The Phantom Empire (1988)

The Phantom Empire is a very meta film. Its title refers to the 1935 Gene Autry movie serial — which was kind of remade as part of the show Cliffhangers! — as well as having Robby the Robot in its cast, Jeffrey Combs’ character Andrew Paris saying that he went to Miskatonic University (the same school from Re-Animator) and vehicles from director Fred Olen Ray’s movie Star Slammer and Logan’s Run show up, as well as footage from 1977’s Planet of Dinosaurs. Maybe by referential sometimes I’m also saying cost-effective.

Ray got the idea for this film while filming Commando Squad in a Bronson Canyon cave. He wrote the script over the weekend and then started filming the day after Commando Squad wrapped, using the same cast and crew. That’s impressive but the original inspiration for the 1935 Phantom Empire is wilder. Writer Wallace MacDonald came up with the entire movie — plot, characters, their names, costumes, literally every single moment of the serial — while he was being treated with nitrous oxide by his dentist.

A cave creature with millions in diamonds around his neck emerges from a cave and rips someone’s head off before it’s stopped. A party is made of Cort Eastman (Ross Hagen), Denae Chambers (Susan Stokey), Andrew Paris (Combs), Professor Strock (Robert Quarry) and Eddy Colchilde (Dawn Wildsmith, Ray’s wife) to enter the caves and see what they can salvage.

They soon find a hidden world, Robby the Robot and a queen played by Sybil Danning, which is really why most people rented this. Throw in Michele Bauer as a cave girl and that’s why they definitely rented this.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Jailbird Rock (1988)

Jesse (Robin Antin, who helped form the Pussycat Dolls and choreographed Paris Hilton’s Carl’s Jr. commercial) murders her abusive stepfather and gets sent to prison, a prison filled with all the WIP cliches, like delousing showers, mean girl butchery thanks to Maxine Farmer (Rhonda Aldrich, Cynthia from Boogeyman II) and her henchwoman Echo (Robin Cleaver) and a mix between prison blues and the clothing that would define breakdance.

When I hear phrases like “women in prison plus breakdance,” a part of me passes out I get so excited and I wake up and the other part of my brain is just yelling at the screening and dancing around the room like I’m on Solid Gold in 1982.

Luckily, Jesse has the nerdy Peggy (Valerie Jean Richards, Hard Rock NightmareAppointment With Death), singing tough girl Samantha (Jacqueline Houston) and Mouse (Annie Livingstone, Skatelady from The Wizard of Speed and Time) on her side.

It also has a cruel warden played by Ron Lacey, who once he was Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark knew he’d only be slimy villains. And even though director Phillip Schuman made the X-rated Randy, which starred Juliet “Aunt Peg” Anderson and Desiree Cousteau, he forgets that most people come to WIP movies for the nudity and sleaze, not girls practicing long and involved dance numbers under the guise of escape.

Filmed in 1984 and released long after the death of the craze in 1988, you should watch this in the only way that matters: a battered VHS rip dubbed into a language that  it was not shot in.

MILL CREEK DVD RELEASE: Through the Decades: 1980s Collection: Little Nikita (1988)

River Phoenix and Sidney Poitier made one well-regarded political thriller together — Sneakers — but did you know they did another?

Directed by Richard Benjamin and written by Bo Goldman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and John Hill (Quigley Down Under), Little Nikita does what The Americans did several decades earlier. Jeffrey Nicolas Grant’s (Phoenix) parents — Richard (Richard Grant) and Elizabeth (Carolina Kava) — are really Russian deep cover agents that have actually forgotten their mission and settled into America.

Things would be fine if it weren’t for the Soviet killer called Scuba (Richard Lynch) and his mission to murder these sleeper agents one by one. Konstantin Karpov (Richard Bradford), a Soviet spy catcher, wants to stop him. And so does Roy Parmenter (Poitier), who wants revenge on Scuba for killing his partner several decades ago.

It seems like no one was happy with this movie, as Phoenix felt Benjamin treated him like a child and that the Russian characters were too simplistic. Worse, Columbia Pictures chief David Puttnam told Benjamin that it was one of the worst movies he had ever seen and tried to get editor Jim Clark to fix the film.

