Henry Stanton (Robert Conrad, try to knock a battery off his shoulder ) is a retired agent from an intelligence agency not to be named that is brought back in when a top-secret robot named Robert Golem (Richard Young, the man who gave Indiana Jones his fedora) begins killing government officials. He’ll have help from an old flame named Mary (Karen Austin, Case of the Hillside Stranglers, Fantasies) and he’ll need it, because Golem is unstoppable.
With a tagline like “Exterminate with extreme prejudice,” you know that this movie is totally remaking Terminator. It originally aired on CBS on March 19, 1986, two full years after Cameron’s Outer Limits pastiche played theaters*.
It’s a TV version of a blockbuster, so there’s not much here, but there is a moment where the villain uses an iron to close up his bullet holes before making sweet, sweet love to a woman he meets in the hotel. But hey, if you grew up on 70’s TV and thought Robert Conrad was the toughest man alive — he used to get enraged at teammates on Battle of the NetworkStars who didn’t go all out — then you might like this.
*I say this because that movie owes plenty to Harlan Ellison. As the story goes, Harlan saw the movie, called Orion Pictures up about the theft and was dismissed by them. But Ellison knew screenwriter and producer Tracy Torme, who had told Ellison before the movie even came out that he had visited the set of the film and when he asked where he got the idea, Cameron said, “Oh, I ripped off a couple of Harlan Ellison stories.” Cameron also told the same thing to Starlog, but the magazine edited out the comments after a call from producer Gale Anne Hurd. As for Cameron, he’d later say, “Harlan Ellison is a parasite who can kiss my ass.” I’m shocked that he didn’t get sued again by the man who won a lawsuit against Marvel once that gave him one copy of everything they published; he would write them nearly every month asking why he hadn’t received the most minute of products.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eric Wrazen is a Technical Director and Sound Designer for live theatre, specializing in the genre of horror, and is the Technical Director the Festival de la Bête Noire – a horror theatre festival held every February in Montreal, Canada. You can see Eric as occasional host and performer on Bête Noire’s Screaming Sunday Variety Hour on Facebook live. An avid movie and music fanatic since an early age, this is Eric’s first foray into movie reviewing.
Preamble: Senti-Metal Movie Reviews believes that some things just belong together, like seafood and fine wine, pizza and beer, and of course… questionable B-movies and face-melting heavy metal!
A movie might have zero budget, bad acting, and terrible plotting, but just add a pounding metal soundtrack, and it magically becomes an instant party movie masterpiece!
Future Hunters (1986)
Senti-Metal Soundtrack: Manilla Road – “The Deluge” (1986)
From the description: “A man from a post-apocalyptic future travels back in time to prevent the coming nuclear holocaust and enlists the help of a young couple.”
Upon waiting the first few minutes of Future Hunters, I was convinced that I was about to see a post-apocalyptic Terminator knock-off from Italy. About 40 minutes later, I realized that I was, in fact, watching a Raiders of the Lost Ark knock-off from the Philippines. Wait, what?
I guess the title threw me off, and rightfully so, considering the bulk of this movie has nothing to do with the future, let alone any hunters from said future.
OK, well there is one guy who comes from the future, and he’s pretty awesome, too. Our “hero” kicks off this adventure with an epic car chase-shootout-battle with a gang of typical post-nuclear apocalypse thugs.
Note: the soundtrack during all this is bad 80s synth-rock…. Now is a good time to queue up our Heavy Metal pairing of the day…. The Deluge by Manilla Road.
I think Manilla Road is a perfect band for this movie because, they have the Philippine city in their name, and they are from Wichita, Kansas, which is pretty much as close to post-apocalyptic hellscape you can find! Go ahead and drop the needle on of The Deluge, track 1 during the whole opening sequence. Trust me – its an improvement.
Around 10 minutes into the Mad Max-style mayhem of Future Hunters, our hunky hero is suddenly whisked away via mystical means to…. a dumpy stucco building some where outside of LA, in 1986, where he proceeds to save a lady archeologist and her milk-toasty boyfriend from a bunch of asshole bikers…and then (spoiler alert) he drops dead! Are you kidding me? What the hell just happened here?
It’s at this point that you’ll start to realize that this movie is not about Future Hunters at all, and is actually about the archeologist, Michelle (played by Linda Carol) and her boyfriend, none other than Robert Patrick… a few years before his rise to fame as the shape-shifting bad cop in Terminator 2.
