Tron (1982)

I was ten when this movie came out and it was — without a doubt — the biggest thing in my life. Talk about brand synergy — to walk into the GameTrek arcade and see an actual Tron arcade machine with all the same sound effects! I wanted to disappear into the video game grid and escape the bullies of my childhood. I’d much rather hang out with Sark and the Master Control Program — I had an affection for evil even then.

Writer and director Steven Lisberger (Bonnie MacBird* wrote the original story with him) had been inspired by the video games hed played in the 70s and dreamed of a movie based on them. He finally landed at Disney, where computer animation would join with traditional filming techniques and backlit animation to make this groundbreaking film.

Disney executives were uncertain about giving $12 million to a first-time producer and director using techniques that had never been done before. They did finance a test of the flying discs and it won them over, as long as the studio could rewrite and restoryboard the movie. At this time, Disney rarely hired outsiders to make films for them. They were given a cold reception and none of the animators would join the film.

Now for some geeky stuff.

Disney decided in 1981 to film Tron completely in 65-mm Super Panavision**, which makes the movie look way bigger and stranger in the best of ways. And as a result of this being a non-Disney Disney movie, the outside influences make it seem even odder. French comic book artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud, who had worked on Jodorowskys canceled Dune, designed the characters and costumes, while the machines were designed by Syd Mead (Blade RunnerAliens) and Peter Lloyd worked on the environments, yet all three would switch jobs and pitch in to create the overlook look of the film and even its logo.

However, none of the four studios hired to design the computer animation — Information International, Inc.; MAGI; Robert Abel and Associates and Digital Effects — collaborated on their art, which gives a variety of looks to the film.

Tron sees a world where we all have a computer version of ourselves inside the master grid, a place ruled by the Master Control Program and policed by David Warner’s Sark. It’s a world that Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) helped created when he made a series of video games for ENCOM before growing disillusioned with the big business that those games became. Shades of Atari and Warner Communications, huh?

Programmer Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) and his girlfriend (and Flynn’s ex-girlfriend) engineer Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan) have learned that MCP is taking over their projects and is shut down by senior executive vice president Ed Dillinger (also Warner). It turns out that the businessman got so far by stealing Flynn’s games. In retaliation, Flynn has quit and runs an arcade when he isn’t hacking into ENCOM.

Of course, that allows the Master Control to blast Flynn into his reality, a place where Alan is Tron and Lora is Lori and all the video games that the creator loves have become life and death. I kind of love everything about this movie except for Flynn becoming the CEO at the end. We all know how business works and we’ll learn even more in the sequel.

Another part of my childhood was in the soundtrack to this movie, which was composed by Wendy Carlos. I never could quite figure out why my dad’s Walter Carlos albums just ended and wondered if his sister took over for him. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the brave truth. Two other songs — “1990’s Theme” and “Only Solutions” — came from Journey.

Unfortunately, Tron was originally going to be released during the Christmas season of 1982. When the chairman of the Disney board Card Walker found out that Disney expatriate Don Bluth’s film The Secret of NIMH was coming out in early July, he rushed Tron in an attempt to crush Bluth. This also meant that Tron would be going up against a summer of films that included Blade RunnerPoltergeistStar Trek II and E.T. While it would become Disney’s highest-grossing live action film for 5 years, it still lost the studio a ton of money, as they thought it would generate $400 million in profit.

The world has changed — the state-of-the-art computer used for the film’s key special effects had only 2MB of memory and 330MB of storage, for example — but Tron has remained a cult film that deserved a much wider audience.

*MacBird believes that she was the first screenwriter to edit a screenplay on a computer, but chose the industry-standard Courier font when she printed it, all so Disney would still think she used a typewriter.

**The computer-generated layers were shot in VistaVision — both anamorphic 35mm and Super 35 — and the real world scenes were as well, then blown up to 65 mm.

The Last American Virgin (1982)

This movie is a destructive force that still leaves hurt feelings decades after it’s been viewed. Sure, it’s a remake of director Boaz Davidson’s Lemon Popsicle and that movie ends the same way, but that movie came back with plenty of sequels. Once The Last American Virgin drops its bomb on you, it lets you watch everything burn and then that’s it. There’s no happiness, no hope, just the song “Just Once” and the destruction of the film’s hero in a way that there’s no coming back from.

