Paycheck (2003)

Some rules that I have established of “Is this an ancient future cyberpunk movie?” I will answer some of these to determine the veracity of Paycheck‘s status.

Does it have the title of a Philip K. Dick book but not really have much to do with it?

Yes, it’s based on his story Paycheck which originally appeared in 1953.

Is there a lot of rain?

Not as much as others in the genre.

Does the male hero wear dress clothes and/or a trenchcoat?

It’s a black tie affair.

Do Keanu Reeves, Ben Affleck, Dolph Lundgren or Udo Keir appear in it?

Affleck makes it.

Does the internet do something it can’t do yet, yet look dated AF?

Yes. Also, there’s a discussion of memory sizes, which no speculative science fiction should have, because people brag about their brain holding meg file sizes or less and in 2021, we just say, “Oh. That’s the size of a text message.”

Are Stabbing Westward, KMFDM, Ministry or God Lives Underwater on the soundtrack?

No, but they did have to pay to use “Happy birthday.”

Is it a crappy version of Blade Runner?

Aren’t they all?

Are there numerous Asian-influenced scenes?

It’s less Asian influenced than made by the man who everyone copied by putting a bird on their action scenes, John Woo.

Do people use future terms that make no sense?

Yep.

Are there a lot of whirring sound effects?

Always.

Do people stare at the camera as it moves through a neon-lit strip club?

Often.

Are there rock stars in it?

No, sadly.

Is there a feral child?

I kind of wish there was.

When this was made, Paycheck was Ben Affleck’s biggest check, earning him $15 million. When asked why he starred in the film, he responds “The answer lies in the title.” He also lobbied to change his character from a Yankess to a Red Sox fan.

Woo was trying to make a Hitchcock-style movie and get away from what he was known for and Affleck begged for a Mexican standoff scene and got his way.

Affleck plays reverse engineer Michael Jennings, who analyzes the tech of his clients’ competitors and then improves it. He keeps his clients’ intellectual property safe by repeatedly having his buddy Shorty (Paul Giamatti) wipe his brain clean. Now, he’s stuck in a conspiracy with only clues from his past self to guide him, which is a lot like Total Recall, another Dick story turned film.

Now that he’s made a machine that predicts the future — then made himself forget — past Ben wants future Ben to stop that machine from falling into the hands of CEO James Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart), who is using a fake version of our hero’s love interest Rachel Porter (Uma Thurman) to get him to reveal the secrets he’s learned.

Affleck won a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor for his performances in this movie, Gigli and Daredevil, going on Larry King Live to accept and break the award, which was auctioned off and paid for the hall rental for the following year’s award show.

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.

Disclosure (1994) and the Exploration of the “Erotic Thrillers” of the ’90s

When the net meets sex . . . you’re screwed.
— the tagline that never was

While the “video nasty” was our analog-rental de rigueur in the ’80s, it was the titillation of the psuedo-Giallo* and faux noir plotting of the “erotic thriller” that was our fashionable, digital-rental in the ’90s — and their bastardized, low-budget “after dark” soft-core variants of ne’er-do-well successful surgeons, kinked detectives, and tool-literate, hunky-handyman drifters were our required Cinemax/Showtime cable-viewing. Call those ’90s eroticisms what you will: a sexed-up ’50s detective thriller, or an ersatz-porn or a non-psychosexual Giallo of the ’70s, but the genre captured the creative pens of Hollywood and the contractual clauses of A-List talent agents. The first leading man to answer the call to . . . ahem, for the sake of keeping this review clean, we’ll just say, “arms,” for modern Hollywood’s new take on the likes of Double Indemity (1944) was Michael Douglas.

Double Indemity (1944) vs. Basic Instinct (1992).

Can you hear Micheal Douglas salivating Fred MacMurray’s line, “That’s a honey of an anklet you got there, Ms. Dietrichson,” as a widowed Barbara Stanwyck gives him a hint a vagina? Or Fred MacMurray substituting the p-word in lieu of “anklet,” as Babs remembered the anklet, but forgot the undergarments? Ain’t no men in the ’90s gazing at any anklets, baby: the days of Ricky and Lucy Ricardo and Rob and Laura Petrie bunking down in nightstand-separate twins beds are long since over: bring on the WAP. For these are the days that it’s societal acceptable for Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion performing a pseudo-lesbian stripper show on national network TV to mass applause and cheers and for musical tributes to the vagina to rise up the charts to Grammy recognition and acclaim.

