Mill Creek Excellent Eighties Round Up!

So ends our Mill Creek Month blowout with three box sets of 112 movies. In addition to The Excellent Eighties 50-Film Pack, we reviewed their Gorehouse Greats 12-Film Pack and B-Movie Blast 50-Film Pack.

You know the drill, to gear up for Halloween, every November we crack open a Mill Creek box of fifty movies. We started with the Chilling Classics set in 2018 and also did the Pure Terror set in 2019. For 2020, we jammed on the Sci-Fi Invasion set. And Mill Creek’s 12-Packs always come in handy for our theme weeks, such as our recent “Fast and Furious Week,” when we a lot of films, quickly, and the Savage Cinema set did the job. And, back in March, we were so giddy with glee that we finally got our own copy of 9 Deaths of the Ninja courtesy of the Explosive Cinema 12-pack, we paid it forward to Mill Creek and reviewed all of the films in the pack.

And that’s the joy of Mill Creek sets: when there’s that one elusive, lost flick, Mill Creek has it stuffed away, somewhere, one on of their sets. When it comes to entertainment, whether it’s B-Movies, Z-Movies or TV Movies, Mill Creek has you covered.

Many thanks to Rob Brown, Herbert P. Caine, Dustin Fallon, Robert Freese, Sean Mitus, Bill Van Ryn, Jennifer Upton, and Melody Vera for chipping in with their reviews for our month-long Mill Creek project!

Here’s the list of the reviews!

Act of Love (1980)
Agency (1980)
Bail Out (1989)
Blunt, The Fourth Man (1987)
Callie and Son (1981)
Casablanca Express (1989)
Cavegirl (1985)
Choices (1981)
Christabel (1988)
Cold War Killers (1986)
The Day Time Ended (1980)
Dear Mr. Wonderful (1982)
Deathrow Gameshow (1987)
Delta Force Commando (1987)
Dog Day (1984)
Hard Knox (1984)
Hazard of Hearts (1987)
High Risk (1981)
Hunk (1987)
Intimate Agony (1983)
The Kidnapping of the President (1980)
The Lady and the Highwayman (1989)
Lamb (1985)
Laser Mission (1989)
Liar’s Moon (1982)
Mesmerized (My Letter to George) (1984)
A Minor Miracle (1983)
My Chauffeur (1986)
My Mom’s A Werewolf (1989)
Night of the Sharks (1988)
The Patriot (1986)
Portrait of a Showgirl (1982)
Reborn (1982)
Saigon: Year of the Cat (1983)
Savage Journey (1983)
Scandal Sheet (1985)
Scarecrows (1988)
Second Sight: A Love Story (1984)
Shadows in the Storm (1988)
Shaker Run (1985)
Slipstream (1989)
Somewhere, Tomorrow (1983)
A Time to Die (1982)
Toby McTeague (1986)
Tomboy (1985)
The Train Killer (1983)
Tuareg, the Desert Warrior (1984)
Twisted Obsession (1989)
We Think the World of You (1988)
When the Bough Breaks (1986)

Get your copy at Amazon and visit Mill Creek!

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: Deathrow Gameshow (1988)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sean Mitus grew up watching Chiller Theater from Pittsburgh and has been a drive-in enthusiast for the last six years. Sean enjoys all genres but has become interested in Italian horror, thriller and action movies most recently.

“Anyone on death row can be a contestant. Man or woman. Young or old. I do not discriminate.” – Chuck Toedan (John McCafferty)

Deathrow Gameshow was director Mark Pirro’s first 35 mm feature.  Pirro had made several shorts with a small company of friends which caught the attention of Crown International Pictures.  Pirro’s shorts A Polish Vampire in Beverly Hills and The Spy Who Did It Better mixed comedy with other genres which appealed to David Baughn at Crown who gave Pirro $200,000 to make Deathrow Gameshow.