When a movie has a title like Lemon Popsicle, you don’t know what to expect. It’s a foreign movie released in 1978 that could be about anything. But when the title is The Last American Virgin and the movie comes out in the middle of the teen sex comedy craze, you don’t expect things to go this way.

Gary (Lawrence Monsoon, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) is a pizza delivery boy with two friends, the cool ladies man Rick (Steve Antin, Jessie in the “Jessie’s Girl” video) and David (Joe Rubbo). Most of their hijinks revolve around trying to have sex, like telling girls they have cocaine — it’s really Sweet’n Low — or sleeping with a prostitute or Carmello, a Spanish woman who Gary meets while delivering pizza. Everyone gets their turn except for Gary, who is the titular character.

Yet he has better plans for his first time. He’s in love with Karen (Diane Franklin!), but she’s in love with Rick, who plans on sleeping with her once and dumping her. He does exactly that, getting her pregnant. She turns to Gary, who sells almost everything he owns and borrows money to pay for her abortion, then nurses her during the lowest moment in her life. They share a kiss and she invites him to her 18th birthday party.

That’s when the pain hits hard.

This film takes what Lemon Popsicle did on its soundtrack and transports it to the 80s, which is an incredibly smart move. The music is vital to this film’s success, featuring heavy hitters like The Cars, Devo, The Police, Journey, REO Speedwagon, U2, Blondie and the Human League. I mean, how do you think Bono felt when he saw this and his song “I Will Follow,” which is about his mom who died when he was only 14, is used over an abortion montage?

So much of this movie is very Cannon Films and that’s also the joy of it. It also leaves me with so many questions. Why does Gary bring Karen a bag of oranges when she’s lying in the hospital? Why would they make this seem like a teen movie and give it that ending, when if it was a date movie it’s filled with way too much raunchy sex? And how about the fact that the actors who played Gary and Rick, who come to blows in the movie over the girl who got between their friendship, have come out? How does Gary not realize that Karen’s friend Rose, who he gets set up with, is geeky hot (maybe this makes more sense in 2021 than 1982)? And how did cinematographer Adam Greenberg (who also filmed Terminator 210 to MidnightNear Dark and many more) feel about recreating so many of the same shots that he’d made in Lemon Popsicle?

Director Davidson also made Hospital MassacreSalsa and American Cyborg: Steel Warrior, movies that would not even hint at the art that he would make with this movie. If you’ve ever seen the poster for this and laughed it off as a simple teen comedy, I want you to take a chance on this movie. But be prepared for the final moments.

Homework (1982)

You know, I always thought that this movie had Joan Collins in it. And yeah, it does. But it also doesn’t. That’s because the day before the film’s premiere, Collins — along with Betty Thomas, Carrie Snodgress and Lee Purcell who said they made the movie under false pretenses, not knowing it was going to be a sex comedy — took legal action to get their names removed from this movie.

Collins claimed that the film’s advertising was misleading and she was right. That’s because she had only performed in a minor supporting role shot two whole years earlier in the time before Dynasty made her a big star. Homework now had her in a sex scene with an obvious body double and that image was featured in all of the advertising until a federal court ordered those ads to stop.

Jensen Farley Pictures, you did it again.

This may be the only movie that James Beshears ever directed, but he also edited Luigi Cozzi’s Hercules and The Incredible Melting Man. Recently, he’s served as the editorial and post-production executive on animated movies like The Boss BabyTrolls and the Shrek films.

BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: Violence in a Women’s Prison (1982)

The seventh film in the Black Emanuelle series — and the first to be directed by Bruno Mattei — finds our heroine, still played by Laura Gemser, investigating the Santa Catarina Women’s Penitentiary for Amnesty International.

Wow. You might think that’s pretty woke for an Italian exploitation film. I am here to assure you — or upset you — and reveal that it’s the very last woke or progressive thing that will happen in this movie.

Released as Caged Women in the U.S., this film has Emanuelle pretending to be a drug dealer as she learns all about the horrific conditions within the prison, which consist of all the tropes of the women in prison genre as filtered through the demented minds of husband and wife writing dup Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi.