Patrick plays “Slade” an Air Force mechanic with a penchant for losing fights with every baddie who graces the screen and frequently insisting to Michelle that he doesn’t want to be involved in any of this crazy adventure. Which is a shame, because as it turns out, our boy Slade is a martial arts expert who can fly planes and helicopters while speaking multiple Asian dialects.
And all of those skills come in handy because the bulk of Future Hunters takes place in Hong Kong and some south pacific island locations where Slade and Michelle encounter, in no particular order: Nazis, Pigmies, Albino body-builders, Kung-fu masters, Amazons and Mongols (none of whom come from the future, by the way).
Without giving you a play-by-paly of the entire movie, I can attest that while some movies do their best to “check all the boxes” for their genre, Future Hunters checks all the action adventure boxes, and then adds some boxes from a few other genres and then checks those too.
Does it make any sense? No.
Does that even matter? No.
Future Hunters is not a great movie, but it absolutely never gets boring, and cranking up the metal gives it the extra juice needed to make it a really fun ride. There are plenty of action scenes that go great with the kind of raucous power metal that Manilla Road dishes out, so any time you here that crappy synth music start in the movie, just kick in the next track on “The Deluge” album and enjoy the insanity.
Note: Both the movie and the Senti-Metal Soundtrack can be found on Youtube:
Three people are credited with the story: Christopher Adcock, Christopher Blue and Marnie Page. None of them ever made another film again, either so happy with this experience that they didn’t wish to sully it or so depressed by it they never came back. Or they were aliens and this is their story, then they went back to their homeworlds many lightyears away to make further movies that some strange life being is writing about as part of a box set of holocrons of movies that failed many life circuits — what you humans call years — ago.
The jury is, as they say, out.
Robyn (Sydney Penny from The Bold and the Beautiful and All My Children), Tavy (who was in the BBC series Holby City) and a furry beast named Kirbi are aliens that have left the planet Taros to visit Earth, where they befriend a boy named Dirt (Ricky Paull Goldin, who had the trunk full of class rings in the remake of The Blob).
Dirt decides to introduce the aliens to his grandfather (Keenan Wynn in his last role), who allows Kirbi to drink gasoline and join him as they shoot Coors cans. Then grandpa brings the alien to meet a Senator, and, well…things don’t go so well.
Talia Shire shows up in this, probably to get another name another than Wynn’s to sell this to foreign audiences.
So yeah. This is the kind of movie parents rented in the 80’s and put their kids in front of it, not knowing that it has an alien that looks like how women’s private parts did before shaving and waxing came into fashion. I mean, it’s supposed to be cute and it’s The Thing-level terrifying.
*The last one was the Bronson movie Assassination.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sean grew up watching Chiller Theater from Pittsburgh and has been a drive-in enthusiast for the last six years. Sean enjoys all genres but has become interested in Italian horror, thriller and action movies most recently.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of Sam’s favorite movies to write about. As such, it’s appeared on the site before, first appearing on June 24, 2018, and then again as part of our Mill Creek Pure Terror Month on November 5, 2019.
Hands of Steel (1986) is the tale of two films divided by the sad death of actor Claudio Cassinelli. By 1986, the copycat Italian film industry was in full swing. A major influence was Terminator spawning many sci-fi actioners. Hands of Steel was directed by Sergio Martino and produced by his brother Luciano Martino under Dania Film. To capture American audiences the Martino brothers were credited under pseudonyms – directed by Martin Dolman and produced by Frank Cook. A major sign of the schizophrenic nature of the script is that Hands of Steel had 7 credited screenwriters. The budget was largely spent on location shooting and stuntwork.
So first the story: Hands of Steel begins in a dystopian future New York City, shades of Soylent Green. Daniel Greene in one of his first starring film roles, after many TV appearances, portrays a cyborg assassin sent to kill a leading pollical candidate. Greene begins to feel emotions and flees the city. Big corporate bad John Saxon sics his top agent portrayed by Robert Bisacco after the cyborg. Here the film shifts to location shooting in a sparse Arizona setting.
After failing to capture Greene’s cyborg, John Saxon orders Bisacco’s assassin “fired” (killed) and new corporate hunter played by Claudio Cassinelli is now sent out to kill the cyborg. Along the way Greene becomes entangled with a bar owner played by Janet Agren which further awakens his emotions and memories. In addition to being chased by a corporate assassin, Greene runs afoul of George Eastman’s evil truck driver. After Cassellini fails to kill Greene’s cyborg, John Saxon’s character comes to Arizona to “fire” Cassellini and take care of the cyborg himself. A tense showdown with many chases and explosions eventually leads to the film’s final showdown between Greene’s cyborg and Saxon’s big bad. Admirably, Martino ends with an unresolved situation between Greene’s cyborg and Agren’s bar owner.
