Ninja Champion (1986)

Also known as Kickboxing Connection, Ninja Boxing Cop and Ninja Connection 2Ninja Champion starts with Rose (Nancy Chang) being assaulted by clowns over the opening credits. If you can get past that, then nothing can stop you in this movie. Because soon, her husband George (Roger Lam) leaves her, as he feels that she’s been tainted and almost instantly gets married.

Yet he can’t forget her. And his Interpol partner, Donald (Bruce Baron) — from completely new footage, as yes, this is a Godfrey Ho film — promises to watch out for her. But because George has a license to kill, he should probably keep close tabs and do the killing for her, as it looks. like Rose is going for revenge.

By the way, Bruce Baron has just as wild of a movie career as another Godfrey Ho star, Richard Harrison (don’t worry, he’s in this). After graduating from Cornell, he appeared in forty movies, including Code Name: Wild GeeseThe Atlantis InterceptorsFireback and many more.

Rose starts by poisoning one of her nipples and drowning the “Boxing Champion of Asia” in the bathtub. All of the Rose and George footage is from the Korean revengeomatic Poisonous Rose Stripping The Night. But Godfrey Ho goes harder than ever in this one, bringing back footage of Richard Harrison from Ninja Terminator and yes, he’s calling in on a Garfield telephone.

Oh yeah — Rose also cuts off the dick of almost every man she kills.

And George falls for a diamond smuggler named Jenny.

Trust me, that pays off in a way that you may not see coming.

There are also plenty of ninjas doing tricks with swords and hoops, as well as a final battle that takes place on the monkey bars of what I can only imagine is the playground of Godfrey Ho’s kids’ grade school. Well, a ninja just died on it and they left his body to rot.

Also I am a fan of the mentally challenged bald guy who ends up helping the good guys and George’s absolutely insane off-color Michael Jackson jacket. Hills uses to sell the black and white one along with the black and red and I always wondered, “Who would buy the jacket Michael didn’t wear for the very same price?”

It was George, the same guy who told his new wife to take a cold shower and go rent someone to make love to her, because he wasn’t interested. The guy who left a woman who was the victim of triple ninja clown rape. You know. The hero of Ninja Champion.

This movie is just packed with stolen music, the true joy of any ninja. We’re got Jean-Michel Jarre’s “Second Rendez Vouz,” “Third Rendez Vouz,” “Fifth Rendez Vouz” and “Ethnicolor;” {ink Flord’s “On the Run;” The Michael Schenker Group’s “Into the Arena,” Andrew Poppy’s “The Object Is a Hungry Wolf” and “Listening In;” ZZ Top’s “Sleeping Bag;” Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europe Express;” a track by Oscar; “Stereotomy” and “Where’s the Walrus?” by The Alan Parsons Project; “Junku” by Herbie Hancock; two songs from the soundtrack to Armored Trooper Votoms; “Ain’t I Cute” by Japanese synth artist Osamu Shoji; “Voyeur” by Hubert Kah; a song from the Japanese show Ultra Q; a song from the anime The Unchallengeable Daitarn 3; “Bois de Boulogne (Paris),” “Thru Metamorphic Rock,” “Diamond Diary” and “Lana” — which is from Risky Business — by Tangerine Dream and “The Other Side of Time” by French space disco artist Roland Romanelli.

I mean, this movie starts off with a remixed Star Wars theme, as if it is ready to announce to the world that copyright infringement is your best entertainment value.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Ninja Squad (1986)

A ninja named Billy — who is really from a Filipino movie made two years before this called Hatulan si baby angustia — has been training with a ninja master named Gordon (Richard Harrison, in the same footage that was supposedly for one film and ended up being ten or more). But now as it is time to return home and see his family again, Gordon will have to deal with another issue. Ivan the Red (Dave Wheeler) is a power-mad ninja so desperate to fight him that he has started to kill every fighter in the Ninja Empire. To draw him out, he uses Billy and his family, sending thugs to kidnap his sister and kill his mother. Billy had hoped to leave the world of the ninja behind. Now, he has no choice.

Again, like all of Godfrey Ho’s movie, we’re trapped between two worlds. In one, Harrison and many multicolored ninjas with headbands that helpfully inform us that they are, indeed, ninja fight one another with somersaults and swords. In the other, we’re in the tough streets and watching a young man in love with a cop’s daughter try and join the force, only to learn that even the father of the woman he loves is corrupt. It’s down, dirty and depressing, like the New Hollywood speaking in Tagalog.