During that short-lived sex-noir genre of the early ’90s — that crossed Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966) with Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, while adding a soupçon of the Golden Age of Porn’s Deep Throat (1972) and a smidgen of Argento (the faux-noir detective had to start his sex-spiral, somewhere) — the son of Kirk Douglas (Saturn 3) was the crowned king of the bare-bottom courtesy of the one-two box-office hip-thrust of (the lighter fare) Fatal Attraction (1987) (and the amped-up) Basic Instinct (1992). But while Adrian Lyne and James Dearden’s sex frolic was a hit, Glenn Close’s (Ol’ pop, with his Austin Powers-imitation anytime it cable replayed: “It’s a man, baby!” and “What man in is his right mind would cheat on Anne Archer with Glenn Close!”) Alexandra “Alex” Forrest was no match for Sharon’s Stone’s Catherine Tramell — courtesy of that notorious Eszterhas-cum-Verhoeven scene in the police interrogation room. And ol’ Cat was no rabbit-boiling wrist-silting shirking violet: Cat was a full-on Giallo bi-ice picker possessed with Lucio Fulci’s and Umberto Lenzi’s eyeball trauma fetishism.

Ladies and gentleman: we have our blue-print for the “erotic thriller” of the ’90s.

Art department fail: they should have ran an image of a binary bits and bytes curtain in those dead white spaces.

And the pants fell and the legs opened with one Eszterhas-clone after another: Sea of Love (1989) (Okay, that’s more of the Fatal Attraction-variety, but Pacino!), A Kiss Before Dying (1991) (Argh! Don’t sex-remake noir classics!), Poison Ivy (1992) (Eh, if you’re into Drew.), Single White Female (1992) (Standards-and-practices lesbian lore), Color of Night (1992) (Bruce Willis begins his career spiral.), Consenting Adults (1992) (Alan J. Pakula? Dude, you directed Klute and The Parallax View, not to mention scoring Oscar gold nods three times? Why did you do it?), Sliver (1993) (Oh, Sharon, it does not strike twice; the worst of the bunch.), Body of Evidence (1993) (Oh, Madonna! Why, Willem Dafoe. why?), Indecent Proposal (1993) (Robert Redford? Don’t worry, Demi’s returning. . . .), The Last Seduction (1994) (The most underrated of them all!), Jade (1995) (David Caruso quit NYPD Blue, for this?), Showgirls (1995) (Eszterhas and Verhoeven return for a match-made-in-box office-hell.), Wild Things (1998) (Denise Richards ain’t no Sharon Stone.), and The Bondage Master (1996) (the no-one-knows Japanese V-Cinema classic that gets it oh-so-right and is the requisite B&S About Movies “erotic thriller,” if we must pick one.).

It’s curtains for you, Mr. Sanders!

But for this latest installment of one of B&S About Movies’ patented theme weeks — this week, it’s “ancient future” — we picked the third film of Micheal Douglas’s sexual triumvirate — and, if you’re keeping track: tres for Demi with Indecent Proposal and ShowgirlsDisclosure.

Oh, Hollywood, your fascination with the erotic was only matched by your kid-in-the-Radio Shack tomfoolery when you told us the Internet — with a single keystroke — could do anything. You warned of a world were hacks were as easy as a car service or food delivery app-touch away. It would be a world where the introverted and the shut-in; the malcontent bookworm and the bullied brainiac, would lord over the extroverts, telecommuting over phone lines and cyberpunking us as they open their hearts and souls on cyberchats to their digital lovers and digitally-ordered pizzas while us mere analog fools had physical sex and called-in our pepperoni pies.

