Jungle Wolf (1986)

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For all the magical reasons that we love the old days of the video store, there was one drawback. Often, the movie that you wanted to rent just might be out of stock. So if you wanted to rent Rambo: First Blood Part II or Commando, there’s a chance that every copy of that movie may be out. Yes, in the days of streaming, this may seem crazy to you, but you couldn’t always get what you wanted.

But if you try sometimes, you just may find you get Ron Marchini.

A former U.S. Army drill sergeant, a survivor of a drive-by shooting, a martial arts tournament fighter said to be the best in the country in 1969 and the toughest opponent Chuck Norris ever faced — or so Black Belt Magazine would have us believe — Marchini appeared in a Murder in the Orient and New Gladiators before getting noticed in 1976’s Death Machines, a film in which he played White Death Machine.

It would be nearly a decade before Ron became a VHS industry all to himself, working with directors like Charlie Ordoñez and Alan Roberts to hit the rental audience with movies like Forgotten Warrior, Omega Cop and Return Fire. They aren’t good movies, but they’re great for what they are. And it’s always pretty amazing that in the midst of the jungle, Marchini chooses to always wear yellow t-shirts.

This film finds our hero — Steve Parrish is his name —in Central American but we all know it’s the Philippines. Some rebels have kidnapped American Ambassador Porter Worthington and only our man Ron — or Steve — can come in and set things right. This was probably shot at the same time as Forgotten Warrior and even goes all Boogeyman 2 on us by recycling plenty of footage and using it as flashbacks.

The best part of a military 80s movie is when the hero gears up, covering himself in weapons before killing everything and everyone. This movie has that happen twice and it has the theme song play so many times that you’ll swear it’s the only audio in the entire movie. Also, the bad guy wears a pirate hat and our hero has a samurai sword and man, this movie is so ridiculous I kind of want to watch it again. Oh, and is there a part two? You bet! And Jungle Wolf II is also known as Return Fire — and III, depending on the foreign repack.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Forgotten Warrior (1986)

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Man, this movie has some alternate titles. In France, they call it U.S. Warrior. In Spain, Traición a un Soldado or Betrayal of a Warrior. Greece? O Hamenos Polemistis (The Lost Warrior). In the UK, they call this Forgotten Warrior. But in West Germany, this gets my favorite title: Commander Rainbow.

Steve Parrish (Ron Marchini) was escaping a POW camp when Thompson, one of his fellow soldiers, doesn’t want to be slowed down by a wounded man. He shoots the soldier, then shoots Steve so that he couldn’t tell anyone else. Luckily, some villagers saved our hero and he chose to stay behind, choosing to marry Malia (Marilyn Bautista, Driving Force, Bloodfist), one of the women in the village where he has settled. His wife gives birth to a son and the warrior soul in Steve is content to be, well, forgotten, just like the title says, as he just likes teaching everyone martial arts.

Our hero plans to live out his days in the jungle, but Thompson’s orders send him back to ‘Nam with the goal of rescuing POWs. Instead, he works with the Viet Cong to try and kill Steve, pausing to assault and murder the wife of our protagonist. Somehow, Steve gas a sword and darned if he isn’t going to kill everyone in the Philippines — sorry, Vietnam — to get the payback that his warrior spirit demands.

This movie kills so many bad guys that it needs two directors, Nick Cacas (Deadly Commando) and Charlie Ordoñez (Jungle Wolf). Parrish would return in that movie, as well as Return Fire: Jungle Wolf III, which of course has nothing to do with any of these movies.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Body Slam (1986)

This movie nearly didn’t come out. Dirk Benedict, who stars in Body Slam, has said that he and director Hal Needham (MegaforceRad) fought with the film’s writer/producer team of Steve Burkow and Shel Lytton. Burkow didn’t have any other writing credits, but Lytton wrote a series of teen books titled Mustang and a few episodes of Death Valley Days. However, they were lawyers, and between the verbal and physical fights, lawsuits kept the movie out of theaters for an entire summer. It ended up going straight to video.

Also, and this is my favorite part of this movie, Benedict needed smartened up to the wrestling business. He plays M. Harry Smilac in this, a music promoter who only has one band left, Kick*. After falling for Candace (Tanya Roberts), Smilac tries to hire Rick Roberts (Roddy Piper in his second acting role after playing Leatherneck Joe Grady in The One and Only; his nickname is “Quick Rick,” which is ironic as Piper feuded with “Quick Draw” Rick McGraw in WWF before that man’s untimely death) to be a performer before learning that he’s a wrestler. So he ends up managing Rick and his tag partner Tonga Tom (Sam Fatu, the Tonga Kid who was wrestling Madison Square Garden at the age of 18, ironically feuding with Piper; you can also see him teaming with Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell to battle The Fabulous Freebirds in Highlander; he’s considered a relative of The Rock) and they have a pretty good run until they start dealing with politics.

