THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: Delta Force Commando (1988)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Freese contributes to many different magazines, zines and websites such as Videoscope, Rue Morgue, Drive-in Asylum, Grindhouse Purgatory, Horror and Sons and Lunchmeat VHS. (His most recent piece, about the 80’s video distributor Super Video, can be found here). He also co-hosts the Two Librarians Walk into a Shelf podcast so he has an excuse to expose library patrons to ninja and slasher films. 

An unnamed terrorist leads a team of mercenaries onto a United States military base in Puerto Rico to steal a nuclear weapon. Commando Lt. Tony Turner witnesses the gang’s getaway. His pregnant wife is killed in the crossfire.

Vowing vengeance for his murdered wife and unborn child, Turner immediately commandeers Delta Force pilot Capt. Samuel Beck’s Mercedes and directs him at gun point to follow the goons. From this moment forward, Turner and Beck follow the rebels to Nicaragua and senselessly blow up so much property there is little left for Col. Keitel and the Delta Force calvary to sift through when they finally catch up with the rogue commandos.

For me, Delta Force Commando is perfect Saturday afternoon entertainment. It is an excellent example of the kind of movies I would rent with my brothers on VHS and devour over the weekend. All the thrills we craved to burn through a lazy afternoon are delivered here by the truckload: non-stop action, the obligatory scene where the hero packs his duffle bag with weapons, torture with some wires and a Diehard car battery, multiple shootouts, hand to hand smack-downs, a scar-faced villain, throwing knife mayhem, sling-shot mayhem, crossbow mayhem, macho one-liners, bodies destroyed in meaty bullet hits and copious, glorious explosions. They blow up everything in this movie: cars, buses, jet fighters, helicopters, trucks, bodies, bridges, buildings… I lost count after forty-three explosions, and every last one of them was old school gunpowder and gasoline pyrotechnics, no doubt pulled off by a pyro-effects wizard, probably missing a finger or two.

Fred “The Hammer” Williamson (Black Caesar) as Beck and Bo Svenson (Walking Tall Part 2) as Keitel have their names above the title, but Brett Clark as Turner, is the real star of the film. Like Michael Sopkiw before him, and Richard Anthony Crenna after him, Clark was given the chance of headlining an Italian production made for the international film market in the hopes of becoming a superstar like Clint Eastwood. Clark will be instantly recognizable to you, but you might not know him by name. We’ve been watching him since he first played one of the Camp Mohawk basketball players in Meatballs. He made all kinds of daytime soap and movie appearances. He’s maybe best known for his role of Nick “The Dick” in the Tom Hanks comedy Bachelor Party. (And if you aren’t familiar with “Mr. Dick,” you just need to watch Bachelor Party.)

Mark Gregory essays the role of the unnamed bad guy. Gregory is probably best known for his portrayal of post-apocalyptic hero Trash in 1990: The Bronx Warriors and the sequel, Escape from the Bronx. Here he sports some scabby facial make-up, short hair and a never wavering maniacal smile. Of all his performances I’ve seen, this is the first time Gregory appears to really be having fun with his character.

Director Frank Valenti (a nod to former president of the MPAA Jack Valenti, perhaps?) is really Pierluigi Ciriaci. Long time Italian movie scholars don’t need me to tell them writer David Parker Jr. is really Dardano Sacchetti.

To understand my appreciation for this flick, you really have to understand the era in which it was made. The 80’s were an amazing time of every kind of movie getting made, many receiving a theatrical release and almost all of them eventually showing up on home video or cable. One hit would begat dozens of similar follow-ups, from all over the world. Delta Force Commando was one of the many films that came into creation thanks to the always in demand action movie market and the success of films like Rambo: First Blood Part II, Commando and Missing in Action.

These films would get made, usually on low budgets, have a few recognizable stars, lots of action and sell tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of videotapes to the vid stores across the country. When Vista released this film on VHS, it was in every neighborhood video shoppe, in the new release section, right there next to 1988’s Rambo III.

For me, Delta Force Commando is way more entertaining than Rambo III. Of the two, Rambo III has some stunning action sequences, yes, but the characters talk too much, there’s too much plot and story and worst yet, the movie has a “message.” On the other hand, Delta Force Commando doesn’t have a “message” to bog down the action, and we can just munch popcorn and cheer on Lt. Turner as he turns the men responsible for his pregnant wife’s death inside out.