It bombed at the box office, as did the movie that pretty much remakes it, Abduction.

The Mill Creek Through the Decades: 1980s Collection has a ton of great movies at an affordable price. It also has Punchline, Who’s Harry Crumb?Vice VersaThe New KidsRoxanneBlue Thunder, Suspect, Band of the Hand and Like Father, Like Son. You can get this set from Deep Discount.

MILL CREEK DVD RELEASE: Through the Decades: 1980s Collection: Vice Versa (1988)

Back in 1882, F. Anstey’s wrote the novel Vice Versa and Hollywood is so happy that he died before they’d have to pay to make and remake and remake again his work. This time, Fred Savage and Judge Reinhold are Charlie and Marshall Seymoure, the father and son who must change their lives by changing identities, this time by using a supernatural skull that needs the intervention of James Hong, forever solving the supernatural problems of white people.

Director Brian Gilbert would go on to make more art-based movies like Tom & Viv while writers Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais would write Flushed Away and The Commitments. Sadly, Judge Reinhold claimed that this movie was the decline of his career, saying “That’s when the phone stopped ringing.”

Seeing as how this is on the same box set as Like Father, Like Son, it’s amazing how close both films follow the same story down to hair metal soundtrack. There are only so many ways to tell a story, yet seeing as how both movies came out within six months of one another that seems like more than a coincidence.

The Mill Creek Through the Decades: 1980s Collection has a ton of great movies at an affordable price. It also has Punchline, Little Nikita, Roxanne, The New KidsWho’s Harry Crumb?Blue ThunderSuspect, Band of the Hand and Like Father, Like Son. You can get this set from Deep Discount.

MILL CREEK DVD RELEASE: Through the Decades: 1980s Collection: Punchline (1988)

David Seltzer, who wrote The Omen and Prophecy, was excited about comedy clubs all the way back to 1979, but the script sat for years unmade before producer Daniel Melnick found it in the Columbia files. Tom Hanks Steven Gold character was the hero of the movie, but comes off so mean at parts that it just didn’t work. Instead of making this a small movie with no stars, Columbia president Steve Sohmer reached out to Sally Field, who came on board as the producer and co-star.

Both Hanks and Field worked for months to improve their timing on stage, with Hanks training with comedy writer Randy Fechter and stand-up comic Barry Sobel, while Field studied under comic Susie Essman and sitcom writer Dottie Archibald.

Steven Gold (Hanks) is a failed medical student obsessed with his stand-up career, someone who uses the skills he should have in the operating room to dissect what makes stand-up work.   Lilah Krytsick (Field) is a housewife with the dream of making a career that she can own outside of her boring life cooking dinners and raising children with her husband John (John Goodman, ironically playing the wife of a Roseanne Barr-type comedian, ironically in the same year that he would play Barr’s TV husband; fellow ABC actor Candace Cameron is one of their daughters).

The true joy of this film is in seeing the stand-ups work on their material, as well as the actors and real comedians selected to play them, like Damon Wayans, Sobel, Pam Matteson, George McGrath (the singing nun in this movie also wrote Big Top Pee-Wee), Taylor Negron (who was trained for comedy by Lucille Ball), Barry Neikrug, Angel Salazar, Mac Robbins, Max Alexander, Paul Kozlowski, Marty Pollio (a real-life juggling comedian), Casey Sander, George Wallace, Michael Pollock and Bob Zmuda as a heckler.

Romeo, the owner of the club in this movie, is played by Mark Rydell, who hadn’t acted since The Long Goodbye. He’s much better known as a director with The Rose and On Golden Pond being his best-considered movies.

Comedians are screwed up people. This movie won’t change that notion. That said, it got me emotionally a few times and has some decent moments.

The Mill Creek Through the Decades: 1980s Collection has a ton of great movies at an affordable price. It also has Like Father, Like Son, Vice Versa, Little Nikita, Roxanne, The New KidsWho’s Harry Crumb?Blue ThunderSuspect and Band of the Hand. You can get this set from Deep Discount.

