Banzai Runner (1987)

We’ve mentioned this VHS potboiler in passing during our reviews of Rocktober Blood and Larry Buchanan’s Down on Us (you know how it works: we’ll get to that tidbit, later). Thanks to Sam dreaming up a “Fast and Furious” tribute week — and his excavating the Jim Drake 1989 VHS uber-obscurity, Speed Zone — we finally have an excuse to give this grandfather to the The Fast and the Furious franchise a review proper: a fictional film based on the real life problem of “Banzai Runners” speeding along the desert asphalt strip of the I-15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Courtesy of Retro Daze.org

As you can tell from the box, ubiquitous TV actor Dean Stockwell stars in this direct-to-video romp. But don’t be copywriter-duped. In no way is this comparable to his work in the superior films noted under his name. And while modern audience will recognized Stockwell for his later TV work in the series Quantum Leap, JAG, and SyFy’s Battlestar Galactica reboot, we, the B&S crew, will always remember Stockwell for his work in the Jack Nicholson-starring counterculture flick, Psych-Out (1968), and his starring with Sandra Dee in The Dunwich Horror (1970).

Stockwell’s greatest strength is not only how easily he transitions from TV to film and back again, but how he can take the lead in (and inspire us to rent) a low-budget actioner, then show up in smaller roles in A-List films for Francis Ford Coppola (Gardens of Stone and The Rainmaker), William Freidkin (To Live and Die in L.A.), David Lynch (Dune, Blue Velvet), and Wolfgang Peterson (Air Force One). He is, simply put: Eric Roberts before Eric Roberts. Hell, he’s Bruce Campbell before Bruce Campbell. He’s the good actor you put in a bad movie — and he still gives us his all and “sells the role” to the home video masses.

Banzai Runner, while a commendable attempt to chronicle a factual event wrapped in a fictional tale (as with illegal street racing in The Fast and the Furious), failed in the home video market as result of its ambition-over budget. It became the only feature film writing credit for animation-scripter Phil Harnage, who is a “shooting fish in a barrel” type of writer when it comes to cartoons. You haven’t not seen his work, which dates all the way back to Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert, along with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, The Adventures of Super Mario, G.I Joe, The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, and Double Dragon. In the producer and director’s chair is John G. Thomas, whose slight resume gave us not only Banzai Runner, but Dean Stockwell’s brother-in-arms, Michael Parks (Kill Bill: Vol. 1), in Arizona Heat (1988), starring alongside his cop-buddy Denise “Tasha Yar” Crosby (American Satan).

That’s how it goes in the B&S About Movies universe. Not everyone is destined for a television-to-theatrical career.

So Stockwell is Highway Patrolman Billy Baxter. And he’s worn out dealing with the rebel-rousing drunk gamblers on his Nevada stretch of highway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. But what really pisses him off is that the brass turned down his request to modify his police cruiser so he can keep up with the so called “Banzai Runners”: the unapprehendable, rich elitists who zip by him in their supercharged, high-powered Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Ah, but those speed demons aren’t speeding for kicks: they’re running drugs for Syszek — played by requisite screen villain Billy Drago (Hunter’s Blood, Invasion U.S.A).

Baxter eventually goes “Mad Max” when Syszek kills his brother and orphans his nephew, now in his care. So his mechanic buddy upgrades his cruiser (courtesy of the only other notable actor in the cast, Charles Dierkop, aka Det. Pete Royster from TV’s Police Woman; but remembered best for his work in Angels Hard as They Come, The Hot Box, Messiah of Evil, and Silent Night, Deadly Night). When the brass has enough and strips Baxter of his badge, he’s ripe for DEA recruitment to go undercover in the dark world of the “Banzai Runners” and take his revenge os Syszek. (Have you ever notice villains have cool, Euro-ethnic names with lots of consonants of the w, x, y, z variety? I guess Billy Drago as “Sam Miller” or “Joe Smith” doesn’t “ring true,” does it?)

Oh, by the way: This is the type of film where the cars don’t speed on the roads in real time: they acquire their “speed” in post-production via speeding up the film.

Yes. They’re fast and furious, indeed.