For it was a time when the thumb drive was not a yet a twinkle in your Commodore 64-eye; it was an epoch-prediction that computer discs would become the linchpin of our existence; when CD-ROMs were lucrative; a world were malevolent hackers were out to erase identities and steal lives, manufacture rap sheets, alter job records, or murder you by infiltrating airline software and crashing your plane. Those who understood Basic HTML and navigated mainframes would master your domain!

Welcome to the world of Disclosure: a world where the clumsy erotic collides with the cyber stupid.

Tom Sanders (Michael Douglas) pines for a lucrative career promotion as the President of the CD-ROM division (which we now know: he’d be out of job, since you’d be hard-pressed these days to find a laptop with a drive), in lieu of his less-prestigious production line manager gig at DigiCom. Alas, when his company’s merger is about complete, everyone is shocked to learn that ready-to-retire founder Bob Garvin (Donald Sutherland) promoted-transferred the Malaysian-based Meredith Johnson (Demi Moore) — Sanders’s old girlfriend — to the Seattle main office for the job. And, in a role reversal that would never make it through the studio development stages in our post-#MeToo environs: she sexually forces herself on him. And when Sanders rebuffs the advance, her hell-hath-a-woman scorned response for career damage control is to accuse him of sexual harassment. And with a scandal of that magnitude jeopardizing the merger, “to hell with friendship” says Bob Garvin: he sides with Meredith because, it’s always money over friendship. Always. The fact that she’s incompetent and used cheap Malaysian slave labor to jam chips-by-hand instead of by-robot-arm into motherboards, which slowed down the production line stats for Tom and caused him to be passed over, well . . . Meredith is hot and Sutherland, we think, got a “boink” in the deal.

Tom Sanders is screwed . . . or is he?

Thanks to ’90s computer technology, he’s not.

He has DigiCom’s new Virtual Reality Database at his disposal: DigiCom is about to give us a world where we need keyboards no more; monitors are passe; touch screen and wireless technology never was. For now, we simply slip on a wired visor and pair of gloves to enter a digital cathedral of vaulted ceilings and virtual-lit transepts; a digital diocese with narthex after narthex of chambered file rooms rife with VR-cabinets that open with the glance of an eye and, if you’re lost amid the bites and bytes, you can call on an “Angel” to help you glide through the binary codes to save your ass and burn your foes.

Welcome to computer technology and corporate espionage circa 1994: a digital realm where tech giant DigiCom got so much so wrong and so much of what they developed is out out-of-date. There are the clunky mobile phones. The awkward navigation of an in-house e-mail application bogged down with jumbo-sized icons, a spinning “E” screen saver, and giant, unfolding envelopes every time you open an email. The inability — of a cutting-edge tech company that developed a VR-cathedral file cabinet — to trace anonymous emails — mails with espionage Intel that can jeopardize the company’s merger. Oh, DigiCom. How can a company so “cutting edge” develop VR-cathedrals, yet not improve on the design of giant CRT monitors? All this from a tech giant with engineers that decided ditching a WYSIWYG click-and-drag mouse-interface for a visor and gloves to retrieve files made perfect sense. No thanks, DigiCom. It’s Doug Engelbart’s mouse over Tom Sanders’s cathedrals for the win: I’ll just stick to the ol’ Windows Explorer directory tree.

Imagine if Sandra Bullock had to go through all of this VR-catherdal hokum to order a pizza when that HMTL-world she mastered became ancient history future.

Wow, now I’m hungry! Time for me to slip on my brain-computer interface (from Douglas Trumbull’s Brainstorm**) and jam-a-chip into the back of my head (à la Circuitry Man**). I need to order food for my chess date with Hal. Oh, that reminds me: I better log onto the IBM terminal and invite Colossus over (from Colossus: The Forbin Project). Yeah, ol’ Cal already knows, it’s just a social (media) formality.

* We LOVE our Giallo at B&S About Movies, which we blew out in grand style with our “Exploring: Giallo” examination, rife with our reviews to over 70 films. We also discuss ol’ Hal and Colossus, and their “ancient future” brethren, with our “Drive-In Friday: Computers Take Over the World” featurette.

** We’re unpacking Brainstorm and Circuity Man this week.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publish music reviews and short stories on Medium.

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.