I had the opportunity to ask Dardano Sacchetti about his involvement with this film, as it is a film in which not a lot seems to be known about it. He had this to say, “The Ciriaci brothers had a supermarket and an oven that made bread in a small town near Rome. The oldest was very rich and the youngest wanted to be a director. My agent told me they would pay well for my script. I talked to them and they ended up making films from three of my scripts, but they did not come up roses. I only did it for the money, which turned out not to be very much, in a cloud of cigarette smoke and lots of Vodka.”

As far as the similarity of this title with a Cannon release around the same time, Sacchetti offers, “I believe my Delta Force was written a few months before the American one with Chuck Norris.”

When you’re in the mood for just watching a couple old-school guys blow up a lot of stuff in the name of vengeance, Delta Force Commando is a perfect pick.

THE EXCELLENT EIGHTIES: Act of Love (1980)

In between playing one of America’s most beloved teenagers and directing its favorite movies, Ron Howard took several against type roles. This is one such example, as he plays Leon Cybulkowski, who puts his brother Joseph (Mickey Rourke!) out of his misery as he asks to be killed instead of living out his life as a quadriplegic.

Director Jud Taylor started his career as an actor before becoming an in-demand director of TV movies. Some of his best-remembered films include Revenge!The Disappearance of Flight 412, Search for the Gods (which has Kurt Russell and Stephen McHattie seeking ancient astronauts), Out of the Darkness and The Great Escape II: The Untold Story (he was an actor in the original).

Based on the book Act of Love: The Killing of George Zygmanik by Judith Paige Mitchell, this NBC TV movie originally aired on September 24, 1980. It’s an emotional watch and Howard is pretty decent in it. It also has Robert Foxworth (the voice of Ratchet in the Transformers movies), Jacqueline Brookes (The Good Son), David Spielberg (Christine), Mary Kay Place (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman), Chris Mulkey (Hank Jennings from Twin Peaks), Pat Gorley (Kiss My Grits) and David Faustino in his first acting role.

You can watch this on YouTube.

The Excellent Eighties: Reborn (1981)

Ah, Sam knows my Bigas Luna fandom*, as I gushed my philosophical wax over the majesty of Luna in our review of Anguish. Gracias, mi amigo: your X-Mas gift of film is enjoyed.

What saddens me: that this, Bigas’s fourth directing effort — and his first English-language film (the second was Anguish) — ends up on a Mill Creek box set. No offense to the executives of Mill Creek, as we devour your box sets like a serial killer with a chest ripped-out heart on a Valentine’s Day murder spree . . . but wow, you’d think, with Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider) and Micheal Moriatry (The Stuff) on the marquee, Reborn would have not fallen into the public domain and received a proper digital reissue. Sadly, a deserved John Carpenter, Sean S. Cunningham, or Wes Craven-like success was not in the cards for Luna. As with Anguish, Reborn bombed at the U.S. box-office (as result of a poorly-received limited release) for which it was intended. What we really need is a double disc restore with Reborn packed with Anguish in honor of Bigas Luna. Now.

Okay. Enough with the ranting. Let me a have nice, warm cup of Ovaltine (Well, Roundtine, because, as Jerry Seinfeld pointed out: the cup is round and the jar is round. . . .) and finish this review. (Sorry, Sam. It can’t be done.)

It’s no mystery that Reborn, like Anguish before it, is beyond the bizarre — even for Satan’s tomfoolery — only this first English-language film for Luna is a bit more low-key than the eye-ball carving and snail fetishisms of Anguish. Luna’s eye for set design is on fire, natch, oozing with style and substance that’s punctuated by his usual taste for the erotic mixed with the spiritual: it’s a religious fantasy piece that questions faith, explores Luna’s Catholicism, and the mysteries of one’s acquiring healing powers. And, if those powers are real (they are, in this case), how does the one blessed (or cursed) used them? And, if that person is with child (she is, here), then will that child inherit the mother’s powers of stigmata and healing?

