Black Neon (1991)

A pretty much lost Ozploitation movie — thanks YouTube! — Black Neon is the story of Tom Maranta, a bouncer who finally decides to give up a life of crime at the same time that Pharoah, his biggest enemy, is released frm jail for stabbing him. A showdown has to happen.

Day and Strike of the Panther actor James Richards directed, co-wrote (with Edward John Stazak) and appears in this movie as Jack Coburn (Stazak produced, executive produced and stars in it as Tom Maranta), making it a brawling auteur film.

You have to admire whoever made the box art for this movie, because they claim that it has the intensity of “..ROAD HOUSE” when none of that is on screen. That said, it does have lots of neon signs and Bava-lit nightmares of when Pharaoh stabbed Tom. Also, this is just about dealing with what it’s like to be in a fight and the PTSD after as it is fighting, which it’s not as, but you should probably know that. Were it made by better filmmakers, perhaps it’d be a movie worth discussing. As it is, it’s a lot of hanging out, sitting on bikes, arguing, dudes being dudes and yeah, that big fight at the end.

Perhaps you’re a James Richards uber fan and you can set me straight on what I missed.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Maya (1989)

Marcello Avallone made Specters, a movie that’s way better than it has any right to be, and Maya lives up to that same feel. He only made these two films in the horror space and that’s a shame, because he seems devoted to giving audiences exactly what they want.

Also, seeing as how this starts with a quote from Carlo Castaneda, you know that this won’t be your typical genre film. It should also clue you into the fact that this movie is an incoherent mess, which I usually say as a compliment, because when I say the words Italian horror, you should look beyond the smile on my face and strange gaze I cast and really hear me say incoherent mess.

Mayan king Xibalba threatened to kill from beyond death and he starts with an archaeologist named Saloman Slivak (William Berger), whose daughter wants to figure it all out. Don’t we all?

This is the very definition of a slow-moving film, one filled with characters that we shouldn’t — and don’t — care for or about. But man, when Xibalba leaves his shadow world and snuffs them out, you pay attention. As such, does he become the hero of this movie, as he is the only character that changes the narrative and provides action? I’m all for more Mayan horror; let’s bring Xibalba back for a movie that deserves his willingness to decimate humanity.

MILL CREEK DRIVE-IN MOVIE CLASSICS: Exposed to Danger (1982)

Man, Mill Creek, way to send me looking for what exact movie this is. Could it be the 1978 martial arts film Deadly Strike AKA Breakout from Oppression or is it 1982’s Breakout from Opression AKA Exposed to Danger?

It’s the latter. So no Gordon Liu for me.

Instead, this is a Godfrey Ho dubbed film about a woman out of prison after twelve years who is being stalked as she begins her new career. Fonda Chao must be talented, because who else goes directly from doing a bid for murder to instantly becoming assistant editor of a newspaper?

That said, this movie pushes for some wild moments, like a bar of soap concealing a knife and broken glass being served to little kids at a picnic. Also — the soundtrack is taken from The Howling and Tangerine Dream’s Thief score, plus the ending is stolen from Friday the 13th. These things make me love this movie even more, to be honest.

Who knew Godfrey Ho, when he’s not making a ninja movie, can recut and dub a film — originally directed by Karen Yang — and have it make so much sense?

SLASHER MONTH: Cheerleader Camp (1988)

You know, if I had my way, Betsy Russell would have been a much bigger star. I mean, she’s done well and is remembered — and got to be in the Saw movies and get a whole new audience — but she deserved better than a movie that forces us to watch Leif Garrett make sweet love to Playboy Playmate for April 1986 and adult star Teri Weigel. Nothing against Teri — she’s also in Predator 2Marked for DeathInnocent Blood and was the first Playboy girl too go into adult, which cost her a lot in her personal and professional life.

Making this movie work even harder for me? The appearance of Cannon Films star — I mean, she was in Breakin’Breakin’ 2: Electric Booglaoo and Ninja 3: The Domination — Lucinda Dickey. Also — Taleena from the Gor movies — and June 1986 Playmate of the Month — Rebecca Ferratti, George “Buck” Flower and Tom Habeeb, who would one day host the show Cheaters.

Based on the death of Kirsten Costas — just like the original Tori Spelling Lifetime movie Death of a Cheerleader — this movie is a paper thin slasher than came in seven years after its expiration date and led to a sequel that’s not a sequel, the Russell feature — and yes, Buck Flower shows up again — Camp Fear.