April Ghouls Drive-In Monster-Rama Primer: Zombi 3 (1988)

April Ghouls Drive-In Monster-Rama is back at The Riverside Drive-In Theatre in Vandergrift, PA on April 29 and 30, 2022.

This Back to the 80s Weekend is going to be amazing!

The features for Friday, April 29 are Halloween 2Terror TrainMidnight and Effects.

Saturday, April 30 has Evil Dead 2Re-AnimatorDr. Butcher MD and Zombie 3.

Admission is still only $10 per person each night (children 12 and under free with adult) and overnight camping is available (breakfast included) for an additional $10 per person.

You can buy tickets at the show or use these links:

There is also a limited edition shirt available at the event.

Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi, our friends who brought Troll 2 to life, were the writing team behind this, setting the film in the Philippines as a cheap and convenient locale. Lucio Fulci claimed that the script was dreadful and that he tried to rewrite most of it, whereas the producers would contend that Fulci’s initial cut was a little over an hour yet felt much longer than that. They got Fragasso and Bruno Mattei to finish things up. And we’re left to watch the results.

There’s this formula called Death One, which brings back the dead. Why anyone would want to create this for the army is beyond me. But Dr. Holder realizes that this is all just a bad idea, so he resigns. As he goes to surrender his findings, criminals attack (if this movie starts to remind you of Nightmare City, you aren’t alone) and run away with Death One.

That criminal gets infected and even cutting off his own hand — oh that Fulci — can’t stop the outbreak. The hotel he ran to is condemned and General Morton orders everyone there killed and the criminal’s remains burned by his two right-hand men (played, of course, by Mattei and Fragasso).  But just like Return of the Living Dead, the ashes in the air just make things worse. The birds are infected and begin to spread the disease.

What follows is a group of victims gets introduced to us and one after another, they are wiped out with pure malice and utter glee. There are some American GI’s who mention how horny rock and roll music makes them and the girls on the bus they hook up with. There’s a tourist couple, too. No one will be spared when Death One achieves its full power.

Everyone heads to the now abandoned resort and is shocked to find so many weapons. As they are killed off, Dr. Holden looks for a cure while General Morton works on killing off every single person and animal he can find.

Soon, only five of our heroes — Kenny, Roger, Patricia, Nancy, and Joe — are still alive. As soon as I wrote this down, the soldiers kill Joe. Our survivors make their way to a hospital, where Nancy tries to help a woman deliver a baby — bad news, zombie baby — and gets killed. This scene is packed with the gore that you had hoped that this film would bring. Don’t eat while watching, trust me.

Who lives? Who dies? You should just buy this and watch it, right? Right. I will say that I loved Blue Heart, the DJ who talks throughout the film and adored how he keeps doing it even after he joins the ranks of the undead. It reminds me a lot of the DJ as narrator scenes in The New York Ripper.

I almost forgot! There’s an awesome scene where a zombie skull flies out of the freezer and attacks. It wasn’t in the script but instead came from Fulci. He would go on to say that it was one of the most clever things he had come up with and the only thing about this film that he was proud of.

If you’re hoping for the follow-up to Zombi, this isn’t it. It’s still fun and the last twenty minutes or so really pick up. I’d love to see what happens if they ever did a sequel to this.

Severin has released what will probably forever be the ultimate version of this movie, packed with interviews. You’ll hear from just about everyone, including Fragasso, Drudi, Mattei and several of the actors and crew. There’s a big bundle as well if you get this along with Zombi 4 and Shocking Dark. It’s well worth it — this is one company that knows how to make the most out of everything they release.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 18: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)

Hieronymus Karl Friedrich Freiherr von Münchhausen, or Baron Munchausen, began his life as a series of urban legends and tall tales that were collected by author Rudolf Erich Raspe in 1785 as The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen (or Baron Munchausen’s Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia). Since then, these stories were further exaggerated and finally made into a series of movies, including the Georges Méliès-directed Baron Munchausen’s Dream, Münchhausen, The Fabulous Baron Munchausen and The Very Same Munchhausen.