So what happened? Due to scheduling and/or budgeting, the outdoor and action set-pieces were shot first on location in Arizona. Tragically, Claudio Castellini and his Helicopter Pilot were killed during filming the stunt of flying their helicopter under a high-span bridge. Their craft hit the steel span of the bridge and plummeted over 500 feet into the Colorado River below. The Pilot was never recovered but prescribed drug (appetite suppressant) was found in his room. Controversial to this day, is why Cassellini was in the aircraft. Director Sergio Martino insists Cassellini wanted to impress his son. Whereas actors George Eastman and Daniel Greene challenged the need for Cassellini to be in the helicopter for such a long shot.
Castellini’s death left all the early New York City scenes unfilmed. It led to Martino and the 7 screenwriters to overhaul the script by creating the Bisacco corporate assassin first, have him replaced by Castellini, and then have John Saxon take over for the conclusion. Sharp observers will note the rapid cutting of the medium shot of Cassellini’s “firing” with an apparent double. Hands of Steel makes the most of its low budget with some decent action set pieces. Sadly, Claudio Castellini didn’t live to finish the film and go on to continued success. Daniel Greene went on to a prosperous career in action films, many more with Director Sergio Martino. In a surprising turnabout, Hands of Steel may have influenced an American film in return. Universal Soldier(1992) anyone?
Nico Mastorakis has a pretty good resume filled with VHS rental faves, including Island of Death, The Greek Tycoon (ironically, when he was a reporter, he went underground as a musician for the group of popular singer Yanni Poulopoulos and invaded Aristotle Onassis’ yacht, the Christina, where the Greek, well, tycoon was hosting Jackie (before they married) and Ted Kennedy), Blood Tide, Blind Date, The Zero Boys and many more.
Also known as The Edge of Terrorand Terror’s Edge, this one has one hell of a cast.
Novelist Sian Anderson (Meg Foster, Evil-Lyn herself) has decided to write her new mystery novel on an isolated Greek island named Monemvasia. She’s warned to stay inside because the night winds are so strong that they could very well blow her into the ocean. That sounds fine, as all she wants to do is work.
That’s when she catches Phil the handyman (Wings Hauser!) killing landlord Elias Appleby (Robert Morley, Theater of Blood), which places her directly in his way. Well, at least she’s about to get material for her next book, what with everyone getting stalked and killed around her.
You also get appearances by Man from U.N.C.L.E. and NCIS star David McCallum and Steve Railsback, as well as some astounding scenery and a truly tense ending, as Phil chases Sian throughout the island, brandishing a sickle as the howling winds grow in fury and danger.
Want to see it for yourself? Grab a copy from Arrow Video themselves.
Day 30: Bring It on Home: Something filmed in Seattle. (AKA we’re cheating with the Pacific Northwest.)
Okay, so why are we reviewing this dark, teen-crime drama in the middle of an all slasher ‘n horror month at B&S About Movies for October — outside of the fact that Slayer, Hallows Eve, and Fates Warning tear up the soundtrack? What more could possibly be said about a such a well-known, respected and positive-reviewed movie by the likes of us old sods and codgers of B&S About Movies?
Well, this review is all about the context.
During this month of October reviews, we took a look at the metal-influenced horrors of Dead Girls (1989), Snuff Kill(1997), Black Circle Boys (1998), and — by the way of the uber-graphic Deadbeat at Dawn (1988) — we poked a stick at Jim Van Bebber’s unforgettable short film, My Sweet Satan (1994).
But let’s take it back a bit earlier: to the coming-of-age-crime drama Over the Edge (1979), which River’s Edge director Tim Hunter wrote. He based that Jonathan Kaplan-directed (White Line Fever) film on a 1973 San Francisco Examiner article entitled “Mousepacks: Kids on a Crime Spree” about the rampant teen crime and vandalism in an upscale, planned community outside of San Francisco (the film relocated the events to fictitious New Granada, Colorado).
As result of that Tim Hunter association — in conjunction with the film’s similar titles — in many ways, the later River’s Edge serves as a loose sequel/sidequel to the events in the earlier Over the Edge (Van Halen’s film soundtrack debut). True, those Colorado kids of the late ’70s were rocking out to the then burgeoning sounds of Van Halen, Cheap Trick, and the Ramones, while those mid-’80s Pacific Northwest teens were sporting tee-shirts by Motley Crue and Iron Maiden and thrashin’ to the sounds of Slayer, Fates Warning, and Hallows Eve; however, in a weird, metal rip in the space-time continuum and through the phantasmal crystal ball, we can see that while Carl Willat was leading the charge against the establishment at “New Granola,” Samon Tollet was strangling the life out of his girlfriend Jamie and giving guided tours of the body.
