Nine Deaths of the Ninja (1985)

Emmett Alston’s IMDB credits are interesting. He started with Three-Way Weekend and New Year’s Evil before making this ninja film, which led to him also making Force of the Ninja and Little Ninjas. Before that, he was the cinematographer on 1972’s occult-themed Moonchild.

Thanks to roles in Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination — all Cannon Films — Sho Kosugi was THE ninja of the early 1980’s. Plus, he starred as Okasa, the villain of the NBC series The Master, going shuriken to shuriken with John Peter McAllister, who was played by Lee Van Cleef.

Our friends at Crown International made this one happen. And Alston finally got his opportunity to work with Kosugi, as he was the original director for Enter the Ninja before Cannon maniac Menahem Golan. That said, this movie wasn’t a revenge effort, as both Golan and co-Cannon crazy Yoram Globus also produced this movie.

Get ready for the adventures of Spike “Lollipop” Shinobi (Kosugi), Steve “Macho Man” Gordon (Brent Huff, The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of Yik Yak) and Jennifer Barnes (Emilia Crow, Hollywood Vice Squad) as they are sent to the Philippines to rescue a bunch of American hostages from a schoolbus. Kosugi’s real-life kids Kane and Shane are among them; they often starred in movies with their father.

As for the bad guys, they include Alby the Cruel (Blackie Dammet, the father of Red Hot Chili Peppers lead singer Anthony Kiedis), the insane Dr. Wolf, Rahji the Butcher, Honey Hump and her army of evil lesbians including the twins Woo Pee and Woo Wee, plus several completely evil and adorable small ball punching assassins. Yes, really.

Oh yeah — Woo Wee and Woo Pee run a brother where they promise that all of the women are “sterilized, sanitized and lobotomized.”

While I’m at it, let me tell you — Alby is my favorite bad guy ever right now. He looks like Tom Waits, he’s a Nazi stuck in a. wheelchair and he has a monkey henchman. Dammit — this movie has brought back my lust for life!

This is a movie that starts with Kosugi doing sword moves around ballet dancers as if starring in his very own James Bond title sequence. It’s as awesome as that sentence makes it sound.

Let me tell you what — this film is worth the price of the entire Mill Creek’s Explosive Cinema set, where it sits head and shoulders above many of the other films we’ve been watching this week.

Alien Outlaw (1985)

If you didn’t get enough of Lash LaRue in The Dark Power, have I got good news for you! The master of the whip — no, not El Latigo or Indiana Jones — returns to battle aliens this time, in a movie directed by Phil Smoot, whose name I will drunkenly yell at people for years because it amuses me.

Smoot also directed — surprise, surprise — The Dark Power, as well as serving as a camera operator on Carnival Magic, a movie that has wiped out whatever brain cells I had left from art school.

Jesse Jamison (Kari Anderson, a fitness model who now works as a makeup artist) is a gun shooting lady about to put on a show in a small Southern town — it was shot in Allegheny County and Sparta, North Carolina — and then some aliens just so happen to show up.

Luckily, she has the help of locals like Alex (LaRue) and Sunset (Sunset Carson, a former rodeo star who became a B level cowboy star for Republic in the 1940’s).

Much like Without Warning, this movie somehow rips off Predator years before that movie was made.  Life’s weird like that sometimes.

You can watch this with Rifftrax commentary on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

Creature (1985)

In a universe where Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) meets Peter Hyman’s Outland (1981), two rival corporations, the American-led multinational NTI, and the German-led global amalgamate Richter Dynamics, compete for the solar system’s mining rights (yes, we’re in orbit around Roland Emmerich’s Moon 44). When a geological research vessel on return from the Saturn system crashes into the space station Concorde in orbit around Earth’s Moon, both companies launch missions to discover what lurks on Titan, Saturn largest moon: what creeps is the rebirth of 200,000-year-old archaeological find in the form of an alien with the ability to control the minds of other creatures via parasitic organisms from its own body.

(If it all seems similar to the alien in 1980’s Without Warning, which 1987’s Predator ripped off, it probably is.)