The Inheritance (2021)

The most enjoyable aspect of today’s indie-streaming films (they’d be direct-to-video back in the analog days of VHS and DVD) and indie distributor shingles like Uncork’d Entertainment is that U.S. audiences are treated with European films — this one from the Ukraine (in English) — that we would otherwise not see on U.S. theater screens and most likely miss on the shelves of our local, back-in-the-day Blockbuster Video.

As with most indie streamers, the budget on this haunted house horror is tight: $500,000. Unlike most indie streamers, the creative team behind it is not of the usual, inexperienced, first-timer variety not adept with the Canon Reds — or shooting on iPhones. As a producer, Chad Barager brought us The Woods (2013), Dark Harvest (2016), and Bitter Harvest (2017); here, Barager makes his feature film writing and directing debut. His co-director and writer, Kevin Speckmaier, has worked as an assistant director on TV’s syndicated Highlander (loved it), USA Network’s The Dead Zone (again, plus Anthony Micheal Hall is great in it), and numerous Lifetime and Hallmark movies (a couple of those cherished B&S About Movies X-Mas flicks). The Inheritance also serves as his feature film debut in the writing and directing chairs.

Latvian-born Natalia Ryumina is a multilingual British actress (including Latvian, Russian, and Ukrainian), who we’ve haven’t seen much on U.S. streaming shores, but amid her 20-so film and decade of credits, you may have seen her best known film, Soldiers of the Damned (2015). American (Indiana) born Nick Whittman made his business bones as a stuntman and transitioned as an actor with the National Geographic/FX series Mars (2016 – 2019); The Inheritance is his leading man debut. (Do you have Apple TV? You can watch Mars for free on that platform.)

So, with that front-of-and-behind-the-camera-pedigree, it’s not a surprise that The Inheritance walked away with a “Best Actress Award” for Natalia Ryumina at the 2020 Paris Art and Movie Awards: for an actor is only as good as the script, the film, and the other actors around them. It’s a tale about Sasha and Peter as they head off to Europe to collect on Sasha’s inheritance: a regal mansion. She soon comes to discover dark family secrets of the paranormal variety in her Ukraine family manor’s walls.

The Inheritance premiered at the Catalina Film Festival on September 18, 2020. You can watch The Inheritance On-Demand and DVD in North America on April 13, 2021 from Uncork’d Entertainment. Producer Firepower Entertainment also gave us the five-episode mini-series Chernobyl (2019) staring the always welcomed Jared Harris and the always great Stellan Skarsgard.

Disclaimer: We were provided a screener by the production company’s P.R firm. That has no bearing on our review.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes short stories and music reviews on Medium.

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.

Embryo (2021)

We’ve been receiving a lot of great streamers from South America, as of late. The animated apocalypse of Lava and retro-apoc’in of Scavenger, both from Argentina, really impressed us with their up-against-the-budget class and style. Now we have this Chilean import, shot in Terman de Chillan , that we are grateful Uncork’d Entertainment imported without dubbing, leaving the Spanish intact (with English subtitles).

While The X-Files and The Blair Witch influences are obvious — as well as H.P Lovecraft (see Nicolas Cage’s Color Out of Space) — in this sci-fi horror tale, this latest offering from director Patricio Valladares (the 2011 actioner Toro Loco and the 2012 horror Hidden in the Woods; 2016’s Vlad’s Legacy and 2017’s Robert Englund-starring Nightworld) is not the least bit trope-ridden.

Sure, you’ll reflect on Alien, with its xenomorph impregnation, but since this is B&S About Movies, and this Chilean effort is a low-budgeter, we’re leaning to the sloppier-gooey Inseminoid as our comparison. And there’s a little bit of Cronenberg’s “body horror” flicks injected as well. Valladares efficiently pulls his tale together as a semi-film-cum-SOV camcorder “found footage” narrative that presents an alien abduction portmanteau of three alien-abduction tales. The creator behind Embryo is Barry Keating, a writer who gave us a pretty cool Euro-shot, Monty Markham sci-fi’er, The Rift (2016).

