make one film. Mel Brooks was involved. And it went nowhere in our reality, but if we are to believe the theory of multiple Earths each with their own divergent timelines, there is one version of life where Solarbabies was a Star Wars sized hit and there would be a whole new slate of Italian ripoffs of end of the world rollerskating movies and not just the Roller Blade movies that Donald Jackson unleashed on an uncaring planetoid.

There’s no water in the future and there are orphanages and there’s a game that’s kind of like rugby on skates. A team of orphans — Jason (Jason Patric), Terra (Jami Gertz), Rabbit (Claude Brooks), Metron (James LeGros), Tug (Peter DeLuise) and Daniel (Lukas Haas) — have bonded over this game and when Daniel finds a glowing orb that might be the key to everyone having enough water, this family unit has to seek it out.

That’s because another orphan named Darstar (Adrian Pasdar) has stolen it and taken off for the desert with the Eco Protectorate e-Police in hot pursuit. Oh yeah — that orb is also called the Bodhi and is part of an alien who the government also wants to capture.

This movie leaves me with so many questions, like why did talented people like Charles Durning, Sarah Douglas and Alexei Sayle from The Young Ones end up in it? How do rollerskates work in the desert? How amazing is it that Mel Brooks lost $9 million dollars of his own money on this and had to fly out to the set to threaten to fire everyone when the cast fought with director Alan Johnson, who up until then was a choreographer and only directed one other movie, Brooks’ To Be Or Not to Be? Can you believe that this movie was delayed for weeks because of rain, even though it was lensed in a Spanish desert? And how absolutely wild is it that it has a theme song by Smokey Robinson, “Love Will Set You Free” that directly quotes Jesus throughout*?

Bad gut Grock — great name — was played by Richard Jordan, who had to have been sick of being in desert movies that bombed after this and Dune.

And you know, I loved this when it came out. I was that lone kid when Patric and Gertz got hot in The Lost Boys that kept saying, “But have you seen Solarbabies?”

*To be fair, every character in this movie is named for some religious figure and the Bodhi is at one point literally called the sphere of Longinus, which is a direct tie to the Spear of Destiny that pierced the side of Jesus and ended his life after being crucified.

Matango (1963)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Rochester’s bio says, “Librarian. Mad about movies, traveling, books and film soundtracks. Perfect night – Watching The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes with Ornella Muti.”

Matango is a Japanese horror flick from Ishiro Honda, director of Godzilla, based on the short story The Voice in the Night by English writer and bodybuilder William Hope Hodgson.

Rumored to be the inspiration for the American sit-com Gilligan’s Island that ran from 1964-67, Matango, also known as Attack of the Mushroom People has people turning into mushrooms on a mysterious island. Sounds great, doesn’t it?  

Well, it did to me, anyway, and I was buzzing with anticipation when I settled down to watch it, late at night, with, for effect, a cup of Heinz Mushroom Soup with double croutons.  However, twenty minutes into the film and I was having second thoughts – about the film, that is, not those extra croutons.  Our small cast, led by Akira Kubo (Son of Godzilla), have not yet got their yacht wrecked on the eerie, deserted island, the setting for most of the film, we have had a strange musical number on board the yacht, and it is all a bit slow and… dull. Even after Kubo and co start exploring the island it is another twenty minutes before we see a mushroom man, creeping about the boat at night, attacking the crew, in what is one of the best moments in the film. Bafflingly, the next morning almost everyone is in denial over seeing anything, and carry on as if nothing has happened. Maybe it was all a dream? Too much sake – or mushrooms?

Much of the rest of the film is spent watching the shipwrecked group struggling to survive on the island, fighting one another, mostly for the attractive Mami, played by Kumi Mizuno (Invasion of Astro-Monster), and slowly starving to death, unable to eat the dangerous mutative Matango mushrooms that seem to grow everywhere on the island lest they morph into “mushroom people.” There are a couple of clunky flashback sequences that pop up as the group looks for food – one is used to squeeze in another musical number, and the other a “risque” dance sequence.

The film is colorful, but rarely atmospheric.  The mushroom people effects, though good for the time, are now hopelessly amusing – not a good thing for “horror” movie. But there are some unforgettable moments – like the scenes in the jungle with the exotic-looking mushrooms blooming and mushroom people wobbling about, and the ominous sequence near the start when the crew find another wrecked boat completely covered in fungus. Although this all sounds a bit wacky, and “creature-feature” tacky, Ishiro Honda intended Matango as a serious movie warning of the way the Japanese people were changing after the war, and striving for things that would ultimately change and destroy them. Unfortunately, it is now easy to overlook this subtle message today and see it as a cheap monster movie.

Sensation Seekers (1927)

According to film historian Anthony Slide, Florence Lois Weber “was the American cinema’s first genuine auteur, a filmmaker involved in all aspects of production and one who utilized the motion picture to put across her own ideas and philosophies.” She’s also been called the most important female director in the history of American film. It’s amazing that she was making movies in a time when women were still battling for the right to vote.