Connoisseurs of science fiction’s video fringes consider this second feature film from writer-director William Malone as “the best” of the ‘80s Alien rip-offs. Ironically, that distinction comes courtesy of the 12th Annual Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film’s Saturn Award-nominated special effects brothers-team of Robert and Dennis Skotak—who would go on to design the effects for 1986’s Aliens. If you’re keeping track: Alien‘s sequel was directed by James Cameron, who designed the effects for Roger Corman’s earlier Alien knockoff, Galaxy of Terror. (Also nominated for Best Picture, Creature lost both nods to Joe Dante’s Gremlins.)

Keep in mind that Creature was produced for $750,000 and, unlike its gooey antecedent, wasn’t backed by 20th Century Fox Studios. So the Shenandoah, the low-budget spaceship of these proceedings, is no Nostromo: it’s more like SpaceCore 1 from the second-best of the Alien knockoffs, Dark Side of the Moon (1989). (Okay, some would argue Roger Corman’s Galaxy of Terror was second; these rankings aren’t “official.”) And be on the lookout William Malone having fun with his purposeful homage-plot twist to the 1951 Alien-precursor classic, The Thing from Another World.

As with The Dark Side of the Moon, the familiar selling-it-against-the-budget cast is pretty good in their clone-roles. Joe Dante stock player Wendy Schall (1987’s Innerspace, 1989’s The ‘Burbs, 1998’s Small Soldiers) holds her own as the resident Ripley. The same goes for familiar TV actors Stan Ivar (NBC’s Little House on the Prairie) as the inhabitant Dallas, and Lyman Ward (but we remember him as the dad in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) as the clone of Paul Riser’s weasely corporate executive from Aliens (which wasn’t even made yet!). Melanie Bryce, in her acting debut, is good as the leather-clad, taciturn Ash-like ship’s security officer. (Since 2009 Wendy Schall served as the voice of Francine Smith on the Fox animated-sitcom American Dad!. Melanie Bryce, who voiced Queen Bansheera in the series Power Rangers: Lightspeed Rescue, will be back in theatres alongside Eric Roberts in 2020’s Dante’s Hell—which has nothing to do with Joe.)

Shortly after attending UCLA’s iconic film school (also attended by Star Wars’ George Lucas and Dark Star’s John Carpenter), William Malone made a dry-run on the concepts in Creature with his spine-fluid sucking Syngenor monster in the popular Alien-esque video renter and his writing-directing debut, Scared to Death (1980). Moving up to the big leagues, he made the more expensive—but quickly forgotten—films House on Haunted Hill (1999; a remake of the 1959 film), Feardotcom (2002; with Stephen Dorff), and Parasomnia (2008), and he wrote the screenplay Universal Soldier: The Return (1999; sequel to the original).

Amid his major studio dealings with MGM, he revisited the concepts from Creature once again with his 1990 screenplay Dead Star, a modest $5 million picture (the cost of Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars, which was partly recycled into Galaxy of Terror). Envisioned as a “Dead Calm” (1989, a thriller about a psycho loose on yacht in the ocean) in space, the script was about a space expedition that discovers alien artifacts and brings them back to Earth; one artifact unleashes an evil force. Purchased by MGM and sent into development hell and jettisoning Malone along the way, the film was eventually released as 2000’s Supernova, a muddled mess of a story concerning black holes and supernatural forces—which ripped off the plot from the previously mentioned Alien clone, The Dark Side of the Moon.

Shortly after its release, Creature—known by its original title, Titan Find, in the overseas markets in its dual theatrical-home video-television run—fell into the public domain. In those lawless celluloid lands, it appeared on numerous VHS and DVD reissues through a wide variety of imprints and cheap-jack public domain box sets—along with shoddy artwork-encased grey market DVD-rs.

William Malone decided to rectify the situation in response to fan requests for a proper digital restoration of his most-popular film. In 2013 Malone announced he was going to release a copy of the film’s answer print in his possession (the first version of a motion picture printed to film after color correction on an interpositive and sound properly synced to the picture) in an uncut and widescreen format for the first time on DVD and Blu.

From his Facebook page (posted with the artwork, seen below):

“This is a completely NEW high resolution transfer from the Camera Original Answer Print done in Widescreen Scope format (2:35 aspect ratio). This also [is] the original longer cut under its shooting title (and UK release title) TITAN FIND with never before seen footage and loaded with extras. It features [a] Director’s Commentary, [and] Art Gallery with original pre-production art and on screen interviews with [the] director and cast members. The initial release (March 16) with be the SD version with Blu-ray to follow at a yet undetermined date. This is the first authorized DVD of this title and the only WIDESCREEN version ever available.”