Deathrow Gameshow plays like a warped mashup of National Lampoon comedy and New World Pictures schlocker. Many of the jokes fall flat but that doesn’t stop Pirro and company from trying.  The lead Chuck Toedan, producer and star of the Live or Die gameshow, which features death row inmates play for a stay of execution or a grisly death a la Monty Hall’s Let’s Make A Deal, is beset on all sides by his horny secretary Trudy (Darwyn Carson), protesters and picketers, and the Spumoni crime family’s hitman Luigi Papillardo. Chuck is trying to put on the most entertaining show he can, even if the odds are stacked against the inmates. It’s all proper because the inmates sign a release before taking their chances.  

Deathrow Gameshow’s premise aims for fun and schlock but is undermined by the broad comedy and the low budget’s impact on the sets, props, and special effects. There’s a guillotine that barely accommodates the inmate’s head. There’s simply a rope hangman’s noose. And there’s a gas chamber barely big enough fit the intended victim. However, there’s no gore or actual showing of the contestants (inmates) reaching their demise. All end with a cutaway or the action moves off-screen. There are also tongue and check commercials featuring inmates demonstrating products the lead to their demise.   

The plot centers on sleazebag Chuck meeting Gloria Sternvirgen (Robyn Blythe), a staunch opponent of the show who falls for him and running afoul of hitman Luigi Papillardo, (played over the top by Benjamin Agundez credited as Beano) who initially wants to put the squeeze on Chuck for “protection money” but later wants to kill Chuck after Luigi’s mother accidentally becomes a contestant on Live or Die and goes up in a spectacular explosion. Chuck tries to get rid of Luigi as another contestant. However, Luigi survives for the climax at the end of the film involving a rabid fan who’s desperate to be a contestant on the show.

Deathrow Gameshow was intended for the right kind of crowd at a festival screening or a group of like-minded friends watching home video. Fans of schlock cinema will certainly enjoy this game effort by Pirro and company.  Deathrow Gameshow is a great fit in Mill Creek’s Rare Cult Cinema boxed set.  Fans wanting more can look for Vinegar Syndrome’s stacked Blu-ray/DVD combo. 

References

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092859/reference

http://www.rockshockpop.com/forums/content.php?6332-Deathrow-Gameshow-(Blu-ray-DVD-Combo-Pack) 

https://trashfilmguru.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/deathrow-gameshow-kill-me-now-please/

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: The Patriot (1986)

We’ve already covered this movie, but seeing as how Mill Creek repeats so many movies in their box sets, I wanted to ensure that our site isn’t all repeats too. I also like to get different views on movies.

Former TV reporter Frank Harris broke into movies via doing cinematography for action movies. He took advantage of the VHS rental boom to make his own films in the genre, starting with Killpoint, a movie that he was a one man crew for, working as the director, producer, screenwriter and cinematographer. He also made Low Blow and Aftershock, movies filled with gun, explosions and the kind of actors we love around here, including Cameron Mitchell, Elizabeth Kaitan, Richard Lynch and John Saxon.

This movie has a broken arrow event, as a gang led by Atkins (Stack Pierce, who was in nearly all of Harris’ movies) steal a nuke and a burned-out Navy SEAL (Gregg Henry, The Hunt for the BTK Killer) gets hired by Leslie Nielsen, of all people, to stop him.

There’s a great supporting cast filled with the kind of people I obsessively read about on IMDB, like Jeff Conaway (!), Simone Griffeth (Annie Smith, Frankenstein’s navigator in Death Race 2000), Michael J. Pollard (Four of the Apocalypse), Glenn Withrow (Sweet Sixteen), former pro boxer Mike Gomez and Sally Brown (Crawlspace),

A lot of comedy — not from Nielsen — kind of ruins what this movie could be, but it’s movie fifty of fifty on this Mill Creek set and I wasn’t expecting it to be anything to destroy my mind. That said, it did make me wonder the path that Jeff Conaway wandered from Kenickie to being in a Crown International action movie.