The story concerns Giacomo (Francesco Rabal, the real “leading man,” here), who discovers his Holy Ghost-hearing girlfriend (Antonella Murgia, the real “leading lady,” here) is a “stigmata”: someone whose hands and feet mysteriously bleed in the same places where Jesus Christ was crucified. (At the risk of getting into a religious debate: It is said Christ was crucified through his achilles (the back of the foot, above the heel) and his wrists; anyone “bleeding” from their palms and insteps are phonies, because, there’s no way nails can be driven through those parts of the body without shattering bones . . . then hang from those wound-points without ripping through the flesh and shattered bones, and falling off the crucifix. So read your Roman history before committing religious fraud, preacher man.) Of course, no surprise, Dennis Hooper is the maniacal Rev. Tom Hartley, an American televangelist-head of a racketeering “revivalist” church** — and he exploits the situation for his own, greedy purposes. Moriarty is Mark, Hopper’s kidnapping sidekick, sent to Italy to “recruit” the girl — they fall in love; he impregnates her — is his usual, off-the-chain self in a role that rises to his work in Q: The Winged Serpent.

The reason why we are here: Mill Creek Entertainment features this Bigas Luna classic on their Excellent Eighties 50-Movie Pack. There’s (awful, with muddy images and distorted audio) steaming copies at Amazon Prime and You Tube, but emptor those caveats, ye streamer: both platforms stream the 92-minute, shorter U.S.-version — when, what we really want, is the extra 13 minutes of the 105-minute original version. And trust me: those lost minutes are why so many detract this Luna masterpiece as “confusing junk.” And these bad prints aren’t helping matters, leaving you think you’re watching a knockoff of Giulio Paradisi’s confusing mess-of-a-mess The Exorcist knockoff that is the The Visitor — and Reborn is not that bad, for it is so, so much better. And it has nothing to do with exorcism.

The Exorcist-inspired theatrical one-sheet that hurt the film more than helped.

MGM currently holds the copyright on Reborn, with Park Circus/Arts Alliance as its TV/Home Video distributor. Again, we need a restore on this one, so help us out MGM and Park Circus!

* You can learn more about Bigas Luna with his 2013 obituary at Variety.
** Beth B’s dark comedy, Salvation!, starring Exene Cervenka, tackles the same material.

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: Saigon Year of the Cat (1983)

At the end of 1974, as American forces withdraw from Saigon, only a few CIA advisors remain. In this strange end of the war era, one of those advisors named Bob Chesneau (Frederic Forrest, who was in another better known Vietnam movie, Apocalypse Now) is having an affair with a bank analyst, Barbara Dean (Dame Judi Dench).

Written by David Hare (The Hours) and directed by Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity), this Thames Television film also has a strong cast with E.G. Marshall (Creepshow), Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride), British comedian Chic  Murray, Manning Redwood (The ShiningShock Treatment) and Josef Sommer (Witness).

It’s pretty amazing the places that Hare and Frears went after this movie, which doesn’t show much of the promise that they would later display. But here it is, one of the many British made for TV movies that are all over this giant brick of a Mill Creek collection.

You can watch this on YouTube.

The Excellent Eighties: Hard Knox (1984)

The joy of enjoying Robert Conrad as an actor is a case of you had to be there: if you weren’t, you missed out. Back in the day: we went gold, red and black because Conrad told us so. And we can remember those days thanks to Mill Creek rescuing this lost and forgotten TV Movie adrift in the public domain.

If you’re a younger surfer amid the digital pages of B&S About Movies, Conrad is just that old guy from The Wild Wild West (1965 – 1969) adapted into that utterly awful Will Smith movie Wild Wild West (1999) where Smith portrayed Conrad’s Jim West: no, there was never any giant, Civil War-era mechanical spiders in the series. If you’re a wee-bit older and go back to the pre-cable days of local UHF-TV, you remember coming home from school and watching Conrad as Tom Lopaka on the early ’60s series 77 Sunset Strip, a character which grew into its own four-years series, Hawaiian Eye. And the not-so-old and the not-so-young remember Conrad as Pappy Boyington on Black Sheep Squadron in the ’80s.

Before there was a Tom Selleck, there was Robert Conrad: he was the “he man” of the ’70s, rife with the “sex” for the women and the “brawn” for the men. From Murph the Surf (1975), Sudden Death (1977), and The Lady in Red (1979), he packed the duplexes and the Drive-Ins. From Smash-Up on Interstate 5 (1976), Coach of the Year (1980), and Two Father’s Justice (1994), we turned his TV movies into ratings winners. If Conrad was still active and relevant as an actor in the 21st Century, Sylvester Stallone would have cast him in The Expendables, because, for his fans (moi): Action equals Conrad and vise versa.