Then MGM, the current right holders over the film, who let it fall into the public domain in the first place, and remained silent as it was released on numerous public domain and grey-market imprints, filed an injunction.

And here’s where the real horror—of legal red tape—begins.

The film’s video distributor, Charles Band’s Media Home Entertainment, began selling off its assets in 1990, ceased operations in 1993, and was rolled into 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. However, the film’s production company, Trans World Entertainment (not the retail company of the same name that operates mall-based entertainment chains), was defunct by 1989. Its intellectual properties, in turn, came under MGM’s tutelage after the Great Lion purchase Orion Pictures, which purchased Epic’s film libraries from Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

The short of the story, to paraphrase Pvt. Hudson from Alien: “Restored DVD and Blu over, man. Movie over! What are we gonna do, now?”

Caveat emptor when you see these DVDs in the marketplace. They are not “official” DVDs promoted as William Malone’s “wide screen” answer print/director’s cut of the film. Malone’s release was stopped by rights holder MGM Studios. To date, Creature, aka Titan Find in the overseas markets, is still in the public domain on a variety of labels with varying degrees of quality in both artwork and film-image quality.

As of this writing, Malone’s version was never official released through any legitimate seller sites. However, that didn’t stop the grey market: they stole Malone’s DVD artwork and started manufacturing their own copies. Caveat emptors are afoot on those releases: the grey market sellers don’t have Malone’s answer print—and don’t possess the 1” video masters—and are simply ripping the 1985 VHS into DVD-rs. And when that “Malone version” appears on shadow seller sites, it’s marketed as “rare” and carries an exorbitant price.

Or, did Malone dupe us all? Is this another Rocktober Blood 2: Billy’s Revenge, which promoted its production with a promoted a DVD and Blu reissue of Rocktober Blood? That release also tossed around the phases “authorized,” “full restoration,” “high resolution transfer,” and “aspect ratio”—then stuck everyone with DVD-rs ripped from a VHS tape source.

Nope.

I believe Malone was sincere in his efforts and he simply got screwed by the major studio, public domain, and grey market system—again. So, come on, MGM! Work with Malone and give the fans what they want: a full DVD and Blu-ray restoration of the best of the ‘80s Alien clones. And it’ll make a hell of a lot more money that Supernova did—you can bank that.

So, for now, save you pennies and watch a very clean copy of Creature uploaded by the responsible folks at the web’s premiere free streaming service (with limited commercial interruptions): TubiTv. Or you can go commercial free on YouTube.

Be sure to catch up on all of the Alien knockoffs and rip-offs with our explorations “Ten Movies that Rip-off Alien” and “A Whole Bunch of Alien Rip-offs all at Once.” And there’s more celluloid déjà vu of the Supernova variety afoot with 2020’s Underwater. And, finally, since there’s always a pinch of Star Wars in all post-1977 sci-fi films, you can catch up with all of the George Lucas-inspired rip-offs with our “Star Wars Droppings” week.

And while it doesn’t have any gooey aliens, I’d love to suggest a very well done, commendable ultra-low budget effort also influenced, in part, by Alien: Space Trucker Bruce. It’s a film loaded with heart and soul and deserves a watch. Double for the recently reviewed Ares 11.

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

Zombie 5: Killing Birds (1985)

Fred Brown comes home from the Vietnam war, finds his wife in bed with a new lover, and goes wild, killing her and both of his parents. As he cleans off his knife, a falcon tears out his left eye and blinds him in the other before he says goodbye to the son he’s spared. Also: it’s the same house from The Beyond!

That’s just the beginning of this film, a movie that I can’t even begin to piece together. Most importantly, I question why Robert Vaughn would have signed on for it. Did he need money this badly?

But don’t get me wrong. This is a 1980’s Filmirage movie with controversy at the heart of who created it. That means that no matter what, I’m going to love it.

There are three different people who could have directed this movie.

Aristide Massaccesi, who you probably would know best as Joe D’Amoto. Most of the crew members believe that he was the director. In an interview in the book Spaghetti Nightmares, he said, “It seemed to me that the most sensible thing was to give the job of directing the dialogues to Michele Soavi’s assistant, Claudio Lattanzi, while I took care of the special effects scenes. In the end, I let Lattanzi sign as the director.” He was also the cinematographer of this movie under his alias Fred Sloniscko, Jr.