“Hey, wait! What about the trivia about Rocktober Blood and Down on Us?”

Oh, yeah, thanks for reminding me. So, Riba Meryl (passed away in 2007) stars here Donna, one of the film’s minor characters. Part of the Sunset Strip’s ’80s hair-metal scene, she came to co-write the faux-rock epic “Rainbow Eyes” with Sorcery’s Richard Taylor for Rocktober Blood — and was cast aside for fellow Las Vegas transplant Susie Rose Major to vocalize the tune as Lynn Staring. Prior to her second and final acting gig in Bonzai Runner — as result of her session work with Randy Nicklaus and Jerry Riopelle on the film’s never released soundtrack — she portrayed Janis Joplin in the speculative 1984 rock flick, Down on Us.

The soundtrack for Bonzai Runner features songs written and performed by Randy Nicklaus, who’s engineered records for Alias, Blondie, Contraband (aka Michael Schenker), INXS, Motley Crue, Vixen, and Yes; he also placed songs on the soundtracks to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and The Wraith. Detroit-born Jerry Riopelle and his band members, Joel Goldsmith and Kevin Dukes, have placed songs in projects as diverse as Crystal Heart, Hollywood Hot Tubs, and Paramedics. Sadly, we lost Jerry Riopelle in 2018. Goldsmith scores can be heard in Moon 44, Laserblast, and The Rift, and, most recently in the Stargate TV-universe.

You can watch — the one lone copy — of Banzai Runner for free on You Tube . . . and keep your eyes open for those 50 mph cars film-sped to 200 mph in the Arizona heat. And yes . . . you can watch Arizona Heat on You Tube.

There’s only one tune isolated from the film on You Tube: “It’s Everything” by Jerry Riopelle. You can listen to more of his work on his You Tube page. There’s also a wealth of Randy Nicklaus’s work on You Tube.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Asesino Nocturno (1987)

Sometimes, your quest for Mexican gold is fruitful. Other times, you discover movies like this, which translates as Night Killer. If you’re thinking — I bet this is a lot like a giallo, you’d be right. But it’s not all that great, I hate to report.

Actually, I take some of that back. Once you get past the cops — who are the most boring parts of any giallo, so director Fernado Duran Rojas gets that right. He also gets the blasting synth parts and lots of gruesome murders correct as well. Yes, that’s right. The same guy who made El Extrano Hijo del Sheriff, which is nuanced by comparison to this.

Edna Bolkan — who was Olivia, the heroine of Grave Robbers and also Don’t Panic right around the same time this was made — is the final girl. Actually, she played Olivia in Cemetery of Terror, too.

That said — if you’re getting into Mexican horror, I can think of a few better films. Same as if you’re looking for a giallo. Let me make the mistakes so you don’t have to.

 

REPOST: La Venganza de los Punks (1987)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This movie originally appeared on our site on October 29, 2018. As we’re covering Mexican films all week long, I feel like this is the perfect time to remind everyone how perfect and wonderful and special this little oddball film is.

The sequel to 1980’s Intrepidos Punks, this one ups the ante from the very first five minutes. After Tarzan (luchador El Fantasma, father to NXT star El Hijo del Fantasma) is freed from prison, he instantly gets revenge on the man who put him away, Marco (Juan Valentin) by interrupting the cop’s daughter’s quinceanera. His gang proceeds to rape and kill every single person there, leaving Marco alive so that he can be tormented by his loss.

Let me sum this up the best way I can: Tarzan and his gang look like the best Italian post-apocalyptic movie ever, if a Mexican wrestler led a gang that’s mostly made up of Japanese women wrestlers circa the Crush Girls era that had constant Satanic orgies. Tarzan even yells, “Long live death, cocaine, marijuana and alcohol!” at one point, sending me into ecstatic bliss.

Marco’s partner says that “We are all guilty. We are all accomplices. All of us!” Probably no one listened to the police chief when he claimed that the gang was only the tip of the iceberg at the end of  the last film. Now, Marco is getting kicked off the force, slowly eating soup and planning his horrible vengeance on the gang.