However, Conrad, even when playing off his tough guy image, isn’t comedy. And that led to his decision, which he later regretted, in turning down the role of Cmndt. Lassard in the first Police Academy film. Conrad tried to correct that career misstep with a role in Neal Isreal and Pat Profts’s next film, Moving Violations (1985) and this military comedy. With his two comedic bids failing at the box office, he went back to the action genre with the TV movies The Fifth Missile (1986) and Assassin (1986; which we reviewed as part of our last Mill Creek blowout with their Sci-Fi Invasion set).

Image courtesy of terriers4u/eBay.

In a story idea conjured by Conrad, and in an obvious bid to correct the wrong of turning down Police Academy, he’s Joe Knox: a hard-nosed, retired Air Force Colonel who takes over the leadership of a co-ed military academy from his mentor, General Garfield (Bill Erwin; Across 240-plus credits: Plains, Trains & Automobiles, Home Alone . . . and too many TV series to mention, yes, Samuel, even Seinfeld: “My Teeth, My Teeth, you moron!”). Helping Col. Knox whip the Porky’s-cum-Animal House bumbling cadets (including Alan Ruck of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off fame) into shape is Thomas “Top” Tuttle (ex-Elvis body guard Red West of Road House).

Since this is an ’80s TV movie, the shenanigans are innocuous and not as racy as the Police Academy films it apes, and it’s not as funny as No Time for Sergeants (the military comedy gold standard, so what film is), but it doesn’t fail as badly as Mad Magazine‘s (really awful) military school romp Up the Academy (1980). Also keep your eyes open for Reb Brown (TV’s original Captain America, Space Mutiny) and Dennis Farina (in an early role; on his way to TV’s Law & Order as Det. Fontana).

Sam? Notice how I got a plug for both Law & Order and Seinfeld into one review? Sweet!

You can get your own copy of Hard Knox as part of Mill Creek’s Excellent Eighties box set and watch it on You Tube.

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

Repost: Shaker Run (1985)

Editor’s Note: This is the first time Shaker Run has been issued on a Mill Creek set, in this case, as part of their B-Movie Blast 50-Film Pack (Amazon) that we’re reviewing this month. But guess what? We were already all over this Smokey dopey Bandit boo-boo on December 7, 2020, as part of our second, month-long tribute to the Fast and the Furious film franchise (you can find all of those review links with our recap). See, Mill Creek? You inspired us to make up our own box sets! So, how’s about a B&S About Movies 50-Film Pack?

Will you look at that one-sheet. That’s not too blatant of a Smokey and the Bandit rip off, is it? (Or is it Smokey and the Judge. Or Smokey and the Good Time Outlaws? Or Smokey Bites the Dust?)

To be honest, this movie is really dumb. Fun. But dumb, in a Lee Majors The Last Chase kinda-way. Take one part Mad Rockatansky and one part Burt Reynolds. Strip away the story and characters — and just focus on the cars. Vroom-vroom: yer git yerselves a movie, Hoss.

So, “The Bandit,” aka Cliff Roberston (yep, Grand-pa Ben Parker from the Spider-Man franchise), is Judd Pierson, a down-and-out stock racer slummin’ on the carnival circuit-for-a-buck as a daredevil driver with his sidekick, The Snowman, aka Casey Lee (yep, ex-teen idol Leif Garrett of Thunder Alley, who’s actually very good here) at his side.

Then they meet their “Frog” in the form of Dr. Christine Ruben: she decides to double-cross the New Zealand government and smuggle a lethal bio-agent out of a military-backed research facility — and she needs The Bandit and The Snowman. And when you’re hard up for cash, and a hot doctor bats her eyelash-sob story, you take the hook. Sucker. Then nice, loooong car chases — and the ensuing crashes — takes us eastbound and down.

Unfortunately, there’s no freebie uploads on any streaming platforms. So, beside the clip above, you can check out these extended 8:00 and 20:00 You Tube clips that distill the film down into what we came for: the car chases. And since this was a New Zealand-shot film, that country’s NZ On Screen website offers up an 10:00 excerpt from the film. If you like what you see, you can stream over on Amazon Prime.

The Excellent Eighties: Cavegirl (1985)

Editor’s Note: Sam took a swat at this best-forgotten ’80s comedy back on February 2, 2021, as part of its inclusion on Mill Creek’s B-Movie Blast 50-film pack. If there’s a film that doesn’t deserve as a second, fresh take, it’s Cavegirl. But here we are, as the film is also part of Mill Creek’s The Excellent Eighties 50-film pack.