Claudio Lattanzi, who assisted Soavi on his documentary film Dario Argento’s World of Horror and was an assistant on his film Stage Fright. D’Amoto, who also produced the latter, offered Lattanzi a chance to direct Killing Birds when Soavi turned down the film as he was about to make The Church with Argento.

The controversy doesn’t stop there, as even who wrote this movie is under suspicion.

Over Christmas of 1986, Claudio Lattanzi wrote a story called Il Cancello Obsoleto about a record producer who invites a rock band to a deserted house to record a tune, without knowing that Nazi soldiers are buried there. This sounds like a combination of Sodoma’s Ghost — which wouldn’t come out until 1988 — and 1989’s Paganini Horror.

D’Amoto asked him to replace the rock band and the Nazis with killer birds, wanting to call the movie Talons. However, Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi claim that the movie was based on their script Artigli, which means…Talons.

The truth is probably that D’Amoto didn’t want his name in too many places, so he just did what he always did — just about everything and either gave people credit or used one of his many names to cover the rest.

Anyways…

Twenty years later, a small group of college seniors, Steve Porter, Mary (Leslie Cumming, Witchery), Paul, Anne (Tara Wendel, who is also in Ghosthouse and Tenebre), Rob, Jennifer (Lin Gathright, who is also in D’Amoto’s Eleven Days, Eleven Nights, Part 2) and a local cop, Brian, are looking for the green billed woodpecker, a rare species which went extinct four years after this movie.

Fred Brown, that man who went wild on his family, gives them plenty of info and they use his old home as a base, but find nthing but a rotting corpse. But then all sorts of even stranger things — odder than a corpse in a truck — happen.

That’s when the kids start dying left and right, like a zombie beating Jennifer to death, Brian being burnt to death, Mary getting killed by a zombie, Rob getting choked by getting his necklace caught in a generator and another zombie getting Paul.

It turns out that Steve is Brown’s son from all those years ago and the dad tells them that the zombies only killed those who were afraid of them. Well, yeah. They’re zombies. Finally, he tells them to leave and we hear him scream. That’s the end!

Charitably, this film is a mess yet I loved nearly every single frame of it. It’s pointless and confusing and even its titles don’t line up, because it’s called Killing Birds–Zombi 5 in Italy and Zombie Flesheaters 4 in the UK.

God bless you, Joe D’Amoto.

Tobe Hooper Does Star Wars: Lifeforce (1985)

Author’s Note: This review previously posted on September 11, 2017, as part of our “Tobe Hooper Week” to commorate the life and career of the late director who left us on August 26. Thanks to Disney Studios and their release of Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, we can remember Tobe once more. Also be sure to visit with Tobe courtesy of his career retrospective.

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We’re here to praise Tobe Hooper, not bury him. But to get there, we have to go through some rough periods.

By 1985, Hooper’s career was in limbo. Sure, he’d tasted box office success with 1982’s Poltergeist, but he’d also be dogged with rumors — or truths — that he’d not really directed the film. Toss in a bad experience on 1981’s Venom, a film that he was replaced on ten days into shooting (Klaus Kinski claimed that the cast and crew ganged up on Hooper in an effort to have him replaced), as well as being replaced as the director of The Dark  and a rumored nervous breakdown.

A three-picture deal with Cannon Films and the promise of no interference would be the panacea that would soothe Hooper’s pain. Or so he thought.

The first film in the three picture deal was Lifeforce. Based on Colin Wilson’s 1976 novel The Space Vampires and scripted by Dan O’Bannon (AlienReturn of the Living Dead) and Don Jakoby,  the film was originally going to use the original title. After spending $25 million to make it, Cannon decided that they wanted a blockbuster instead of their normal exploitation films, hence the change to Lifeforce.

Once Hooper had his money and freedom, he was beyond excited, seeing the film as his chance to remake Quatermass and the Pit. In fact, he said, “I thought I’d go back to my roots and make a 70 mm Hammer film.”

Hopper turned in an initial film that was 128 minutes long, starting with 12 minutes of near silence in space aboard a space shuttle.  This is 12 minutes longer than the final version which had several scenes cut, most of them taking place on the space shuttle Churchill. Three actors —  John Woodnutt, John Forbes-Robertson and Russell Sommers — ended up completely cut from the final film, as was some of Henry Mancini’s score.