The Excellent Eighties: Scarecrows (1988)

When Shout! Factory restored this popular cable-played and home video renter to disc and offered it as an Amazon stream, we had to review it — back on December 18, 2018. And here it is for its first bow on a Mill Creek set, in this case, their Excellent Eighties 50-film pack that we’re unpacking all this month. If you’ve never seen Scarecrows, this Mill Creek bow is a great way to enjoy it and decide if you want to buy the superior Shout! Factory reissue.

As for moi: I enjoyed this movie (somewhat), which I ended up renting as result of its write-ups in all of the various monster and horror rags of the day. And the video stores I frequented had the promotional posters up; a couple of stores had the film in the wall racks as their “Pick of the Week.”

Sam, in his review, feels Scarecrows is “never boring.” I, on the other hand, was bored by the film back then; this is only the second time I’ve watched it since those VHS rental days of yore. And I still find it to be a “muh, eh” flick. However, I agree with Sam: the splatter is good. But I feel it’s ultimately undone by a rickety script (across four screenwriters, including director William Wesley), “meh” acting, and its low-budget.

As I re-watch this all these years later, I can’t help but think Quintin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez watched this back in the day — and it bled through into their formulating From Dusk Till Dawn, which flips-its-script from being an action caper into a vampire flick.

Here, we have another unfolding “crime caper,” as five paramilitary types ripped off $3 million dollars from Camp Pendelton — and have taken a pilot and his daughter as hostages. Before their stolen cargo plane can make it out of the country, one of the soldiers — in a move that reminds of Sly Stallone’s robbery-plane caper Cliffhanger — greedily parachutes out of the plane with the loot. Think of D.B Cooper, instead of landing in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, he lands in a foggy cornfield. And instead of zombies showing up, you get, well, you know.

Welcome to Scarecrows.

At that point, we head off into Romero land, with the soldiers and their hostages banning together in an abandoned farmhouse to ward off the demonic scarecrows in the fields around the home — who intend to add our ne’er-do-wells to their sackcloth and flannel ranks. And, as with Romero’s farmhouse classic: this has its own, downbeat ending.

Scarecrows was a vanity production by South Florida wrestler and amateur boxer Ted “Wolfman” Vernon. (To that end: Scarecrows was filmed in his hometown of Davie, Florida.) He later moved into the world of reality TV with the Discovery Channel and Velocity show South Beach Classics (2017), which spotlighted his classic car business. That reality show unraveled in a whirlwind of his domestic abuse allegations (New Times Miami article). Another of Vernon’s projects was working as one of the executive producer’s on John Carpenter’s nobody-asked-for-it-remake of Village of the Damned (1995). Did anyone see Vernon’s feature film acting debut as the title character in the wrestling drama Hammerhead Jones (1987)? No, us either. And neither has anyone on the IMDb: critic or user.

Scarecrows was the feature film debut of William Wesley, a U.S. Army vet who parlayed his work here into contributing to the syndicated horror anthology Monsters (1991). He followed up with his second — and final feature film — Route 666 (2001), an even low-budgeted and not-as-good-as zombie romp starring the on-their-way-down Lou Diamond Phillips and Lori “Tank Girl” Petty (who’s great in Prey for Rock & Roll). One watch and you’ll wonder if Wesley seen John Hayes’s zombie romp, Garden of the Dead (1972), with its formaldehyde-sniffing prisoners returning from the grave. (Hayes gave us Crash! and the utterly-whacked End of the World.)

While Ted Vernon and William Wesley vanished, cinematographer Peter Deming went onto bigger and better films with Hellraiser and Evil Dead 2.