All of those aforementioned, metal-influenced horrors, as well as River’s Edge, are each loosely based on the horrifyingly true story about the 1981 California murder of Marcy Renee Conrad at the hands of Anthony Jacques Broussard outside of San Jose, California, and the 1984 New York murder of Gary Lauwers at the hands of Ricky Kasso. Occurring later and not directly contributing to the development of River’s Edge, but to all of the other metal-influenced films in this review, was the 1994 West Memphis 3 case in which Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr., and Jason Balwin, three non-conformist boys, were wrongfully convicted as murderous “Satanists”; their guilt: a shared interest in rock music, horror films, and unconventional art and books. And while there’s no denying the guilt in the 1999 Columbine massacre — the malignant of the music of — and the career damage of Marilyn Manson and the industrial/goth bands KMFDM and Rammstein — as an “underlying cause” of the tragedy — was unconscionable.
The legal atrocities of the West Memphis 3 case were, of course, foretold by the 1986 “subliminal message” trial in which British metal band Judas Priest was held responsible for the shotgun suicides of Nevada teens James Vance and Raymond Belknap. Then there’s the parents who sued the “Prince of Darkness” between 1985 and 1990, claiming the song “Suicide Solution” from Ozzy Osbourne’s 1980 debut album, Blizzard of Oz, encouraged their young sons to commit suicide; the best known of those was California teenager John McCollum who perished in 1984. Then there was Canadian, Nova Scotian teen James Jollimore — who killed a woman and her two sons on the “direction” of Osbourne’s then hit song, “Bark at the Moon.”
Sometimes, the reality of our world, when put to film, is more frightening than anything Stephen King, Wes Craven, or James Wan can dream and we stream in this post-A24 and Blumhouse world.
And there’s a reason why numerous mainstream critics classify River’s Edge a contemporary-day horror film. It’s real and it’s bone chilling. And you can stream it on Amazon Prime, while scene clips abound on You Tube.
Jay Wexler, you rocketh for re-creating the River’s Edge Soundtrack on You Tube. We bow before ye as we rocketh through the actor sidebars.
The Six Degrees of John Carpenter, aka Speaking of Sequels and Sidequels, Sidebar: Three of the cast members from River’s Edge appeared in the Halloween film franchise: The great Leo Rossi (Maniac Cop II) who played the boyfriend of Keanu Reeves’s mom, was Budd the paramedic in Halloween II (1981); Joshua Miller, who played Reeves’s little brother Tim, was one of Tom Atkins’s kids in Halloween III: Season of the Witch; and we’ll-watch-him-in-anything Daniel Roebuck appeared as Lou Martini, the owner of the Rabbitt In Red Lounge in Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009).
The Rob Zombie Connection, aka, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace My Inner Hellbilly, Sidebar: And, to keep with the all-horror theme for this month, Roebuck also appeared in Rob Zombie’s 31 (Pastor Victor), The Lords of Salem (2012), and 3 From Hell (Morris Green) — as well as Don Coscarelli’s John Dies at the End (2012) and Phantasm: Ravager (2016).
The Crispin Is an Acting God, aka How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace that Fact that Crispin Is an Acting God, Sidebar: How can we forget Crispin Glover — incredible here as the loyal, but troubled Layne — starting his career as Jimmy Mortimer in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984). We nostalgically wax over Crispin’s films Bartleby, Ed and Rubin, and Twister in our review of Steve Buscemi’s Ed and his Dead Mother. (Yes, Steve, ye are an acting god as well, so proclaimed; we even reviewed the majesty that is Trees Lounge.)
As Robert Freese pointed out in his “Exploring: 80s Comedies” featurette for B&S About Movies, Bob Clark’s Porky’s opened up a cottage industry of teen sex comedies. And boy, did producers scrape the grease pits . . . where’s Pee Wee, Kim Cattral, and Kaki Hunter when you need ’em? Robert Hays! Leslie Nielsen! Where are you, bros?
How about a movie with lame jokes about “date rape drugs” in the special sauce and labs where men suffer from non-stop erections?
No wonder this ended up being the last film by ex-’80s TV teen idol Clark Brandon (My Tutor, TV’s The Fitzpatricks, Out of the Blue, Mr. Merlin, The Facts of Life). And why am I the only one who remembers watching 1977’s The Chicken Chronicles on HBO in the ’80s with Clark mixing it up with Steve Guttenberg and Phil Silvers?