This movie quite literally comes from inside my brain. It’s the only place where luchadors can lead Satanist drug gangs against an ex-cop willing to take things so far that he pours acid on people, all whilst a surf punk band jams out and curvy dancers gyrate to their completely offbeat (and off beat) performance. Everybody has aluminum foil on their spikes or metallic hair or is naked or has a bad dye job or looks likes the random dudes you beat up in Final Fight. Throw in a black mass where a goat is beheaded and devoured and you have the feel good movie of 1987!

The only thing I don’t like about this movie is its ending, which Roberto Ewing explains away the entire movie as one bad dream. Fuck that. If you just stop the movie right before that, all will be much better with your world. I also want there to be more movies in this series and am willing to Kickstart anything that attempts to make this happen.

Beaks: The Movie (1987)

Not to be confused with Beaks: The Novel, this movie is also known as El Ataque de los Pajaros (The Attack of the Birds), Birds of Prey, Evil Birds and Beaks: The Birds 2, which is some Bruno Mattei-level skullduggery.

It was directed by Rene Cardona Jr., who made King of the Gorillas after King KongTintorera after Jaws and Survive! after an Uruguayan rugby team crashed in the Andes Mountain and ate one another. So what you need to know is that this is a filmmaker who only cares about entertaining you, not lawyers or the sensibilities of average folk. This is a guy who had so much fun making a film with cannibalism in it that he went back and did it again with Cyclone and got some Hollywood stars to go along for the ride.

Rene, I love your whole family. I love your father and his films. I love your son and his movies. And man, you know what’s up. I have no idea what you were trying to do here, but as a friend, I’m going to sit through it.

Michelle Johnson started her acting career leaving modelling behind and needing to meet with a judge before appearing topless at age 17 in Blame It On Rio. The rest of her career was spent in movies that I can instantly point to her being in, like WaxworkBlood TiesDr. Giggles and the Andrew Stevens-directed Illicit Dreams.

She’s starring with another actor who got famous getting naked on a beach in some form of explotation magic kismet. Christopher Atkins was all of 19 when he appeared alongside Brooke Shields in The Blue Lagoon, playing cousins shipwrecked on an island who are destined to aggressively cuddle because it was 1980 and incest was seemingly everywhere (a cursory look at Pornhub says, nope, it hasn’t gone anywhere).

They both ended up on Dallas as well, with Johnson showing up in the TV movie Dallas: War of the Ewings and the rebooted 2000’s version, while Atkins played camp counselor Peter Richards for the 1983 season. He also had a singing career — “How Can I Live Without Her” peaked at #71 on the Billboard charts — and appeared in movies like ShakmaMortuary Academy and The Little Unicorn before becoming a luxury pool builder and fishing lure inventor.

Here, the twosome play Vanessa, a television reporter, and Pete, her cameraman. They’re investigating stories of farmers being attacked by their chickens and then go to Spain to meet the survivors of similar attacks thirty years ago.

You have to give it to Cardona, because he realizes, “¡Hola, no soy Hitchcock!” and goes full gonzo, having children decimated by birds at a birthday party and a farmer and his wife killed by doves, the very symbol of peace.

Why are the birds doing this? Because they’re had enough with men and this time, it’s personal. As it always is, really.

Gabriele Tinti, who usually is in Joe D’Amato stuff like The Crawlers and Endgame, shows up here, uniting two of my favorite scummy movie worlds. Aldo Sambrell is also here, probably telling everyone at catering how many Sergio Leone movies he was in. I kid! They didn’t have a catering budget.

This movie still isn’t as bad as the Rick Rosenthal-directed The Birds II: Land’s End. That is such a small bar to trip over, however.

Anguish (1987)

This sixth directing effort and second English language film intended for the American market by Spain’s Bigas Luna is mistakenly dismissed as a Spanish giallo ripoff of Demons (1985).

In reality, Luna wasn’t inspired by that Lamberto Bava and Dario Argento co-production: he was inspired “The Sandman,” an 1816 German short story by E.T.A Hoffman, which appeared in his book Die Nachtstucke, aka The Night Pieces. The story moves from a subjective-objective-subjective narrative across three stories-within-stories by way of three letters regarding a protagonist trapped in a world of hallucinations and reality, as he deals with his childhood-based post-traumatic stress regarding the horrific tales of “The Sandman”—who was said to steal the eyes of children.