I’ve been a fan of Daniel Roebuck ever since his chilling portrayal of Sampson Tollet in the juvenile delinquent classic River’s Edge. But in proof that all actors must start somewhere on their journey to becoming a stock player in Rob Zombie’s retro-celluloid house of horrors or picking up work in cool Don Coscarelli flicks, Roebuck made his feature film debut with this caveman-cum-jungle girl comedy. And at the risk of offending an actor I respect: this movie is as stone cold dumb as it looks. Can we blame this film’s inspiration on Ringo Starr’s Caveman? Eh, probably.

In one of the most-unlikely “high school students” committed to film, Roebuck stars as the way-too-old and oafy-dopey Rex, the type of guy that loves bones — as well as boners for unattainable girls — who gets a shot at the (cave) babe of his dreams. However, unlike Pauly Shore’s Encino Man from 1992, where the hot cave person comes to the present, Rex transports back to The Stone Age.

But how?

Ugh. Don’t you know your innocuous and implausible comedies, such as 1976’s Freaky Friday or 1988’s Vice Versa? A magic trinket does the job. In this case: Rex discoveres a cave wall-encrusted magic crystal. There he meets a cavebabe, Eba (Cynthia Thompson, who made her debut in Tomboy and ended up, in all places, a Ruggero Deodato flick, Body Count). And while Rex tries to get under her skimpy animal skins, he helps her tribe fend off a warring cannibal tribe. The end.

Now, if the character of “Brenda” looks familiar to you — but the actress name Stacey Swain does not — that’s because it’s Stacey Q! Yes, she the ’80s pop queen who made it into the U.S. Top Ten with “Two of Hearts” in 1986. Her song “Synthicide,” which was the debut single by SSQ, which cracked the U.S. Top Fifty back in 1983, appears on the soundtrack. That song, along with “Big Electronic Beat” and “Clockwork,” from SSQ’s lone album on Enigma Records (also home to the very-similar Berlin lead by ’70s actress Terry Nunn), also appears on the soundtrack to 1984’s Hardbodies (that, shockingly, hasn’t been “Mill Creek’d,” at least not yet). If you’re a punker and you love your zombies, you’ve heard Stacey’s soundtrack work before, on, of all places, The Return of the the Living Dead. Remember when Linnea Quigley stripped for Trash in the graveyard? Well, the song “Tonight (We’ll Make Love Until We Die)” blaring over the boombox is Stacey fronting SSQ.

Yeah, when the backstory on the soundtrack is more interesting than the movie, you know you’ve got narrative issues with your film.

This ended up being the only feature film writing and directing debut for rock video director David Oliver Pfeil, in which he also served as his own producer and cinematographer. It’s certain he had higher hopes for his passion project. But when you’re backed by Crown International, boobs rule over one’s artistic passions. But no worries: Pfeil went onto become a prolific opening credits designer for features films and television series. One his many credits was the opening titles for the film and series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century — which is the best part of that decrepit, plastic Star Wars knockoff.

You can watch Cavegirl on YouTube.

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: Blunt, aka The Fourth Man (1987)

Here’s another Mill Creeker that Sam, the boss at B&S, and myself never heard of and would have passed on — if not for it being on a Mill Creek box set. And you probably never heard of it either, as it is a British TV movie, part of the 165-episode run of BBC-TV’s 1985 – 2002 series Screen Two. According to the digital content managers at the IMDb, the Screen Two project was the brainchild of producer Kenith Trodd, who headed a team to create a programming block for the BBC to compete with Channel Four’s efforts in making movies for television and theatrical release. The series plan was to break the BBC away from their studio-made stage play format (know your old PBS-TV rebroadcasts of Doctor Who) to create “live,” non-stage programming. Known as The Fourth Man during its TV run, it carried the title of Blunt for its VHS and overseas theatrical releases.

Of course, it helps that we have Sir Anthony Hopkins heading the cast to inspire us to sit down and review the title for our Mill Creek blowout of their 50-film Excellent Eighties box set.

So, what’s it all about?

VHS image courtesy of ijcm3/eBay.

Hopkins is Blunt, Anthony Blunt (bad Bond joke), a British art historian and professor who became the infamous “fourth man” in the Cambridge Five, a notorious group of spies comprised of rogue MI5 agents (Britain’s CIA equivalent) working for the Soviet Union from the 1930s up through the early 1950s. Once a Sir of the Royal Victorian Knighthood, Blunt was stripped of the honor in 1979 when his activities came to public light.