If you already know that only a ninja can kill a ninja, this film will teach you a new lesson: if you are born a ninja, you die a ninja. I am slowly making my way through the Godfrey Ho Cinematic Universe and trying to put together the connective tissue between these films. I realize that he was just cranking them out with no concern for how they connect. But you know how when your brain has to figure out how to survive a traumatic accident it blocks things out or invents a new reality for you? That’s what I’m doing, trying to keep my blown brain inside my head and attempting to figure out how all of these unite to create one overall saga.

If there’s one universal thing about these movies, other than ninja and senseless combination of unconnected cinema, it’s the mindblowing soundtrack. This time, “Hu” by Dif Juz, is in the film. They were an English instrumental post-punk band, formed in London and active from 1980 to 1986. Members included Gary Bromley on bass, Richard Thomas on percussion and saxophone and the Curtis brothers, Dave and Alan, on guitars. For a brief time, Alan was in Duran Duran and the band also served as backup for Lee Scratch Perry. Signed to 4AD, they were also close with the Cocteau Twins and members collaborated with Wolfgang Press.

Speaking of the Cocteau Twins, their songs “Wax and Wane” and “Song to the Siren” are in this, as are “Medusa” by Clan of Xymox and The Human League’s “Human,” which was written and produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, former members of The Time. They’d just finished Janet Jackson’s Control record, which I heartily recommend.

Also, thanks to David Assassino, I learned that some of the Edgar Froese score to Fassbinder’s Kamikaze 1989 is in this and that the end credits are Miko Mission’s “Two for Love.”

I have no idea why all this synth pop ends up in ninja movies but as always, I am not complaining.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Clash of the Ninjas (1986)

There are two — actually, who knows, there could be hundreds — of posters for this movie. One has a series of realistic ninjas posing with their swords while the other has Manny Cobretti in cartoon form in front of an American flag, along with a star-throwing ninja and a black man comically firing a blowdart.

These posters are guaranteed to get me to watch this movie.

A ruthless ninja named Mr. Roy has started an organization called Interpole that abducts people and takes their organs, then sells them to the mob, the triads and even some Middle Eastern bad guys.

Two of the organ farm prisoners have escaped, however, and found their way to the police, which includes Tony (Paulo Sorcha, who looked enough like Stallone that he was called Bruce Stallion in some movies). You see Tony also has a secret: he’s a ninja and shares a master with Mr. Roy, who killed their master and also took the time to grope Tony’s girl on the way out.

This movie knows the most essential truth of all ninja truths: Only a ninja can kill a ninja. And that happens a lot here, as ninjas have flaming swords, get their heads spun around multiple times, get body parts sliced off and also block bullets with their bodies because that’s what being a ninja is all about.

Mr. Roy has some amazing abilities, like being able to split himself into six ninjas that, when torn to pieces, all come back together like Voltron. Or the power to shoot lasers from his fingers. And oh yeah, uses compact discs as weapons, which is wild, because someone else uses vinyl records against ninjas earlier. I’m certain there will be many people that debate the audio fidelity and warmness that vinyl gives over CDs, but in a fight, well, we’ve never established which music format is better for combat.

The IFD website lists Kurt Speilberg as the writer, which made me laugh like a loon, and Wallace Chan as the director. Who can rightly say, as IMDB says that Godfrey Ho directed and wrote this, but IMDB can be wrong. Actually, it’s often wrong.

I read an interview with Ho who said of this movie, “Oh, about fifteen years ago. I made movies with Tomas Tang. I try to find young directors, let them grow. I try to do many movies, also as producer. I did a fantastic movie called Clash of the Ninja with Tomas Tang, starring martial artists from Europe and America, all set in Hong Kong. It’s really a fantastic movie, nobody has seen this movie a lot. Unfortunately Tomas Tang died, so this is his best movie he has ever made. That is the only ninja movie I remember, because it was the best movie I ever made.”

Is this even the real Godfrey Ho speaking? I mean, this paragraph reads like one of his movies.

Beyond the absolutely wild story and incredible final fight, the music in this is what you expect from a Godfrey Ho movie. And by that, I mean, absolutely unexpected. I mean, did you ever think “I Remember Nothing” and “Candidate” by Joy Division would be the soundtrack for a ninja battle? Talk about some Unknown Pleasures.

You can watch this on Tubi.