Let me tell you, as someone who has spent way too many years in independent wrestling, I get it, M. Harry.

Captain Lou Murano (Captain Lou Albano, who had appeared in Below the Belt and Wise Guys before this) and his men, The Cannibals (Sione “The Barbarian” Vailahi and Tom “T. Joe Khan” Cassett) hurt all three of our leads and get them blacklisted, so they start booking themselves on outlaw rock and wrestling shows, getting back to the big time just in time to get a world tag title match.

This movie, beyond wrestling, has lots of 70s stars in it, such as John Astin, Charles Nelson Reilly and Billy Barty. And if you look carefully enough during the main event, you can spot Ric Flair, Freddie Blassie, Adnan Al-Kaissie, Bruno Sammartino and Alexis Smirnoff during the match.

Speaking of that main event, the crowd turned on the match as they could see that the moves were being redone for filming. At this time, there was no such thing as sports entertainment. As fans began to say the f word — fake — all of the wrestlers started brawling for real, even throwing Needham out of the ring. It took a ton of people to break up the fight, leading to chaos amongst the crowd, cast and even the crew. When they all got backstage, Piper finally smartened Dirk Benedict up as to why they had to make everyone believe that it was real.

You can watch this on Tubi or buy the 2K scan blu ray from Kino Lorber.

*Kick is made up of drummer Jack D’Amore (Rock Rose), Kelley Dillard, David Hallowren and Bruce Wallenstein, who composed the soundtracks to Twisted Nightmare and Demon Wind.

Alone in the T-Shirt Zone (1986)

Writer/director/t-shirt designer/sound man and probably everything else Mike B. Anderson went from creating this to working on The Simpsons. None of that will prepare you for this movie.

Michael Mikaele is in an insane asylum, a place where his doctor assaults him while he sleeps in a coma, trapped in his mind, a victim of the past where he’s made t-shirts for the last eight years. He once made a shirt for a girl and it said Foxy Lady, but she left him, took the money from the profits and now he keeps making that shirt day after day after day. And when he tries to escape, he just ends up at parties where every woman seems to be wearing that Foxy Lady shirt.  Finally, after a series of t-shirts with the logos of body organs come out of his chest, he ends up back where the film started.

Somehow, New Concorde got the rights to this movie and had to figure out how to sell it. Maybe make it seem like a sex comedy instead of a voyage into arty sadness? Or do what they did in Argentina and change the title to Sexy Lady? Can you imagine being a horny teen and renting this, then realizing that you got a paean to hopelessness?

You can watch this on YouTube.

Welcome to 18 (1986)

Joey (Mariska Hargitay, daughter of Mickey and Jayne Mansfield, who is probably on your TV right now on one of many episodes of Law and Order), Lindsey (Courtney Thorne-Smith) and Robin (Lindsey JoAnn Willette) are three high school graduates out to have fun for their last summer, which leads to a job at a dude ranch and then a casino and then, well, a night in jail.

If there’s one thing you can learn from this movie, it’s that you can have cocaine in jail and use it as makeup and none of the guards will know the difference.

This is the only movie Terry Carr ever directed. Carr usually worked as a production manager (King KongBad Ronald) or a producer (Predator 2Double Impact). Sadly, he died in 2005 when he had a heart attack. Even worse, his 9-year-old daughter Ariekla’s body was found under his in the back of his car a day after he left his wife behind in a grocery store. He’d been acting strangely in the days before his death, including dumping all of his important paperwork and photos in a field.

Back to School (1986)

I always wondered if William Atherton and Billy Zapka had a support group. They’re great actors, but they seemed to excel at one role: being the absolute biggest jerks possible. I’d love to see a movie where they were in community service together, trying to right their wrongs, but slowly seething that society is throwing trash at them when they’re trying to clean a highway, knowing that they’re going to eventually become bullies again, but this time in the service of good. Their case worker? Ron Silver.

Anyways, Back to School was dedicated to Estelle Endler, Rodney Dangerfield’s longtime manager who guided him in his second time as a stand-up and got him into movies, where he’d find the kind of eternal life that he never could have dreamed of in his youth. To say Rodney had a hard life was life saying he told jokes. So many of them — “I was so ugly my parents had to hang a pork chop around my neck to get the dog to play with me.” — come from the pain he felt as an abandoned child.

Born Jacob Rodney Cohen, he claimed that his mother never kissed, hugged or showed any sign of affection toward him; he was also molested by a neighbor. He legally changed his name to Jack Roy at the age of 19, following the father who left him behind by taking his name and telling jokes and working as a singing waiter in the Catskills. After he was fired, he went into selling aluminum siding.

When he went back into comedy in the 60s, he was in deep debt and couldn’t get booked. That’s when he realized he’d need a hook. His new name Rodney Dangerfield came from a Jack Benny routine — indeed, Benny even visited him once backstage and complimented him on his act — and came from a place he understood very well: he got no respect.