While the production values exceed the TV stage play-style they were attempting to update, this is — even with Hopkins to hold our interest — still pretty dry and pretty boring and the production values really haven’t improved much: this isn’t an action drama, but (still) a stagey, psychological drama that attempts to get inside the heads of the men and asks “why” Blunt did it. While Blunt and the Cambridge Five’s exploits are certainly intriguing and appealing to spy aficionados, the way this story is told, it just isn’t as engaging as the exploits of Ashaf Marwan, an Egyptian billionaire who worked for Mossad, the State of Israel’s intelligence agency to became the world’s first true “super spy” during the 1973 Yom Kippur War/Arab-Israeli War. His exploits are chronicled in the much better spy film The Angel (2018) and its accompanying documentary, The Spy Who Fell to Earth (2018).

You can watch Blunt: The Fourth Man on Tubi as a free-with-ads stream.

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: Laser Mission (1989)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rob Brown is one of the two or three people who write for us that has his own IMDB page. He also has a cool Dragon Sound t-shirt.

Laser Mission is a 1989 action film starring Brandon Lee, Ernest Borgnine, and Debi Monohan. Lee plays Michael Gold, a mercenary hired by the CIA to bring in laser expert Dr. Braun (Borgnine), who is in danger of being captured and forced to build diamond-powered laser weaponry by a corrupt Soviet Colonel and a psychotic German soldier of fortune. The first attempt to get Braun to defect is thwarted when both men are captured and separated. Gold soon escapes and enlists the help of Braun’s daughter Alissa (Monohan) to find the doctor and prevent World War III.

I first saw this film in the mid-90s, probably around the time that The Crow was coming out or hitting home video, and sadly, that’s probably the only reason that anyone really bothered to check Laser Mission out. Brandon Lee had been appearing in films for several years, but had only recently emerged as a leading man before his untimely death. As was tradition pre-Internet, when an actor died, any distributors that had movies he appeared in cranked out cheap tapes with box art that wasn’t even for the movie that you were about to watch, with hopes that the newfound notoriety would get you to shell out $0.49 for that one-night rental. I specifically remember that the copy I picked up from the Hastings in Idaho Falls featured the same picture from the poster for Lee’s 1992 actioner Rapid Fire.

Was it any good, though? Even at the time, when I was 16 and would watch absolutely anything with a ninja or kickboxer in it (American or otherwise), I didn’t think it was “good”, but it was fun and memorable enough to want to revisit and talk about a quarter century later. I think I could appreciate a lot more about it this time around.

In the canon of 80s action movies, this one is sub-Cannon in its production values, but it’s just as absurd as its bigger-budgeted contemporaries and shows the same lack of regard for the lives of its performers as many of those same films that were just far enough under the mainstream radar to get away with it if they were able to shoot somewhere where they’d never be found.  In this film’s case, we spend much of our time in Namibia.  I was confused at first, as the characters in this film seem to come from all over the world (A Russian and German are running the show, supported by Cuban and African soldiers) and a lot of the signage in this movie is in Portuguese, but a little Googling revealed to me that most of the countries that use it as their official language are right there in that part of Africa.

Oh, and there are no lasers. Not a single one. Lots of talk of lasers and preventing the creation of laser weaponry, but none to be seen. It’s probably better that way, as I can’t imagine what that effect would look like in this movie. After all, when we see the theft of the Verbig Diamond in the film’s prolog (“Larger than the Hope, more spectacular than the Cullinan”), the place looks less like a museum and more like an Olive Garden that got shut down early for a private work party.  A bunch of goons get armed up in a Commando-like gearing-up scene, but they end up just gassing the whole room and walking out with the diamond without any shots fired or casualties, like in an episode of Batman. Aside from not using lasers or real diamonds, a lot of the sets are very sparse. Half the interiors look the same, whether it’s supposed to be a hotel, university, airport, or an apartment building. At one point during his escape from an African prison, where he was sentenced to die the next day by guillotine (a gift from the Belgian king in 1907), Gold knocks a guard unconscious and leaves through a door, only to enter the next shot through the SAME door, complete with unconscious guard still slumped over in the corner, running back down the same hallway that he just came from. I could go on and on about the cheapness of the film all day, but it’s more of a “seeing is believing” (or not believing you’re hearing the same song for the fifth time) kind of thing that’s more fun to discover for yourself.