The third entry in Terry Gilliam’s “Trilogy of Imagination”, preceded by Time Bandits and Brazil, this is a film that was made during a battle between Columbia CEO Dawn Steel and Gilliam. As the film’s budget blew up, so did the war.

Gilliam blamed the whole thing on the simple fact that the new regime didn’t want anything to do with the old regime’s films. Except they released the movie to just 117 theaters, which is literally nothing. He would later say, “The joke is, if you look back, we got the best reviews and we were doing the best business in the opening weeks of any film they had released since Last Emperor. We actually opened well in the big cities — we opened really well. A friend who had bought the video rights said he had never seen anything so weird — Columbia was spending their whole time looking at exit polls to prove the film would not work in the suburbs, and so it would be pointless to make any more prints. He said, “I’ve never seen anything like this.” There it was. Then it becomes this kind of legend–which it deserves to be… even if it’s the wrong legend.”

Yet what emerges on the screen — the legend of Baron Munchausen (John Neville) — does not seem impacted at all by the trauma of making the movie. Even the movie itself goes against the structure of storytelling, with the real Baron interrupting the play that starts the movie and taking the viewer on a journey through his life. Whether the story he’s telling is true or polished to be even better than the truth is up to you.

Yet the Angel of Death — which looks directly out of Cemetery Man which makes complete sense when you see Michele Soavi’s name in the credits as second unit director  — is true and it’s been hunting the Baron, who is saved by young Sarah Salt (Sarah Polley) and together they escape in a hot air balloon to find the Baron’s old friends, the super-fast Berthold (Eric Idle), master rifleman Adolphus (Charles McKeown), Gustavus (Jack Purvis) who has remarkable hearing and breathing abilities and the strongest man in the world, Albrecht (Winston Dennis).

I’m struck by the fact that the Baron is actually an idea — a man who may or may not exist yet one who rallies for ideas and creativity — and ideas can’t die, as even when the Angel of Death finally claims him, he’s just telling a story and says that this was “only one of the many occasions on which I met my death.”

With cameos by Oliver Reed as Vulcan, Uma Thurman as Venus, Robin Williams as the king of the moon, Sting as a soldier sacrificed because bravery is demoralizing to other soldiers and citizens, and so many more events, this is a movie made by an imaginative artist seeking to give you that same joy and ability.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 16: Pembalasan Ratu Pantai Selatan (1988)

Lady Terminator (the actual title translates as Revenge of the South Sea Queen) and is one of the most incredible movies I’ve ever seen. It takes its structure from Terminator (which is in itself ripped off from two Harlan Ellison stories, “Demon With a Glass Hand” and “Soldier”) and infuses the mythology of Indonesia. While this may not have been the first film in which mankind battled Nyi Roro Kidul, the Queen of the South Sea, it is definitely the only time that she repeatedly shoots men in the penis with an M16.

Director Jalil Jackson is actually H. Tjut Djalil, the same artist who made Mystics In Bali. Thanks to Ed Glaser’s How the World Remade Hollywood, I also discovered that his Batas Impian Ranjan Seytan (Satan’s Bed) takes a cue from Elm Street, so why wouldn’t he bring the magic of his home country into the world of machines versus men without the machines?

Barbara Anne Constable plays Tania Wilson, an anthropologist whose investigation into the tomb of the queen leads to being impregnated by a snake and then possessed by Nyi Roro Kidul herself, who we’ve already met via an opening that shows her repeatedly making love to men and killing them when they can’t satisfy her needs until one man is able to pull the snake from her womb, transform it into a dagger and make her cycle of death end for a hundred years.

The queen has a target, pop singer Erica (Claudia Angelique Rademaker), who she chases for the entire film before she’s saved by NY cop Max McNeil (Christopher J. Hart), who gets to yell, “Come with me if you want to live.”

Constable was told that this movie would be for Indonesia only, but it’s played all over the world. A dancer whose leg injury led to her arriving in Hong Kong for a career in modeling and fashion reporting — she was also a Pet of the Month for the Australian Penthouse — she performed her own stunts in this film. At one point, her ankle was skewered by a large shard of glass and the filmmakers paid her for an entire month while she relearned how to walk.