Now, for the behind the scenes drama:

Although it was shot in South Florida, Ted Vernon, who raised-bankrolled the $300,000 for the film, was the only local actor; the rest were L.A.-based. Vernon and Wesley also came to reportedly hated each other, with Vernon seeing the first-time writer and director as an incompetent that not only squandered the budget halfway through shooting, but wanted more funding. So Vernon ended up physically choking-out Wesley; the father of Wesley’s then girlfriend fronted the rest of the money.

The planned theatrical release of the film fell part when the distributor, Manson International Pictures, went bankrupt; however, the film returned $3 million on the home video market under the well-known Orion Pictures banner. Manson is a name you know, as the studio also gave us Terror at Red Wolf Inn (1972), Star Knight (1985), Brain Damage (1988), and Slaughterhouse Rock (1988), just to name a few of the 80-odd films in their catalog. All of those films — only to go under upon the release of Scarecrows.

As is the case with ultra-low/low-budget SAG-shot films (see the box office failures that are Zyzzyx Road (2006) and Christian Slater’s Playback (2012), as examples), Scarecrows had a one-week theatrical engagement on a single screen in a Des Moines, Iowa theater to contractually satisfy SAG, investors, and video distributors.

A valiant attempt at a case of “what might have been,” indeed.

You can watch Scarecrows on Amazon Prime or buy it from Shout! Factory. There’s also now out-of-print DVDs in the online marketplace issued by MGM and 20th Century Fox. In addition to the embedded trailer above, we found a nine-minute clip to enjoy on You Tube

And how many “scarecrow” movies are there: more than I realized, courtesy of Tubi.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

The Excellent Eighties: Casablanca Express (1989)

Oh, yes! The ’80s are excellent when you get an old Sergio Martino war flick from those HBO days of yore, as you binged this alongside High Risk, Tuareg: The Desert Warrior (both reviewed this month via Mill Creek, look for them), and Inglorious Bastards. And don’t let the fact that we have the sons of Sean Connery and Anthony Quinn, Jason and Francesco, as our costarring leading men, deter your watching: they’re very good, here. When it is learned the Nazis are plotting to kidnap Winston Churchill on his way to the 1942 Casablanca Conference also attended by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, a crack commando unit is assigned for protection. Let the bullets fly and the explosions mushroom!

This isn’t — based on it being an Italian production headed by Sergio Martino, who gave us 2019: After the Fall of New York and Monster Shark (and too many Giallos* to mention) — a copycat schlock festival of pasta-war madness. Thanks to Glenn Ford and Donald Pleasence (as Maj. General Williams and Col. Bats) classing up the joint as only they know how, this — for moi — goes down as one of the best war movies of the early ’80s cable-era. This is the level of film that Michael Sopkiw deserved to be in. Even though Mike retired from acting by this point, Sergio should have called him in — especially after sticking him with Monster Shark. Mike would have been great in Jason Connery’s role.

You can get your own copy of Casablanca Express as part of Mill Creek’s Excellent Eighties 50-Film Set and you can watch it on You Tube.

* We dive deep into the bloody, yellow mayhem of Sergio Martino’s — and many other’s films — with our “Exploring: Giallo” featurette of 70-plus film reviews.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: Savage Journey (1983)

This movie made this entire month worth it.

That’s because it unlocks another part of the saga that is my fascination with the utterly strange and mysterious Night Train to Terror, a movie that I have written about more than once.

While this movie is listed on IMDB as a 1983 made for TV movie, the truth is that this movie was originally released six years earlier as Brigham. I love this comment on the movie from Mormon Literature and Creative Arts, which stated that the film came about as David Yeaman wanted to “create a film billed as authentic and sympathetic to the LDS view. Top Hollywood brass was involved, primarily Oscar-winning screenwriter Philip Yordan, and the LDS public grew excited to finally see themselves depicted accurately on screen.”

Oh man. Let’s take a break from this quote just to remind everyone who Phillip Yordan was. In The Phillip Yordan Story, a Hollywood urban legend is just part of his legend. It was claimed that Yordan hired someone else to go through law school for him so that he could get a degree without doing the work.