This is the story of a small town girl turned Long Island jazz baby Egypt Hagen (Billie Dove) who can’t be tamed, not even by the minister who seeks to save her. The dancing scenes are filled with passion matched only by the spectacle close of a shipwreck.

Kino Lorber has released Sensation Seekers and A Chapter In Her Life on blu ray, with 2K restorations by Universal Pictures and commentary on this film by Shelley Stamp, who wrote Lois Weber in Early Hollywood.

This is a recommended purchase, as its an opportunity to see the start of Hollywood and learn the story of an important female artist whose story has not been told nearly enough.

Empire of Ash III (1989)

You’ve seen Empire of Ash. And hey, doesn’t Empire of Ash II seems like exactly the same movie? That’s because it is. So Empire of Ash III is really the second movie just to confuse you. I can make things even more puzzling for you. This movie is also known as Maniac Warriors, just like the first Empire of Ash, so you may have no idea what movie you’re in store for.

Lucas (William Smith) and Danielle are back in this movie, which is all about an attempt to stop the blood harvesting of the ruling elite, who have all become monsters thanks to a nuclear war and have sent the Warriors, led by Baalca, to steal blood from women by using needles. Sure, alright, sounds like a plan, I guess.

This is a movie so brazen that it thanks Conan in its credits and has this tagline: “Mad Max Paved the Last Road…The Last Of The Warriors Destroyed It.”

This was directed by Michael Mazo and Lloyd A. Simandl, who also made the first film together. They decided to throw more nudity in this one and William Smith to test the theory that if breasts and William Smith make any movie better, sweater meat and Mr. Smith teaming up may win this movie an Oscar. It didn’t, but you have to admire that kind of Canuck-spa.

 

EXPLORING: The Future Worlds of Dardano Sacchetti

EDITOR’S NOTE: The crew at the new magazine It Came From Hollywood asked if we’d be interested in running an interview with Dardano Sacchetti and my answer was, “Why are you even asking this question?” Thanks for sending this!

The name Dardano Sacchetti needs little introduction to fans of the 80’s post-apocalyptic movies that followed in the wake of Mad Max (1980) and Escape from New York (1981). In a very short time, Sacchetti wrote a number of action pictures set in a not-so-distant future rife with nuclear fallout, demented overlords, and bands of mutated survivors. 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) is probably the one fans are most familiar with, featuring such genre luminaries as Fred Williamson, Vic Morrow, Luigi Montefiori (better known as George Eastman) and Christopher Connelly as well as serving as the first film appearance for fan-favorite Marco di Gregorio (Mark Gregory). 

With the launch of the magazine It Came From Hollywood, Sacchetti agreed to an epic, two-part interview. Rather than rehashing the titles he has talked about in various print and screen interviews, It Came from Hollywood explores how he worked all those years in the world of Italian cinema, quickly learning that on-screen credits aren’t always correct, and then diving into a number of films for which he has rarely commented. What follows is an excerpt from our interview, covering the less than bright future of our world as created from Sacchetti’s typewriter.

Releasing in Spring 2021, It Came From Hollywood will be available from Amazon in print and digital editions. You can keep up with the mag’s Facebook page and website.

Without further ado, the future worlds of Dardano Sacchetti.

1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982)

Although the film was partially shot in New York City, do you know how much of it was shot in Rome?

Producer Fabrizio De Angelis’s technique was simple: shoot a week in America with a very small crew. Sometimes it was only the director, the camera operator, and an actor. There was a lot of material to steal, that is, to shoot without permits. (The famous scene of the zombies on the bridge in Zombie was shot at four in the morning with the bridge closed.) Then the film was completed in Italy, paying close attention to the locations and the costumes. Usually there was always a baseball bat, a university or fan cap, some posters, etc. The rest was all an illusion, but it worked.

Did you have much contact with director Enzo G. Castellari after you delivered the script for any rewrites?

Whenever Italian directors ask for changes or rewrites on set while filming, it is because they either have little ideas to add or they take suggestions from the actors for a few lines, but more often it is for production problems. It happened that you came in the morning to shoot a scene with a horse, and you found yourself without a horse.

Did Fabrizio De Angelis give you guidelines for the movie he wanted, or did he just ask you to write about gangs in a future New York City?

For horror films, of which he didn’t understand anything, he gave me maximum freedom. He just invented the titles that were in fashion. For all other films he told me, “Dardano, make it like Rambo, or something like that.”

Actor Marco di Gregorio’s (Mark Gregory) career was made up mainly of appearances in films you wrote. To this day he is a mystery to fans. Did you ever have the opportunity to meet him?