Of course, our heroine falls for a kindly prison doctor — it’s her husband in real life, Gabriele Tinti — who is there because he euthanized his cancer-stricken wife. What you may not expect are catfights atop mounds of feces or a traumatic scene where Gemser is attacked by numerous rats. If this was an SAT answer it would be: Bruno Mattei is to rats with red glowing eyes as Lucio Fulci is to eyeballs.

Obviously, this movie used the Italian filmmaking trick of shooting two similar films at the same time on the same set with the same crew and actors. The other one would be Women’s Prison Massacre, which is just as demented.

Lorraine De Selle plays the brutal warden. If you’re like me, you’ll recognize her from The House on the Edge of the Park and Cannibal Ferox. Other recognizable performers include Maria Romano (Thor the ConquerorThe Final Executioner) and Franca Stoppi (The Other Hell).

I can’t believe that this actually played U.S. theaters and drive-ins, while being unable to fathom the feeling people had when they wandered into the wrong theater and were confronted by the excesses of Bruno Mattei. One doubts they ever could eat popcorn again.

You can get this from Severin, who really can be depended on for releasing the best-looking versions of movies that most people would wish would just go away. I love them with all my heart.

BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: Nerone e Poppea (1982)

Nero and Poppea – An Orgy of Power comes from a genre of film that doesn’t exist much anymore. I guess you could call it Romanspolitation or Nerospolitation or Caligulaploitation, films that came in the wake of Tinto Brass’ 1979 Caligula. Movies that took that piece of exploitation and said, “I can do it better.” Those folks who loudly screamed that included Joe D’Amato, whose Caligula… The Untold Story has an uncensored edition with animal/human fondling and unsimulated sex, and our friend Bruno Mattei, who not only made this movie, but also Caligula and Messalina a year before this film was made.

Also known as Caligula Reincarnated As Nero, this is Mattei at the unhinged level you expect from him, throwing copious male and female nudity at you, the viewer, along with Christians being devoured by lions, plenty of torture, incest and, in case you were getting bored, a graphic castration scene which would mark literally the third Mattei movie in a row that I’ve seen where someone’s gherkin gets pickled.

How do you know this is a Bruno Mattei movie? Is it the rampant thievery of peblum footage from  Goliath Against the Giants and The Last Days of Pompeii? Or perhaps it’s hearing the very same voiceover artists who dubbed those movies in the 50’s and 60’s having to say scatological dialogue? Or by having Antonio Passalia — the film’s co-director — play Claudius in his second Mattei opus in a row?

I watched this with some equal parts shame and fascination, but by the end of an entire week of nothing but Bruno’s movies, I really do feel like Max Ren looking for the next video drug to feed into my brain.

Cosmic Princess (1982)

British science fiction force Gerry Anderson is probably best known in the U.S. for his series Thunderbirds, which used Supermarionation to tell the stories of the team known as International Rescue. By the 70’s, he and his wife Sylvia were working together on shows like UFO and The Protectors, while being courted by Cubby Broccoli to write a treatment for Moonraker that was never used.

As part of the Andersons long and successful association with media impresario Lew Grade and his company ITC, Space 1999 was, at the time it was made, the most expensive British series ever made. Airing from 1075 to 1977 — man, they just missed the chance to be part of the Star Wars boom — the series is all about Moonbase: Alpha, staffed by 311 humans who are suddenly launched into deep space when nuclear waste stored on the moon explodes and sends them through the galaxy, in effect turning our moon into a spaceship. One imagines that the Earth itself did not survive, so everyone involved in this show really are the last human beings in the galaxy.

This all came about because the show UFO did better ratings when it was set on the moon. Anderson had been working on a show called UFO: 1999, but when the original show was canceled, he couldn’t get Grade interested in a follow-up. When he pitched this show, the producer demanded that there not be any Earth-bound settings. Anderson responded by blowing up the planet real good in the very first episode.

The issues on this show started when Grade demanded American leads and Sylvia, who usually handled the casts, wanted British actors. She would later say that she could have seen Robert Culp and Katharine Ross in the show, but the main characters of John Koenig and Helena Russell went to real-life couple Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, who had appeared on Misson: Impossible together and who were thought to have been a ratings draw for American audiences.