(David Knopfler’s “Mercenary Man” plays.)

The action in the film is totally fine, with a few standout stunts that really go for it that mostly involve out-of-control vehicles and people being launched from them, as well as some impressive falls, a full body burn at one point, and guys really selling the hell out of the beatings they’re taking. Brandon Lee’s father was Bruce Lee, of course, and he’s quite a martial artist on his own, but they seem to make him more of a traditional American action hero here.  He has more of a brawling style that works better when you’re being attacked in the middle of a desert by a variety of hired guns, including probably the only white guy in a karate gi on the entire African continent.  The film’s director, Beau Smith, only made a handful of films before finding his niche in directing documentary specials and shows, but he has had a very extensive career performing and coordinating stunts in nearly 150 projects, most recently in 2014’s Amazing Spider-Man 2.

The performances are not bad, but they do get sketchy once you get away from the main characters. Lee is a lot of fun and is certainly charismatic and makes the most of what he’s given. As far as Michael Gold is concerned, I think they were shooting more for a Bond-like character, but he comes off as more of a sarcastic smartass. He has good chemistry with his co-stars and doesn’t seem to be phoning it in, but his one-liners don’t seem to rise very far above a “See ya, but I wouldn’t want to be ya”. I don’t know if he thought that this role would propel him to bigger and better things quite yet, but he’s trying.  Ernest Borgnine has just a handful of scenes, and while he appears happy to be there, he doesn’t seem to be putting a lot of effort into trying to pass for German, aside from saying “Liebchen” a lot. Debi Monohan is someone I didn’t recognize that would go on to have a pretty solid run of guest appearances on sitcoms and action shows throughout the 90s, and she’s pretty solid in this part as someone that could have easily been a damsel in distress that ends up being as much a part of the action as anyone else. Her and Lee have a good rapport and a back-and-forth that doesn’t feel too scripted or forced. The actors portraying the Russian Colonel and German villain also play those types well, but it gets kind of weird the further down the call sheet you go. Early on, we’re introduced to a pair of bumbling Cuban soldiers that serve as comic relief in a film that doesn’t really need it that somehow manage to Forrest Gump their way into all of the important events of the film after first encountering the very not-Hispanic Michael Gold impersonating their commanding officer. After that, it’s mostly extras with a few words here and there that don’t seem to understand the lines they’re deadpanning, which doesn’t really help sell Lee’s lame one-liners any better, but they all appear to be local hires that probably don’t speak English as a first or second language, so good for them.

Overall, Laser Mission is a quick, goofy way to spend eighty minutes.  It’s probably exactly the same movie that my 11-year-old self would have cooked up in 1989 if everything I knew about action was based on the twenty minutes I remembered from A View To A Kill, A-Team reruns, and a hundred episodes or so of GI Joe, all on what appeared to be a Nollywood budget. It’s rated R, I’m guessing for violence and very brief semi-nudity, but could probably pass for PG-13, as the violence is mostly bloodless and there isn’t any gore that I can remember.  This film can be found in the “Excellent Eighties” DVD collection from Mill Creek Entertainment.

(David Knopfler’s “Mercenary Man” plays…again.)

Repost: The Day Time Ended (1980)

Editor’s Note: When this film was included on Mill Creek’s Sci-Fi Invasion set, Dustin Fallon from Horror and Sons gave us his alternate take on the film on November 2, 2020. And when you’re dealing with a Compass International Pictures release and John “Bud” Cardos and Charles Band in one film, well, no way that film is getting by with just one review, as B&S’s leader Sam Panico reviewed it back in 2018. And Mill Creek knows a fun film when they see one, as it is also part of their Excellent Eighties 50-film set that we’re unpacking all this month.

Take it, Dustin!

The Day Time Ended is a 1980 science fiction film released by Compass International Pictures. As I’m sure you know, Compass were also the distributor for John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978, and producer Charles Band’s Tourist Trap in 1979.  As I’m sure you also know, both of those films are much better remembered than this film, and for a multitude of good reasons.

Band would also serve as the producer of The Day Time Ended, with former stuntman John “Bud” Cardos (The Dark, Kingdom of the Spiders) taking directing duties. Fans of Band’s Empire Pictures and Full Moon Features presentations will undoubtedly notice quite a few regulars among the crew, such as David Schmoeller (director of Tourist Trap and Puppet Master) and Ted Nicolaou (Terrorvision, Subspecies series), as well as Oscar-winning make-up artist Ve Neill!