VIDEO ARCHIVES PODCAST: The Fireman 3: CIA Crackdown (1986)

VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the May 23, 2023 episode of the Video Archives podcast.

Cannon had a great strategy back when they were making $5 million on a movie just based on the video, TV and foreign sales. It meant that as long as a movie cost around $2 million, they made money. It didn’t even matter if the films did well, as long as they played theaters for a week or two.

That said, they did have some success stories, mostly involving the movies of the two Chucks: Norris and Bronson.

Starting with Death Wish 2, a sequel to a movie made in the previous decade that it seemed like no one — except the fans of Bronson — wanted to make. But when Michael Winner and Bronson teamed up again, it was big box office. Cannon sold the distribution rights to Filmways in the U.S., the company that had just bought American-International Pictures, and figured that a Bronson revengeomatic sequel fit right in with their existing lineup of exploitation classics. Columbia Pictures bought it for international sales — it made $29 million worldwide — and Paramount bought the domestic TV. When the movie came out in February of 1982, it was number one for its opening week and made $16 million in the U.S.

Cannon cashed in.

They also were smart to sign up Chuck Norris after Missing In Action — actually, the second one comes before the first, but that’s a whole different story — became such a hit for them.

These were critic proof movies, ones where it didn’t matter what Pauline Kael said or if Siskel and Ebert picked it as a dog of the week. Bronson and Norris fans would come out and watch their films, rent them when they hit video and watch them again and again on cable.

And for four movies, the two Chucks had another member of the team.

Throughout the 70s, Rick Dalton would mostly show up as a special guest start on shows like Cade’s County and Banacek. Sure, he’s in The Deadly Trackers with William Smith and is amazing as Don Stober in Grizzly. But by and large, his days as a leading man seemed to be over. I remember thinking that he was just a friend of Johnny Carson who would randomly show up on The Tonight Show and make Ed heartily chortle with his stories until my uncle told me all about his cowboy roles.

Yet when Rick got to the 80s, he was able to reinvent himself yet again, combining the nostalgic tough guy act of Bronson and the hard working appeal to the common man of Norris when he made The Fireman for AVCO Embassy 1981. As a Vietnam vet turned cop who learns just how corrupt the NYPD is — but not before they kill his partner, Washington (an impossible young Samuel Jackson) — he decides to go from law enforcement to first responder of sorts, donning a flamethrower and getting revenge by setting most of New York City ablaze. And he’s the good guy in a movie that seems so scuzzy you’d swear Rick was someone who made movies like Ms. 45 and Don’t Go In the House instead of your mom’s first. crush.

It works, though, mostly because the public never forgot that once pulled his actual working flamethrower from The 14 Fists of McCluskey out of his garage to defend his home from some hippies, an act that got the lifelong Democrat a first class trip to visit the Nixon White House. Seeing him use a very similar weapon of death in this has the kind of exploitation edge that makes movie weirdos like me salivate.

Rick believed in this project because it gave him a chance to work with stuntman Cliff Booth, who had doubled for him for years. Rick produced and directed this movie with Cliff handling what he knew best, the action.

You know who loves this movie? You guessed it. Quentin Tarantino. He said, “Cliff Booth in 1979 or ’80, wrote a vigilante exploitation movie for Rick … Rick read it and goes, “We can do this better,” so Rick rewrites it and the two of them are going to produce it, they get the money, and it’s a vigilante movie called The Fireman. The lead character was in the Vietnam War — it’s very similar to The Exterminator  — he became a cop and then he started seeing this whole group of bad apple cops that are killing guys and are completely corrupt. And they end up killing his partner, played by a very young Samuel L. Jackson. The film becomes a real big hit, and that makes Rick, he gets a third career, going into the ’80s, as a straight to video action star.”

Imagine Rick’s surprise when Cannon Films came calling to make another one. Especially because they’d already made a movie that pissed him off, 1984’s Exterminator 2. It felt a bit too close to the movie he. made with Cliff for his taste, so he barely wanted to take a call from two Israelis in tracksuits. Imagine how he felt when the lunch meeting wasn’t at Musso and Franks or Taylor’s Steak House, but instead a hoagie and a bag of chips in their office.

Yet when they told him they could give him $4 million — and that they’d buy the rights to his movie from AVCO Embassy on top of that — he just had to laugh at Menahem’s fast talking ways, not to mention the fact that he drew out a contract on the greasy bag from a local sub shop.