The show seemingly was always a battle, with writers leaving, budgets being overspent and ITC worried that the show would only run on American syndication and not a network, despite being sold to nearly every nation around the world. It also didn’t help that the Andersons split up between the first and second seasons.

All of this brings us to Cosmic Princess, which is basically two episodes from season 2 — “The Metamorph” and “Space Ward” — edited together. These stories introduce Maya (Catherina Von Schell, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), an alien who would take up the “Spock” role that some felt would propel the show into being must see TV.

By the time of this story, Moonbase:Alpha had already made its way through two space warps and entered the orbit of Psychon, which just so happened to have the minerals that the crew needed to survive. There’s a theory throughout the show that the leaps that the planet made were predestined and guided by outside forces — like the writing team, maybe? — but that may also be to covered narrative lapses in logic.

That said, it’s all a trap by the planet’s leader Mentor (Brian Blessed!) who is using a machine to drain their souls and make his planet less like hell and more like heaven. His daughter Maya helps the crew escape and joins them. The second episode in here has an alien ship to be explored as Maya deals with a virus that makes her transform into all sorts of monsters.

Speaking of Star Wars, one of the aliens in the second part is named Vader, which is done in voiceover and certainly seems like a complete cash-in.

This movie aired in syndication and all over the world, including KTLA, where it was one of the original movies that Mystery Science Theater 3000 made fun of.

So yeah. I kind of loved Space: 1999 as a kid. I had the Mattel Eagle 1, the Power Records book and record sets and the Charlton comics. If you watch this today and think, “Man, this is really wooden and slow and somewhat boring,” I’ll just say that pre-Star Wars, science fiction fans did not have many choices other than watching Star Trek again and again.

Time Walker (1982)

Also known as Being from Another Planet, this is a movie I have tried to finish so many times, pushing myself to the kind of hard-to-watch film brink. I’m happy to report that after several years, I have finally completed this movie and can share the results with all of you.

California University of the Sciences professor Douglas McCadden (Ben Murphy, the Gemini Man!) is exploring the tomb of Tutankhamun when an earthquake causes a wall to fall down, revealing a mummy that is really an alien kept alive through suspended animation thanks to being covered with a green fungus.

Dr. Ken Melrose (Austin Stoker!) calls a press conference to reveal the mummy, but at some point student named Peter Sharpe (Kevin Brophy, who was in Lucan, so this is really a collection of people who were in failed science fiction shows of the 70s that really only I care about) steals some gems from the body, which keeps getting bathed in radiation, bringing it back to life.

The mummy — who is way faster than your normal wrapped up Egyptian in rags — ends up killing anyone who has the crystals, putting a cop named Lt. Plummer (Darwin Joston, so this movie is also an Assault on Precinct 13 reunion thanks to him and Stoker appearing) on the case.  He thinks it’s a serial killer, but the truth is that the mummy was worshipped like a god and needs the crystals to go back home.

This movie also has James Karen from Return of the Living Dead and Shari Belafonte, who certainly knew that she deserved much better.

Time Walker was produced by Dimitri Villard and Jason Williams. If you recognize that last name, it’s because Williams plated Flesh Gordon. He co-wrote this movie (he also scripted The Danger ZoneDanger Zone II: Reaper’s RevengeDanger Zone III: Steel Horse War and Nude Bowling Party, which certainly needed some level of wordsmithing) with Tom Friedman and Karen Levitt. It’s director, Tom Kennedy, edited Silent Night, Bloody Night and the American release of Goodbye Uncle Tom. This was the only movie he ever directed.

There’s a “to be continued” at the end of this movie and I have to tell you, I’ve never been so excited that a sequel wasn’t made.

I’ll forgive Film Ventures International nearly anything, though. Even Time Walker.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Curse of Evil (1982)

Oh man, this movie is a weird one. And that’s why we often visit the East, to see movies that we would never dream of.

The Shaw Brothers aren’t just all fighting movies. No, sometimes they produced movies in which blood frogs and all manner of strange demons decimate and assault families.