All the eyes of the city will be ours.”
—Mother Alice Pressman

And “The Sandman” in Luna’s interpretation, Mother Pressman, was almost portrayed by Betty Davis (Burnt Offerings). Could you imagine a ten-time nominated and two-time Oscar winning actress chanting this other classic line from the film?

“For years you were like a snail, hiding, happy. Hiding, happy.”

It almost happened.

Sadly, due to a scheduling conflict with The Whales of August (a very good romantic drama with Vincent Price and Lillian Gish), Davis turned down the role. And while she would have been amazing, we got Tangina Barrons from Poltergeist, aka Zelda Rubenstein, in the bargain—and she brought us one of the most diabolical mothers to the big screen since Mama Bates in Psycho. And for his tortured “Nathanael” from Hoffman’s story, Luna brought on Oscar nominated character actor Michael Lerner, who modern audiences of the Marvel Universe know as Senator Brickman in X-Men: Days of Future Past and Mayor Ebert in Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla ’98.

As the film opens, we meet Lerner’s timid mamma’s boy, John Pressman, a diabetic ophthalmologist’s assistant who’s going blind. And his psychic mother’s prone to hypnotizing him and sending him out with his surgical tools to collect eyes for her.

By the wrap of the first act, it’s revealed we’re inside a Los Angeles movie theatre, The Rex, which is showing a horror film, The Mommy—that stars Rubenstein and Lerner. As the film plays on, the theatre patrons begin to experience symptoms of mass hypnosis from the film, suffering anxiety attacks, disorientation, nausea, and eye strain. The psychosis eventually inspires a man in The Rex to start killing patrons and employees—in sync with the killings committed in the film The Mommy.

And this is the point of the review where my passion for this masterpiece from Bigas Luna goes off the rails and I expose the entire film in a manic run-on sentence. So, we’ll stop here. For this is a movie that you must watch—and not read about.

Released before Richard Martin’s Matinee (1989) and Alan Ormsby’s Popcorn (1991) more mainstream film-within-film romps, Anguish is Bigas Luna’s masterpiece. It is the film that should have broken him to mainstream American audiences and been a runaway success on par with Halloween.

Sadly, a John Carpenter, Sean S. Cunningham, or Wes Craven-like success was not in the cards for Luna. As with Reborn, Luna’s 1981 religious thriller starring Dennis Hopper and Michael Moriatry, Anguish (aka Angustia), bombed, making less than $300,000 in U.S box office. But at a meager budget of $2 million, in conjunction with video rentals, it became one of Luna’s biggest hits in the worldwide marketplace.

This one has everything you want in a giallo—be it an Italian original or Spanish variant: Victorian furnishings, metallic wallpapers, telepathy via conch shells, crazed pigeons, snails, and eye surgery. Seriously, snails are cozying up to pigeons. Birds fall behind china hutches and get stuck between walls. Snails are crushed. Eyes are poked. It’s an M.C Escher “Magic Mirror” of insanity that’ll send Freud screaming from the theatre ranting that it’s all about a fear of castration. That’s Freud for you: right to the penis. The fact that the constant reference of spirals and the spiral formation inside the conch (snail shell) is symbolic of infinity, was lost on Freud, it seems. Why is it always about the schlong, Siggy?

Me? I’m just in awe of Michael Lerner from Harlem Nights and Maniac Cop 2 going meta-giallo and moving from film-to film-to film scooping out eyes for his momma like a god boy should. And my only “anguish” with this film is that I didn’t experience it in a movie theatre as intended—and on a VHS tape as everyone eventually did.

There’s no free online rips or PPV-VOD streams? Well, at least the DVDs and Blus are all over the online marketplace and easily obtainable. And don’t listen to Leonard Maltin and abide by his stuffy Movie Guides—which awarded Anguish 2.5 out of 4 stars. Listen to Sam. Listen to me. Listen to Matthew Diebler and Jacob Gillman who reference this Luna masterpiece in their neo-giallo The Invisble Mother: watch his movie.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Bay Coven (1987)

Remember Heroes, that show that had such an amazing first season and then never did anything ever again? Well, that show and this movie were both written by Tim Kring.