There’s a morgue scene in this where numerous men are under sheets with blood all over where their privates are and they discuss if a serial killer is cutting off their wangs. It’s amazing and so much more memorable than any movie I’ll see for the next year. This is the kind of movie I make people watch when they come to my house, a mindblowing assault on the senses, a film where instead of a robot eye the Lady Terminator simply takes out her own, but every other scene is nearly shot for shot taken from the American film but mystic instead of technological, which I can more than get behind.

I want ten sequels to this.

MILL CREEK BLU RAY RELEASE: Magnum PI (1980-1988)

Magnum P.I. was a constant in my life through a tumultuous time, starting when I was just 8 and ending when I was 16, seeing me through the most chaotic years of young life. Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV’s (Tom Selleck) adventures in Hawaii were a center, a Thursday night oasis — Wednesday from series 7 onward — that always knew would be there.

Magnum lives in the guest house of an opulent 200-acre beachfront estate known as Robin’s Nest. At some point, he provided services for its owner, world-famous novelist Robin Masters (voiced by Orson Welles for all but the final time when Red Crandell spoke for the character) and he’s been allowed full run of the estate and use of the author’s Ferrari 308 GTB/GTS in exchange for some nebulous security detail. In between, he takes on cases that rarely pay and often put his life in danger.

His archnemisis is Jonathan Quayle Higgins III (John Hillerman). Like Magnum, he’s also ex-army, but he’s by the book while our hero is laid back. He’s in charge of Robin’s estate, patrolling it with his twin Doberman, Zeus and Apollo. The relationship grows and changes as the series progresses, going from antagonistic to near friendship by the close, as well as the suspicion that Higgins is Robin Masters.

Magnum has a near-perfect storytelling engine as it has the perfect setting (all manner of people come to Hawaii for vacation or to escape), the perfect characters (Magnum can be just as much a film noir hero as he can be a military man or a romantic leading man; he’s a comedic figure without losing his coolness) and the perfect job (being a detective is a reliable TV profession for this reason). Add in his friends Theodore “T.C.” Calvin (Roger E. Mosley) — whose Island Hoppers helicopter can take Magnum anywhere — and Orville Wilbur Richard “Rick” Wright (Larry Manetti), whose King Kamehameha Club can be the origin for all manner of intrigue — and you can see why this series ran for so many years.

While T.C. and Rick are former Marines and Magnum is a former Navy SEAL — all served in Vietnam — none of them are shell-shocked zombies. They’re normal human beings who deal with their war experiences in their own way, which was a refreshing change for audiences — especially veterans — when the show started.

Magnum was such a big show that even other big shows crossed over with it, establishing a CBS detective show universe. In the episode “Ki’is Don’t Lie,” Magnum works with Simon & Simon to recover a cursed artifact, a mystery which had its conclusion in their show with the episode “Emeralds Are Not a Girl’s Best Friend.” Yet most famously, in “Novel Connection,” novelist Jessica Fletcher came to Hawaii — along with Jessica Walter and Dorothy Loudon — and then solved the case on her show, Murder, She Wrote, in the episode “Magnum on Ice.”

Speaking of guest stars, all manner of genre favorites appeared on this show, including Jenny Agutter, Talia Balsam, Ernest Borgnine, Candy Clark, Samantha Eggar, Robert Forster, Pat Hingle, Mako, Patrick Macness, Cameron Mitchell, Vic Morrow, John Saxon and many more.

Another reason why this show is so beloved is due to Selleck. He told producers, “I’m tired of playing what I look like.” His suggestion? He remembered having fun with James Garner on The Rockford Files and suggested making Magnum more of blue collar guy. This made him more identifiable with men, not just women.

One of the things that struck me as I caught up on the series was that the theme is different at the start! The original theme was written by Ian Freebairn-Smith and only lasted eleven episodes before being replaced with the iconic Mike Post and Pete Carpenter song that I hum all of the time.

At the end of the seventh season, Magnum died in a shoot out. I can’t even explain how upset everyone was. The letters page in TV Guide was aghast. Imagine if Twitter existed in the late 80s! Luckily, he came back for one shorter season.