Campers in the Chilean countryside woods of Snowdevil Mountain, known for its extra-terrestrial mysteries, run afoul of otherworldly beings; one of the beings abducts and impregnate Kevin’s girlfriend, Evelyn. As her “child” rapidly grows inside her, the need to satiate her lust for flesh and blood grows, in kind. When she attacks a doctor, Kevin takes Evelyn on the run — and tries to unravel the “found footage” mystery, with a cop investigating the disappearances and rapes on their trail — as they try to find someone to remove “the thing” that’s taking over her body and mind. Tentacles and alien semen caressing human bodies, and flashbacks from 2020, to 2008, to 2012, ensues — with Patricio Valladares accomplishing a lot on very little.

You’ll be able to stream Embryo as a VOD or purchase as a DVD and Blu-ray in North American via Uncork’d Entertainment on April 6, 2021.

Disclaimer: We were sent a screener by the distributor’s P.R firm. That has no bearing on our review.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes short stories and music reviews on Medium.

Dawn of the Beast (2021)

I think I can also speak for Sam that, when we were in college (remember those days, Sam), the last thing on our minds was going into the woods to look for aliens or hairy rugs of the Bigfoot variety. High School was a bitch for us both and college was a weekly proctological exam. So what in the hell is with the ne’er-do-well kids with all the free time to curiosity seek in the woods? Yeah, we know: their thesis paper, etc., bla, bla, and yada, yada. Which is why Sam and I leaned towards the artistic: both visual and written. No cramming on law journals or dissecting or field trips. It was art tables and typewriters and radio studios for us. For nature outside: bad. VCR movie-womb room (with turntables and vinyl): good. And thanks to those VCR binges, we know better: going to the woods in a cabin with friends for an isolated vacation, well, you just end up possessed. Or infected. Or dead. Or worse.

So here are. And it’s real.

We dig Bruce Wemple, who gave us a pretty cool pair of wooded-mystery steamers with Monstrous (a Bigfoot) and The Retreat (an Indian-myth Wendigo). And he’s giving us a double-dose in Dawn of the Beast. So, it’s sort of a sequel-trilogy. It’s like those ongoing Kaiju movies of old, with one film building onto another, with a creature from one film tag-teaming in the next, as the films keep getting bigger and better as they progress.

In the streaming-21st century — with the Canon Reds and other digital devices — it’s the slasher ’80s all over again. In either era: You’re a new-to-game filmmaker who wants to tell stories. You don’t have the budget to “go big” like the big studios, with fancy sets and props. So, you head off into the woods: the sets are cheap and bountiful. And Wemple uses those wooden environs to his advantage with a skill-set that always gives us an engaging story.

So, those students with their Bigfoot obsession head off into the Northeastern wood, known for its “strange creature sightings,” natch. And the “strange creatures” are double the terror: our Mystery Machine gang not only runs afoul of Bigfoot, but the spiritual Indian creature, a Wendigo. The ancient creature, wooden battle royale, with the kids caught in the middle, ensues.

As you can tell from the film stills, Bruce Wemple has really upped his game: the makeups and effects are against-the-budget stellar. Wendigos, Bigfoots, and Raimi demon possession. Oh, my! Auntie Em! Toto!

Good stuff, once again, Mr. Wemple. Keep ’em comin’!

While we didn’t officially review either for the site, be sure to also stream Wemple’s two previous, upper New York State-based indie-features, After Hours (2016) and Lake Artifact (2019). The welcomed and dependable Anna Shields, who starred in those two films, as well as Monstrous, stars — and pens Dawn of the Beast. Her co-star, Grant Schumacher, also returns from Lake Artifact, Monstrous, and The Retreat. Needless to say, they’re excellent, as always.

Uncork’d Entertainment will release Dawn of the Beast to digital platforms and DVD on April 6, 2021.

Disclaimer: We were sent a screener by the distributor’s P.R firm. That has no bearing on our review.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publishes short stories and music reviews on Medium.

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.

Virus, aka Day of Resurrection (1980)

If you’re a fan of Asian cinema from Japan, then you know the name of Kinji Fukasaku. In addition to directing the Japanese portion of the Hollywood war film Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), he directed Toho’s Star Wars hopeful, Message from Space (1978), and the controversial and influential—and his final film—Battle Royale (2000).