SLASHER MONTH: Club Dread (2004)

It’s always amazed me that the Broken Lizard guys followed up Super Troopers with a slasher, but even though this isn’t it great, it kind of made me respect them even more. Instead of doing what was expected or easy, they went their own way.

Just off Costa Rica lies Coconut Pete’s (BIll Paxton!?!) Pleasure Island, a place where the washed-up musician can get his fans to visit for all-inclusive vacations. Yet as the staff does what one does in a slasher — head to the woods to have sex — they have what happens to people who have sex in a slasher happen to them. They die.

I mean, this movie is such a slasher that one of the past people who went insane on the island and killed everyone was tricked into having sex with a corpse, which is very Terror Train.

The main problem I have with this film is that it goes on way too long and there are long stretches where it seems like we’re just waiting around. Yet the more I think about it, the more I kind of like it, as what other movie would have a knife-brandishing killer in robes on a jungle island suddenly be attacked by a powerful tennis serve?

SLASHER MONTH: Prom Night (2008)

Why do I do this to myself? Like I should know that it’s a lot of pressure to try and top a hundred some slashers in a month last year, but here I am again, hunting down more bloodletting and writing about it and oh hey — let’s hope against hope that 2008’s Prom Night is decent.

And then I realized that Prom Night is not really any good and it’s only the sequels that are worth remembering (Prom Night 2: Hello Mary Lou is in my top ten slashers, in case you care).

For some reason, Nelson McCormick remade this and The Stepfather in the mid 2000s and you can use the law of inverted milk to determine freshness: the closer a slasher has been made to the day it is right now, the worse it stinks.

We didn’t need these reimaginings — one could also argue we didn’t need the original Prom Night — and yet here they are, stories that make it difficult to determine the motives, the reasons, the why and anything else that would make the killer in this film remotely interesting. You know that Black Christmas remake from 2006? The one with all the crushed black color, the modern rock and the hospital scenes? This is like that but way worse and missing the swing for the fences yellow killer.

I’d like to think that writer J. S. Cardone knew better, I mean, he made the baffling weird The Slayer, which holds up better than this, as well as Thunder Alley and 8mm2 and…alright maybe The Slayer was a fluke.

Allow me to be the cautionary tale. Don’t watch PG-13 rated slashers.

Micheal K. Williams passed away

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jim LaMotta is one of Pittsburgh’s premiere wrestling announcers, as well as a great writer. I’m really happy that he chose to write this and share it with the site. This article originally appeared on Steel City Underground. You can follow Jim on Twitter.

I was shocked to read the news earlier this week that Micheal K. Williams, the actor known for his iconic roles in HBO’s The Wire and Boardwalk Empire was found dead of a suspected drug overdose in his New York apartment at the age of 54. Sadly, Williams’ struggled with addiction the majority of his life, and the authenticity that he brought to the screen seemed to be based on much of the real-life trauma from his youth. Growing up in the East Flatbush housing projects in Brooklyn, his youth provided somewhat of a preview for that roles that eventually made him famous when he dropped out of high school as a troubled teen. Thankfully, he found a level of stability at the National Black Theatre in Harlem, where he studied dance and stage performance. Through the hustle and showing up at enough studios, he landed work as a back up dancer for various artists, including Madonna for tours in the early-90s. He landed a break when he was cast for a minor role in 1996’s Bullet, a film that brought together Mickey Rourke and Tupac Shakur.

Random chance brought Williams the opportunity, as his photo was noticed during the production of the film, which led to an offer for a role. A few years earlier, Williams attempted to stop a fight outside of a club and was slashed across the face with a razor blade, leaving a massive scar. That scar not only got him noticed for Bullet, it became one of the notable trademarks throughout his career. While the healed stitches got him on set with Tupac, it also had him typecast in generic roles throughout the rest of the 90s.

The defining mark on his face was quite literally proof of life on the streets, and in many ways, it was just too easy to cast him as a generic thug because the visual was already there. However, Micheal K, Williams had much more to offer to the art of acting than anything just skin deep. Thankfully, David Simon, writer of The Wire, and later The Deuce for HBO as well, was willing to take the usual street drama the entertainment world saw before and allow for more depth than the usual superficial presentation. Simon’s gritty and unrefined look at the hardships of poverty and the effects of corruption within society were almost too much for some critics. Despite being critically-acclaimed and nominated for a myriad of awards, The Wire never won an Emmy, and when the show was broadcast in Britain, it was relegated to a late-night time slot based on the subject matter.