Yeah, it’s as bad as American Drive-In and Hard Rock Zombies, which were both shot back-to-back by Krishna Shah. So thanks for the heads up, Blue Laser Studios. And thank you, You Tubers for uploading it HERE and HERE to enjoy. Eat ’em and smile!
You a-lookin’ for a ripoff of Airplane! starring Donnie “Ralph Malph” Most in a comedy that plays an airline crash in downtown Los Angeles for comedy? How about a ripoff of Police Academy set in a stewardess school?
Well, if Donnie, aka “Don,” Most as a washed-out pilot slummin’ as a steward doesn’t get ya . . . maybe Mary Cadorette — who played Vicky, the girl who finally got Jack Tripper to settle down and go from Three’s Company to Three’s a Crowd — as the hot air hostess, will get ya’. How about Wendie Jo Sperber as a frumpy, overweight air hostess?
No. Didn’t think so. Again, where’s Robert Hays and Leslie Neilsen when you need ’em?
Intermission! You need a Chilli Dilly!And a hotdog!
Of the glut of teen sex comedies, it’s this Cameron Crowe-penned comedy — along with Bob Clark’s Porky’s and, to a lesser extent, Boaz Davidson’s much-adored The Last American Virgin — that major and indie studios desperately tried to imitate but never duplicated.
This one has it all: Phoebe Cates changed our young lives rising out of a pool. The Sherman Oaks Mall is practically a character in itself. Jennifer Jason Leigh is so hot, she breaks up a friendship. We all wanted to be as cool as ticket scalper Damone and wore caps and vests. We wanted to hang out with Jeff Spicoli like his stoner buds Nicholas Cage, Eric Stoltz, and Anthony Edwards. And we begged our parents for a pair of checked vans. And we all wanted jobs at the mall slingin’ fast food and selling movie tickets (and working in the record store). And it came with a pretty cool Sammy Hagar theme song.
DAY 28. OREGON TRAIL: A road tripper where people get picked off one by one. Kind of like this challenge, eh?
When I first saw The Hitcher, I was probably 14 years old and saw it as a straight-ahead story of violence on the highway. I probably cheered at the end when Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) blew a hole into John Ryder (Rutger Hauer). But age and the miles wear on every man and now when I watch it, it does more than make me raise my fist in the air and shout. It makes me ruminate on the journeys life has taken me and how I’d rather be launched through a window and blasted down a hillside than live a slow, tedious and quiet death.
Halsey starts the film with the kind of confidence that someone at the end of their teens has. He picks up Ryder, who immediately confides to him that he’s killed someone else. But he says something else. Something we don’t expect. “I want you to stop me.”
That’s the whole point of this film. Ryder will transform Halsey into the empty man he is, whether through attrition or forcing him to blast him into oblivion. This road only goes one way.
What does it take to get Halsey to realize this isn’t a nightmare, but reality? Of course, it’s easy to think that this could all be a dream, in the same way that long stretches of drives with no one speaking seem to be visions that last and last. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m still driving and every moment up until here, up until this realization, is just me imagining my life and any moment now, I’m going to wake up with my fiancee asleep next to me.
For our hero, it takes seeing trucks plow into truck stops, station wagons filled with the blood of all American families and the typical movie love interest torn in half by two semis.
Halsey is stripped of his identity, not just because his license and keys — let’s face, the manhood of most red-blooded boys — have been taken away. Everything he may have believed was true — the goodness of giving someone a ride when they need it, that love can conquer fear, even that the role models and lawmakers that society sets up can protect us against one lone man who isn’t just unafraid to die but willingly chases it — is a lie.
Not even suicide can save our hero.
So who is at fault for all the crimes that come out of this spree? If Halsey just shot Ryder in the truck, while Nash (Jennifer Jason Lee, looking like the gorgeous girl who surely will survive all of this madness, right?) is tied between it and another, life would be different.
Look, when a killer says, “I want you to stop me,” you listen.
Eric Red wrote this story while traveling across America, wondering about the lyrics to The Doors “Riders On the Storm.” Pretty simple, really: “If ya give this man a ride, sweet memory will die. Killer on the road, yeah.”
Critics hated it. Both Siskel and Ebert gave it zero out of four stars, with Ebert even decrying the film by saying, “I could see that the film was meant as an allegory, not a documentary. But on its own terms, this movie is diseased and corrupt. I would have admired it more if it had found the courage to acknowledge the real relationship it was portraying between Howell and Rutger, but no: It prefers to disguise itself as a violent thriller, and on that level it is reprehensible.”