After the international failure of Message from Space, Fukasaku set off to make what he hoped would be his masterpiece: an apocalyptic epic based Sakyo Komatsu’s best-selling novel Fukkatsu no hi, aka Day of Resurrection, intended to rival the likes of Hollywood’s A-List apocalypse pieces such as Soylent Green and The Omega Man and Irwin Allen-styled disaster films such as Earthquake and The Towering Inferno. Westerners—courtesy of their film adaptations—may also know Komatsu’s best-selling Eastern novels Japan Sinks (1973) and Sayonara Jupiter (1982), which were turned into the disaster film Tidal Wave (1973; the U.S. cut featured Lorne Greene from Earthquake) and the space opera Bye, Bye Jupiter (1984).

Upon its release, Kinji Fukasaku’s Virus was the most expensive film Japan ever produced—at $16 million U.S. It was also one of the country’s biggest box-office failures: even more so than Message from Space.

To make a return on their investment, Toho decided that the film needed to cast familiar western actors—albeit from Hollywood’s B-List—alongside their homeland’s familiar actors to successfully break into the Western markets of Europe and the United States. So an English-speaking international cast featuring Chuck Connors, Glenn Ford, British actress Olivia Hussey, George Kennedy, an up-and-coming Edward James Olmos and Canadian actor Nicholas Campbell, Henry Silva, Bo Svensen, and Robert Vaughn was assembled to star alongside Sonny Chiba and Masao Kusakari. Not only was the cast of an international persuasion, the film was shot on-location, not only in Tokyo, but in various locations in and around Ottawa, Canada, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. The film was supported by the Chilean Navy (Olmos stars as Russian-speaking Chilean), which lent their submarine the CNS Simpson for the production, as did the Canadian Navy, which lent out their submarine the HMCS Okanagan (Connors stars as a British naval officer).

The original cut of the film, which played in the Pacific Rim territories and was intended to play internationally, clocked in at 156 minutes (2 hours and 36 minutes). The film, of course, heavily features Sonny Chiba and Masao Kusakari, as their characters developed during the course of the film through a series of pre-apocalypse flashbacks to their earlier life.

Say it was too long; say it relied too heavily on its Japanese stars; or say that the film’s “blaming” the U.S. and other Western countries for unleashing a deadly pandemic—then nuclear devastation—upon the world was a tad too realistic (the scenes depicting marital law and infected bodies burnt in piles are undeniably dark) and not the dumbed-down Irwin Allen disaster epic with a happily ever after ending that Hollywood was expecting. And there was no way Hollywood was putting a two and a half-hour epic*—filmed mostly in English-subtitled Japanese—into theaters. So, instead of a full, worldwide theatrical release, the majesty of Kinji Fukasaku’s to-be crowning cinematic achievement was cut into a syndicated television version that ran at 108 minutes (1 hour 48 minutes). There’s also a third, shorter TV version that runs seven minutes shorter at 101 minutes (1 hour 41 minutes).

The missing 48 minutes eliminates all of the Tokyo-based flashbacks and most all of the scenes that take place at a remote, isolated Japanese station—which conveniently eliminated all of the English subtitled Japanese. While the 156 minute cut is the suggested watch—which finally seen an official U.S. DVD release in 2006; the original cut is also part of the Sonny Chiba Action Pack—you’re better off, of course, if you can only get a copy of the TV version, watching the longer of TV 108-minute cut. Sadly, the U.S. TV versions—which are now in the public domain on cheapjack DVD sets—reduce Sonny Chiba and Masao Kusakari from the “stars” of the film to peripheral characters; a heart-wrenching scene with the Japanese station making a contact with an orphaned U.S. child begging for help, is lost; Kusakari’s epic trek from a decimated Washington D.C.—which he and Svenson’s soldier tried to stop—is also deleted, which also cuts another great scene with Kusakari carrying a conversation with a burnt-out skeleton—and Jesus Christ on a cross—in a church. And whole scenes are also rearranged, most notably with Chuck Connors’s naval officer’s part not only reduced, but appearing in different parts of the film, depending on the cut you watch.