While Yordan is the listed writer on nearly a hundred movies, including DillingerDetective Story and Broken Lance*, the jury is out on what films he actually wrote. Some believe that many of the movies he wrote were actually a front for blacklisted writers, who still wanted to make films, giving Yordan all the credit and half the paycheck.

In the late 1950s, Yordan finally got caught. He mixed up two scripts, delivering a Fox script to Warner Brothers and vice versa. Seeing as how he was under contract at Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck threatened to get him blackballed at all the major studios. A few years later, his secretary would claim that she was the real writer of The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond and things got so bad that Columbia demanded that he have an office on their lot where they could watch him write, guaranteeing that he was the author. Despite this new contract, he was still hustling scripts at other studios and was fired and forced to return his paycheck. This time, he really was told you’ll never eat lunch in this town again.

Yordan then showed up in Spain, working for Samuel L. Bronston, using folks like Ray Bradbury, Ben Barzman Arnaud D’Usseau, Julian Halevy and Bernard Gordon, who really wrote The Day of the Triffids, not Yordan.

By the mid 60s, he was back in Hollywood, a survivor of everything from being blackballed to going bakrupt, working as a script doctor on movies like Horror Express — also a horror movie set on a train — and Psychomania.

At the end of his life, he worked as an adjunct screenwriting instructor at San Diego State University and was writing scripts for movies like The UnholyMarilyn Alive and Behind Bars (which is also part of Night Train to Terror), Cataclysm (ditto), Cry Wilderness and this movie.

Back to our friends at Mormon Literature and Creative Arts, who wrote that “Unfortunatley, when released, Brigham proved a critical fiasco. It was criticized for poor acting, incomprehensible chronology, sensationalized violence, incredibly poor casting, lack of dramatic focus, and even for recycling wagon train footage from earlier films like Brigham Young itself. The film was quickly withdrawn, reedited, and re-released early the following, billed as The New Brigham. Similar attempts at repackaging continued as it was apparently again revamped and christened Savage Journey a few years later (perhaps to parallel the 1983 handcart film Perilous Journey). Despite this, Brigham remained a critical flop, and modern Mormons, if they remember it all, do so with humor or derision.”

Yes, this was a movie that Yordan made specifically for the Mormon Chuch and along the way, he brought director Tom McGowan, who — yes, you got it — also directed Cataclysm, and Richard Moll, who would star in that film and Marilyn Behind Bars. Seeing as how both movies are segments in Night Train, it gets really disconcerting watching Moll have hair, not have hair and be played by a double with astoundingly hairy arms.

Other actors who appear in both films include Maurice Grandmaison, who plays Brigham Young himself and Papini, the homeless Catholic priest who attempts to help the heroine Claire Hansen; Stephen Cracroft, Phineas in this one and a first AD on Night Train; Lou Edwards, Brother Becker in Mormon times and a production manager on Night Train; Faith Clift, who was Claire Rudley in this movie and appears as Claire Hansen in Night Train (she was also Yordan’s wife, showing up in his movies Captain ApacheHorror Express and Cry Wilderness); an uncredited Marc Lawrence (yes, the very same man who made Pigs and appears in Night Train as Abraham Weiss) and most importantly, Yordan’s son Byron, who is the song and dance man doomed to die on Satan’s Cannonball, but not before he sings “dance with me, dance with me” more times than you can count.

I’m astounded that this film exists. Actually, I’m so into the fact that Yordan did, a flimflam man who claimed to have never read a newspaper before the age of fifty, yet somehow was a lawyer who became an Oscar-winning writer, a producer and the connection between so many movies that are just plain strange.

So how’s the movie?

Moll, who used the named Charles Moll for this film, sums up Savage Journey best in the movie The Work and the Story, saying “All independent films suck, all Mormon films suck, and, ergo, an independent Mormon film must royally suck.”