The Wire, a saga about Baltimore’s drug trade and the police that were tasked to stop it, quite literally was the subject of academic materials. Entire essays can and have been written about the topics that Simon explored with the production that was filmed in Baltimore on the same streets that its narrative chronicled. On a basic level, Simon allowed the audience to question just who are “the good guys?” and what measure determines it. As the tales of the street unfolded on HBO when the series ran for five seasons, drug dealers sometimes had more of a moral code than elected officials. Those that were deemed hopeless or a lost cause flourished, while others squandered their opportunities.

Any form of art, regardless of the media used to create it, often evokes an emotion within the audience and makes them think deeper about its subject matter. Simon’s work through The Wire certainly did that, but the main catalyst that made it possible was the series’ anti-hero, Omar Little, a role that will probably define the legacy of Micheal K. Williams. His career wasn’t limited to just Omar’s adventures on The Wire, but it left such a legacy on a number of levels that it must be discussed to truly sum up the impact of Williams acting ability.

Omar Little, a shotgun-welding gangster, made his living on the streets of Baltimore by robbing the city’s drug dealers, those that were responsible for much of the drug epidemic that ravaged the city. In many ways, those that lined their pockets by exploiting the addiction problems of the citizens were the villains, while Omar would even the score with Robin Hood-style justice. The philosophies of the moral gangster were staples of the anti-hero and can be seen throughout film for those that landed in similar roles. The primary focus of the anti-hero is the difference between legal and moral justice. We’ve seen so often in society that sometimes liars or con artists can manipulate the system and get away with it. In real life, there’s not always moral or even legal justice, we all know OJ did it.  Along with a way to even the score, the anti-hero always had a code, even if it’s not legal. This set of rules lets the audience know that the anti-hero has a moral compass, which allows them to cheer for the anti-hero under different circumstances.

Speaking of a code, that was one of the many trademark lines that Omar made famous on the HBO series, “a man got to have a code” told the audience that Omar had rules for his way of life, and the pursuit of money, the entire objective of the hustle wasn’t enough to break them. Along with moral justice, the anti-hero in film can always be portrayed to do what’s right from the viewpoint of the audience. A prime example of this being when one of the drug cartel enforces shoots an innocent man that happened to witness a transaction because he was just doing his job as a security guard. “Snitchin'” might’ve been an unwritten rule of the street, but it didn’t apply to civilians. Omar, with a lengthy rap sheet himself, agreed to testify against the enforcer in an almost comical court room scene. “I ain’t never turn my gun on nobody that ain’t in the game,” he said as he confirmed the identity of the shooter. The point being, if anyone was involved in the hustle of the streets, they knew the risks so they are fair game, but that doesn’t apply to the general public or the security guard that was just trying to make an honest living.

It’s the same reason the audience can cheer for Tony Soprano, he might be a criminal, but there’s a code of ethics, as unconventional as they might be, to conduct business. A wise guy might end up with a pair of cement shoes, but women and children were safe because they weren’t part of it. Speaking of family ties, Omar might’ve robbed meth dealers on Saturday, but in a memorable scene, took his grandma to church on Sunday morning.

Obviously, the large facial scar enhanced the presence of the character, but it was Williams’ charisma and authenticity that really made the role iconic. Besides the cool anti-hero that Omar was, the character broke new ground on many levels with the portrayal of a gay gangster. David Simon, who used his writing style to push the narrative of The Wire in a more progressive direction, flipped the script on gay characters on television. When Omar strolled down the street in Baltimore in 2002, film and television had only begun to scratch the surface of prominent gay characters. Will and Grace put a spotlight on a gay character, but up until that point, while the presentation of gay figures on screen was positive, it portrayed a gay character as passive or defenseless. Omar Little blasted that stereotype away faster than the front door to a poker game he was going to rob. Omar was cool, dangerous, could defend himself in the streets, and he was gay. His sexuality wasn’t the defining factor of his existence or the narrative on the show. Williams’ work in this regard was really superb because Omar’s homosexuality was presented as any other type of relationship, which again emphasized that a character’s orientation doesn’t determine their narrative.