Even worse — the film went way over schedule and cost so much that the film was shut down when the studio ran out of money, leaving some of the most important scenes unshot.

Look — it could have been worse. Michael Winner was the original choice to direct.

So what’s it all about? Good question.

The crew of the Churchill discovers a massive spaceship — nearly 150 miles long and shaped like an artichoke (no, really) — inside Halley’s Comey. Hundreds of dead bat creatures surround the ship and inside, two perfect males and one perfect female sleep in suspended animation. They take the aliens and come back to Earth, because there are no protocols or rules about that kind of thing. I mean, I can’t even fly back from Japan with fruit and these dudes take aliens directly to London.

Tragedy strikes — a fire consumes the ship, destroying everything and everyone except for the aliens. The aliens turn out to be vampires that can shapeshift and suck out the life force of everyone they meet.

In Texas, a survivor is found — Colonel Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback, Manson from Helter Skelter!). He explains how the crew’s life force was taken and why he set the shuttle on fire. He also has a psychic link to the female alien (the constantly naked Mathilda May). Patrick Stewart also shows up as Dr. Armstrong here — who has the female vampire inside him. They take her/him back to London, but the plan backfires when she/he escapes.

London is now filled with zombies, as the two male vampires have turned the entire population and everyone feeds on one another. All of these life forces are sent by the males to the female and then to their spaceship. The lighting looks like Poltergeist by way of Mario Bava. Still with me?

Turns out that leaded iron can kill the vampires. And oh yeah, Carlsen is in love with the female vampire. She keeps calling to him. “CARLSEN. CARLSEN. CARLSEN.”

She’s naked on the altar of St. Paul’s, sending energy to the ship, as she reveals that they are bonded through their psychic link. Carlsen responds by killing the other male (one of the two is Mick Jagger’s brother Chris) and then impaling himself and the female at the same time.

The damage to Carlsen is mortal, but the female is unfazed. She creates a column of energy to her ship and rides it back, taking Carlsen with her. This looks completely sexual, which has to be no accident, as the connected bodies look coital.

The end? The end.

Does this mean that Earth is now a planet of vampires? Did she save him to make a new group of vampires? When did this become a zombie movie?

I don’t have the answers. And now that Tobe is gone, I can’t ask him.

Plain and simple, Lifeforce is a mess. It seems inconceivable that this film and Chainsaw came from the same director. It seems more of a British film. There’s some inventive gore, such as when the female vampire (her name is only listed as Space Girl) comes out of Patrick Stewart’s body as blood.

It has moments of gorgeous shots, like the scene where we flashback to when Space Girl reaches out to Carlsen. And the battle of London is a huge effects piece. But the story is — I don’t even know where to begin. It feels more like Meteor than what you expect from Hooper. Which is, I guess, the point of so much of his Cannon films. They are all unique, all strange and all end up being completely different from the movie you expect them to be.

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Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker is currently playing in theatres and was theatrically on December 20 in the United States.

Star Wars Droppings: Starchaser: The Legend of Orin (1985)

Starchaser: The Legend of Orin was one of the first animated movies to mix traditional and computer animation, as well as one of the first to be released in 3D (although the Australian comedy Abra Cadabra was released first). The New York Times referred to this movie as “such a brazen rip-off of George Lucas’s Star Wars that you might think lawyers would have been called in.”

On the planet Trinia, human slaves have lived underground for thousands of years mining crystals for the god Zygon and his robot soldiers, who in no way are Cylons. Orin, our hero, finds the hilt of a jeweled sword in the rocks, telling him that there is a universe beyond these mines that he must discover.

This leads to adventures through the mines and to the surface of the planet, where Man-Droids attack and the hilt reveals an invisible sword before Dagg Dibrimi — who is basically the Han Solo of this piece — saves our hero.

Thus follows all manner of adventures where Orin boards the Starchaser, the ship of Dagg, and saves his people from the mines and uses his new mystical powers to heal blind people before the spirits inside the sword tell him that he can join them — if he wants — in something in no way related to the Force.

Anthony De Longis (Zygon) would later appear in Masters of the Universe as Blade, Skeletor’s henchman.

The Force in this film is called Kha-Khan, which is actually the name given to a high-honored member of the Church of Scientology, or roughly the equivalent of a saint in the Catholic Church. I’m not certain if this was a sneaky way to get people into being clear or not.