Marco di Gregorio was a boy who belonged to the same gym as Castellari, who noticed him and used him first in 1990: The Bronx Warriors. He was a good guy, unable to act and with a serious defect in that he did not know how to run. He had agility. He had a nice physique, a nice face and he cost nothing. I think I met him once in production just to say hello, but I don’t think he even understood who I was or what I was doing.

Fred Williamson is another actor who has starred in many films that you have written. Have you ever met him?

Never met, but we became friends on Facebook a few years ago.

Why didn’t you have anything to do with the sequel, Escape from the Bronx (1983)? 

There was a quarrel with De Angelis and Castellari. I couldn’t tolerate them.

Exterminators of the Year 3000 (1983)

How did you meet the producer Camillo Teti?

You know, I don’t remember, but maybe Dario Argento has something to do with it because I think he was a producer of a couple of Argento’s films, and he looked for me.

How did Exterminators of the Year 3000 come about?

The film was born as a catastrophe and it was a catastrophe because of Teti, director Giuliano Carnimeo, and me too.  It simply shouldn’t have been made.

The biggest surprise was when Tommy’s secret was revealed. Was that always the challenge with these films, inventing new surprises to keep the audience entertained?

I always try to include surprises in all my scripts. In my scriptwriting courses I explain that every scene is a small film. It must have a beginning, an end, and a central idea. I have never written transition scenes. There was a director, Giorgio Capitani, who said, and he was right, that my scripts were a series of crucial scenes, and it is true.

The heroine’s name is Trash, the same name as the hero in 1990: The Bronx Warriors. Was it just a coincidence or at any point was this script conceived as a possible third installment of the Bronx films?

I always reused names in my scripts. It is a little cunning way to prove, if anyone would like to steal, that I am the creator of the character.

2073, Rome AD: New Gladiators (1984)

With 2073, Rome AD: New Gladiators, it appears that you are commenting on how large corporations only seek profits and ratings, at the expense of their workforce, as well as a comment on the situation at the time of the collapse of the Italian film industry when television took over?

It was a great movie, which Americans later copied with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man (1987). It was very anticipatory of the future, but Fulci made it a mess. He had signed two contracts for two different productions, Blastfighter and this one, The New Gladiators. He was convinced he could fool the producers by doing one after the other. Fulci had to give up Blastfighter, but when it came to making The New Gladiators, the atmosphere had turned negative. Fulci’s name at that moment was no longer sought by foreign buyers. The budget was cut in half and the story was about the future fight against the domination of TV. The film’s advertising partially transformed the film into a mediocre thriller, losing sight of the central nucleus of the idea. But I was already pissed off because without any fault I had lost a contract and the good relationship I had with a producer. There was the clamorous quarrel between me and Fulci, that led to ten years of coldness between us.

Blastfighter (1984)

Was this script an original script you wrote or was it a job of doctoring an existing script?

It was an original story of mine that Fulci wanted to make. Blastfighter was the only apocalyptic movie I wrote that I liked a lot, but Fulci made a mess of it and it was diverted to Lamberto Bava. Then the story changed completely. There was no longer anything similar to my original story, but the title remained because the film had been sold with that title.

There is a lot of speculation that the original script was a science fiction story similar to Mad Max but set in the woods.

That is a mistake. The location was a desert covered in a huge cloud of sand and fog. There were two cities that were a cluster of car carcasses piled on top of one another, that moved slowly in the desert. The car-city was like a sort of western village and in the center there was a saloon. The most valuable thing were the batteries because there was more energy.

So, Blastfighter ‘s original concept was a post-apocalyptic desert world, and cities were literally made up of thousands of cars stacked on top of each other, with an entire city inside, and these gigantic traveling cities moved slowly across the desert. This is a fantastic concept!

Exactly. In my opinion it was a spectacular idea, a very strong one that maybe I will take up again. The only one who came close to capturing a similar spirit of the film is the Canadian director David Cronenberg with Crash (1997). I say that meaning, Crash has absolutely nothing to do with my original story to Blastfighter, but the overall atmosphere of “a place of death where life is remembered” is the same, even if developed with different visions.

You were credited as Frank Costa on the finished film, but in the print of the movie I saw, that credit doesn’t appear. 

Frankly, I don’t know. Frank Costa was a pseudonym invented by producer Amati. Another time he made me say I was John Gould or something, for Cannibal Apocalypse (1980). They were little cheats, like when they gave Italian actors American names to fool both Italian viewers and U.S. buyers.

Hands of Steel (1986)

Was Hands of Steel a script revision or original screenplay?

It was a script revision born to become something else.

Was this the only time you and Elisa wrote under the name of Elisabeth Parker, Jr.?

No, we used it other times too.

The poster for the film gives away the film’s biggest surprise.

The director did not believe in the film, which was written in a completely different way.

In a video interview, Luigi Montefiori has condemned the senseless helicopter accident that killed co-star Claudio Cassinelli during filming. Do you recall this tragedy?

I don’t know what Montefiori said, but it’s the truth that Cassinelli didn’t need to be on board.