In just a few years, he’d headline Vegas and own his own club, a place where young comedians came to get a break. Rodney never forgot what it was like to struggle and gave so many young performers their start. He also kept struggling mentally throughout his life, using marijuana to self-medicate.

Unlike his stand-up persona and maybe even the real Jacob/Jack/Rodney, his film characters in movies like Caddyshack and Easy Money were portrayed as successful, happy and popular men. However, they had gone from nothing to something all on their own, thereby becoming the enemy of the ruling rich. They may have money, but Rodney’s characters would never truly be part of the 1%.

Yet despite their success, the club of Hollywood kept him at arm’s length. Dangerfield was rejected for membership in the Motion Picture Academy in 1995 by the head of the Academy’s Actors Section, Roddy McDowall. His fans protested and the Academy reconsidered, but Dangerfield then refused their membership.

Actually, those fans were really important to him. He was the first celebrity to operate a website and he’d often directly e-mail the fans who visited the site, which had to be a huge surprise.

Rodney used to say, “I tell ya I get no respect from anyone. I bought a cemetery plot. The guy said, “There goes the neighborhood!”” That phrase is emblazoned on his tombstone. Man, I get teared up even thinking about Rodney, because while I never met the man, he meant so much to me and my family. I’d get the opportunity to stay up late if we knew he was on Carson and I can still recall a riotous screening of Easy Money where the film was barely audible from all the laughing from my father and uncle.

Anyways — Back to School is the big starring role from Rodney, the chance to shine on his own. He plays yet another of his regular guys made good, Thornton Melon. His plus-size clothing stores have made him rich, yet he can’t connect with his son Jason (Keith Gordon). After leaving his newest wife (Adrienne Barbeau), he goes, well, Back to School to be part of his son’s life. But he does it as only a rich man can, taking over most of the campus and living it up while his son pretty much is embarrassed.

This film completely understands the pure comic formula: set up a simple premise and allow hijinks to ensue. To wit: A rich regular guy goes back to school and hijinks ensue.

Those hijinks include Burt Young as Rodney’s tough butler and best friend, Robert Downey Jr. as his son’s punk roommate, Kurt Vonnegut as a guest speaker hired by Rodney, a romance with Sally Kellerman*, a memorable Sam Kinison cameo and the aforementioned Zapka being, well, Billy Zapka.

And oh yeah, the Triple Lindy.

This film is pretty autobiographical in parts, as Rodney was a diver and truck driver in his youth. I’ve always loved its message that he may have changed with wealth, but he’s remained a kind-hearted man throughout it all. Harold Ramis was one of the co-writers and his comedic sensibilities really help the picture.

For metal fans, you can hear Michael Bolton’s pre-crooner metal song “Everybody’s Crazy” during a party scene, and the Alice Cooper song “The Great American Success Story” was intended to be in this film. It appears on Constrictor and features the lyrics “Back to school, he’s gonna take that plunge.”

We all need more Rodney in our lives.

You can watch this on Tubi.

*She lives in Tommy Doyle’s house from Halloween. Seriously.

Meatballs III: Summer Job (1986)

The Meatballs movies aren’t big on continuity, seeing as how Meatballs 2 wasn’t even intended to be a sequel. But at least the third one brings back Rudy, now all grown up and Patrick Dempsey. Over the summer, he’s working and working at a marina for Mean Gene.

Sure, I guess that works, the producers thought. But what if, since the last one had an alen, this episode of the Meatballs story has the ghost of an adult movie star played by Sally Kellerman? What if she has to help our protagonist lose his virginity? And what if her boss was Shannon Tweed? Now we have a movie, they shouted, and shoved their faces into a mountain of white powder.

Yes if Roxy Dujour can’t get Rudy in bed with a lady, she goes to Hell. The God of the Meatballs continuity is definitely one that movies in very, very mysterious ways.

Director George Mendeluk also made The Kidnapping of the President and Doin’ Time, a movie I have been hunting down for a long time.

The Breakfast Club (1985)

I was with this movie when I was thirteen until the end.

John Bender (Judd Nelson), Claire Standish (Molly Ringwald), Andrew Clark (Emilio Estevez), Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall) and Allison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy) all have their own reasons for a Saturday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. detention with Vice Principal Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason). Before they leave, each of them must write a thousand-word essay that describes who they think they are.

Despite the fact that they all come from different worlds, they’re all living similar lives, crushed by parents who either give them too much or not enough attention. In one day, they all learn that they could be friends.

John Hughes, who wrote, produced and directed this film pretty much ran the 80s when it came to teen films. Of course, the error in this film, the one that never makes sense to me, is when Allison gives up her quirky individuality to put on makeup and become like everyone else. Even when I was young it felt hollow and it seems even more empty today.