Director Steven Hahn would go on to direct the cartoons for the Dino-Riders toys and writer Jeffrey Scott would write for all manner of animated series like Mega ManTeenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesDuck TalesHulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling and the TV special Christmas Comes to PacLand.

In 2012, it was announced that Rilean Pictures had acquired the rights to develop this movie into a live-action film. No further news has happened since then.

Making Contact (1985)

Before Independence Day, Universal Soldier and Stargate, Roland Emmerich made Joey, which was released in edited form in the U.S. as Making Contact. Another of his movies, Hollywood-Monster, was also released here as Ghost Chase.

9-year-old Joey’s father may have died, but he thinks that he can talk to him on his phone. He’s also being attacked by Fletcher, a ventriloquist dummy possessed by a demon that is now calling on an army of demons to take over reality.

Joey must use his telekinesis to go into the spirit world to battle these demons. Luckily, he has a droid-like robot named Charlie and his dog Scooter to help him — even if he must enter the Bates Motel to save his canine best pal. Oh yeah — and there is also a gang of kids who dress like Spider-Man and Darth Vader who use toy tanks to attack Joey, but end up being his friend at the end. There are a lot of moments here where you just have to realize that no one was interested in explaining how to get from story beat to story beat, so they just said screw it and made it was strange as they possible could. I have no issues at all with this choice.

Imagine if you were watching E.T.Poltergeist and The Goonies all at the same time. This movie is a mash-up of influences and completely all over the place. Yet it’s well-made and anything but boring. Isn’t that what you’re looking for in a movie?

You can get this movie from Kino Lorber.

Tuff Turf (1985)

Man, James Spader. Either he’s trying to appeal to you as a hero, which never seems to work or embracing the pure narcissistic evil that we all dream that he’s best at. For me, the James Spader of The New Kids is the Spader I know that he can be. Alpha Spader. Pure Florida cokehead menace.

Even later TV hero versions of Spader — Boston LegalThe Blacklist — have a sadness within either their heroic or antiheroic characters. He’s lived a life. Hell, thanks to the magic of movies, he’s lived plenty of them.

Director Fritz Kiersch has an interesting career, starting with 1984’s Children of the Corn. This movie is the follow up to that, but he’d go on to make 1987’s Gor — yes, the one based on the BDSM male-dominated world of author John Norman — as well as 1992’s jetfighter drama Into the Sun.

In this lifetime, Spader is Morgan Hiller. He used to live in Connecticut, but once his dad’s business fails, he moves to Los Angeles where he struggles to meet friends and not get his ass handed to him on a daily basis.

Of course, he falls for bad girl Frankie (Kim Richards, who would go from Nanny and the Professor to the Witch Mountain movies and being the little girl who gets killed in Assault on Precinct 13 before becoming a reality show star and the aunt of Paris Hilton), which draws the insane attention of her real man, Nick Hauser and his gang. Paul Mones, who plays that crazy kid, would go on to write Double Team and The Quest for Van Damme. Yeah, really.

Keep your eyes on the lookout for a young Catya Sassoon, the daughter of Vidal, the hairdressing dude who bottled his shampoo and became rich and famous. This is also an opportunity to see a young Robert Downey Jr.

The soundtrack is pretty good, too. Pre-Basketball Diaries this has Jim Carroll all over it, as well as Marianne Faithful and Southside Johnny. This feels like a time when America flirted with punk, new wave, the return of the 1950’s and so many more musical genres which all overlapped.

The end of this all seems too happy what with all the father getting gunned down and mental abuse and anguish, as the main characters all play along with the band Jack Mack and the Heart Attack. There’s also a scene where Spader sings to Frankie at a country club, with Paul Carney (Art’s son) providing the singing voice.

You can watch this for free on Amazon Prime.

Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf (1985)

Even though Gary Brandner, author of The Howling novels, co-wrote the screenplay to this movie, it has nothing to do with his 1979 novel The Howling II, much less the original The Howling. It tries, but this movie is just too weird to fully close the loop.

There’s never been another werewolf movie like this one. Whether that is positive or negative all depends on how much you like werewolves having sex.

Ben White (Reb Brown, who is in a little movie called Yor Hunter from the Future that I could tell you about for many days) is dealing with the death of his sister Karen White, who just so happens to be the heroine of the first of these movies. He joins up with Jenny (Annie McEnroe, who was in Snowbeast and Battletruck) and the mysterious Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee, who apologized to Joe Dante for making this movie) to battle werewolves.