Jerry (Tim Matheson, Buried Alive) and Linda (Pamela Sue Martin, who once was Nancy Drew) are sick of the big city, so when their friends Josh (Jeff Conaway!) and Debbi (Susan Ruttan, who has been in so many movies, butyou know that I’m going to bring up Bad Dreams) tell them all about a place called Bay Cove out in the country that seems a little too perfect.

Woody Harrelson is in this as Linda’s friend Slater, way before anyone really knew who he was. There’s all manner of sinister occult goings on, as there always are in TV movies where city folks move to the country.  He’s the Hutch of this movie.

Speaking of Rosemary’s Baby, Barbara Billingsley fulfills the role of the Old Hollywood — in this case, TV Land — star who surely is in cahoots with the Left Hand Path. Surely Beaver and Wally had no idea just what their mother was getting up to. Or down to, as the case may be.

I kind of love that the guy who played Old Man Klein, John Dee — not the scriber of angels — has an IMDB resume made up of roles like Old Man in Adventures In Babysitting, Old Man in Park in Mom, the Wolfman and Me, Old Man in Lobby in Switching Channels and Old Man in Jail in City of Shadows.

Also, because I’ve watched way too much television, I instantly recognized Nigel Bennett, who was Lucien LaCroix, the vampire who turned Nick Knight on Forever Knight.

Director Carl Schenkel also made The Surgeon and Tarzan and the Lost City, which starred Casper Van Dien which I knew without the benefit of IMDB because I have issues, as well as the TV movie remake of Murder on the Orient Express.

You can watch this on YouTube:

Words

Strange Voices (1987)

Arthur Allan Seidelman made his directing debut creating the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Hercules in New York. Somehow, they allowed him to keep making movies, including this TV movie all about a family dealing with schizophrenia.

Nancy McKeon is Nicole, a college student who suddenly goes off the rails due to the disease. Her family — Valerie Harper, Stephen Macht and Tricia Leigh Fisher — don’t understand.

Marta Kristen — June Robinson! — and Millie Perkins, who was in The Diary of Anne Frank, are also on hand.

If you ever wanted to see Jo from Faces of Life yell things like, “I am turning to stone. Every time I start to feel something, you give me another pill and I turn into stone!” then I advise you watch this.

Here it is on YouTube:

Firehouse (1987)

When someone asks, “What was Julia Roberts’ first movie?” you can tell them it was as Babs in the 1987 sex comedy Firehouse, despite her not appearing in the credits. She’d have to wait until the next year and Satisfaction to see her name up on the screen.

This was made by J. Christian Ingvordsen, who would eventually go full auteur and write, direct and star in Blue Vengeance. Here, however, he’s made a film about some young ladies who have to deal with the seamier side of firefighting and convince the boys that they can make it.

Take it from someone who watched but this and Fireballs. They’re both horrible, but at least that one has some a talking bird and aggressively tries to be so bad. This one just…is.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol (1987)

On Rotten Tomatoes, this movie has a rare approval rating of 0%, meaning no favorable reviews whatsoever. I’m going to say it right here and now: fuck you Rotten Tomatoes. Fuck you for ruining great looking posters with your shitty logo, fuck you for weaponizing criticism and fuck you for not having the sense of humor collectively to love this movie.

Well, I feel better. I’m also never getting to be a certified viewer on that site.

When he’s not talking to his fish Birdie, Commandant Eric Lassard has a good idea every now and then. Because the police force is overworked and understaffed, he’s recruiting civilian volunteers to work with his officers in a program called “Citizens On Patrol” (COP).

This movie neatly reinvents the premise of the first film, with Sergeant Carey Mahoney (Steve Guttenberg), Hightower (Bubba Smith), Jones (Michael Winslow), Tackleberry (David Graf), Sweetchuck (Tim Kazurisnky), Zed (Bobcat Goldthwait), Tackleberry’s wife Kathleen (Colleen Camp), Callahan (Leslie Easterbrook), Hooks (Marion Ramsey), and Nagata (Brian Tochi) training the new class while Captain Harris (G.W. Bailey) and Proctor (Lance Kinsey) back to torment them.