Series creator Donald P. Bellisario — who created this show with Glen A. Larson — was born in North Charleroi, PA. I can probably see his house from mine. After fifteen years in advertising, he went to Hollywood, where he worked on the series Black Sheep Squadron and Battlestar Galactica before creating series like Tales of the Golden MonkeyAirwolfQuantum LeapJAG and NCIS. He was joined by writers like Richard Yalem (who made Delirium), Reuben A. Leder (A*P*E*Badlands 2005), Jay Huguely (Jason Goes to Hell), Andrew Schneider (the “Stop Susan Williams” and “Ther Secret Empire” chapters of Cliffhangers!), Stephen A. Miller (My Bloody Valentine), J. Miyoko Hensley (who wrote the Remo Williams: The Prophecy pilot) and even notorious celebrity fixer and detective Anthony Pellicano, as well as directors like David Hemmings (yes, from Deep Red), John Llewellyn Moxey, Jackie Cooper and Robert Loggia, amongst so many others.

The Mill Creek blu ray box set of Magnum P.I. has all 158 episodes of the show, as well as new interviews with composer Mike Post, writer/producer Chris Abbott, author C. Courtney Joyner on the sixty year career of director Virgil Vogel and actress/writer Deborah Pratt (who was the voice of the narrator and Ziggy on Quantum Leap). Plus, you also get two Tom Selleck guest star roles on The Rockford Files, featurettes on The Great 80’s TV Flashback and Inside the Ultimate Crime Crossover (Magnum P.I. and Murder, She Wrote) and audio commentary on three season 8 episodes.

Much like how Magnum was a calming part of my young life, having this set on my shelf during these turbulent times is just as warm of a feeling. Get this set and let the 80s wash over you like the beaches of Waikiki.

You can get this set from Deep Discount.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 3: Ghosts Can’t Do It (1988)

I don’t like the Razzies much, but I have to agree with them for once. Ghosts Can’t Do It won worst picture, worst director, worst actress and worst supporting actor for the artist who debuted here, Donald Trump. Trump and co-star Leo Damian were also nominated for worst new star, but that went to Sofia Coppola. In retrospect, that seems rather mean. Actually, it seems a lot mean because I’ve watched untold movies some would consider bad and this movie is without a doubt the very worst film I’ve ever seen.

Somehow, John Derek decided to make a movie worse than Bolero and Tarzan the Ape Man and I didn’t think he had it in him. But oh wow — he did.

Katie (Derek) and Scott (Anthony Quinn) are thirty years apart in age but have a fulfilling, sex-filled relationship. Unfortunately, he has a heart attack and learns that they can never horizontally dance again, so instead of looking into alternate therapy or a second opinion, he kills himself.

Julie Newmar plays his guardian angel, who is so bad at her job that she allows him to return to Eartha and come up with a plan where Katie will kill Fausto (Damian) and he’ll possess the body. This comes after she’s traveled the world and tried to find the perfect sex partner, all while running her husband’s business and wheeling and dealing against Trump, who plays himself.

The end of this? Fausto accidentally drowns and Scott is unable to possess Fausto’s dead body, yet when Katie revives him with CPR, Scott can possess him. Huh? I just watched this movie only to watch it change the rules in the end after hours of Anthony Quinn violently pissing all over his acting legacy in a performance that defines and goes beyond bad.

I mean, let’s look at the dialogue in this and imagine it in Trump’s bombastic tone and Bo’s stilted voice:

Donald Trump: Be assured, Mrs. Scott, that in this room there are knives sharp enough to cut you to the bone and hearts cold enough to eat yours as hors-d’oeuvres.

Katie O’Dare Scott: You’re too pretty to be bad!

Donald Trump: You noticed.

Also, if Katie’s last name is Scott, her dead husband’s name is Scott Scott?

The credits for this have this line: And Yes, That Really Was Donald Trump.

Are we to doubt that that is the man himself? Is it an android?

Also, one more time, this movie’s happy ending is an innocent man dying so that Bo Derek can keep on banging a man thirty years older than her who has spent most of the movie in a tube lit like a swimming pool bellowing dialogue while she refers to him as “Great man.”

You can watch this on Tubi.