So, yeah, we’re telling you to watch the original, “too bleak for the U.S.” theatrical cut as Kinji Fukasaku intended. And it’s important to take into account that this is all pre-CGI and shot with practical in-camera effects and seamlessly incorporated stock footage, but those effects—wow, especially those showing the world’s devastated cities, including an overgrown nation’s White House—are stunning set pieces. And if you take the time to watch the original—and are able to, considering our current COVID circumstances, digest a film about a global pandemic unleashed by man’s own greedy stupidity—you’ll agree this is one of the best—if not the best—post-apoc movies you’ll ever watch**.

In a timeline that runs from the year 1982 to 1988, the apocalypse begins as East German and American scientists bicker over the deadly MM88 virus—a virus that absorbs and amplifies other viruses, making them more deadly. Of course, its creation was “accidental,” and it was stolen from a U.S. lab. Successfully recovered, the plane transporting the virus to the states, crashes, and what becomes known as the “Italian Flu,” is unleashed. Oh, and a goody-two shoes lab tech that discovered the truth behind MM88 is murdered to keep it all quiet. (Sakyo Komatsu’s based his book’s “Italian Flu” on the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 to 1920, which started in Kansas, USA.)

In a mere seven months, most of the world’s population is dead—and eventually claims the lives of Glenn Ford and Robert Vaughn (starring as the President and VP). Henry Silva (Silva, Ford, and Vaughn are excellent) is their paranoid-mad military Chief of Staff insistent that the new ARS Defense system must be armed to protect a now weakened America from a Soviet invasion. And being the crackpot that he is—after his bosses are all dead, he arms the system just before the flu claims his life.

Seven years later, all that’s left of humanity is 855 men and eight women at Palmer Station Antarctica, as the virus can’t survive in temperatures below 10-degrees Celsius. Their somewhat peaceful existence—women are forced into sexual servitude to propagate the species— is upended when it’s discovered the Soviets also have—and armed—their own ARS system—and one of the missiles is aimed at Palmer Station (because it’s a “secret military base”). Then, if the virus and the threat of nuclear war isn’t enough, the station’s seismological team discovers an earthquake will hit the U.S. eastern seaboard—and the magnitude of the quake will be interpreted by the ARS system as an “attack” and launch its rockets.

So, Bo Svenson’s Major Carter and Masao Kusakari’s Dr. Yoshizumi head off to Washington D.C. on an icebreaker to shut down the ARS. Only they’re too late: the earthquake hits and the U.S. ARS launches—and Carter dies in the earthquake rubble. Then the Soviet’s ARS counterstrikes. The world is destroyed.

And that’s how the TV movie version ends.

The theatrical version continues—with those extra seven minutes cut from the 108-minute TV version—as Yoshizumi treks south across the wastelands back to Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica, where the Earth’s final survivors—from the ocean-bound ice breaker, escaped, and successfully created a vaccine.

As far as this reviewer is concerned: Kinji Fukasaku, in fact, created a masterpiece. And, if you’ve spent any amount of time on the digitized terrains of B&S About Movies and are familiar with the later, collective schlock ‘80s resumes of Chuck Conners (Tourist Trap), George Kennedy (Top Line), Henry Silva (Megaforce), Bo Svensen (Night Warning) and Robert Vaughn (Starship Invasions), you’ll realize that they’re all very good here—and Virus gave them their last great film roles before the Italian and Filipino film industries got their low-budget hooks in them. (Nicholas Campbell and Silva later worked together on the Canux-slasher Baker County, U.S.A; Campbell was “Luke Skywalker” in the Canux-star slop that was The Shape of Things to Come; Olivia Hussey ended up in things like Ice Cream Man.)

You can watch the full-length director’s cut courtesy of Tubi. You can watch-compare to the U.S. TV version on You Tube and the VHS version on You Tube.

* We discussed, extensively, those epic “intermission” films of the ‘60s and ‘70s in our review of the 2021 release of the Australian film Rage.

** We discuss a few of our ’70s apoc favorites with our “Drive-In Friday” tribute to Hollywood’s A-List Apocalypse.

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