The Citizens on Patrol are played by Corinne Bohrer as Zed’s love interest Laura (she’s also in Joysticks, the immortal Surf IIZapped! and Stewardess School, so you know she’s in my soul); voiceover actor Derek McGrath as Milt Butterworth; Scott Thomson — not from Kids In the Hall — as Sgt. Chad Copeland; Billie Bird as Tackleberry’s new best friend Mrs. Lois Feldman; David Spade (with Tony Hawk doing his skateboard stunts) as Kyle Rumford; Brian Backer (Rat from Fast Times At Ridgemont High) as Arnie Lewis and Tab Thacker (who would return to the series) as Tommy “House” Conklin.

If you were a skater back in 1987, this movie meant a lot to you. Beyond Hawk, Steve Caballero, Chris Miller, Tommy Guerrero, Lance Mountain and Mike McGill — pretty much the entire Bones Brigade — do an elaborate skating sequence. Stacy Peralta worked as the second-unit director on the film and ended up having to replace Hawk as David Spade’s stunt double as he was too tall.

They skate to Woodbine Centre, where Shazam! and The Freshman were also filmed before they get busted and forced into the COP — again, much like Mahoney in the initial film in this series.

Randall “Tex” Cobb and several gangs — including ninjas — end the movie pretty much reenacting Death Wish 3 without all the rape and gore.

Also, in the tradition of future big stars being in these movies, Sharon Stone plays Mahoney’s love interest. She attributes the collapse of her first marriage to why she made this movie, saying “hanging out with a gang of comedians, it was the best therapy.”

While this movie was being made, the cast also appeared in a full-motion Police Academy video game for Hasbro’s NEMO console. NBA Jam creator Mark Turmell told Polgyon, ““We actually made an interactive Police Academy game,” he says. “With the actors. We actually went down and had all of the production, weeks of filming, and it was all interactive. You could choose this path or that path. Everything was a big flow chart — that was a very exciting project.”

When Hasbro pulled the funding for the VHS powered video game system, the footage went away too. Somewhere, it still exists — a lost Police Academy film.

 

Summer School (1987)

Wondering why Summer School is still funny 33 years later and a lot of these Police Academy-style movies are dated? It was directed by Carl Reiner, who knows funny.

It was written by Jeff Franklin, who was also behind Just One of the Guys and created Full House and its Netflix spin-off Fuller House, which he was removed from after #metoo complaints. Oddly enough, he owned 10050 Cielo Drive, which he demolished and replaced with a new house before listing it for sale in 2019.

Phys Ed teacher Freddy Shoop (Mark Harmon) just wants school to be over so that he can go to Hawaii, but when Mr. Dearadorian (Reiner) retires, he gets stuck teaching summer school.

He’s left with the worst kids in school for the best time of being a teacher, which would be summer vacation. There’s Pam (a pre-Melrose Place Courtney Thorne-Smith), male exotic dancer Larry (Ken Olandt, syndicated series Super Force); Kevin the jock (Patrick Labyorteaux brother to Matthew), pregnant Rhonda (Shawnee Smith, The Blob), Alan the nerd (Richard Steven Horvitz, the voice of Alpha 5 in Power Rangers), Jerome (Duane Davis, who was in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master), exchange student Anna-Maria (Fabiana Udenio, Alotta Fagina from Austin Powers), Denise (Kelly Jo Minter, Maria from The Lost Boys) and horror film lovers Dave (Gary Riley, Charlie from Stand by Me) and Chainsaw, who is played by Dean Cameron, who this horror-obsessed fan knows was Ralph in Bad Dreams and Ralph the vampire in Rockula.

Will Freddy get Robin the history teacher (Kirstie Alley) to fall for him? Will the kids all graduate? Will there be an extended viewing of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Will hijinks, as I always say, ensue?

Of course.

This is the only Danny Elfman soundtrack that has never been released. There’s also E.G. Daily’s “Mind Over Matter,” which was originally a Debbie Harry song that she recorded and had some success with.

Ah man. More people should know about this movie. Here’s hoping that my little write-up convinces you to give it a chance.