This brings them on a journey to Transylvania and a battle against Stirba (Sybil Danning!), the queen of the werewolves, who is joined by Mariana (Marsha Hunt, who the song “Brown Sugar” is about) and Erle (Ferdy Mayne, who is in another film I can discuss for days and days, Night Train to Terror).

What follows is complete lunacy: werewolf witchcraft, lycan orgies, Sybil Danning repeatedly ripping off her top (the same shot repeated again and again to no complaint), dwarves, priests being killed and punk rock from the band Babel.

Director Philippe Mora actually made some pretty good films, like Mad Dog MorganThe Beast Within and The Return of Captain Invincible. I’m insane and love this movie, so I will include it in my list of his good ones.

Finally, let’s talk about another subject I can hold court on: Christopher Lee. Mora didn’t know that Sir Lee was a war hero in Czechoslovakia, where this was filmed. Actually, no one did, because he wasn’t allowed to talk about his intelligence work during World War II. When he showed up for filming, he was greeted with a hero’s welcome, as he had killed a top Nazi official named Reinhard Heydrich. In fact, before he became an actor, Lee remained a Nazi hunter for several years.

I also love that this movie was sent the wrong costumes by 20th Century Fox. Instead of wolf suits, they were sent the monkey suits from Planet of the Apes. Lee tried to help fix this by ad-libbing, “The process of evolution is reversed.”

You can watch this for free on Tubi and Vudu.

PURE TERROR MONTH: De Prooi (1985)

Don’t let the addition of this ‘80s Amsterdam-bred thriller’s inclusion alongside the American, low-brow ‘60s horrors of Night Fright and Night of the Blood Beast in this Mill Creek Pure Terror 50 Movie Pack leave to you believe this movie will be a boring watch. While it doesn’t provide the ‘80s slasher overtones coupled with cliché horror shock-twists in which American audiences are accustomed, those who enjoyed the Dutch art-thrillers The 4th Man (1979) from Paul Verhoeven and The Vanishing (1988) by George Sluizer will be drawn into the film noirish twists of De Prooi (The Proof, aka Death in the Shadows).

As with the previously referenced films, the cinematography of De Prooi is polished; in conjunction with the score, the film maintains a purposefully sullen mood throughout. An added plus: the English dub is excellent. As with any giallo-influenced thriller—regardless of the lack of blood (so we have a film noir here)—red herring characters are afoot and the obligatory “strange things” start happening, i.e., an address book leads to a weird couple who run a garage that want nothing to do with Valerie and say they never heard of her dead mother. Val discovers Ria, her mother’s friend and neighbor—who moonlights as a peep show worker—is suddenly planning a trip to Sri Lanka. When Val finds a regretful long-lost “uncle,” he’s murdered. Then there’s Val’s mother’s red-herring ex-employer, a local lawyer who’s a bit too eager to help Val. And on the night her boyfriend doesn’t pick her up for a party, someone runs Val’s bicycle off the road.

Written by the husband and wife, editor-and-directing team of Ton Ruys and Vivian Pieters (she’s the executive producer of the oldest and longest-running Dutch daytime-series, Goede tijden, slechte tijden, aka Good Times, Bad Times), De Prooi tells the story of a soon-to-graduate high school student, Valerie Jaspers, and her mother, Trudy, who live a quiet, middle class life in a village outside of Amsterdam—with skeletons.

When her mother becomes a victim of what seems to be a random hit-and run, an autopsy reveals that it wasn’t an “accident”: Trudy was run over twice. The police investigation reveals that Trudy was never married and had no children: she’s not Valerie’s mother. So Val sets off to solve the mystery—of not only who her real mother is, but who murdered the woman she thought was her mother.

As with any film noir, an Italian Giallo-influenced masked assailant will make sure those skeletons are kept closeted. Remember being disappointed by the forced, homogenized ending tacked onto the 1993 American remake of The Vanishing? As with most Euro-thrillers, there is no warm and fuzzy ending cast in the shadows of this effective, chilling and dreary Dutch thriller.

About the Author: You can read the music and film criticisms of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his rock ‘n’ roll biographies, along with horror and sci-fi novellas, on Facebook.