That wasn’t the story he told on Johnny, however. Self-deprecating to a fault, he told the King of Late Night that he saw the Cannon name at the front of Bolero and figured they’d be interested in his movie, saying “I figure if they made that dog turd, they’d make my dog turd.”

Ed McMahon fell off the couch.

At this point, Rick and Cliff were excited to get the sequel signed off and started looking for talent so they could make the movie that they didn’t have the budget to make when they made The Fireman. At first, they went after bigger names with that $4 million budget. If you’re going to make an Arthur Hill action movie, get Arthur Hill, you know? They talked to him, Richard Fleischer (who did Red Sonja instead, to his chagrin), Richard Donner (shoot big) and George Bowers, but then what always happened with Cannon happened. They were flush with Missing In Action and Breakin’ cash when Rick signed his deal, but their next slate of movies wasn’t doing as well.

Who could do the film for less?

Menahem suggested former Bond director Peter Hunt and J. Lee Thompson, but out of respect for Bronson, Rick laughed off the latter suggestion. And he confided in Menahem that if Cliff was forced to work with Michael Winner, he’d probably kill him. It didn’t sound like a joke the way he said it. Sam Firstenberg and Rick had a great meeting, but he walked away telling him, “Why do you want me to make your movie when I’m just going to follow what Cliff did in your first one? You already have your director.”

And that’s how Cliff Booth, once a stuntman, then a second unit guy for exactly one movie ended up directing and writing The Fireman 2. While some fans love the first one more, I love that this seamlessly starts five minutes later — yeah, I bought that bootleg on a Facebook fan group where someone edited both movies together for one long The Fireman experience — and doesn’t lose an ounce of its edge when it moves the action from New York to Texas. And yeah, Donald Pleasence rarely said no to a movie, but this was the kind of movie where he shines (the Halloween influence is all over this; Rick considered Rick Rosenthal as a director until the Halloween II director confessed his intention to make a sequel to The Birds; Rick laughed about that until the movie actually played on Showtime and he just stared, pointing at the screen, beer growing warm in his hand).

And come on. Joe Don Baker hadn’t been that good in a movie since Golden Needles.

Just like Bronson and Norris, Rick took Hollywood by surprise. The Fireman 2 did well for a few weeks in theaters and drive-ins, but was a blockbuster on cable and in the home video market. But for Cannon, well, it was as big a deal as anything they’d made. Golan and Globus called Rick the Saturday after the movie opened, laughing — but perhaps also being serious — as they asked “Can you start shooting on Monday?”

The Fireman 3: CIA Crackdown wouldn’t happen that quickly. Rick wanted the kind of movie that would pay off the series while adding a bit more drama. Sure, it was the third movie, but he didn’t want to make the same movie over and over again.

It was worth the wait.

With Rick writing and starring, as well as an even more confident Cliff behind the camera, the third film throws you a curveball. Eddie Karpinski isn’t using that name anymore. He’s gone into hiding and is now living the kind of existence you could never have predicted after the first two films. Instead of POV shots of him burning muggers, the movie starts with the domestic bliss he’s found with Marisa (Anjanette Comer), a widow with a teenage son named Kirk (Stephen Dorff, a year after The Gate) and a dementia-addled father, Butch (Aldo Ray). They’re living in a fixer-upper on the outskirts of the suburbs and it seems like new developments are being built all around them.

Regency Realty, run by the company’s third-generation scion Dwight Regency (Wings Hauser), keeps making offers for the low middle class homes on our hero’s street. At first, they seem like any other real estate developer. But seeing how their agents are played by Michael Ironside, Robert Davi and Tracey Walter, you pretty quickly figure out that they’re not on the up and up.

Our hero finds out way too late, as his modest home — his reward for two movies of blasting bad guys like Richard Lynch and Billy Drago with napalm — goes up in flames. The cops say it was an accident, the insurance tries to pay it all off and everything is supposed to go away. But with his adopted son trapped in painful rehab, his wife ash and Butch dying a slow death — but not before an emotional scene where he grips The Fireman’s hand and says in his gravely voice, “I always knew who you were. But you were good enough for my Marisa. Now, I want you to be bad enough for her.” — it’s only a matter of time before the flamethrower comes out of its hiding space and the entire subdivison goes up in smoke.