P.J. O’Rourke, who worked with Hughes at the National Lampoon, summed up the film in a way that makes me question so much of it. He said that the movie lives up to Hughes’s politics, in that the students do not organize a protest together but, “like good conservatives do, as individuals and place the highest value, like this conservative does, on goofing off. Otherwise known as individual liberty.”

Everyone wants to have a moment of rebellion but when faced with the opportunity, so many of us put on makeup and try to fit right in.

Thrashin’ (1986)

For all the love that people have for Rad, let me tell you, Trashin’ was just as big in the video rental stores of my youth. Maybe it’s because I skated and so much of my culture came from Thrasher Magazine, but this movie is just as good to me, if not as celebrated today. I mean, Vinegar Syndrome isn’t rushing out a 4K of this one.

Corey Webster (Josh Brolin!) is an amateur skateboarder new to L.A. who wants to win a downhill competition when he meets Chrissy (Pamela Gidley, Cherry 2000 herself!), a girl who knocks him for a loop. She just happens to be the sister of Hook (Robert RuslerA Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge), the leader of The Daggers, a punk rock skateboard gang who now wants to knock out our hero.

Sure, it all works out, but along the way, some of the greatest skaters of the 80s show up, like Tony Alva, Tony Hawk, Lance Mountain, Christian Hosoi and Steve Caballero. There are also appearances by Brooke McCarter (Paul of The Lost Boys), Brett Marx (Jimmy Feldman from The Bad News Bears movies) and Josh Richman, who directed several Guns ‘n Roses videos. Oh yeah — Sherilyn Fenn plays Velvet, one of the Daggers’ girls.

The soundtrack to this is kinda all over the place, with a theme song by Meat Loaf, of all people, yet there are plenty of scene correct punk and metal shirts, as well as Fear and the Circle Jerks songs. Perhaps the best music part of this film is an appearance by the Freaky Styley-era Red Hot Chili Peppers, back before anyone cared who they were and they’d show up in movies like this and Tough Guys.

Director David Winters started his career as an actor, showing up on Broadway in West Side Story and Gypsy before becoming a choreographer — he was the first to choreograph the Watusi, originated the Freddie and helped Elvis and Ann-Margaret dance in Viva Las Vegas. His first directorial effort was the Alice Cooper film Welcome to my Nightmare and he also was behind the Joe Spinell movie The Last Horror Film. His producing credits are insane, with everything from Linda Lovelace for Presidentto Young Lady ChatterleyKiller Workout and owned Action International Pictures, where David Prior made all manner of films.

So yeah. Thrashin’. Go find it.

*Lovelace dated Winters after divorcing Chuck Traynor. She credited him for introducing her to culture.

BRUNO MATTEI WEEK: White Apache (1986)

What makes the Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso duo so intriguing is that they would often make two movies at the same time.

During the making of Scalps, this film was also being made. This is much like how Violence In a Women’s Prison and Women’s Prison Massacre or The Other Hell and The True Story of the Nun of Monza feature similar casts and storylines but emerge as different films. Fragasso may have directed this entire movie uncredited, depending on who you ask.

A team of outlaws attack a band of settlers and kill everyone except a pregnant woman who dies in childbirth, but not before her child is adopted by a tribe of Native Americans. Given the name Shining Sky (Sebastian Harrison, Sodoma’s Ghost), he is raised by Chief White Bear (Italian western vet José Canalejas) as an equal to his son Black Wolf. Yet during a competition for the affections of Rising Star (Lola Forner, Wheels on Meals), Black Wolf is accidentally killed and our hero is forced to leave his tribe.

Settling amongst the white man, he acts as if he is mute. However, when Isabella (Cinzia de Ponti, so memorably killed on the ferry in The New York Ripper) flirts with him and cries rape when he rebuffs her, he’s run out of town by the henchmen of the governor (Alberto Farnese, who was in Scalps). Left to die in the wilderness, he’s rescued by Crazy Bull (Charles Borromel, The Blade Master) and must recover in time to stop Ryder (Charly Bravo, Panic Beats) from coming back to kill him.

White Apache is based on the true story of Santiago McKinn, an Irish boy who was taken by the Apache tribe and refused to leave them even when they were arrested by government forces. It was written by José María Cunillés (who also wrote Virus for Mattei) and Francesco Prosperi (who directed The Last House on the Beach, Gunan, King of the Barbarians and The Throne of Fire).

I’m at a loss why Mattei decided to make two westerns in 1986. Part of me was thinking he was following the Hollywood mini-revival that started with Silverado. Another thinks that he was excited that Tex and the Lords of the Deep and Django Strikes Again were being released and the cycle of Italian westerns would begin all over again. That said, I really enjoyed both films that came out of this Spanish location shoot and wish that Mattei had made more of these types of movies.