The end of this film, as Halsey stands against the sunset and smokes as we process what has just happened just attacks the viewer. The credits just stand there as we feel no celebration or victory. Maybe not even relief, because while it seems like this is over, there’s no way it is over.
The fact that this movie spawned a sequel and a Michael Bay remake are two things that I have added to the many things that I have tried to forget so that I can keep on living my life*. Kind of like how director Robert Harmon makes the Jesse Stone TV movies for Tom Selleck now instead of getting to create more movies like this (that said, I’ve heard good things about They, a movie he did with Wes Craven and I kind of don’t mind his Van Damme film Nowhere to Run). Red would move on to write a few other films that break the mold and are on my list of favorite films: Near Dark and Blue Steel.
The last thing that this movie makes me feel is loss. Rutger Hauer is such an essential part of my film nerd stable of actors, someone who always makes a movie way better than it seems like it will be just by his presence. Nighthawks is so intense because of him. Films like Wanted Dead or Alive, The Blood of Heroes and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (with Hauer getting to finally play the vampire lord that Anne Rice, who always wanted him as Lestat, saw him in) are actually great because of Hauer. And Blade Runner means nothing without him as Roy Batty.
Hauer astounded the stunt people in this movie, pulling off the car stunts by himself. And he also intimidated Howell, scaring him even when they weren’t acting. He even knocked out a tooth when he flew through the windshield himself. There is no one who could have played this character quite so well and stayed with me so long after the film was over.**
*The fact that René Cardona III made a Mexican version of this called Sendero Mortal does give me the energy to keep on living. I’d also like to recommend the absolutely insane Umberto Lenzi in America Hitcher In the Dark, which makes me wish that more Italian directors made their own versions of The Hitcher.
**Hauer said in his autobiography, All Those Moments, that Elliott “was so scary when he came in to audition that Edward S. Feldman was afraid to go out to his car afterward.”
Day 25: Hey, Baby, Can You Dance to It? This one has to have at least one substantial dancing scene in it.
We spoke of this feature film writing and directing debut from the Weinstein brothers Harvey and Bob for their Miramax Pictures imprint in passing during our review for the somewhat similarly-premised Rock ‘N’ Roll Hotel and during Videoscope‘s Robert Freese’s overview “Exploring: ’80s Comedies” featurette for B&S About Movies. And now, courtesy of the gang at Scarecrow Video coming up with their 25th theme day—and the fact that, Marisa Tomei, in her feature film-starring debut (she gets an “Introducing . . . As” title card in the opening credits), soft shoes a roof-topped dance number with a paint brush in-hand during a renovation scene—we’re finally giving it a review proper. (Thanks, Scarecrow dudes, for thou doeth suck. Just kidding. No, not really.)
First: Yes, Jimmy Baio—best remembered as the smart-mouthed Carmen Ronzonni in 1977’s The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and Billy Tate in ABC-TV’s Soap—is the cousin of Scott Baio (TV’s Happy Days, Charles in Charge). Matthew Penn, however, is not related to Sean Penn. And Matt’s dad is Bonnie and Clyde and Little Big Man director Arthur Penn. And Sean’s dad isn’t Arthur Penn; his dad is acclaimed network TV series director Leo Penn. Chris Penn, the actor, and Michael Penn, the singer, aren’t Matt’s brothers, their Sean’s.
Second: While Matthew made his feature film acting debut in the never-released Rock ‘N’ Roll Hotel (1983) alongside a pre-Breakfast Club Judd Nelson, none of the footage from that film was recut as, nor repurposed as stock footage for, Playing for Keeps.
Third: Playing for Keeps was finished and in the can in 1984 (and also known as Rock Hotel Majestic in some quarters) and sat on the shelf for two years before its theatrical release. And while Matthew Penn awaited its release, his second feature film was a support role in the Kristie McNichol-starring Dream Lover. And, yes. The name “Matthew Penn” you’ve seen listed as an executive producer on Law & Order: TOS and USA Network’s Queen of the South is the same Matthew Penn.
Fourth: Playing for Keeps was all but forgot, and found a new audience, in late-2017 when the New York Times mentioned the movie as the scene for one of Harvey Weinstein’s earliest, alleged sexual harassment episodes; this according to 20-year-old aspiring actress and college-attending waitress Tomi-Ann Roberts (who subsequently didn’t appear in the film).