The Day Time Ended was seemingly produced to cash-in on the still lingering success of Star Wars in 1976, a wave of science fiction hysteria that allowed filmmakers and distributors of the time to drop any genre-related turd upon a presumably unsuspecting, yet still eager audience. If you were a young male during this era, chances are that the presence of spaceships, aliens, laser guns, and other intergalactic trappings was generally all it took to get your butt in the seat.

In The Day Time Ended, a young couple (played by Robert Mitchum’s son, Chris and Marcy Lafferty, who had previously appeared in Kingdom of the Spiders) and their daughter move to the middle of the desert in order to take up residence with the husband’s parents (or, at least I think they are his parents) and younger brother in their solar-powered home that looks far too small for all these people. The elder couple, played by Western star Jim Davis and Peyton Place‘s Dorothy Malone, have seemingly “dropped off the grid”, retreating from the modern world.

As we learn from a radio broadcast playing as the film opens, this move coincides with the occurrence of a triple-supernova. Almost immediately upon arriving at the desert home, the young child, Jenny, finds a strange, glowing structure while tending to a new pony that her grandfather has purchased. She runs off to tell her family, who find themselves distracted by the fact that the house appears to have been ransacked. The structure, about the same size as the horse, disappears before anyone else can see it. Once her family has left her side, believing the young child to be lost in childish fantasy, Jenny again finds the glowing structure, now no bigger than a large sugar cube or game die.

Other strange events begin to occur around little Jenny, but of course, no one takes any notice for an extended period of time. The grandparents soon witness two UFOs that fly over their heads as they walk the property, but think little of the incident other than being a little creeped out. Later that evening, when the family is in their beds, Jenny is visited by a tiny extraterrestrial creature. The mute creature jumps and spins around the room, but soon flees when another alien craft, also quite small, appears in Jenny’s bedroom. The grandmother also has an encounter with one of the small alien creatures.

In time, more alien craft of varying size and shape converge upon the home. The family is unable to flee due to the car acting erratically, and any attempts to call in or out on the phone line are either cut short or garbled with static, thanks to “atmospheric interference”, an “electrical storm”, or whatever you choose to call the electromagnetic disturbance caused by all this alien activity.

The Day Time Ended continues along with all sorts of extraterrestrial shenanigans occurring both within, as well as outside of, the home. Eventually, large monstrous creatures appear outside the house, further preventing any attempts at escape as they fight and maul each other to death. While these early examples of David Allen’s stop-motion work do show the early-stages of his abilities, they undeniably feel dated by today’s standards, and are far from “ideal” demonstrations of the talent that has made him a considerable legend by many and that earned him an Oscar nomination in later years for his work on 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes. Overall, it’s still a fairly neat sight to behold by those of us still fascinated with cinematic monsters and aliens.

The film’s multiple effects are clearly on showcase here and are the obvious “star” of the film, covering up for (and at times, highlighting) the film’s thread thin and wildly incoherent plot. Sure, there’s some late-night, braindead entertainment to be found here if you aren’t looking for anything too deep or thought-consuming, but even the film’s veteran actors occasionally look bewildered and lost at times.

The Day Time Ended finally reaches its conclusion, only to become even more confusing. Drowning in visual nonsense, the finale presents endless questions with no clear answers given, other than what we interpret them to mean. Honestly, the whole thing just feels tacked on and more than a little rushed.

While I personally enjoy the stop-motion effects on display in The Day Time Ended, they are unfortunately an aspect of the film that many critics trashed upon its release, as well as in the years following. To further exemplify that just maybe I have no clue what I’m talking about, I personally felt that Lafferty wildly over-acted her way through her entire performance as “Beth”, the young mother. However, others clearly must have disagreed with my assessment as she was nominated for “Best Supporting Actress” at 1980’s 7th Annual Saturn Awards, losing to Alien‘s Veronica Cartwright. I can’t imagine there were many other viable competitors.

The Day Time Ended received a blu-ray release from Full Moon Features in early 2019. While the film, as well as Allen’s stop-motion effects, do benefit from a visual upgrade (well, the effects are debatable) thanks to the HD transfer, there’s really little to recommend here if you aren’t already an avid fan of Allen’s work or aren’t into watching painfully dull vintage sci-fi just for the sake of it.