But wait, you might ask. Where does the CIA part of the film’s title come in? It turns out that an agent near retirement named Carmine Bassi (John Saxon, as always, the perfect person for the role; he made this right before he directed the only movie he’d ever direct, Zombie Death House) is sent on a wild goose chase to bring in Karpinski. When he starts to notice that a Salt Lake City suburb is dealing with a rash of arson-based crimes and sightings of a man wielding an M2 flamethrower, he comes running. But by the end of the film, he starts to see no small part of himself in Eddie.

I’m not one of those people who write, “For a Cannon movie, this is pretty dramatic.” After all, it’s the same studio that made Maria’s LoversRunaway Train and gave Cassavetes a good budget to make Love Streams. It’s better than it has any right to be, to be perfectly frank, and it sends off The Fireman to the kind of retirement — and retribution — that he so rightly deserved.

That’s not saying that if Dalton had wanted to make one or two more of these I wouldn’t have bought a ticket, rented the movie and taped it off of HBO, however.

I was talking with Austin Trunick, writer of The Cannon Film Guide Volume I and The Cannon Film Guide Volume IIand as usual with all things Cannon, he blew my mind with an untold story.

“I wanted to send you a quick note to let you know that there was almost more to this saga. There was an ad for The Fireman 4: New Fire in the 21st Century Film Corp spread in Weekly Variety‘s AFM 1991 issue. Well, maybe “ad” is too strong a description — it’s just a title treatment, nothing more, no talent listed, with a dubious note that it was “In Pre-Production – Ready for Delivery Christmas ’91.” That’s all I’ve ever come across for that particular project, and I honestly have no clue if Dalton was involved at all or if Menahem even had the sequel rights at that point. I wouldn’t be shocked in the least if it was one of his typical “let’s announce it now and figure out the details later” sort of deals. Considering the ad didn’t use Dalton’s name to drum up foreign sales, that probably was the case.”

When do we get to see that movie?

VIDEO ARCHIVES WEEK: Haunted Honeymoon (1986)

VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the January 10, 2023 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.

Haunted Honeymoon was directed and written by star Gene Wilder, who joins his wife Gilda Radner to play Larry Abbot and Vickie Pearle, two radio actors who decide to get married in the castle that was Larry’s childhood home, one filled with the strange members of his family such as aunt Kate (Dom DeLuise), his uncles Dr. Paul (Paul Smith) and Francis (Peter Vaughan) and his cousins Charles (Sir Jonathan Pryce), Nora (Julann Griffin), Susan (Jo Ross) and the cross-dressing Francis Jr. (Roger Ashton-Griffiths).

Dr. Paul has the idea of solving Larry’s on-air panic attacks with shock therapy that will knock them out by basically frightening him to death. He clues everyone — including Susan’s husband Montego the Magnificent (Jim Carter), the butler Pfister (Bryan Pringle), Pfister’s wife Rachel (Ann Way) and even Larry’s ex-girlfriend Sylvia (Eve Ferett) who is now dating Charles.

Then there’s a werewolf!

Wilder wrote this movie the whole way back on the set of Silver Streak and was inspired by The Old Dark HouseThe Cat and the Canary, The Black Cat and the Inner Sanctum radio show. Shot in London at Elstree Studios, Wilder saw this as an attempt to “make a 1930s movie for 1986.”

It went over about as well as you’d think. As Radner struggled with the ovarian cancer that would take her life — she and Wilder would only be married for four years before her sad early end — she wrote “On July 26, Haunted Honeymoon opened nationwide. It was a bomb. One month of publicity and the movie was only in the theaters for a week — a box-office disaster.”

VIDEO ARCHIVES WEEK: The Jet Benny Show (1986)

VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the March 14, 2023 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.

Like everyone else, I only knew about this movie because of Quentin Tarantino bringing it up on the Video Archives podcast. Steve Norman is playing Jack Benny, pretty much starting just like his TV show, before the story becomes, well, Star Wars.

Jet Benny is an intergalactic soldier of fortune who crash lands his ship the Maxwell onto an alien planet. He loses his ship and his robot butler Rochester (Kevin Dees). After years living on his own, he finds and saves Princess Miranda (Polly MacIntyre) and becomes part of her quest to stop Lord Zane and saving her brother Prince Carmen (Richard Sabel).

Then, we’re back to Jack Benny on his TV show.

Directed by Roger Evans and written by Mark Feltch, this was shot on Super 8 and released on VHS and beta by United Entertainment. And you know, it’s a strange little film that’s a better concept — what if Jack Benny did a Star Wars sketch on his show — that is pretty much the one joke that lands. The Carmen Miranda one, on the other hand, thuds.