*A movie he won an Best Original Story Oscar for, despite it being a remake of 1949’s House of Strangers and the fact that he probably didn’t write a single word of the actual script.

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: A Time to Die (1982)

Woah, a Matt Cimber movie I haven’t seen? On a Mill Creek set? I must have done something right in this life.

Based on Mario Puzo’s Six Graves to Munich, this is the story of Michael Rogan (Edward Albert, Galaxy of Terror), who is after the men who tortured him in the closing days of World War II. Oh yeah — they also tortured and murdered his pregnant wife too, just to get the information in his brain.

Within that head of his, bullet fragments are still rattling around, but he’s definitely going to get his revenge on people like Van Osten (Rex Harrison in his last movie role), a West German politician who was once a soldier for the wrong side of the war.

Filmed in late 1979, but not released for a few years, this had a troubled production, which led to some new scenes being directed by Joe Tornatore, who also made Curse of the Crystal EyeDemon Keeper and Grotesque.

This is an action movie in name only. Tread in knowing that.

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: Somewhere, Tomorrow (1983)

A very young Sarah Jessica Parker — this was made right after Square Pegs went off the air — plays Lori Anderson, a girl who has lost her father in a plane crash. While her mother is moving on — she’s selling the family farm and hooking up with the local lawman — Lori is lost. She turns to her father’s esoteric journals for answers.

Meanwhile, Terry Stockton, a client coming to purchase a horse from Lori’s mother, dies in a plane crash. Somehow, Lori is able to see and touch him. She believes that she can help him cross over to the next plane of existence, if she doesn’t fall in love with him first.

Wrier/director Robert Wiemer also made the supernatural film Anna to the Infinite Power and The Night Train to Kathmandu, another movie where a young girl comes of age. I guess that’s his bread and butter.

This also features a really young Elisabeth Shue and has a ghost who likes to take showers, which I did not realize was a thing. Also, spoilers and all, but speaking of showers, this totally has a Patrick Duffy ending.

So yeah. Some people cover Sundance and I write about Sarah Jessica Parker as a horsegirl who has near shower sex with an apparition. I accept my role.

You can watch this on Tubi.

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: Mesmerized (1986)

Somehow, this Mill Creek set has a Jodie Foster movie on it. Not a TV movie or something from her past, but a 1986 Jodie Foster movie where she plays Victoria, an orphaned girl who is married to the much older Oliver Thompson (John Lithgow!) and sent away to school. When she comes back, years later, she realizes that her husband and most of his family are all deranged.

A co-production between Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States with RKO Pictures, this was released in the U.S. as My Letter to George and Shocked in other areas, which is a great title but if I saw it with that name, I would have been furious that such a great name was used to describe a period film.

Perhaps most astoundingly, this was written and directed by Michael Laughlin, who wrote and directed two of my favorite movies, Strange Behavior and Strange Invaders.

Loosely based on that of Adelaide Bartlett, who was put to trial in 1886 for the chloroform poisoning of her husband, this feels like the kind of film where the story of how Foster got on board, much less decided to be a producer, feels like it would be more interesting than the movie that I just watched.

You can watch this on YouTube.

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: Christabel (1988)

Originally a four-part miniseries adaption of the memoirs of Christabel Bielenberg, a woman who was married to a German lawyer during World War II, the version of this film on the Mill Creek The Excellent Eighties box set is two hours and twenty-seven minutes long, versus the four hour and twenty-minute original running time.

This is yet another example of a film on this set that has an early role for someone who would later become a major star. Christabel is played by Elizabeth Hurley, who had only appeared in the movie Aria and an episode of Inspector Morse before this.

This was written by Dennis Potter, who wrote Gorky Park and Pennies from Heaven. This movie really stood out to me because it showed just how quickly Hitler went from a joke that everyone ignored to something that they had to deal with someday soon to finally, a force that could jail them and destroy their lives. It felt — non-surprisingly — like the last four years of our lives.