Fifth: Much like with Alan Arkush basing his lesser-known Rock ‘n’ Roll High School follow up, Get Crazy (1983), on his experiences working at New York’s The Fillmore East, Playing for Keeps was inspired by Harvey and his brother Bob’s experiences of owning the Century Theater in Buffalo, New York, and operating it as a rock ‘n’ roll club from 1974 to 1978.
Sixth: The film began production back in 1983 at the shuttered Bethany Colony Hotel in the northeastern Pennsylvania city of Honesdale—and while the old girl was in still pretty decent shape, the production trashed the joint and left it in worse condition than they found it. Nice going, Harvey.
Seventh: Playing for Keeps wasn’t the debut release for Miramax Pictures; it was the writing and directing debut for bosses Harvey and Bob. The film served as the only director credit for Bob; Harvey would direct one more feature: 1987’s animated The Gnomes’ Great Adventure. The brotherly duo’s first-distributed film was a chronicle of Paul McCartney’s 1976 Wings Over America Tour—1980’s Rockshow. Their first produced film (distributed by Filmways) was the 1981 slasher The Burning, which served as Bob and Harvey’s only other writing credit. And Miramax only produced; Universal distributed Playing for Keeps.
Eighth: MTV aired a 22-minute making-of documentary, Playing for Keeps: The Team Behind a Dream, as part of the film’s promotional efforts. It didn’t work: the film tanked, making just over two and a half million in box office.
Playing for Keeps—like most of those ’80s snobs vs slobs, aka lovable losers, aka men behaving badly comedy knockoffs (as pointed out by Robert Freese) in the backwash of Animal House, Meatballs, and Caddyshack, i.e., Joysticks, My Chauffeur, and Hamburger: The Motion Picture—is a film of a time and place. The appreciation of a film—whether it is good or bad, well-made or poorly made—is based in the age of the viewer; if you were in middle school or just starting high school at the time of its release, re-watching the Weinstein’s film will warm your analog cockles as a “classic” film.
Me: I was already ensconced in adulthood, wearing shirts with collars, even ties, when Playing for Keeps was released. Those ’80s Harold Faltermeyer-gated synth drums and Herbie Hancock keyboard-noodles of the film’s score were the bane of my punk-new wave-metal upbringing—and the Atlantic Records-produced soundtrack (Discogs) was loaded with more than I could bear. At least the later, somewhat similar The Runnin’ Kind had a pseudo-punk snarl to it. Here, we get the annoying Duran Duran splinter group, Arcadia (What?! No Spandau Ballet?), appearing alongside side freakin’ non-Genesis Phil Collins to nullify any coolness Pete Townshend brings to the proceedings (and it’s not even a “cool” Townshend tune). And, wow. What producer showed Peter Frampton the way to a career resurgence was to go with the Def Leppard-sellout drum cacophony?
It’s amazing that Marisa Tomei course-corrected out of this into a 20-plus episode stint on NBC-TV’s Cosby spinoff A Different World—and discovered Oscar gold with My Cousin Vinny six years later. Then again, it’s not amazing, because, even in her minor role (regardless of the later VHS and grey-market DVD repacks pushing her to the forefront) with her sub-par acting, she’s the best actor in the movie. No, I take that back. Her, and the 200-plus credited (and Shakesperean-trained) Harold Gould, are the best actors in the movie. The rest are just as awful as they wanna-be (as you’d expect they’d be) in an ’80s snobs vs slobs, aka lovable losers, aka men behaving badly ripoff-programmer.
So the “snobs” in this one are a corrupt chemical company executive and town politician with their eyes on the dilapidated Majestic Hotel property in upstate New York. And everything is going according to their sinister plan . . . until Danny (seriously annoying and totally unlikable; you just want to give him an ol’ Corky Ramono-Chris Kattan nut punch), a ne’er-do-well dreamer n’ schemer high school graduate (this really needed a Michael J. Fox or Tom Cruise to pull it off) discovers his down and out divorced mom inherited the deed to the hotel from a dead aunt. (Comedy: you gotta love it.)
So, with his two lazy-Meatballs buddies—the trio runs around New York with their other Porky’s-friends playing some goofy inner city street game called “Christopher Columbus” (there was no water around to play “Marco Polo”)—they ditch their manual labor employment agency jobs to turn the Majestic into a rock ‘n’ club and hotel. But they need to pay off the $8,000 tax bill. But how? They dress up as boy-scouts and sell cookies to earn the doe. Seriously, that’s the level of comedy here . . . and common sense. Why not work your asses off at the employment agency jobs . . . oh, because that’s not “funny.”
You tell ’em, Rocko. And get me a coke.