I think the learning experience here is that even your cinematic hero can love and champion a movie you see nothing in. As for me, I expect no one to follow me into the weird corridors of end career stage Jess Franco, foreign remake remix ripoff movies and vanity projects, but if you do, I’m happy to have you along for the trip.

You can watch this on YouTube.

The Parent Trap II (1986)

25 years after the first film, Sharon McKendrick Ferris (Hayley Mills) is a divorced single mother living in Tampa. Her daughter Nikki (Carrie Kei Heim) is a lot like her mom used to be: unhappy, sick of moving around and not wanting to attend an all-girls school.

As Nikki goes to summer school, she becomes friends with Mary Grand (Bridgette Andersen, who would go on to star in Cannon’s Too Much) and the two decide to fix up Mary’s dad Bill (Tom Skerritt) with Sharon and therefore get to see their parents happy and have their friendship not go long distance. When the first few dates don’t go well, the girls get Nikki’s aunt Susan Evers Carey (also Hayley Mills) involved.

Sharon figures it out and decides to go on a date with Susan’s husband Brian (Alex Harvey) and that seems like really taking things too far. Then again, Susan is on a date with Bill pretending to be Sharon, so who knows with these sisters who seem to swing.

Well, through the magic of tween trickery, Sharon and Bill get abandoned on a boat that goes out to sea and end up falling for one another. Oh Disney TV movies, how you twist, you turn and then you do things that make no sense after it seems like we’ve already reached the end of the movie.

If you’re a fan of Mills, the names Nikki Ferris and Mary Grand reference her parts in The Moon-Spinners and In Search of the Castaways.

Ronald F. Maxwell is an interesting pick for a Disney Channel director, seeing as how he made Little Darlings. This was written by Stu Krieger, who also was the scriptwriter for Where the Boys Are 84Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century and Phantom of the Megaplex.

There would be as long a wait until the next movie.

88 FILMS BLU RAY SET RELEASE: In the Line of Duty 2 AKA Royal Warriors (1986)

Directed by David Chung and written by Kan-Cheung Tsang, the second film in the In the Line of Duty series finds officer Michelle Yip (Michelle Yeoh) coming back to Hong Kong from a trip to Japan. Highjackers attempt to take the plane, but she stops them along with a security guard named Michael Wong (Michael Wong) and Interpol agent Peter Yamamoto (Hiroyuki Sanada). The bad news? Well, now they’re being targeted by the other members of the same mob family for revenge.

This movie blows away any action movie made yesterday or today, featuring an incredible nightclub assault, so much glass being broken I was wondering if it was sponsored by PPG, Michael’s family being wiped out by a car bomb, chase scenes that make you retroactively worry for the safety of everyone involved and an ending where Yip drives a futuristic tank into a trap laid by the big bad with him holding the body of her boyfriend on a crane.

In the Line of Duty 2 is filled with non-stop mayhem and violence, a downbeat tone and Yeoh embracing the opportunity to be the lead.

88 Films’ In the Line of Duty Series includes 1985’s Yes, Madam!, 1986’s Royal Warriors, 1988’s In the Line of Duty 3 and 1989’s In the Line of Duty 4. This film is available in Cantonese and two different English dubs and extras like new subtitles, commentary by Jong Kong film expert Frank Djeng, missing inserts and trailers. There’s also a gorgeous book and posters for each movie. You can buy the set from MVD.

SALEM HORROR FEST: The Hitcher (1986)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This movie was watched as part of Salem Horror Fest. You can still get a weekend pass for weekend two. Single tickets are also available. Here’s the program of what’s playing.

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 AliveThe Blood of Heroesand 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.”

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: Blue Velvet (1986)

April 27: Until You Call on the Dark — Pick a movie from the approved movies list of the Church of Satan. Here’s the list.

James Shelby Downard once said, “Never allow anyone the luxury of assuming that because the dead and deadening scenery of the American city-of-dreadful-night is so utterly devoid of mystery, so thoroughly flat-footed, sterile and infantile, so burdened with the illusory gloss of “baseball-hot dogs-apple-pie-and-Chevrolet” that it is somehow outside the psycho-sexual domain. The eternal pagan psychodrama is escalated under these “modern” conditions precisely because sorcery is not what 20th century man can accept as real.”

I’d like to think that Downard saw this movie, shook his head a bit and thought, “Well, they got some of it right.”