The character became so iconic with its unique style that President Barack Obama cited the stickup man as his favorite television character. Unfortunately, in the years after The Wire‘s 2008 series finale, Micheal Williams revealed that he continued to struggle with drug use during the production of the HBO show. Perhaps, that’s why The Wire is so revered and examined more than a decade after it wrapped, because it was a dose of reality that many weren’t ready for at the time. Aside from being filmed on the same Baltimore streets where the story was set, the level of authenticity associated with the show went beyond just skilled acting. While Williams’ Omar had such a charismatic presence on-screen, he was actually be responsible for bringing another certified aspect of Baltimore to the set. While at a club there, Williams spotted Felecia “Snoop” Pearson, who he introduced to producers, and eventually a role was written into the show for her. As she detailed in her autobiography, Grace After Midnight, Pearson was a real-life drug dealer in Baltimore that was convicted of second-degree murder at the age of just 15 and spent six years in prison. “Snoop,” similar to Williams, had an unique charisma and her authenticity was undeniable.

Williams went on to continue to work in a variety of roles in both film and TV, including his run as Chalky White on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the Atlantic City saga set in the 1920s with the lead role brilliantly played by the underrated Steve Buscemi. The bootlegging days of Atlantic City were far away from the drug trade of Baltimore, but the character of Chalky White showed that Williams knew how to portray a powerful persona on-screen. More recently, he earned an Emmy nomination for his work on another HBO series, Lovecraft Country, and was reportedly set to be cast in an upcoming George Foreman film.

My sincere condolences to Micheal K Williams’ friends and family at this difficult time.

Slap the Monster on Page One (1972)

So this is kind of cheating, because Sbatti il mostro in prima pagina is more a drama or crime movie than a giallo, but it has enough elements of the form to warrant being included in the company of black gloved killers.

Il Giornale is a newspaper that may remind you of some other media sources in 2021: it has a strictly conservative and fascist audience and seeks to discover the right wing way of looking at every issue, no matter how silly they are, while ignoring the real issues that people are dealing with every single day.

Then a young woman is assaulted and killed, so the bullpen goes all in screaming for the return of the death penalty and actually goes so far as to get involved in the investigation. They believe that an idealistic student protester is behind the sex crime, which their readership is only too happy to get behind.

Gian Maria Volonté plays the editor who gets the fires burning. He always ends up in the more mindful and socially conscious giallo that don’t really fit the standard ideas of what makes one of these films, like Investigation of a Citizen Above SuspicionTodo Modo and, well, this one. Plus Laura Betti (A Bay of BloodHatchet for the Honeymoon) and John Steiner are in this if you’re looking for familiar faces. Plus there’s an Ennio Morricone soundtrack.

Sergio Donati, who wrote the script, was the original director but he and Volonté had artistic differences. He also wrote The Weekend MurdersThe Island of the Fishmen AKA Screamers, the original Man on Fire and Almost Blue. And oh yeah — Raw Deal!

Life imitates art: two years later, a real right-wing newspaper named Il Giornale started up.

Trancers III (1992)

Jack Deth has the worst luck. Just when he gets one last chance to save his marriage to Lena (Helen Hunt), he gets pulled into time just in time to save Angel City from a Trancer war, but loses thirteen years of his life and loses the love of his life.

I mean, Jack has more than one love of his life. Just go with it, you know?

Now, the U.S. government is creating their own Trancers, which means that Jack is going to have to get in and shut it down along with help from a soldier that has escaped the program named R.J. (Melanie Smith, Jerry’s girlfriend Rachel), a camp escapee and an android named Shark (R. A. Mihailoff, who was Leatherface in the third film and is part of a paranormal group with Kane Hodde and Rick McCullum named the Hollywood Ghost Hunters).

You can watch this on Tubi.

Master of Horror (1965)

This is a dubbed version of the 1960 Argentinan horror film Obras Maestras del Terror. It’s missing “The Tell-Tale Heart*” and fifteen minutes of footage that was cut from “Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” and “The Cask of Amontillado.”

You can blame Jack H. Harris.

I have to say that this is my favorite version of Amontillado that I’ve seen, as the young wife is seeking the flowery passion from the young rogue who is staying at the farm of the older husband, a man who seeks to love and provide for his wife yet doesn’t have the romantic mind of his younger rival.

I’d love to see a full release of this along with the original Spanish language uncut film. Until that is commercially available, you can check out the American version as part of Severin’s Tales of the Uncanny blu ray. However, as far as I know, it was only part of the Black Friday version.

*This story was part of 1972’s Legend of Horror.