Now, I know this is sexist (Sorry, Harvey. Send your complaint to Sam; he’ll stick ’em in my employee file with the rest of ’em; I’ll see you at the annual review, Sam), but the gag could have worked . . . if we were dealing with three just out-of-high school women, say Marisa Tomei, with, say . . . Deborah Foreman and Elizabeth Daily. The whole scene of these three Stripes-dopes hocking thin mints in little Boy Scouts pseudo-military uniforms is utterly painful to watch. (Are you sure James Gunn didn’t make this? Nope. The Weinsteins did. Oops, Sorry, bad joke, Mr. Gunn. The awfulness of Playing for Keeps is inspiring me, I tell ‘ya!)
Okay, so we have dead aunts, overgrown pedo-boy scouts, and “Christopher Columbus” parkour dance numbers ripped from West Side Story, you got that? You keepin’ up?
Okay. Of course, when Shaggy and the Mystery Machine gang get there . . . the hotel is a rotted, rat-infested dump (that reminds of the Delta House, natch) that’ll fall over in a stiff wind. But Freddy, Thelma, and Daphne meet The Majestic’s kindly, ‘ol resident squatter (again, the-deserves-better-than-this Harold Gould) who inspires the misguided high school grads with good advice and nuggets of wisdom. And there’s sexual fantasy daydreams with Toni “Hey, Mickey” Basil doing her choreography thing (or was that Paula Abdul?). And Marisa Tomei doing a “Phoebe Cates” from Fast Times of Ridgemont High sexual fantasy daydream-ripoff holding a plate of cookies and candies. (“Oh, Brad, Spikes, you know, I always thought you were cute. are you hungry?”) And there’s “home improvement” dance numbers to Sister Sledge songs. And dancing—as per the Day 25 Scarecrow requirement—just breaks out without any particular rhyme or reason. And we wish Ferris Bueller had another day off and showed up with a hammer. And Bill Murray with a weed wacker and a brick of C4. Or Kevin Bacon took a day off and did a dance number with a broom. Or Michael Beck took a break from Xanadu. And that Tomei, Foreman, and Daily were selling the cookies to finance the paying off of the tax bill: Seriously, Weinstein bros. You already made a bad “cookie and candy” joke with Marisa, so why not put her in a sexed-up Girls Scouts uniform? Oh . . . because she wasn’t really hocking “sex cookies,” it was a “day dream.” Oh, okay. Screenwriting semantics. Got ‘ya, Harvey.
“You need to show ass to sell this movie! Is no ass here!”
Tommy Wiseau? What in the hell are you doing here? Didn’t I already make enough comparative critiques of your oeuvre in last October’s “Slasher Month” and “Scarecrow Challenge” reviews for Spine and Ice Cream Man, and last November’s Mill Creek Pure Terror*˟ box set tribute for Joy “J.N” Houck’s Night of Bloody Horror?
“Is plot twist. Oh, hi doggie.”
Anywhoo . . . in the end: Playing for Keeps took Miramax to the next level as they became America’s leading distribution purveyor of foreign and indie films. Then they met some kid named Quentin Tarantino* and distributed Reservoir Dogs. And some kid named Kevin Smith and distributed Clerks**. And you know the rest of the yada, yada, yada on Miramax. (Sorry, Sam. And I was doing so darn well with your Seinfeld References Ban.)
Anywhoo . . . you can stream the nostalgia for free on You Tube because, due to the usual licensing snafus regarding soundtracks with these old films, Playing for Keeps has never been officially transferred to DVD, so there’s no digital streams available in the regulated PPV and VOD marketplace.
In the year 2002, amazons and mutants battle one another, which mainly consists of women lying in beds and being butchered or alternatively screwing out the brains — literally — of said mutants.
But no, really, we’re just watching a movie being made by special effects experts — a phrase I should have written as “experts” — while a voiceover* explains to us why this is all so important.
Toronto’s finest exotic dancers — I assume all have worked the Brass Rail on Younge Street — have consented to be made up by these maniacs, who include a man named Fang, in a movie that only exists inside this movie, which seems to be a making of for a movie that was never made.
You with me? For full enjoyment of this film, I advise checking out Rick Trembles’ cartoon of the movie at Canuxpolitation!
The crew of Gory Philms is ready to show you each effect three times in a row with no real story, so if you’re ready for the kind of shot on video fun that teenagers like me enjoyed around 1986, you can watch this on YouTube.
*The narration comes from Chris Britton, who has showed up in minor roles in everything from Scanners, The Brood and The Shack to voiceover work, with roles as Mr. Sinister on the 90’s X-Men cartoon and the drive-thru in Maximum Overdrive.