The House of Shi was once a wealthy family, but after the tragic murder of thirteen of their number — and them being thrown down a well — they’re been cursed. The kind of curse that awakens a demon who kills the survivors one by one in various gory ways when it’s not attacking every woman in the cast.

The craziest thing of all was that this movie was exclusively released to something called the ZiiEagle, which was packed with Shaw Brothers movies.

This was directed by Chih-Hung Kuei, who also made Corpse Mania and The Boxer’s Omen. So if you’ve seen those movies, you should know to not expect anything in the realm of our senses. Where does one find frogs with steel teeth, anyway? Or a gigantic worm that doesn’t just devour people, but leaves behind most of their bodies covered in pink ooze?

Wolf Devil Woman (1982)

Chang Ling/Pearl Cheong wrote, directed and starred in this martial arts opus that tells the story of a young girl who taken from her parents and raised by the legendary White Wolf of a Thousand Years. Growing up in the unforgiving permafrost of Cold Ice Peak, she learns how to use her animal, monster and kung-fu skills to find and destroy the man who killed her parents, who is known as Red Devil.

This takes the same story as The Bride with White Hair and goes absolutely insane with the wire kung fu sequences and gives our heroine a hat that looks like it was made from a stuffed dog toy. You have no idea how happy that fact makes me. She also has nunchukus that look like claws and kills hundreds of enemies in what seems like seconds.

As little sense as much of this action makes, the fact that the dubbing is so bad — it makes Bob from The House by the Cemetery seem restrained by comparison — that it becomes wonderful. Who would think to have a villain that has killed everyone Wolf Devil Woman has ever loved should sound like a Southern gentleman at best and Foghorn Leghorn at worst?

An absolute must-see.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Five Elements Ninjas (1982)

Chang Cheh directed ninety movies from 1965 to 1993*, as well as all of the lyrics to the songs within his films. The majority of his most well-known movies in the west feature the Venom Mob of Kuo Chui, Lu Feng, Chiang Sheng, Sun Chien, Lo Mang (along with Wei Pai), a group of martial arts masters who appeared together and separately across numerous Shaw Brothers films.

Also known as Super Ninjas, Chinese Super Ninjas and Chinese Super Ninja, this movie seems as if the weirdest and most violence obsessed kid in your grade school class was suddenly given enough money to stop scribbling in his notebooks and instead allowed to make a movie that is pretty much non-stop ninjas horribly murdering one another.

This is quite frankly the highest praise that I can give to a movie.

I mean, let me sum up the first five minutes: Chief Hong (Chan Shen) has challenged his rival Yuan Zeng (Kwan Fung) for the title of martial arts master, which mostly entails sending each others’ students after one another in battles to the death. Hong has cheapened these wars of honor by inviting a foreign samurai to the contest. He kills one of Zeng’s students before being stopped by Liang Zhi Sheng (Lo Mang). Before he commits seppuku, he throws a spiked ring to Zeng, which poisons the master and keeps him from doing kung fu until he heals.

There’s no time to heal, as a new challenge arises from the Five-Element Ninjas. Zeng asks Sheng and Tian Hao (Cheng Tien Chi) to fortify the school while ten of his best men answer the challenge. What follows is a series of increasingly brighter colored ninjas basically showing you every Mortal Kombat fatality nearly a decade before the game came out. The ninjas also send Senji (Chen Pei-Hsi) to infiltrate the school. Yes, Hong and Mudou (Michael Chan, who didn’t just play triad gangster roles, but left the police to become one), the leader of the ninjas, are pretty much the winners before the fight even gets started.

Within a few weeks, she has mapped out the entire school and Mudou’s ninjas attack as she offers herself to Sheng. He refuses her, but allows her to play the flute for him. As she entertains him, everyone in the school except for Hao, who escapes and visits his old ninja master. Joined by four other fighters, he challenges the Five-Elements Ninjas and Mudou, who has killed Hong and taken the title of master.

This movie is quite frankly amazing. It blew my mind throughout and never lets up, like a children’s show that has wall-to-wall gore. As the first movie in our week of Hong Kong films, it has set a high bar which other films will really have to battle to scale and exceed.

You can watch this on Tubi.

*The Legend of the 7 Golden VampiresFive Venoms and Crippled Avengers to name a few.