The Church of Satan film list says of Blue Velvet, “This neo-noir film by David Lynch is meant to be felt and experienced more than understood, Blue Velvet is about the hidden and unknown. It’s both terrifying and erotic simultaneously. The innocent outlook on life is stripped away to stark reality where predator and prey intermingle. 

The Satanic qualities presented are the exploration of the darker side of Human Nature, Lust, Fetishism, the Dominant and the Submissive, the Law of the Forbidden, Self Preservation, and Justice.”

Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) has come home to Lumberton, North Carolina — a town that has a radio station with the call letters WOOD and seems so normal that something has to be wrong — a place named after lumber on the Lumber River. He’s home because his father has had a seizure and on the way home from the hospital, Jeffrey finds a severed ear. He does what any normal boy would do: he takes it to a cop, Detective John Williams (George Dickerson). This allows him to meet the perfect girl next door, the man’s daughter Sandy (Laura Dern). She might always have the perfect boyfriend, football player Mike Shaw (Ken Stovitz), but Jeffrey is able to get into Sandy’s world by being dangerous and investigating someone connected to that ear: lounge singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini, who would appear in the perhaps just as strange Tough Guys Don’t Dance after this). He sneaks into her apartment appearing to be an exterminator, except she catches him and easily overpowers him thanks to her feminine power. As she’s on the verge of assaulting him, Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) arrives, sending Jeffrey into a closet and Dorothy to the floor as Frank alternatively cries, screams, huffs gas and beats her into a submissive sexual state.

Yeah, this isn’t working out like Jeffrey planned.

Jeffrey still sees things like either a child or a character in a detective novel, giving people names like the well-dressed man or the Yellow Man. He becomes obsessed with Dorothy while still courting Sandy. He thinks he can save Dorothy’s husband and son Don and Don, but once he gives in to Dorothy’s pleas to hit her while they lie in bed, he’s lost. He’s in over his head. His fantasies that he’d write to True Detective — instead of Penthouse Forum — are consuming. Deadly, too. This isn’t some kind of jerk off dream that barely comes true. This is violent and bloody fucking that winds up with you trapped in a car with maniacs like Booth, visiting suave lounge singers like Ben (Dean Stockwell) and wondering if everyone in the world is against you and probably being right. It’s the kind of fantasy that gets you kissed all over by a lunatic and waking up almost dead in a field far from home.

Normal humanity didn’t react well to this movie. For example, the agency representing Rossellini immediately dropped her as a client after the test screenings and the nuns at the school that she went to in Rome called to say they were praying for her.

Hopper wasn’t cast originally, as Frank was written for Michael Ironside. The Last Movie director called Lynch and screamed, “I’ve got to play Frank! I am Frank!” Lynch also wanted Frank to inhale helium, but Hopper wanted it to be amyl nitrate. Lynch said that Hopper told him, “David, I know what’s in these different canisters.” And I said, “Thank God, Dennis, that you know that!” And he named all the gases!”

In Satan Speaks, Anton LaVey wrote about songs like “Telstar” and “Yes, We Have No Bananas” as Satanic songs.

“The word ‘occult’ simply means hidden or secret,” he says. “Go to the record store, to the corner where no one else is, where everything is dusty and nobody ever goes. Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” is mystical music, dramatic, Gothic, satanically programmed music. But it’s not occult music. “Yes, We Have No Bananas” would be an occult tune.

It’s occult because when you put that record on the turntable, it’s a lead-pipe cinch that there is not another person in the entire world who is listening to that record at that time. If there’s anything, any frequency, any power that exists anywhere in this cosmos, in this universe, you’re gonna stand out like a beacon! It truly makes you elite.”

Lynch understands that by using Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” and Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Velvet” — he almost used “Song to the Siren” by This Mortal Coil, a song that was first played on the last episode of The Monkees by its writer Tom Buckley — in Blue Velvet. Orbison has always seemed like an alien to me, perhaps because of his look, his voice or because he voided the verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus structure. His songs feel like being in, well, a dream.

Frank finds great magic in the words “candy-colored clown” and it feels like Ben is about to break down when he sings “In dreams, you’re mine all of the time. We’re together in dreams, in dreams.” A lot of Roy Orbison made me feel like that when I was a child, like future nostalgia, the same feeling that made me listen to breakup songs over and over crying before I had ever had my heart broken, as if I were saving up for a time when I would finally be unrequited.

The art for this article comes from Unlovely Frankenstein.